But even if we meet farmers at the farmers market, urban consumers are still largely divorced from the people who grow, pick and package our food. And we may even willfully ignore their suffering, argues Seth Holmes, a medical anthropologist and professor of health and social behavior at the University of California, Berkeley, in his provocative new book, Fresh Fruit, Broken Bodies.
For two summers between 2003 and 2005, Holmes lived on a farm in the Skagit Valley of Washington state. The farm produces strawberries, apples, raspberries and blueberries to sell to berry companies like Driscoll and dairy companies like Häagen-Dazs. He traveled there with a group of Triqui Indians, across the border from their hometown of San Miguel in Oaxaca, Mexico. As Holmes soon learned, the Triquis make up the very bottom rung of the agricultural labor ladder and earn between $5,000 to $8,000 a year.
The second thing I noticed (Read What Shall We Eat? for the first) in re-reading Leviticus 25 is that the Jubilee is explicitly connected to Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, the holiest day of the Jewish calendar. This is the pinnacle of the sacrificial system to which Jesus’ death and resurrection has often been compared. While I don’t think that the sacrificial system is the only lens through which Jesus’ life, death and resurrection was or should be understood, it certainly is an important one both in Scripture and in the Christian tradition. So, what does it mean then that the Jubilee is supposed to be initiated by a shofar blast on the Day of Atonement?
If you just google Yom Kippur and Jubilee you will quickly find a lot of nonsense about the rapture happening on Yom Kippur in the year of Jubilee. That is not what this post is about. This is about the connection between the social practices found in the Jubilary code and its association with the cultic religious ritual of Yom Kippur. I would like to explore a series of questions concerning this connection: What is the role of the shofar and its connections to both religious and social contexts? What is the religious significance of Yom Kippur? Why is it connected to the Jubilee (or conversely why do we disconnect them)? Finally, what does this connection tell us about the nature of salvation in terms of Jubilee?
When was the shofar used?
The shofar was used in different contexts, but primarily announced full religious holidays. This was also the case with the Jubilee which was connected to the religious festivals that marked the Jewish calendar.
The sound of the shofar on Rosh Hashanah announced the jubilee year, and the sound of the shofar on Yom Kippur proclaimed the actual release of financial encumbrances. (from Wikipedia)
It is interesting to note that the shofar was also used as a call to arms when Israel went to war. The most famous instance of this use of the shofar is certainly from the book of Joshua when the blast of the shofar horn brought down the walls of the city of Jericho. M. Douglas Meeks describes the significance of that event in his book God The Economist.
The blowing of the Jubilee horn (shofar) in the story of Joshua is the symbol of what brings down the rotten economy of Jericho. (89)
The theology of war in the Hebrew Bible was that the battle always belonged to YHWH. Often battles were won through some sort of trickery which sometimes avoided bloodshed and often avoided the Israelites committing violence (e.g. Gideon in Judges 7). When Israel ignored YHWH and tried to fight their own battles their efforts were typically thwarted. This is not to excuse the violence in the Hebrew Bible that is clear and difficult to understand, particularly when commanded by God.
My point is that there is a theological thread throughout the Hebrew Bible that says YHWH will fight the battles for Israel. In this context the blast of the shofar that brought down the walls of Jericho could certainly be interpreted as proclaiming liberation from economic domination and oppression and the institution of a new economy. It is also important, as we will see shortly, that there was not the clear distinction between sacred and secular that we try to draw today. Thus, the shofar as a sacred instrument proclaimed Jubilee both in the temple and on the battlefield.
What does Yom Kippur mean?
Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, is the culmination of the Jewish year. In the Hebrew Bible this was the ritual when the High Priest placed his hands symbolically on the head of a goat designating it “Azazel”. This transferred the sins of the people to the goat which was then driven out into the wilderness. This is where the term “scapegoat” comes from. Through this ritual the entire community was purified, their sins atoned for. In other words, this was a chance for the community to start from scratch in their relationship to YHWH. It was also an opportunity for repentance as the community recognized their sins and brokenness. There was now new possibility for living a new way.
What has the Jubilee to do with Yom Kippur?
According to Jubilee USA the practical connection between the Jewish calendar and the year of Jubilee worked like this:
From Rosh Hashanah until Yom Kippur of the fiftieth year, slaves would not return home but would not work either. The fields would not return to their hereditary owners, but the owners would eat, drink and rejoice with their crowns upon their heads. Then, when Yom Kippur arrived, the slaves would return home and the fields would revert to their hereditary owners.
So, there is very explicit connection between the practice of Jubilee (theoretically at least) and the rhythms of the Jewish calendar. The Jubilee is announced at Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish new year, but this is only the beginning. It’s also interesting to point out that the Jewish new year begins in Autumn at the end of the harvest. The new year begins when the possibilities of the earth have been exhausted for that year and we turn to look toward the possibilities of next season. In light of the previous post which talked about the divinely abundant harvest promised prior to the Jubilee, this moment of turning from an incredible provision beyond expectations to the year of liberation ahead is heightened that much more.
The culmination of the Jubilary practices coincides with the culmination of the religious calendar on Yom Kippur when the Jubilee is proclaimed in its fullness and fulfilled completely. Jubilee is a process. It does not occur all at once. It is first declared and the enacted. This is the way many understand the nature of the kingdom of God that Jesus proclaimed. This new order or economy is first proclaimed and embodied by Jesus, but we are now in the process of enacting the fullness of that declaration with the promise that it will someday be complete.
What has the Jubilee to do with Atonement?
So, the very practical social ethic of the Jubilee has been intimately linked to the religious calendar of the Jewish people. This is to be expected from a worldview that did not distinguish the sacred from the secular. The practice of the Jubilee is the enacting of the divine economy within the community and is therefore inextricably linked to Israel’s relationship to YHWH maintained through the temple practices and rituals including Yom Kippur.
The Jubilee, or “Year of the Lord’s favor”, is picked up by Isaiah (61:1-3) and later Jesus (Lk 4:19) and made central to the identity of God’s people in both testaments. Further, Jesus’ work on the cross has been understood in relationship to the sacrificial system in Israel. He is called the “Lamb of God” by John the Baptist (Jn 1:29) and later in another John’s vision in Revelation (Rev 5:6-8; 7:10). So, Jesus identifies his mission with the Jubilee and the Jubilee is intertwined with the sacrificial system by which we have tried to understand the cross. Therefore whatever we want to say about the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, it must include this understanding that the proclamation of new beginnings on Yom Kippur is also the declaration of the radical new economy of the Jubilee. Salvation is Jubilee and vice versa.
The other night I had a conversation about denominations. Some people were discussing the way they grew up understanding denominations. For example,the Baptists grew up thinking the Catholics weren’t really Christians and the Methodists barely were. Some Catholics probably grew up thinking that Protestants were all some watered down version of the real thing. The funny thing is that most people couldn’t tell you why these things were true. They could give you a vague notion and maybe something the other believed incorrectly about communion or baptism. For the most part, it’s just the way things are.
I went to a Baptist seminary, but I did not grow up Baptist. Thanks to the likes of David Bebbington, I now know more than most Baptists do about their own history. Many of these conflicts and controversies have historical roots. People had real disagreements over matters they thought were of utmost importance. Over the years, we have detached these disagreements from their context so much that in the end they no longer make much sense.
This is how we deal with a lot of the world we live in, ahistorically. We approach global economic problems and regional conflicts as if they just started yesterday and can therefore be solved by our new-fangled innovations on the old sticks and carrots.
The way that we disconnect denominations and other things from their historical context is like our relationship with produce from the grocery store. We walk into the store with bright lights and flashy signs. We witness the sea of produce in perfect bright colors coming at us. There are no seasons in the grocery store, only sales (usually on seasonal produce, but you’d have to know that first to figure it out). Even though the current law requires produce to be labelled with its country of origin, you wouldn’t know where anything came from unless you wanted to read the fine print.
This is a different kind of food desert. This is a desert of now, a desert without a name or story or ancestors. The food in this desert is a never-ending ocean of unblemished ripeness, as if it were injection molded plastic. This food did not come from the earth. It came from a truck. Everything tells us it will always be there when we want it, because it is not really part of our story.
This is the lie that grocery stores and our lack of historical context perpetuate, that those things are not part of our story. Catholics are not part of our story, they just believe the wrong things. We are not historically related to them in any way. Those Lutherans just do things funny and we can’t explain it. That asparagus magically appears at the store in December with no questions asked. We pick it up to make dinner for our friends coming over and it is a prop. It does not belong to our story because it has no meaning to us.
Well, I believe with all my heart that both asparagus and history should mean something. It’s about our relationships to each other and to the earth… and that’s all it’s ever been about.
Tonight I am teaching at Meadow Oaks Baptist Church where I’ve been a member for about 4 years. I am teaching about my journey and calling toward agricultural missions and understanding the role food plays in our lives, globalization and justice. This is a pretty concise summation of why food is so important, my theology of mission and how food fits into God’s mission for the world. By concise I mean I had to cut a whole lot of important stuff out. Luckily I have a wife who listens to me ramble and tells me which parts to cut and which parts don’t make sense. So this is both very long for a blog post, but too short to say everything I wanted.
The full text after the jump.
Well, it’s what we slangily refer to as Turkey Day here in the continental 48. I’ve had my qualms and soapboxes on this genocidal holiday before (see my four walls circa 2004). But this year Barbara Kingsolver helped me with new lenses to look at this feast day. This is a truly American holiday. The food from start to finish is native to our land and comes in its proper season. That is something to celebrate!
So, as you’re digging in or reflecting back on that thanksgiving meal, remember that this is a time to be thankful for abundance, for the harvest being enough to last through the winter and for turkeys fat enough to eat. I’ve been particularly appreciating the squash (acorn and butternut) and sweet potatoes.
So, while I plan on being more realistic than legendary about American history with my kids, I also plan on celebrating Thanksgiving to the hilt as a feast worth celebrating with seasonal foods and thankfulness for enough.