Louvre Museum

Ancient I.O.U. The seventh-century B.C.E. cuneiform tablet, shown here, is one of a cache of seven debt records discovered in 1909 at Susa (in modern Iran). The biblical Jubilee law, like the clean slates before it, annulled debts that had forced individuals into servitude or had caused families to lose the ancestral lands on which they depended for survival.

Clean slates also canceled certain obligations owed to the king—such as the obligation to bring tribute.

According to author Hudson, clean slates and the Jubilee law were essential policies for strong government in the ancient Near East. At the typical rate of interest in the ancient world—20 percent per year—it took only five years for a debt to double. Natural disasters or bad harvests could force much of the population into economic hardship or servitude. Without clean slates or the Jubilee law, a few wealthy creditors would have monopolized the land, and kings would have been deprived of a draftable fighting force (compare with wall relief from the palace of the Persian king Darius).