|Ancient Near Eastern Banking|
- Saturday, July 31 2010, 0:43:20 (UTC)|
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It is now recognized that every commercial and entrepreneurial practice known today, ranging from the development of money and coinage, standardized quality, weights and measures, pricing and the charging of interest to profit-sharing commercial contracts and partnership arrangements, were developed in the temples and palaces of Sumer, Babylonia and their Near Eastern neighbors as early as the Bronze Age, 3200-1200 BC. The private sector adopted these techniques, starting with members of the palace bureaucracy acting on their own account. Privatization of credit and other basic infrastructure – and governorship of provinces under the Romans – created social imbalance as creditor oligarchies gained power and disabled royal checks and balances.
Near Eastern rulers proclaimed Clean Slates to annul the overgrowth of debts that polarized society between creditors and debtors. These royal debt cancellations contained three basic dimensions: a wipeout of personal and consumer debts (but not commercial business debts); liberation of individuals pledged as bondservants to creditors; and a return of land and crop rights to the debtors, to free the land from creditor claims on its usufruct.
 Michael Hudson, “Entrepreneurs: From the Near Eastern Takeoff to the Roman Collapse,” in David S. Landes, Joel Mokyr, and William J. Baumol, eds., The Invention of Enterprise: Entrepreneurship from Ancient Mesopotamia to Modern Times (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2010):8-39.
 Readers of the Bible will recognize this as the essence of the Jubilee Year of Leviticus 25, which Jewish religion took out of the hands of rulers and placed at the center of their religion as a covenant under Mosaic law. And when Jesus gave his first sermon in the synagogue, Luke 4 describes him as unrolling the scroll of Isaiah and saying that he had come to proclaim “the Year of our Lord,” that is, the Jubilee Year, deror. This Hebrew word that the prophets and Leviticus used was cognate to Babylonian andurarum. I describe the details in “Reconstructing the Origins of Interest-Bearing Debt and the Logic of Clean Slates,” in Debt and Economic Renewal in the Ancient Near East (ed. Michael Hudson and Marc Van De Mieroop, CDL Press, Bethesda, 2002):7-58.
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