“It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain an idea without accepting it.” — Aristotle
In today’s world, it is obvious that the competition of ideas is under serious threat and with it, the much-needed discussions on how to deal with certain topics or try to understand the world we live in. That is particularly worrying, especially when one considers that the western world went through the process of Enlightenment roughly 200 years ago. In the words of Immanuel Kant:
“Enlightenment is man’s release from his self-incurred tutelage. Tutelage is man’s inability to make use of his understanding without direction from another. Self-incurred is this tutelage when its cause lies not in lack of reason, but in lack of resolution and courage to use it without direction from another. Sapere Aude! “Have the courage to use your own reason!”- that is the motto of enlightenment.”
He held that one’s ability to express oneself freely and honestly was essential for enlightenment. When men start expressing their thoughts and opinions freely and without fear of any sort of punishment, reasoning and new ideas surface, which is paramount to enlightenment. And yet, today, we are living again through a period of time, where especially people who claim to “protect us from ourselves” believe that restricting speech and putting boundaries around the exchanges of ideas is for the greater good. Thus, guided, shepherded thought and carefully managed dialogue is becoming the norm, instead of individuals reading, thinking, debating and deciding what they believe by and for themselves.
In this sense, you should not look at this article from a purely religious perspective. Instead, you should also focus on the ideas and lessons that one of the oldest books, and arguably a fundament of western civilization has to offer. I myself am not a religious person, however, I still find these core principles, values and lessons undeniably constructive and relevant to this day, while the central idea and understanding that spirit comes before matter is especially important. Being born and raised in Switzerland and having always been interested in history as such, I am reminded of part of the “Rütli oath” which is fundamental in understanding the Swiss:
“And rather die than live in slavery.
We want to trust in the one highest God
And never be afraid of human power.”
Therefore, I hope that even a hardcore atheist will read this article with an open mind and hopefully see that the biblical findings on what is money and the values linked with it are very interesting indeed.
Gold and Silver in the Bible
There is a solid body of historical research and records that document humanity’s relationship with gold and silver and their use as money for thousands of years. Evidence stretching back to the fourth millennium BC, clearly documents the role that precious metals played as mediums of exchange, as the Egyptians, Mesopotamians and Ancient Greeks heavily relied on gold and silver to facilitate their economic activities and trade. Another important source that describes gold’s relevance and core functions over the course of human history and civilization can be found in the Bible, as the religious texts and scriptures include ample references and solid support for the prominent position that gold and silver historically enjoyed, not just economically and commercially, but also spiritually and symbolically.
To analyze and interpret some of these references and to place them in their proper context, I sought the expertise and insights of Iustin Rosioara, author of God’s Money: An In-Depth Examination of the Bible Verses that Mention Gold and Silver.
His expert input, findings and conclusions, provided not only a number of interesting examples, but also the wider conceptual and historical background and structure necessary for a meaningful analysis of this topic.
An examination of the biblical foundations and origins of “sound money”, clearly reveals that it is difficult to isolate gold from silver. Based on the scriptural references and the relevant context, more often than not, the two metals appear intertwined, with their symbolic values being interlinked and complementary.
In the Bible, gold represents righteousness. It is indestructible, it is pure and in nature it does not combine chemically with other elements. At the same time, silver symbolizes redemption. As many will remember, it was used to pay Judas for betraying Jesus, but it also has important cleansing and antibacterial properties. Thus, these metals are normally linked, as what they represent, righteousness and redemption, also cannot be separated. Without God’s righteousness, redemption is not possible and righteousness cannot be achieved without redemption. When only one of the metals is used by itself, that particular context will reveal a special applicability for that metal.
Genesis 2:11-12 “Gold is good”
The name of the first [river] is Pison: it is the one which encompasses the whole land of Havilah, where there is gold. And the gold of that land is good.
As a general rule, when a concept is mentioned for the first time in the Bible, the context that it is mentioned in will determine the main application of the concept. Therefore, the statement that “gold is good” needs to be looked into from this perspective.
The word translated to “good” [in Hebrew “tob“, pronounced “tov”] is a word that has multiple meanings. First, as an adjective, it means “good”, “pleasant”, “excellent of its kind”, “valuable in estimation”, but as a noun, it also means “welfare” or “prosperity”.
The context of Genesis chapters 1 and 2 is important too, because these are the chapters where mankind receives its mandate: “to be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth, and subdue it”. There is a clear economic aspect to this mission, as humanity is tasked with managing the resources of the Earth. And this is the context applicable in this reference to gold.
Therefore, in this context, there is a requirement for two basic elements: material substance (matter) and work (labor). Material substance is God’s contribution to this process. Work represents man’s contribution to growth and development. Where no human labor is involved, nothing grows; everything stagnates, or things grow chaotically. Through work, man is supposed to cultivate selectively, help establish order over chaos, and to spread and multiply the more desirable and enjoyable elements of life, while protecting them from predators and threats.
In the process of development, as labor is continually applied to matter, accumulation of goods and labor specialization is inevitable, eventually leading to excess and thus to trading. At this point, seen from an economic perspective, everything that is valuable on the earth and is supposed to be used as money, must contain the same two components – material substance and labor.
In this light, usage of fiat money in trade provides the set up for and facilities unfair exchanges, as one party is giving away real goods and services (containing material substance and labor), but what he receives in exchange is immaterial and only has illusory value. An exchange is fair only if it is founded upon the same premises and if both parties receive things of the same nature.
“Keseph” = “silver” and “money”
In the original Hebrew text, the very same word is used for money and for silver: “keseph”. Due to the specifics of the Biblical Hebrew language, whenever one single word is used in multiple contexts and has multiple meanings, all those meanings are strongly connected. In addition, many words are built on the foundation of “root words”. This means that when multiple words are derived from the same “root”, all those words and the concepts they represent are also very closely related.
Whenever payments are made in different transactions, the price to be paid is, with few exceptions, expressed in “keseph”. Throughout the entire Bible, silver plays a prominent role, as the designated medium of exchange to be used by merchants.
The equivalence between silver and money can be easily observed reading the chapters about Joseph, probably the first historical depiction of an economic cycle – seven years of abundance, followed by seven years of severe famine.
With a clear understanding of what is about to come, Joseph offered
Pharaoh a simple and straight-forward solution: save one-fifth of the
crops during the years of abundance and compensate the losses during the
years of famine. As the people were not prepared for the crisis and
they had no food, the outcome was that “Joseph gathered up all the money
that was found in the land of Egypt, and in the land of Canaan, for the
corn which they bought: and Joseph brought the money into Pharaoh’s
house.” [Genesis 47:14, KJV] In this verse, the word translated as
“money” is “keseph”.
At the same time, we are also told that Joseph instructed the steward of his house to secretly place his cup in his youngest brother’s Benjamin sack, together with the money he had paid for the corn: “And put my cup, the silver cup, in the sack’s mouth of the youngest, and his corn money.” [Genesis 44:2 KJV] In this verse, the word “keseph” is used two times in the original – first describing the silver cup and then again, but this time describing the money paid for the corn.
In the upcoming second part of this article, we’ll look at further examples of precious metal references in the Bible, as well as examine the economic model that is described therein.