Sam Adams, no relation to the beer maker, has written a fascinating account of Social and Economic Life in Second Temple Judea (2014). For those who need some help putting this into context, the relevant years are 532 BCE - 70 CE. What a fascinating time period!
Sam teaches Old Testament at the Union Presbyterian Seminary, and shares a meal with me and a group of other inquirers about once a month. Talk often turns to issues of economic justice, with often similar and often diverse views heard from Christians, Jews, Muslims, agnostics, atheists, Republicans, Democrats, and independents.
The Hebrew Scriptures are brimming with economic injunctions designed to help solve problems that arise in commerce, from commitment to honesty. There’s a lot in here about the moral limits to markets.
Here Adams discusses the views of Ben Sira, a “wisdom author” of the second century BCE:
“A merchant can hardly keep from wrongdoing, nor is a tradesman innocent of sin. Many have committed sin for gain, and those who seek to get rich will avert their eyes. . . . As a stake is driven firmly into a fissure between stones, so sin is wedged in between selling and buying” (Sir. 26:29–27:2).
Adam Smith likely read many of these Hebraic diatribes against the unscrupulous merchants, and the Wealth of Nations is overflowing with similar critiques.
Adams’ book provides wonderful insights into both economics and theology, relevant for our time. Highly recommended.