To Whom Belongs the Land?

Leviticus 25 in an African Liberationist Reading

by Ndikho Mtshiselwa (Author)
©2018 Monographs XVIII, 284 Pages
Series: Bible and Theology in Africa, Volume 23


The main question of this book, which focuses on the role of the Old Testament in the South African context, is: If reread from an African liberationist perspective in the context of land redistribution and socio-economic justice in South Africa, could the Israelite Jubilee legislation in Leviticus 25:8–55 offer liberating and empowering possibilities for the poor in South Africa? The exegesis of Leviticus 25:8–55 in which the historical-critical method is employed lays the foundation for the contextualisation of the issues arising from the exegesis. Furthermore, within the African liberationist framework, the South African context serves as a lens to interpret Leviticus 25:8–55. The striking parallels between the contexts from which the text of Leviticus 25:8–55 emerged and the context of the modern reader of the Bible in South Africa are shown. In the end, it is argued that when re-read from an African liberationist perspective and in the context of the land redistribution and socio-economic justice discourse, Leviticus 25:8–55 can contribute positively to the redress of inequality and consequently to poverty alleviation in South Africa.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author(s)/editor(s)
  • About the book
  • Advance Praise for To Whom Belongs the Land?
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • List of Tables
  • Acknowledgements
  • List of Abbreviations
  • Chapter One: Introduction
  • Statement of Problem
  • Hypothesis Postulation
  • Methodology Employed for the Study
  • Qualitative Research
  • African Liberationist Perspective
  • Historical-critical method
  • Liberating blackness from whiteness and Europeanness
  • The liberationist dimension of an African liberationist approach
  • African proverbs and liberation songs as hermeneutical tools
  • Relevance of the Research
  • Chapter Outline
  • Notes
  • References
  • Chapter Two: A Critique of Socio-Economic Injustice and Land Ownership in South Africa
  • Introduction
  • Political Élites and Land—A Critique of the Political Economy of the Transitional and Post-apartheid South Africa
  • The Winner Takes All? Compromise(s) Between the ANC Élites and NP Élites
  • The political élites—The ANC and the NP versus the economic oligarchs
  • Land compromise—The NP élites and the white oligarchs retained the land
  • Ideological compromise—The demise of the ANC’s ideology of Marxism-Leninism and socialism
  • The winner-takes-all outcome in favour of the NP élites and white oligarchs
  • Socio-economic Injustice Caused by Ideological Clash Between the ANC, SACP and COSATU—Compromise(s) During and After the Negotiations
  • Politics of exclusion—alteration of democracy?
  • Ideological outlook of the ANC, SACP and COSATU
  • Impact of the ideological clash and compromise of land redistribution
  • Is it over? Revisiting Fukuyama’s theory of the “end of history” in the South African context
  • The Scourge of Black Economic Empowerment—Re-locating the Political Élites
  • Rise of Malfunctioning Capitalism! Political Élites and Socio-economic Injustice
  • Neo-Liberal Economic Globalisation and Land Policies as Tools of Socio-Economic Injustice
  • Navigating the Influence of Neo-liberal Capitalism on Land Policies
  • Property clause(s)
  • White Paper on Land Reform of 1991
  • White Paper on Reconstruction and Development of 1994
  • Land Reform (Labour Tenants) Act, No. 3 of 1996
  • Green Paper on South African Land Reform of 2011
  • Land Policies as Impediment to Land Redistribution and Socio-economic Justice
  • Does Possession of Agricultural Land Guarantee Poverty Alleviation? Empowering the Poor with Assets, Finance and Skills
  • Emerging Unproductive African-South African Farmers—An Impediment to Poverty Alleviation
  • Impact of Climate Change on Agriculture—A Challenge for Emerging African-South African Farmers
  • Conclusion
  • Notes
  • References
  • Chapter Three: Land and Socio-Economic Policy: Analysis of the Israelite Jubilee Legislation In Leviticus 25:8–55
  • Introduction
  • From Documentary Hypothesis to Neo-Documentary Hypothesis—Considering the Non-Documentarian Position for (South) Africa
  • Intertextual Reading of the Literary Context of Leviticus 25:8–55
  • Reconstructed Land and Socio-Economic Policy of Leviticus 25:8–55—Testing the Non-Documentarian Approach
  • Possible Structure of Leviticus 25:8–55
  • Identifying the Strata of Leviticus 25:8–55—Uncovering Ideological Contestations
  • Institution of the Israelite Jubilee—Land policy (vv.8–13)
  • Trading of agricultural products and food security—The Israelite Jubilee (vv.14–22)
  • Yahweh’s entitlement to the land—against the privatisation of land (v.23)
  • Provision for the payment of compensation (v.24)
  • Loss of land because of poverty (vv.25–28)
  • City property versus rural land and the élites versus the poor (vv.29–34)
  • Debt because of poverty (vv.35–38)
  • Hard labour—slavery due to poverty with the Israelite as an employer (vv.39–46)
  • Hard labour—slavery due to poverty with the non-Israelite as an employer (vv.47–54)
  • Conclusion (v.55)
  • Conclusion—Stratification of Leviticus 25:8–55
  • A Diachronic Analysis of the Sitz-Im-Leben of Leviticus 25:8–55
  • Dating the Composition and Redaction of Leviticus 25:8–55
  • Pentateuchal redactor
  • Holiness Code composer
  • Priestly composer
  • Deuteronomistic composer
  • Covenant Code and Elohist (Non-P) composers
  • Historical Re-construction of Ancient Israelite Society in Leviticus 25:8–55
  • The pre-exilic society
  • The Babylonian exilic society
  • The post-exilic society
  • Oppressive and Liberating Tendencies in Leviticus 25:8–55
  • Conclusion
  • Notes
  • References
  • Chapter Four: An African Liberationist Reading of Leviticus 25:8–55
  • Introduction
  • Re-Reading Leviticus 25:8–55 in Post-Apartheid South Africa—Land Redistribution Discourse and Socio-Economic Justice within the Liberationist Framework
  • In Search of Liberation in South Africa’s Discourse of Socio-economic Justice and Land Redistribution
  • An African Liberationist Reading of Leviticus 25:8–55
  • The Sitz-im-Leben of Leviticus 25:8–55 and the South African setting
  • The South African context and intertextual relationship between Leviticus 25:8–55 and its surrounding texts
  • Dialogue between the South African context and the possible structure of Leviticus 25:8–55
  • Land and socio-economic policy in Leviticus 25:8–55 and the South African land policies
  • Conclusion
  • Notes
  • References
  • Chapter Five: Conclusion
  • Introduction
  • Findings: Leviticus 25 in the Context of an African Liberationist Reading
  • Critique of Socio-economic Injustice and Land in South Africa—Inferences and Implications
  • Analysis of the Israelite Jubilee in Leviticus 25:8–55—summary and Findings
  • Implications of an African liberationist Reading of Leviticus 25:8–55 for the South African Context
  • Notes
  • References
  • Index of Authors
  • Index of Subjects
  • Series index

| xi →


Table 1.1. Thina sizwe esimnyama, “We, the black nation”

Table 1.2. Senzeni na? “What have we done?”

Table 1.3. Lelizwe, “This Land”

| xiii →


First and foremost, gratitude is due to uQamata the deity of my ancestors. The completion of this study could not have been possible without the inspiration, strength and wisdom from God. Further, I would like to express the word of gratitude to the following persons and institutions:

Mme Motswadi, Prof Madipoane Masenya (ngwan’a Mphahlele), thank you for the meticulous manner and ingenuity with which you have supervised my work. Ke Leboga kudu ‘Thank you very much’.

Much gratitude goes to Prof Thomas Römer for proof reading Chapter 3 and his support towards the publication of this book.

To the editor of my manuscript, Dr. Funlola Olojede, you are a language editor of class. My profound gratitude goes to you Sisi, ‘sister’ for your excellent work.

To my mother Bhelekazi, the profound gratitude to you is well deserved for the manner in which you have taught me the value of education, determination and hard work. Thank you so much Bhelekazi, Dlambulo, Khuboni, Qunta, Mafu, Langa, Mnomana, Mbutho, Ncwana, noNtanda […].

| xv →


AFU Asset Forfeiture Unit
ANC African National Congress
BCE Before the Common Era
BEE Black Economic Empowerment
CC Covenant Code
CODESA Convention for a Democratic South Africa
COSATU Congress of South African Trade Unions
CRDP Comprehensive Rural Development Programme
D Deuteronomistic School authors
DA Democratic Alliance
DAFF Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries
Deut Book of Deuteronomy
DLA Department of Land Affairs
DRDLR Department of Rural Development and Land Reform
DH Documentary Hypothesis
E Elohist writers
GDP Gross Domestic Product
GEAR Growth, Employment and Redistribution
H Holiness Code
HSRC Human Sciences Research Council ← xv | xvi →
IMF International Monetary Fund
J Yahwist writers
JCI Johannesburg Consolidated Investments
JSE Johannesburg Stock Exchange
KJV Kings James Version
LAPC Land and Agricultural Policy Centre
MEC Minerals-Energy Complex
NAIL New Africa Investments Limited
NASYSEC National Rural Youth Services Corps
Neo-DH Neo-Documentary Hypothesis
NIV New International Version
Non-DH Non-Documentary Hypothesis
NP National Party
P Priestly authors
Pg Priestly document—“Grundschrift”
RDP Reconstruction and Development Program
RSA Republic of South Africa
SACP South African Communist Party
SARS South Africa Revenue Service
Stats SA Statistics South Africa
TEC Transitional Executive Committee
UN United Nations

| 1 →


Statement of Problem

Twenty-three years into democratic rule, South Africa is faced with a burning debate on land redistribution in the context of poverty and socio-economic inequality. However, the debate focuses on productive land, that is, land to be used for agricultural purposes, rather than land in general. Poverty in this research is understood as the inability to attain a minimal standard of living measured in terms of basic consumption needs.1 The problem of the gap between the rich and the poor constitutes inequality in the context of poverty in South Africa.2 Against the idea of sharing and redistribution of wealth, the concepts of privatization and capitalism have dominated discussions of poverty and inequality. Capitalism has to with the decentralization of decision-making, coordination by a network of markets, predominantly material incentives, and private ownership of land and capital. South Africa currently operates a capitalistic economy. In such an economy, the empowerment of the poor and the alleviation of poverty are viewed as being dependent on the global integration of finance and market.3 However, privatization and capitalism do not alleviate poverty or redress inequality.4 The concern here is that capitalism and privatization progress at the cost of sharing and redistribution of wealth, and the empowerment of the poor African South Africans. The phrase African South Africans is employed here to refer to the indigenous ← 1 | 2 → (black) peoples of South Africa who are of African descent including the Xhosas, Ndebeles, Sothos, Tswanas, Zulus, Vendas and so forth.5 The indigenous peoples of South Africa include the Khoi and San peoples, but because they are not included in the phrase ‘African South Africans’ as employed by Masenya (ngwan’a Mphahlele) in her analysis and given the limited scope of this research, they will not form part of the category, ‘African South African’ as used in this study. In my view, a discussion of the issue of land in relation to the Khoi and San peoples would require a study of its own. The idea of redistribution of wealth in South Africa is linked to the issue of land to which this discussion now turns.

The issue of ‘land’ is at the heart of social, political and economic life in most African economies including South Africa’s which continues to rely heavily on agriculture and natural resources for a significant share of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP), national food needs, employment and export revenue.6 The issue of land redistribution is therefore grounded in the context of poverty and socio-economic inequality. Land redistribution could serve several purposes such as farming, mining and housing, among others. It is imperative at this point to present an overview of the issue of land in South Africa which will serve as the framework for the main research question.

In his article titled Land, class and the Bible in South Africa today, Mosala states that the land question is at the heart of the struggle for justice and development in South Africa.7 No doubt, the issue of land is linked to the historical seizure of land in South Africa. Mosala also probes whether the Israelite Jubilee in Leviticus 25:8–55 could speak more profoundly to the deep aspirations of the people especially on the burning question of land restoration.8 However, he does not try to answer the question nor discuss the issue of land and alleviation of poverty in relation to the Israelite Jubilee. Clearly, poverty is a direct consequence of the land seizure and migratory labor patterns wrought by colonialism and apartheid in South Africa. Therefore, I view the subject of land as integral to the discussion of poverty and inequality; and the history of land in South Africa is critical to the discussion of land and poverty alleviation. It is to this history, that I now turn.

It is on record that colonialism and apartheid sponsored the massive disenfranchisement of indigenous peoples as well as their alienation from their land.9 In the period of apartheid, the African National Congress Freedom Charter was adopted by the Congress of the People on 26 June 1955.10 A clause in the Charter reiterated the demands for equality in the spheres of political, social, educational and cultural life, and for land redistribution. A proposal for transferring power and privileges from the white minority to the population as a whole to the benefit of all South African citizens is also embedded in the same clause.11 The alleviation ← 2 | 3 → of poverty and redress of inequality seem to be the fundamental issues that the Charter sought to address.

However, on the issue of agricultural land, in particular, the land reform policy in South Africa prescribed a ‘willing-buyer willing-seller’ approach coupled with a limited state grant, the protection of private property and compensation based on market value for any expropriated agricultural land. The policy protected privatization and called for the stabilization of the rural economy within the agricultural sector.12 Privatization attracts investment, productivity and economic development, and it seems to have been the only option for Africa and for South Africa in particular, especially with regard to the land issue. South Africa has continued to promote privatization rather than land redistribution. In addition to generating wealth and developing the economy, private ownership of the agricultural land, in particular, may be viewed as the only way to ensure the development of South Africa.13

The issue of land in South Africa has also emerged in the debate on mines, specifically, on the nationalization of mines. Nationalization is defined as the transfer of private ownership of assets to the government with full or partial compensation.14 The call for the nationalization of mines therefore seeks to centralize the ownership of mines (or land) by shifting ownership to the government for the benefit of all South Africans. The redistribution of wealth is the primary objective of nationalization, which in my view, seems not to have been achieved because of privatization and capitalism. Shivambu argues that the nationalization of mines can alleviate poverty and redress inequality.15 This view is motivated by the commitment to redress the apartheid legacy of disparities visible within the mining sector. Nonetheless, the efficiency of nationalization in the redistribution and equalization of wealth in a capitalist economy, in particular, has been questioned.16 The wearing a way of investor confidence and the possible drain on state coffers rather than access to additional capital are some of the reasons behind the skepticism about nationalization.17 It came as no surprise that the African National Congress (ANC) conference held in Mangaung rejected the proposal for the nationalization of mines.18 The conference delegates did not reach a consensus on the discussion of poverty and inequality in the context of capitalism, privatization and redistribution of land in South Africa.

On the other hand, the twentieth century has made the Old Testament an African book.19 Ancient texts have been related to the experiences of Africans. Could the land question and poverty alleviation in South Africa relate in one way or other to the Israelite Jubilee in Leviticus 25:8–55? Before we attempt to answer the question, some remarks about the Israelite Jubilee in Leviticus 25:8–55 will be helpful. ← 3 | 4 →

The Israelite Jubilee in Leviticus 25:8–55 is understood in different ways by Old Testament scholars. Thus, the Hebrew masculine singular absolute noun יוֹבֵל translated as Jubilee (Lev 25:10) from which the institution derives its name originally meant a ‘ram’ or a ‘ram’s horn’.20 The ram’s horn was used by the Israelites as a sacred tool in the inauguration of a new and happier era for the conquered and dispersed Israel.21 The horn was also used by the Israelites to proclaim a year of atonement or reconciliation.22 From the two uses of the horn, the year of Jubilee derived its name and came to be known as the ‘year of the Ram’s Horn’ as shown in Leviticus 25.23 The term Jubilee comes from the Latin jubilum (from jubilo), meaning shout for joy.24 This meaning resonates with the view that the Jubilee year was characterized by great rejoicing as the restoration of the land took its course and liberation was realized.25

Liberation subsequently became the distinguishing mark of the year of Jubilee.26 The restoration of lost land to its former owners or their living next of kin marked the Israelite celebration of liberation, and it is embedded in Leviticus 25:29.27 The Jubilee was a year when liberty was proclaimed and the Israelites who had been enslaved were released while land and property were returned to their owners.28 The proclamation of liberty is mentioned in Leviticus 25:10 and the call for the release of slaves29 is made in vv.41–47. Moreover, the return of land (agricultural) and property to their owners is embedded in vv.29–34. Furthermore, the Israelite Jubilee in its functional form is expected to respond to the needs of the poor. Its meaning is captured in the position which views it as economic restructuring.30 However, it is questionable whether the institution of the Israelite Jubilee was ever practiced.

The question of whether the Jubilee was ever put into practice in Israel has been posed by a number of biblical scholars.31 Ringe observes that historical accounts and records have failed to throw light on the mystery surrounding the observance of the Israelite Jubilee.32 The observance of a Jubilee year in ancient Israel is not mentioned. Fried and Freedman however claim that the Jubilee was a historic institution in biblical Judah.33 They are of the view that the years 588/587 BCE were the Israelite Jubilee years. This view is based on the observation of Zedekiah’s use of the language of Jubilee to proclaim a mass manumission of slaves and of the occasion in which Jeremiah and Hanamel risked their lives to ensure that Jeremiah redeem his ancestral lands.34 Evidence of the mass manumission of slaves (Jer 34:8) together with Jeremiah’s redemption of his ancestral land (Jer 32:6–15), and the use of the Jubilee language (Jer 34:8) support Fried and Freedman’s view. It seems the Israelite Jubilee was understood as the proclamation of liberty for slaves and the restoration of land to its rightful owners.

To which period in the development of ancient Israel should the Jubilee legislation and institution therefore be ascribed, and from where did the Jubilee ← 4 | 5 → originate? The latter part of the question will be discussed in the literature review section. However, regarding the first part of the question, the establishment of the period and the reconstruction of its setting(s) can unearth the meaning of the institution in the Israelite context. Different periods and life-settings have been proposed by Old Testament scholars. As early as the 1920s, a pre-monarchic setting for the Israelite Jubilee was proposed.35 In line with the view of the pre-monarchic setting is the view that the Israelite Jubilee legislation surfaced specifically in the settlement period.36

Alternatively, the Israelite Jubilee legislation in Leviticus 25:8–55 is regarded as a priestly response to the disruption of the society which was caused by the growth of the monarchy, an urban trade-based economy, and the poverty experienced by the Israelite land-owners.37 The poverty provoked a priestly response. In the late 1960s, contrary to the view that supports the tribal, pre-monarchic and monarchic periods, North, suggests that the Israelite Jubilee originated during the exilic period.38 Based on the argument that the priests created the idea of the Israelite Jubilee in the Babylonian exile with the purpose of regaining their land upon their return under Cyrus, it can be presumed that the Israelite Jubilee took into account the issue of land redistribution.

The view that an early pre-exilic date is most probable for the basic outlines of the institution of the Israelite Jubilee and that a later period in Israel’s history is probable for the present form of the Israelite Jubilee legislation in Leviticus 25 is supported by recent Old Testament scholarship.39 Bergsma associates the walled cities in Leviticus 25:29 with the walled cities which are now apparent from the excavations at Tel Zayit which have large-scale Israelite stone architecture for public and private buildings, including defensive walls incorporating enormous (2 m3 or more) monoliths.40 He further notes that an inscribed abecedary was found at Tel Zayit, which attests to Israelite literacy in that period (tenth century BCE), and which supports the pre-exilic dating of the Israelite Jubilee. Indeed, the archaeological findings, the tribal or family orientation of Leviticus 25:8–55, and the connection of Leviticus 25:8–55 to ancient Near Eastern practices support an early dating of the Israelite Jubilee legislation to the tribal period.41

Consequently, one could assume that the Israelite Jubilee in its original pre-exilic context served to protect the sacredness of the land and prevent the inalienability of the land of poor families. Later in the monarchic period, it seems that the Israelite Jubilee aimed to redress the inequality between the rich and the poor. However, the transforming and empowering possibilities that the Israelite Jubilee offer to the poor in South Africa is missing in Old Testament scholarship. In the light of the above discussion, the issues of land and the alleviation of poverty can be regarded as two of the pertinent themes embedded in the text of Leviticus 25:8–55. The redistribution of land as it pertains to agriculture and property in ← 5 | 6 → the Israelite Jubilee and the South African context has the potential to respond to the needs of the poor. Moreover, the redistribution of land is a bid to redress economic inequality, which manifests in the gap between the rich and the poor. Farms or agricultural land and property as well as the sharing of wealth come up in the discussions about both contexts.

One thing that seems certain, at least on the surface, is that a modern day South African reader may not easily read the notion of the nationalization of mines into the text about the Israelite Jubilee in Leviticus 25:8–55. However, the issue of mines in the context of land could not have occurred at the time of writing the Israelite Jubilee legislation in Leviticus 25:8–55. Hence, there is no mention of the redistribution or nationalization of mines in the Leviticus text even though both the Israelite Jubilee and the discourse on redistribution or nationalization of mines speak to the idea of redressing socio-economic injustice. The Israelite Jubilee aimed to redress socio-economic inequalities in a bid to alleviate poverty in much the same way as the nationalization of mines in the South African context. In other words, both the Jubilee legislation and the idea of the nationalization of mines emerged in response to the fundamental needs of the poor, and both support the centralization of land ownership. However, the two contexts differ in the sense that in Leviticus 25:23, Yahweh owned the land while in the context of the nationalization of mines, the land is supposed to belong to the government. The sharing of resources and wealth is embedded in the Israelite Jubilee just as the call for the nationalization of mines in South Africa supports the sharing of resources and wealth. This brief comparison of the two contexts suggests the possibility of a connection between the Israelite Jubilee legislation and the redistribution or nationalization of mines in South Africa.

From the studies examined above, it is clear that scholars have begun to apply the Israelite Jubilee laws to contexts in which inequalities abound. In my view however, the arguments are not strong enough to make a difference in the discourse on social transformation. In this research, I would like to take the arguments further by addressing the following question: If re-read from an African liberationist perspective in the context of land redistribution and socio-economic justice in South Africa, could the Israelite Jubilee in the text of Leviticus 25:8–55 offer liberating and empowering possibilities for the poor in South Africa?

Hypothesis Postulation

A hypothesis is a proposition made based on limited evidence as a starting point for further investigation.42 It is a provisional conjecture that will guide the investigation of the present study. The main question of this research, which focuses on ← 6 | 7 → the role of the Old Testament in the South African context, leads to the hypothesis that: The Israelite Jubilee in Leviticus 25:8–55, when re-read from an African liberationist perspective and in the context of the discourse on redistribution of land and socio-economic justice, can contribute positively to the redress of inequality and, consequently, to poverty alleviation in South Africa.

Methodology Employed for the Study

A methodology is a system of method(s) used in a particular field.43 In the context of the present research, the methodology presents the theoretical and methodological frameworks as well as the procedures that are used to accomplish the research objectives. The theories and methods that are employed to collect and analyse data will be outlined in the present section.

Qualitative Research

This study is based on qualitative rather than quantitative research, which Housier defines as research that is based on measurement and quantification of data.44 In contrast to quantitative research, a qualitative research is a process of enquiry, which draws data from the context in which events occur in an attempt to describe these occurrences.45 In the process, perspectives of those participating in the events are determined, and possible explanations of data based on observable facts are derived. Moreover, Bogdan’s idea of participant observation has also influenced the choice of method employed in this research. A prolonged period of intense social interaction between the researcher and the subjects defines participant observation.46 In the course of such an interaction, data in the form of notes are collected and analysed.47 Participation in research conferences, seminars and workshops in the fields of Old Testament, social sciences and economics forms part of the participant observation followed in the present study. Further, relevant secondary sources such as books, articles from periodicals, internet sources, theses and dissertations are also consulted.

African Liberationist Perspective

The re-reading of the Israelite Jubilee in Leviticus 25:8–55 in the context of land redistribution in South Africa will be done from an African liberationist perspective. A distinction is made between a liberationist and a liberal perspective thus:

Based on the above view, South Africa is viewed, in the present study, as one of the countries that forms part of the developing world. The racial, cultural and social class relations in the context of land redistribution will be discussed in order to argue for equality in terms of class, race and gender. Liberationism is viewed as nurturing a spirit of ‘freedom fighting’ which requires the struggle against oppression, prejudice and discrimination to grow to fruition through the acquisition and exercise of political power.49 Of course, one could add the issue of the acquisition of economic power. Liberationism was originally a North American theology of black power and a Latin American theology of liberation from oppression.50 A concern of liberation theology is the truth of liberation itself as defined by the oppressed in their struggle.51 In the present study, the ordinary South African readers of the ancient text (cf. Lev 25:8–55) and the unequal and poor context within which they exist will be the subject of interpretation.52

Ukpong notes that, like black theologians, liberationists believe that a biblical text has a liberating message for Africans in their state of poverty, oppression and exploitation.53 Hence, in this study, I wish to re-read the Israelite Jubilee legislation in Leviticus 25:8–55 in the context of the theme of land redistribution in South Africa in order to contribute positively to the discourse on redressing inequality and alleviating poverty. An African liberationist perspective is ‘Africentric’ in orientation in that it operates from the perspective that Africa, South Africa in particular, constitutes the primordial context for human growth and liberation.54 An African liberationist perspective will empathize with the poor in pursuit of socio-economic justice and liberation in the South African context, and it will be guided by the following structure:

Historical-critical method;

Liberating blackness from whiteness and Europeanness;

The liberationist dimension of an African liberationist approach; and

African proverbs and liberation songs as hermeneutical tools.

Historical-critical method

Gerald West claims that African biblical scholarship has been shaped by the historical-critical method and the interests of western biblical scholarship.55 The historical-critical method in the present study includes text criticism, source criticism and redaction criticism. The study also embraces the view that it is unwise and ← 8 | 9 → unhelpful to reject western Old Testament scholarship in South African biblical scholarship.56 The meaning of the ancient text is uncovered through the so-called western Old Testament scholarship. On the one hand, textual criticism will assist the exegete to locate the text of Leviticus 25 within the broader context of its many versions and translations.57 On the other hand, redaction criticism will focus on the editorial stage(s) that led to the final written form of the passage.58 Omissions and insertions of verses, words or phrases that were made to the original form of Leviticus 25 will be investigated and explained. Significantly, the historical-critical method in this study will play a critical role in probing the life-setting of the Israelite Jubilee and the importance of the Jubilee in ancient Near Eastern communities. In order for the methodology to be relevant to the South African context, the historical-critical approach will be used within the theoretical and methodological framework of an African liberationist paradigm. As will be elaborated below, this study will draw on Mosala’s approach to historical-critical methods as he is critical of their Euro-American roots.59 Before relating the African liberationist approach to Leviticus 25:8–55 and the black biblical hermeneutics of liberation as well as on post-colonial biblical scholarship, it is important that we mention some of the concerns about the apparent dominance of whiteness and Europeanness in biblical scholarship.

Liberating blackness from whiteness and Europeanness

Responding to Perkinson’s argument about confronting white privilege in terms of socio-economic frameworks, personal power and cultural habits, Snyman argues that ‘in South Africa, whiteness has lost its political dominance, but not its cultural and economic domination’:

I may be white, male, middle class and thus advantaged on an economical (sic) level. However, on a socio-political level, I am not, as I do not have political power any longer in terms of whiteness. Moreover, in terms of political transformation my whiteness and maleness pose obstacles to others who want to be advanced, thus pushing me down to the lower steps of the socio-political ladder.60

Given the economic privilege associated with whiteness in South Africa, which is evident in the disproportionate benefit from land ownership and use, a discussion of whiteness is fitting. If an African liberationist reading of Leviticus 25:8–55 would be liberative and relevant to the South African context, it is important to consider the economic privileges attributed to whiteness in the country.

How can a discussion of blackness unlock the liberative reading of the social location of the poor in South Africa? In terms of a liberated61 oriented definition of blackness, Vellem holds that blackness does not refer to the pigmentation ← 9 | 10 → of the skins of black people in South Africa.62 Instead, blackness mainly refers to the cultural values, ideological concepts and realities of black people who are of African descent. It has been argued elsewhere that, in South Africa, blackness can unlock the meaning of an ancient text, which is not shaded by whiteness and Europeanness.63 In other words, blackness needs to be liberated from the dominance of whiteness and Europeanness that often silences the views of black people in biblical interpretation. Since the present study is based on an African liberationist reading, it supports the preceding argument.

However, the concepts of whiteness, Europeanness and blackness need to be defined at this point. Whiteness is a location of structural advantage of privileges enjoyed by the white race; a gaze on society made by white people; and a set of cultural practices of white people that are usually unmarked and unnamed.64 Snyman confirms that whiteness often functions from a position of invisible power where it remains an unreflected norm in biblical interpretation.65 For Shome, whiteness refers to practices of colonialism and neo-colonialism which privilege and sustain global dominance of white and Eurocentric worldviews.66 In the context of biblical studies, an interpretation or epistemology that is distinctively characterized by cultural practices of white people constitutes whiteness. Additionally, in a situation in which there is evident dominance of the distinctive worldviews of white people which in most cases differ from those of black people whiteness could manifest, for instance, that the dominance of the worldviews of the white race in biblical interpretation constitutes whiteness.

Snyman also argues that historical and literary criticisms are influenced by Eurocentric worldviews and they reflect a Eurocentric reading.67 In other words, the influence and dominance of Eurocentric worldviews in biblical interpretation result in the imperialism of Europeanness. The employment of a particular epistemology namely the construction and nature of knowledge that may be identified with Europeanness in that it espouses values which caricatures elements of a European culture and worldview encourages Europeanness. However, blackness is at odds with both whiteness and Europeanness.


XVIII, 284
ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2018 (March)
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Oxford, Wien, 2018. XVIII, 284 pp., 3 tables

Biographical notes

Ndikho Mtshiselwa (Author)

Ndikho Mtshiselwa is Associate Professor of the Old Testament in the Department of Biblical and Ancient Studies at the University of South Africa. He holds a doctoral degree from the University of South Africa. His area of research is the Old Testament (Pentateuch).


Title: To Whom Belongs the Land?
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304 pages