Saturday, March 9, 2013

Onchsheshonqy 6/10

Do not covet another's property, saying "I will live on it." Acquire your own. (P. Onch. 6/10)
From the Ptolemaic Egypt from which the manuscript of Onchsheshonqy comes, we have records of lengthy lawsuits fighting over the ownership of property, usually considerable amounts. The choachyte archive, for example, preserves the records of one side of a lengthy legal dispute where one side of the dispute was clearly trying to live on the property of the other.

During the reign of Augustus, however, things got worse, when the powers that be took over the endowments that had been set aside for charitable purposes by others, and used them for their own gain, saying, in effect, "I will live on it."

Covetousness has been with the human race since the beginning. In some sense we live off the capital inherited from others. An illustration of this comes from the fifteenth century A.D.:
By the middle of the fifteenth century the population of Europe was half what it had been a hundred years before. . . . When the plague was over, however, everybody was better off in gross terms, since those who survived took what had belonged to those who had died. (James Burke, Connections, 2nd ed. [New York : Simon & Schuster, 1995], 98).
The children of Israel were warned that they would live in
great and goodly cities, which thou buildedst not,
And houses full of all good things, which thou filledst not, and wells digged, which thou diggedst not, vineyards and olive trees, which thou plantedst not; when thou shalt have eaten and be full;
Then beware lest thou forget the Lord, which brought thee forth out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage.
Thou shalt fear the Lord thy God, and serve him, and shalt swear by his name.
Ye shall not go after other gods, of the gods of the people which are round about you;
(For the Lord thy God is a jealous God among you) lest the anger of the Lord thy God be kindled against thee, and destroy thee from off the face of the earth. (Deuteronomy 6:10–15)
But in real ways we have the opportunity by our labor to add to the collective sum of human capital. We have an obligation to make things better for those who follow us.

To live off the human capital that others accumulated obligates those who do so with a debt of gratitude, whether or not they realize it. To rob someone of the living that they earned and live off it instead not only shows a want of gratitude, it shows a want of human decency.