Calum Carmichael, «The Sabbatical/Jubilee Cycle and the Seven-Year Famine in Egypt», Vol. 80 (1999) 224-239
The comparative method is of limited value in locating the Sabbatical/Jubilee cycle of Leviticus 25 within the framework of similar institutions in the ancient Near East. Not only is the character of the biblical institution distinctively Israelite, but so is the manner in which the Levitical lawgiver devised the entire cycle. The lawgiver formulated rules to ensure that the Israelites do not do what the Egyptians did in their land (Lev 18,3). Borrowing details from the Genesis account of the seven-year famine in Egypt, the lawgiver set out Yahwehs scheme for his peoples welfare. The scheme stands opposed to the pharaohs for the Egyptians at the time of the famine.
is a practice found in the Near East. Albeit at sporadic intervals in contrast to the regularized Israelite institution, a ruler might proclaim a misharun, an act of "justice", and release debt-slaves and land with a view to re-ordering economic life in his community13. For those scholars who appeal to this background, the Levitical lawgiver sets up an institution that in some way resembles the Near Eastern example: "The biblical laws of the Jubilee year thus incorporate Near Eastern legal institutions of great antiquity"14.
Critics sometimes express uneasiness with their rational attempts to explain the laws. Robert North writes, "Obviously our interpretation runs counter to the surface-sense of certain expressions of the sacred text"15. In fact, the common tendency among all those commentators is to explain away or even to disregard the impractical or implausible elements of the rules, which are, nevertheless, manifestly expressed in the text.
II. The Sabbatical/Jubilee Cycle of Leviticus 25 and the Joseph Story
I wish to take a different approach in attempting to understand these laws. Their very strangeness is the crux of the matter. The aim of the rules is to trigger historical memory and it is precisely the oddness of the provisions which does just that. The Sabbatical year and the integrally linked institution of the Year of Jubilee function, I suggest, as a means of commemorating events particularly during Josephs time in Egypt. Like many other biblical laws, for example, the Passover festival and the rest from toil every seventh day, the laws of the Sabbath for the land and the Year of Jubilee recall formative events at the beginning of the nations history.
The texts that express the two rules about the Passover and the seventh-day rest explicitly associate the oppression of the Israelites in Egypt with these two institutions (Exod 12,14-27; Deut 5,12-15; 16,1-8). The rules about the Sabbatical and Jubilee years also mention this same period of oppression in Egypt, but they do not