Israelite institution to be kept on every seventh Sabbath year by restoring alienated lands, freeing Hebrew slaves, and abstaining from sowing and harvesting. (On this "fallow" and on "slave-release," see sabbath year.) In the OT the jubilee year is treated only in Lv 25.8 to 25.55, with secondary references in Lv 27.17 to 27.21 and Nm 36.4.
Meaning of the Name. The jubilee year is called šenat hayyôbēl (the yôbēl ) in Lv 25.13, 28, 40, 50, hayyôbēl (the yôbēl ) in Lv 25.15, 28, 30, and simply yôbēl in 25.10 to 25.12. In Ex 19.13 the word yôbēl (?Phoenician "ram") stands for the ram's horn (qeren yôbēl ) blown as a trumpet (šôpār ), as is clear from Jos 6.5 to 6.13. According to the common explanation, therefore, the jubilee year was called šenat hayyôbēl (year of the ram's horn) because it was inaugurated by the blowing of a ram's horn trumpet. However, in the only passage that mentions this manner of opening the jubilee year (Lv 25.9) the horn that is blown is called simply a šôpar (trumpet), not a yôbēl.
Hence, some scholars hold that originally the term yôbēl as used in šenat yôbēl has no connection with the ram's horn trumpet, but was a synonym for derôr (release, LXX áphesis ) used in Lv 25.10; Ez 46.17 (šenat derôr, year of release; Is 61.1 áphesis ; so now Lemche, Carmichael; Ringe; Kutsch. ybl Die Religion in Geschichte und Gegenwart, 7 v. (3d ed. Tübingen 1957–65). The late Greek loanword ἰωβηλα[symbol omitted]ος, from Heb. yôbēl, should have produced a Latin loanword in the form of jobelaeus; but by a mistaken etymology, as if the word were connected with Latin jubilum (backwoods gaiety, joyous shouting), the word turned out in Latin as jubilaeus, whence English jubilee.
Legislation. According to Lv 25.8, the jubilee year is to be celebrated on every seventh sabbath year, and it is thus expressly stated as ending a cycle of 49 years; when it is called "the 50th year" in 25.10, this should be understood as merely a round number, since two fallow years in a row would hardly be plausible (pace Josephus). The jubilee year, though a joyful homecoming, is to begin on the Day of Atonement (25.9).
Legislation for the jubilee year, a uniformizing development of various seventh-year laws, aims essentially to protect the small farmer against monopolizing landholders, by contriving that all land shall ultimately remain forever in the same "family." But counterproductively this means "the few important clans to whom each plot was assigned" (presumably by Joshua— and to be retrieved by the returnees from exile). But repurchase-right of a wealthier brother (go'el Lv 25.25–28) could over some generations result in huge monopolistic landholdings.
The precept given in 25.10, 13, "Every one of you shall return to your own estate and family," may have referred originally to an ancient homecoming celebration. But in 25.14 to 25.17, 25.23 to 25.31, this is interpreted to mean that title to a foreclosed mortgage is to be regained in the jubilee year, in (or after) the seventh seventh-year debt release called šemiṭṭâ in Dt 15.1 to 15.9, and akin to Ex 21.2.8 in the Covenant Code. Apparently the final redactor of the Jubilee law judged that an indenture terminated after only seven years was so impractical that the social-justice aim would be better served by imposing as a last resort a definitive manumission in the seventh-seventh year (Lv 25.40–41). Similarly for the prohibition of retaining, beyond a certain period, any pledge or gage, such as fields (mortgages or nonliving gages) or children (live gages: 2 Kgs 4.1; Neh 5.5), preference is indicated for the six-or seven-year limit (cf. Dt 15.1), but in the legislation for the jubilee year a period seven times as long is tolerated as more realistic (Lv 25.35–55).
Recent researches on the growth of biblical-era cities force reevaluation of the real-life status of the small farmer reduced by debt to a tenant-"slave," who is plainly the proximate concern of the jubilee law. It has been assumed that he continues to occupy and till the same plot, but now for an absentee owner. But sociological statistics (V. Fritz 1995, F. Frick 1977, both titled The City in Ancient Israel ; Lemche, Early Israel 1985) on the proportion of the total "agrarian" population living in cities make it likely that many of those working either their own or an absentee-owner's farm really lived in one of the 48 major cities (all called "levitical!"). As much as one fourth of the 16-hour work day might have been required simply to plod an ox to work and back. This would hold also for both small owners and free hired laborers. On the other hand, the new "owner" may well have lived on his acquired property, either alongside or without his ("slave") tenant.
At least in its present form the legislation on the jubilee year, which was drawn up by the Pentateuchal priestly writers, is postexilic. For the framing of a festive calendar, a sort of moral unity of the separate cases of debt servitudes, pictured as expiring on the seventh Sabbath year after the first entry into the Holy Land (cf.25.2), was visualized from the viewpoint of the end of the Exile. To this liturgical framework belong such casuistic ramifications as Lv 25.32 to 25.34; 27.17 to 27.21; Nm 36.4. The primary theological value is inculcated in Lv 25.23: only God is the true owner of all the land, which He decrees is to be utilized as private property, yet is to be managed (nowadays taking into account that small farming is uneconomical), so that all the world's population may have reasonable access to its resources.
See Also: holy year.
Bibliography: r. de vaux, Ancient Israel, Its Life and Institutions, tr. j. mchugh (New York 1961) 175–77. t. seidl, Lexikon für Theologie und Kirche, ed. w. kaspar et al. (Freiburg 1993–2001), 5: 854–56. c. wright, Anchor Bible Dictionary 5 (1992), 857–61. d. bergant, "Jubilee," Bible Today 37 (1999) 342–48. e. neufeld, "Socio-economic Background of Yobel and Šemitta," Rivista degli Studi Orientali 33 (1958) 53–124. a. meinhold, "Jubeljahr," Theologische Realenzyklopädia 17 (1988) 280–81; "Zur Beziehung Gott, Volk, Land im Jobel-Zusammenhang," Biblische Zeitschrift 29 (1985) 245–61. erhards. gerstenberger, Leviticus (Gottingen 1993) 337–64. k. elliger, Leviticus (Tübingen, Mohr 1966). c. carmichael, "The Sabbath/Jubilee Cycle and the Seven-Year Famine in Egypt," Biblica 80 (1999) 224–39. n. c. habel, The Land Is Mine: Six Biblical Land Ideologies (Minneapolis 1995). j. fager, Land Tenure and the Biblical Jubilee (Sheffield 1993). k. henrey, "Land Tenure in the OT," Palestine Exploration Quarterly 34 (1986) 5–15. y. amit, "The Jubilee Law—an Attempt at Instituting Social Justice," in h. reventlow et al., eds., Justice and Righteousness (Sheffield 1992) 47–59. s. ringe, Jesus, Liberation, and the Biblical Jubilee, Overtures to Biblical Theology 19 (Philadelphia 1985). Encyclopedic Dictionary of the Bible, tr. and adap. by l. hartman (New York 1963), from a. van den born, Bijbels Woordenboek 1224–25. r. north, The Biblical Jubilee: After Fifty Years (Rome 2000). Sociology of the Biblical Jubilee (Analecta biblica 145 & 4: 2000 &1954). m. weinfeld, Social Justice in Ancient Israel (Minneapolis 1995). n. lemche, Early Israel (Leiden 1985); "Andurarum and mišarum," Journal of Near Eastern Studies 38 (1979) 11–22; "Manumission of Slaves—The Fallow Year—The Sabbatical Year—The Jubilee Year," Vetus Testamentum 26 (1976) 38–59. s. hoenig, "Sabbatical Years and the Year of Jubilee," Jewish Quarterly Review 59 (1969) 222–36. d. charpin, "L'andurarum à Mari," Mari 6 (1990) 253–70. e. cortese, "L'anno giubilare …," Rivista Biblica 29 (1981) 129–46.