The biblical dream of Jubilee—the periodic forgiveness of all debts and equal redistribution of land—has the power to inspire contemporary activism, but it would be misguided for us to try to revive biblical Jubilee laws in a literal way. By focusing on the ethical intent behind these laws, rather than on their prescriptive content, we can generate creative new ideas for wealth redistribution in our current era—ideas such as modifying estate tax rules or creating trust funds to accomplish the ethical aims of Jubilee.

There are various reasons why the Bible’s edicts on debt and redistribution could not be implemented in the modern world. In fact, it is difficult to see how even the relatively simple societies described in the Bible could implement ideas such as the complete elimination of interest, total forgiveness of debt, equal redistribution of land, and the shutting down of...

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