Land Inheritance

This coming Sunday is the 18th Sunday of Ordinary Time with the gospel taken from Luke 12 and, in large part, addresses our relationship to the riches of this life and what constitutes real treasure “in what matters to God.” The dispute and the parable appears only in Luke among the gospels, situated within the on-going travel narrative as Jesus and the disciples move ever forward towards Jerusalem.

Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to share the inheritance with me.” Although the inheritance in question (v.13) is not specifically mentioned as land, given the parable’s setting (v.16) one might safely assume land was the issue.  Perhaps a word or two on land and inheritance. If you would like to delve into the OT laws of inheritance, see Num. 27:1–11; 36:7–9; Deut. 21:16–17

The bêt-āb was the basic unit of Israel’s system of land tenure, each having its own naălâ (inheritance) of land, and therefore intended to be economically self-sufficient. The intention of Israel’s land tenure system, namely that ownership of land should be as widely spread as possible with broad equality over the network of economically viable family units, was embodied in and protected by the principle of inalienability. This was the rule that the land should remain in the family to which it had been apportioned, and could not be sold permanently outside the family. It was a rule tenaciously adhered to through Israel’s history, as far as the evidence points. The whole OT gives us no single example of an Israelite voluntarily selling land outside his family. Recorded land transfers were either kinship redemption (Jeremiah 32, Ruth), sale by non-Israelites (2 Samuel 24; 1 Kgs 16:24), or non-voluntary mortgage of land for debt (Neh 5:3). Nor is there any inscriptional evidence from Palestine of Israelite sale and purchase of land, even though there are abundant records of such transactions from Canaanite and surrounding societies. The only legal method by which land in the OT period “changed hands” was by inheritance within the family. Even Ahab recognized this, when faced with Naboth’s stand on this principle (1 Kings 21). The means used to circumvent it and the forcible confiscation of Naboth’s family land show the grim fulfillment of Samuel’s prediction as to what monarchy would entail for the previously economically autonomous families of Israel. [Anchor Bible Dictionary 2:763]

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