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At its essence, economics is the study of how societies make decisions on the allocation of limited resources. Whether subsistence, capitalist, socialist, or totalitarian, each society faces complex choices regarding the distribution of goods and utilities. In making such choices, economics involves the study of the various allocation processes such as production, consumption, exchange, forecasting, scarcity, and risk. But in all of these activities, economics is observable only through human behavior. Consequently, efforts to isolate economic behavior from social spheres are heuristic at best, misleading at worst. Economic decisions reflect deeper ideological values, hierarchies, and positions of power, often revealed in the dominant social institutions such as the royal court or the temple. A proper understanding of ancient economics can enhance understanding of the social worlds and moral visions of the Bible.


Originally published in The Oxford Encyclopedia of Biblical Interpretation. Edited by Steven McKenzie and David Garber, Jr. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 259-267.