While most contemporary talk of Jubilee carries religious connotations, the first mass debt cancellations were likely born out of secular power consolidation. Economist Michael Hudson traces the earliest Jubilees to pre-biblical times, in periodic “clean slate” decrees issued by Bronze Age kings. While immediate motivations for the abolitions varied from instance to instance, an important common thread is that the rationale was most often material, rather than a spiritual ethic. In his Bible Review article on “The Economic Roots of Jubilee,” Hudson argues that the seeming magnanimity of these decrees was usually a product of “enlightened self-interest.” Clean slate decrees helped the rulers to maintain a stable empire in which the king was the primary locus of power and debtors remained loyal recruits for military campaigns. If the king did not release debtors from their obligations, then the debtors could threaten to gather together...

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