The Pre-Mosaic Tithe: Issues And Implications -- By: Mark A. Snoeberger
DBSJ 5 (Fall 2000) p. 71
The Pre-Mosaic Tithe:
Issues And Implications
In Leviticus 27 the Mosaic Law expressly commands the practice of tithing, codifying it for all Israel as a combined act of spiritual service and economic obligation for the advancement of the nation. This codification, however, was by no means the birth of the tithe, but a new expression of the ancient Near Eastern tithe infused with theological significance for the new political entity of Israel.1
The payment of tithes was no novel practice, having been performed for centuries by both biblical figures and pagans alike. It is well attested that the tithe2 was present in the very earliest of cultures—Roman, Greek, Carthaginian, Cretan, Silician, Phoenician, Chinese, Babylonian, Akkadian, and Egyptian—stretching back to the earliest written records of the human race.3 This extra-biblical practice of tithing must, of course, be considered when searching for the origin of the tithe. Was the tithe a divinely conceived custom, original with Yahweh and unique in its expression, or was tithing a divine adaptation of an originally pagan custom, bequeathed with theological significance by divine fiat? Further, was the tithe an act of worship alone, or a demonstration of political subservience: a primitive form of taxation? Or was it a combination of the two?
Many scholars (including most liberals) contend that the levitical
DBSJ 5 (Fall 2000) p. 72
institution was borrowed strictly from early contemporary heathen practices.4 On the other pole, some, generally more conservative, scholars contend that the universality of the tithe and the failure of attempts to discover its origin within secular sources point to a much more ancient practice—one instituted by God at the very dawn of human history.5
To make either claim, one must look to the early chapters of Genesis for clues to the genesis of the tithe. If, indeed, concrete evidence for its origin can be discovered here, one can be assured that the tithe originated with God and that it was revealed by him from the very earliest times to mankind. Failure to discover the origin here does not rule out the possibility of divine origin, but it does render the origin of the tithe an argument from silence for either position. It is, therefore, the purpose of this essay to probe the OT material, beg...
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