Landed Estate It has been the custom to regard the Hebrews as a pastoral people until they were settled in Palestine. In a great degree they doubtless were so, and when they entered agricultural Egypt, the land of Goshen was assigned to the:n expressly because that locality was suited to their pastoral habits (Ge 47:4-6). These habits were substantially maintained; but it is certain that they became acquainted with the Egyptian processes of culture, and it is more than probable that they raised for themselves such products of the soil as they required for their own use. We may, indeed, collect that the portion of their territory which lay in the immediate vicinity of the Nile was placed by them under culture (De 11:10), while the interior, with the free pastures of the desert beyond their immediate territory, sufficed abundantly for their cattle (1Ch 7:21). This partial attention to agriculture was in some degree a preparation for the condition of cultivators, into which they were destined eventually to pass. While the Israelites remained in a state of subjection in Egypt, the maintenance of their condition as shepherds was highly instrumental in keeping them distinct and separate from the Egyptians, who were agriculturists, and had a strong dislike to pastoral habits (Ge 46:34). But when they became an independent and sovereign people, their separation from other nations was to be promoted by inducing them to devote their chief attention to the culture of the soil. A large number of the institutions given to them had this object of separation in view. Among these, those relating to agriculture-forming the agrarian law of the Hebrew people were of the first importance. They might not alone have been sufficient to secure the end in view, but no others could have been effectual without them; for, without such attention to agriculture as would render them a self-subsisting people, a greater degree of intercourse with the neighboring and idolatrous nations must have been maintained than was consistent with the primary object of the Mosaic institutions. The commonest observation suffices to show how much less than others agricultural communities are open to external influences, and how much less disposed to cultivate intercourse with strangers. SEE HUSBANDRY.
It was, doubtless, in subservience to this object, and to facilitate the change, that the Israelites were put in possession of a country already in a high state of cultivation (De 6:11), and it was in order to retain them in this condition, to give them a vital interest in it, and to make it a source of happiness to them, that a very peculiar agrarian law was given to them. In stating this law, and in declaring it to have been in the highest degree wise and salutary, regard must be had to its peculiar object with reference to the segregation of the Hebrew people; for there are points in which this and other Mosaic laws were unsuited to general use, some by the very circumstances which adapted them so admirably to their special object. When the Israelites were numbered just before their entrance into the land of Canaan, and were found (exclusive of the Levites) to exceed 600,000 men, the Lord said to Moses, "Unto these the land shall be divided for an inheritance, according to the number of names. To many thou shalt give the more inheritance, and to the few thou shalt give the less inheritance; to everyone shall his inheritance be given according to those that were numbered of him. Notwithstanding the land shall be divided by lot: according to the names of the tribes of their fathers shall they inherit" (Nu 26:33-54). This equal distribution of the soil was the basis of the agrarian law. By it provision was made for the support of 600,000 yeomen, with (according to different calculations) from sixteen to twenty- five acres of land to each. This land they held independent of all temporal superiors, by direct tenure from Jehovah their sovereign, by whose power they were to acquire the territory, and under whose protection they were to enjoy and retain it. "The land shall not be sold forever, for the land is mine, saith the Lord: ye are strangers and sojourners with me" (Le 25:23). Thus the basis of the constitution was an equal agrarian law. But this law was guarded by other provisions equally wise and salutary. The accumulation of debt was prevented, first, by prohibiting every Hebrew from accepting interest from any of his fellow-citizens (Le 25:35-36); next, by establishing a regular discharge of debts every seventh year; and, finally, by ordering that no lands could be alienated forever, but must, on each year of Jubilee, or every seventh Sabbatic year, revert to the families which originally possessed them. Thus, without absolutely depriving individuals of all temporary dominion over their landed property, it re-established, every fiftieth year, that original and equal distribution of it which was the foundation of the national polity; and as the period of this reversion was fixed and regular, all parties had due notice of the terms on which they negotiated, so that there was no ground for public commotion or private complaint. SEE JUBILEE.
This law, by which landed property was released in the year of Jubilee from all existing obligations, did not extend to houses in towns, which, if not redeemed within one year after being sold, were alienated forever (Le 15:29-30). This must have given to property in the country a decided advantage over property in cities, and must have greatly contributed to the essential object of all these regulations, by affording an inducement to every Hebrew to reside on and cultivate his land. Further, the original distribution of the land was to the several tribes according to their families, so that each tribe was, so to speak, settled in the same county, and each family in the same barony or hundred. Nor was the estate of any family in one tribe permitted to pass into another, even by the marriage of an heiress (Numbers 27); so that not only was the original balance of property preserved, but the closest and dearest connections of affinity attached to each other the inhabitants of every vicinage. SEE INHERITANCE.
It often happens that laws in appearance similar have in view entirely different objects. In Europe the entailment of estates in the direct line is designed to encourage the formation of large properties. In Israel the effect was entirely different, as the entail extended to all the small estates into which the land was originally divided, so that they could not legally be united to form a large property, and then entailed upon the descendants of him by whom the property was formed. This division of the land in small estates among the people, who were to retain them in perpetuity, was eminently suited to the leading objects of the Hebrew institutions. It is allowed on all hands that such a condition of landed property is in the highest degree favorable to high cultivation and to increase of population, while it is less favorable to pasturage. The first two were objects which the law had in view, and it did not intend to afford undue encouragement to the pastoral life, while the large pastures of the adjacent deserts and of the commons secured the country against such a scarcity of cattle as the division of the land into small heritages has already produced in France.
For this land a kind of quit-rent was payable to the sovereign Proprietor, in the form of a tenth or tithe of the produce, which was assigned to the priesthood. SEE TITHES. The condition of military service was also attached to the land, as it appears that every freeholder (De 20:5) was obliged to attend at the general muster of the national army, and to serve in it, at his own expense (often more than repaid by the plunder), as long as the occasion required. In this direction, therefore, the agrarian law operated in securing a body of 600,000 men, inured to labor and industry, always assumed to be ready, as they were bound, to come forward at their country's call. This great body of national yeomanry, every one of whom had an important stake in the national independence, was officered by its own hereditary chiefs, heads of tribes and families (comp. Exodus 18 and Nu 31:14), and must have presented an insuperable obstacle to treacherous ambition and political intrigue, and to every attempt to overthrow the Hebrew commonwealth and establish despotic power. Nor were these institutions less wisely adapted to secure the state against foreign violence, and at the same time prevent offensive wars and remote conquests. For while this vast body of hardy yeomanry were always ready to defend their country, when assailed by foreign foes, yet, as they were constantly employed in agriculture, attached to domestic life, and enjoyed at home the society of the numerous relatives who peopled their neighborhood, war must have been in a high degree alien to their tastes and habits. Religion also took part in preventing them from being captivated by the splendor of military glory. On returning from battle, even if victorious, in order to bring them back to more peaceful feelings after the rage of war, the law required them to consider themselves as polluted by the slaughter, and unworthy of appearing in the camp of Jehovah until they had employed an entire day in the rites of purification (Nu 19:13-16; Nu 31:19). Besides, the force was entirely infantry; the law forbidding even the kings to multiply horses in their train (De 17:16); and this, with the ordinance requiring the attendance of all the males three times every year at Jerusalem, proved the intention of the legislator to confine the natives within the limits of the Promised Land, and rendered long and distant wars and conquests impossible without the virtual renunciation of that religion which was incorporated with their whole civil polity, and which was, in fact, the charter by which they held their property and enjoyed all their rights (Graves, Lectures on the Pentateuch, lect. 4; Lowaman, Civil Gov. of the Heb. chapters 3, 4, Michaelis, Mos. Recht, 1:240 sq.).