One of the most important distinctions between the Hebrew tradition and the pagan tradition is the separation between days of work and days of rest. Paganism perceived work as a necessary evil, to be avoided when possible; Judaism uniquely saw work, or economic creativity, as essential to man’s situation on earth and critical to human flourishing. Some Jewish sources even understood man to be a partner with God in creation, and human work as necessary to complete Divine creation. Meanwhile, the concept of rest was essential to enabling men and women to take individual responsibility for bearing covenantal duties within a sacred order, hence the need to present one’s labor and resources to God on days of rest. Understandings of work and rest significantly influenced how Judaism perceived economic activity in the classical and medieval periods, helping to pave the way to more modern views of market economics as inherently good.
This lecture discusses the ways in which the Hebrew Bible and Jewish tradition understand creativity and work, examining their key divergences from prevailing ideas of the Greco-Roman tradition and other pagan outlooks. In particular, it focuses on differences regarding economic activity, acesticism, and creativity. This is especially important because classical republican assumptions about economics may have influenced some early Christian theological views of economics. This lecture will examine how rabbinic Judaism utilized the Bible to construct a theology that was friendly towards commerce and business, foreshadowing and perhaps even contributing to later pro-market understandings among Renaissance Catholics, Protestants, and modern philosophers like John Locke and Adam Smith.
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