Three Serious Questions

I have three serious historical questions for which my smart, wise friends may have answers. Here goes:

1. Does the Hebrew Bible, and in particular the Torah, state a prohibition against lending out money at interest? Or, more generally, was lending out money at interest generally prohibited or frowned upon in ancient Israel and Palestine?

2. If the answer(s) to the above is/are “yes,” was lending out money at interest a prevalent practice in ancient Israel and Palestine nonetheless (that we can know)?

3. When did lending of money at interest start to become a widely accepted practice in Europe?

I have a vague version of history in my head that goes like this: For most of human history, and in most places, lending out money at interest was prohibited or considered morally suspect, since it encourages idleness and accelerates concentration of wealth. The modern era in Europe, however, reinforced the notion that lending at interest was morally neutral and sometimes morally praiseworthy.

My problem is that I don’t know how much of my vague version of history is, y’know, true.

Who can help out here? Please comment!

2 thoughts on “Three Serious Questions

  1. Liam

    I do believe the prohibition against usury was in the Torah, though I don’t know how it worked in practice.

    As far as the Middle Ages goes — and I can give you more details if you want — the process of accepting interest was gradual. It was definitely condemned and at first merchants got around it by cheating — i.e., they wouldn’t charge interest, but there would be a “late fee” on the return of the venture. By the late Middle Ages, scholastic philosophers were coming up with very complicated ways to get around the prohibition of usury, and lending on interest was very widely practice. There were already big Italian banks in the twelfth century.

    Not really my field, but I have read a bit about it.

    1. bcubbage Post author

      Thanks Liam– this helps! Those crazy Italians…

      Do you have any specific sources you can recommend for further reading on the medieval history regarding this subject? Also you refer to Scholastic sources on this question, and as a philosopher I am both surprised and interested. Who discusses that?


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