Original Research - Special Collection: Eben Scheffler Festschrift

Self-interest, wealth and the Book of Proverbs in the South African context: Towards a Smithian alternative

Mark Rathbone
HTS Teologiese Studies / Theological Studies | Vol 75, No 3 | a5123 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/hts.v75i3.5123 | © 2019 Mark Rathbone | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 24 May 2018 | Published: 31 January 2019


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Abstract

The purpose of this article is to explore new research on Adam Smith (1723–1790), the author of the classic economic text An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations (1776) and his often-disregarded earlier work The Theory of Moral Sentiments (1759). This is accomplished to provide an alternative perspective on the hermeneutics of wealth in the Book of Proverbs, which is often reduced by Marxist approaches as a mechanism to secure the privilege of the scribal classes of Israel. In order to do this, the following terms generally associated with wealth will be studied: הוֹן (hôn), כֹּחַ (kôach), חַיִל (chayil), עָשַׁר (‛âshar), עָשִׁיר (‛âshîyr) and עֹשֶׁר (‛ôsher). This analysis aims to determine whether the assumption of Marxist approaches to biblical interpretation is correct to suggest that wealth is mainly the result of the market dynamics that are exploited by the capitalist classes at the expense of workers. It will be argued that there are similarities between wealth and self-interest as proposed by Smith and the Book of Proverbs. This perspective incorporates self-interest and wealth in a socio-ethical system in which justice is paramount for social harmony, hereby providing a positive dialogue partner with Marxism and other economic theories to address socio-economic problems in South Africa.

Keywords

Proverbs; wealth; Adam Smith; self-interest; justice

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