Original Research - Special Collection: Eben Scheffler Festschrift

Scheffler’s autopsy of poverty in the biblical text: Critiquing land expropriation as an elitist project

Temba T. Rugwiji
HTS Teologiese Studies / Theological Studies | Vol 75, No 3 | a4991 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/hts.v75i3.4991 | © 2019 Temba T. Rugwiji | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 27 March 2018 | Published: 04 June 2019

About the author(s)

Temba T. Rugwiji, Department of Old Testament Studies, Faculty of Theology and Religion, University of Pretoria, Pretoria, South Africa


The theme of poverty has recently dominated various scholarly platforms, including academic presentations and public debates. Nevertheless, it has emerged that the rhetoric about poverty reduction seems to be the project of the elite who apparently write and speak on behalf of the poor. The plight of the majority of the poor is problematised so that transformation is superficially democratised with the ultimate aim of benefitting the elite. The present study reflects on Eben Scheffler’s contributions on poverty and the poor in the Old Testament books of the Pentateuch, the Psalms and the Proverbs. Although this study refers to Scheffler’s other works on poverty from time to time, particular attention is paid to four of them, namely, (1) ‘The poor in the Psalms: A variety of views’; (2) ‘Of poverty prevention in the Pentateuch as a continuing contemporary challenge’; (3) ‘Poverty in the Book of Proverbs: Looking from above’; (4) ‘Pleading poverty (or identifying with the poor for selfish reasons): On the ideology of Psalm 109’. Scheffler points out that it was the ancient Israelite elite who played the role of writing and speaking on behalf of the poor. It is essential to note that Scheffler’s thrust is not an appropriation exercise, although in some places he makes reference to the ‘contemporary world’. Thus, the present study attempts to explore the land debate in our contemporary world, with a special focus on South Africa’s (SA) land expropriation without compensation (LEWIC) debate and the foiled fast-track land reform programme in Zimbabwe, as elitist projects. The Zimbabwean Fast-Track Land Reform Programme (FTLRP) was a prototype of LEWIC in SA. It is argued that the poor rural communities in Zimbabwe continue to languish in poverty in a country endowed with abundant natural resources, including land. The study argues that land allocation in Zimbabwe benefitted the elite.


Poverty; Poverty reduction; Old Testament; Pentateuch; Psalms; Proverbs; Agriculture; Land expropriation


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