By Gary A. Anderson
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Extra info for Charity: The Place of the Poor in the Biblical Tradition
This conclusion is surprising, of course, because it speaks not to his devotion to Jerusalem per se but to his devotion to serving the poor outside the temple, exactly the position in which he ﬁnds himself in the Diaspora. But I have left one item unaccounted for. I began by making a simple comparison: just as the altar is a conduit for food, so the hand of the poor is a conduit for money. What I have not done justice to is the question why the gift was understood as a loan. If we can presume for the moment that the idea of the loan has a logical grounding in Israelite culture, the next question would be, why did the concept of a loan become so immensely popular in early Judaism and Christianity?
Though Joachim and Anna lived in biblical times, their piety is not just of antiquarian interest. We ﬁnd the correlation between almsgiving and service of the altar to be a standard theme in other medieval paintings that depict contemporary Christian life. Consider an image from a Book of Hours in the collection at the Walters Art Gallery (ﬁgure 2). The central thematic concern of this painting is the freeing of souls from purgatory. Notice that souls are painfully paying the price for their sins on earth at the bottom of the image while angels assist their departure for heaven at the far left.
Though they speak deferentially when requesting the money, they become indignant when repayment is due. As a result, Ben Sira concluded, “many refuse to lend, not because of meanness, but from fear of being defrauded” (29:7). If these warnings are true of borrowers even in the best of circumstances, then one would expect Ben Sira to be even sterner when it comes to making a loan to the truly down and out. But his stance is just the opposite. He commends his students to disburse their funds without a moment’s forethought.
Charity: The Place of the Poor in the Biblical Tradition by Gary A. Anderson