AGRARIAN LAW (a-gra-ri-an law). To this or some such heading belongs the consideration of the peculiar laws by which the distribution and tenure of land were regulated among the Hebrew people, while the modes and forms in which the land was cultivated belong to AGRICULTURE.
(1) Pastoral People. The Hebrews were for the most part a pastoral people until they were settled in Palestine, and their pastoral hab its were mainly instrumental in keeping them dis tinct and separate from the Egyptians, who were agriculturists and had a strong dislike to a shep herd life (Gen. xlv1:34). But when they became an independent and sovereign nation, the same result of separation from other nations was to be aided by inducing them to devote their chief attention to the culture of the soil.
It was, in subservience to this object, and to facilitate the change, that the Israelites were put in possession of a country already in a state of high cultivation (Dent. vi :t I). And it was in order to retain them in this condition, to give them a vital interest in it, and to make it a source of happiness to them, that a very peculiar agrarian law was given to them.
(2) Basis of Agrarian Law. An equal dis tribution of the soil (Num. xxv1:53, 54) was the basis of the agrarian law. By it provision was made for the support of 600000 yeomanry, with (according to different calculations) from sixteen to twenty-five acres of land each. This land they held independent of all temporal su periors, by direct tenure from Jehovah their sov ereign. by whose power they were to acquire the territory, and under whose protection they were to enjoy and retain it.
(3) Guarded by Other Provisions. But this law was guarded by other provisions equally wise and salutary. The accumulation of debt was pre vented, first, by prohibiting every Hebrew from accepting of interest (Lev. xxv :35, 36) from any of his fellow-citizens; next, by establishing a regular release of debts every seventh year. and, finally, by ordering that no lands could be alien ated forever, but must, on each year of Jubilee, or every seventh Sabbatic year, revert to the fam ilies which originally possessed them. Thus, with out absolutely depriving individuals of all tem porary dominion over their landed property, it re established, every fiftieth year, that original and equal distribution of it, which was the foundation of the national polity: and as the period of such reversion was fixed and regular, all parties had due notice of the terms on which they negotiated, so that there was no ground for public commotion or private complaint.
(4) Country Property. This law, by which landed property was released in the year of Jubi lee from all previous obligations, did not extend to houses in towns, which, if not redeemed within one year after being sold. were alienated forever (Lev. xxv :29, 3o). This must have given to prop erty in the country a decided preference over prop erty in cities, and must have greatly contributed to the essential object of all those regulations, by affording an inducement to every Hebrew to re side on and cultivate his land. Further, the origi
nal distribution of the land was to the several tribes according to their families, so that each ibe was, so to speak, settled in the same country. and each family in the same township or sub division. Nor was the estate of any family in one tribe permitted to pass into another, even by the marriage of an heiress (Num. xxvii) ; so that not only was the original balance of property preserved, but the closest and dearest connections of affinity attached to each other the inhabitants of every vicinage.
For this land a kind of quit-rent was payable to the sovereign proprietor, in the form of a tenth or tithe of the produce, which was assigned to the priesthood. (See Mims.) (5) Military Service. The condition of mili tary service was also attached to the land, as it appears that every freeholder (Dent. xx :5) was obliged to attend at the general muster of the national army, and to serve in it, at his own ex pense (often more than repaid by the plunder), as long as the occasion required. In this tion, therefore. the agrarian law operated in se curing a body of 600sioo Men, inured to labor and industry, always assumed to be ready, as they were hound, to come forward at their country's call. This great body of national yeomanry, every one of whom had an important stake in tile national independence, was officered by its own hereditary chiefs. heads of tribes and families (Comp. F,xod. xviii and Num. xxxi.i4) ; and must have presented an insuperable obstacle to treacherous ambition and political intrigue, and to every attempt to overthrow the I lebrew com monwealth and establish despotic power.
(0) Security of State. Nor were these in stitutions less wisely adapted to secure the state against foreign violence. at the same time pre vent offensive wars and remote conquests. For while this vast body of hardy yeomanry were always ready to defend their country. when as sailed by foreign foes, yet, being constantly em ployed in agriculture. attached to domestic life, and enjoying at home the society of the numerous relatives who peopled their neighborhood, war must have been in a high degree averse to their tastes and habits. Religion also took part in pre venting them from being captivated by the splen dor of military glory.
(7) Return from Battle. On returning from battle, even if victorious, hi order to bring them back to more peaceful feelings after the rage of war, the law required them to consider themselves as polluted by the slaughter, and unworthy of appearing in the camp of Jehovah until they had employed an entire day in the rites of purifica tion (Num. xix :13-16 ; xxxi :19).