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(Shenath shabbathon, "Year of rest"; Septuagint eniautos anapauseos; Vulgate annus requietionis).
The seventh year, devoted to cessation of agriculture, and holding in the period of seven years a place analogous to that of the Sabbath in the week; also called "Year of Remission".
Three prescriptions were to be observed during the year (Exodus 23:10-11; Leviticus 25:1-7; Deuteronomy 15:1-11, 31:10-13):
The law concerning the release of Hebrew slaves in the seventh year (Exodus 21:2 sqq.; Deuteronomy 15:12 sqq.) is wrongly connected by some writers with the sabbatical year. That there was no special connection between the two is sufficiently shown by the requirement of six years of servitude, the beginning of which was not affixed to any particular year, and by the law prescribing the liberation of Hebrew slaves in the year of jubilee, which immediately followed the seventh sabbatical year (Leviticus 25:39 sqq.). Since the sabbatical year was preceded by six sowings and six harvests (Exodus 23:10), it began with autumn, the time of sowing, and probably coincided with the civil year, which began with the month of Tishri (September-October); some commentators, however, think that like the year of jubilee it began on the tenth of the month.
The year was not well observed before the Captivity (cf. II Paralipomenon 36:21 and Leviticus 26:34, 35, 43). After the return, the people covenanted to let the land lie fallow and to exact no debt in the seventh year (II Esdras 10:31), and thereafter it was regularly kept. The occurrence of a sabbatical year is mentioned in I Machabees 6:49 and 6:53, and its observance is several times referred to by Josephus (Jewish Wars I:2:4; Antiquities XI:8:5-6; XIII:8:1; XIV:16:2).
The absence of any allusion to the celebration of the sabbatical year in pre-exilic times has led modern critics to assert that it was instituted at the time of the Restoration, or that at least the custom of allowing all fields to lie fallow simultaneously was then introduced. But it is hardly credible that the struggling community would have adopted a custom calculated to have a seriously disturbing effect on economic conditions, and without example among other nations, unless it had the sanction of venerable antiquity.
The main object for which the sabbatical year was instituted was to bring home to the people that the land was the Lord's, and that they were merely His tenants at will (Leviticus 25:23). In that year He exercised His right of sovereign dominion. Secondarily it was to excite their faith and reliance on God (Leviticus 25:20-22), and to stimulate their faithfulness to His Law (Deuteronomy 31:10-13).