British Museum

The Rosetta Stone, best known for unlocking the mystery of hieroglyphics, is actually a clean slate proclamation. The nearly 4-foot high, 2-and-a-half- foot wide and 1-foot thick stone is inscribed in three scripts—hieroglyphic at the top, demotic (an Egyptian script for everyday use) in the middle and Greek at the bottom. The text records a debt cancellation ordered by the Egyptian ruler Ptolemy V (204–180 B.C.E.) in 196 B.C.E. By this late date, debt cancellations had become a common ploy among rulers hoping to rally citizens during war and among attacking generals seeking to entice their enemies to defect—though the victors did not always live up to their promises. King Zedekiah of Judah (597–587 B.C.E.), for example, announced a society-wide debt cancellation to recruit debtors to defend Judah against an invasion by Babylonia; after the threat was warded off, Zedekiah reneged on his promises, leading the prophet Jere-miah to declare that God would deliver Zedekiah to the Babylonians as punishment (Jeremiah 34:11).

By the turn of the era, the economic consequences of the Jubilee year were seen as impractical. Hillel, the leader of the Sanhedrin, the supreme Jewish court, created an agreement by which borrowers waived their rights to debt forgiveness during the Jubilee.