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Article Index
The ‘Our Father’ of My Childhood
The Contexts of the Story
The Historical Context of the Our Father
My Historical Context
Blending Contexts in an On-going History
Companions on the Way
The Word ‘Debt/Indebted’ in the Our Father
Main Focus on Luke 11:4
Usual Interpretation of ‘Sin’ and ‘Debt’
Larger Than Sin
Indebtedness in Jesus’ Historical Setting
Where has the Jubilee Year Gone?
Rabbi Hillel’s Prosbul
The Significance of the Word ‘Debt’
The Jubilee Year in the Lk 4:16-30
More Than Sin-Orientation: The Kingdom of God
Breaking Fixed or Petrified Perspectives
Re-reading Lk 11:4 Through Jesus’ Eyes
Re-reading Lk 11:4 Through the Eyes of an Awakened, Poor Jew
Re-reading Lk 11:4 in the Larger Context of Luke’s Gospel
Lk 18: 18-27: a Commentary on Luke’s ‘Our Father’.
Social Justice in the Larger Context of Luke-Acts
Re-reading Lk 11:4 in the Context of Acts 2 and 4
Re-reading Luke 11:4 in My Context
The Need for an Alternative Spirituality
Before We Part Ways: Time to Recharge and Refresh
As We Part
All Pages

Indebtedness in Jesus’ Historical Setting. We are about to deal with a reconstructed historical scenario within which Jesus taught the spirit and message of the ‘Our Father.’ I am aware that reconstructions always fall short of bull’s eyes, but neither can I ignore the fact that it is only through a judicious use of the historical reconstructions of competent scholars that we may get a meaningful picture of Jesus’ time; needless to say, these findings are not only relevant to but are also indispensable in biblical studies. Knowing the picture of Jesus’ time, hopefully, may let us feel and understand the pain-laden yet hopeful message of the words: ‘And forgive us our sins for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us.’

The Palestine where Jesus preached was a sociologically depressed area. Not all were poor, but in a sociologically depressed area, we can accurately say that majority were destitute and heavily indebted. Consider, for instance, the following unjust and oppressive historical dynamics of Jesus’ time:

(1) Two-fold Domination – Palestine in the time of Jesus was ruled by the Romans and the Jewish elite who manipulated power-structures in order to increase their wealth and maintain control over human affairs. This meant a situation of mass poverty, oppression, injustice, etc. for the common Jews.

(2) Forced Labor among the Peasantry – Against their will, the Jews had to construct city buildings and develop the private lands of the Romans and Jewish aristocracy. Also, the amounts spent for these projects significantly came from the Jews’ tributes and sacred obligations/donations.

(3) Tributes to Rome – Annually, the Jews had to give to Rome about one third of their total year-round products (equivalent to 200 talents or 9 tons of gold; one talent was the total income which a poor Jew gained for fifteen years of labor).

(4) Temple Obligations/Donations – In addition to their tributes to Rome were the Jews’ obligations to the Temple, noteworthy of which were the annual half-shekel and tithe. Every male Jew had to contribute a half-shekel to the Temple. This was especially difficult because he had to obtain the half-shekel through exchange of his crop. The usual case was that he had to give products greater in value than that of the half-shekel. In addition every Israelite had to give a tenth (tithing) of his income to the Temple. Added to these was a list of sacred donations.

(5) The Burden of a Double Tribute System. There was a case then of double siphoning, i.e. to Rome and to the Temple. For a society deprived of sufficient resources to survive, the aforementioned double tribute system was extremely burdensome.

(6) Taxation Against All Odds. In most cases, same amounts of taxes and temple obligations were demanded despite changes in harvest conditions. Even if harvest was very scarce, one had to pay definite taxes and tributes both to Rome and to the Temple. Penalties for non-payment were severe and violent.

(7) Indebtedness and Slavery. In many occasions of scarce harvests, the Jews were forced to borrow. Often they would promise future but uncertain harvests as collaterals (and the value of collaterals would take interests as high as 100%). Hence, the Jews were pushed deeper and deeper into indebtedness which eventually resulted in the foreclosure of properties, land specially. Foreclosure of properties reduced once free people into slavery or share-cropping.


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