"Jubilee: In his Inaugural address yesterday, President Bush recited Michael Gerson's reference to Isaac Norris' quotation of Leviticus 25:10: "Proclaim Liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof."
Norris was the "Pensylvania" assemblyman who chose this verse of scripture for the bell cast to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the colony's charter. Leviticus 25 outlines the laws for the Year of Jubilee, which was to follow every seventh Sabbath Year. We still use the word "Jubilee" to refer to a 50th anniversary celebration, but Jubilee originally meant much more than that.
Leviticus 25 is MBNA's least favorite passage. In the year of Jubilee, all debts were to be forgiven, all captives were to be freed, and the poor and propertyless were to be restored to their ancestral lands. In the agricultural society of ancient Israel, this meant that the poor and disenfranchised were to be restored their share of ownership of the means of production -- although that phrase, while accurate, may strike some as too provocative.
There's a good bit more to Leviticus 25 that's worth remembering:
"If one of your countrymen becomes poor and is unable to support himself among you, help him as you would an alien or a temporary resident, so he can continue to live among you. Do not take interest of any kind from him, but fear your God, so that your countryman may continue to live among you. You must not lend him money at interest or sell him food at a profit."
That passage, from verses 35-36, is not inscribed on any famous bells, so it's not likely to be recited during any presidential speeches. That may be a good thing, since the phrase "help him as you would an alien or a temporary resident" nowadays is open to misinterpretation. It's an invocation of the solemn and ancient laws of hospitality, not an indication that it's okay to indefinitely detain the poor without due process.
There's another conspicuous bit of scriptural allusion in the president's speech: "... we can feel that same unity and pride whenever America acts for good, and the victims of disaster are given hope, and the unjust encounter justice, and the captives are set free."
That phrase -- "the captives are set free" -- has to be read as such an allusion, since, coming from the architect of Gitmo and the global Gulags, it is certainly not meant to be taken literally. It's a resonant biblical phrase that echoes several passages, many of which also deal with the idea of Jubilee and the "year of God's favor."
The most obvious reference for this phrase is from Isaiah 61, a passage that Jesus himself read as a kind of inaugural proclamation:
"The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me; because the Lord hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; he hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound."
That's from the King James Version, the preferred translation for formal events like an inaugural address because of its lovely formal language -- and because it conveniently refers to "the meek" where every other translation refers to "the poor."
Our new attorney general would, of course, point out that passages such as this one from Isaiah now seem "quaint and obsolete." The president, in his capacity as commander in chief, has the authority to refuse to "proclaim liberty to the captives," just as he has the unlimited authority to set aside any other directive, be it prophetic or constitutional."