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History’s First Mention of Money Lending

February 5, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

By Phin Upham

Westerners tend to defer their views of money lending to one of two sources. Aristotle, who said that money lending was unnatural and non-productive, and The Bible. The Bible does not explicitly call money lending a sin, but there are several references where Jesus makes clear that the practice is vile and not in accordance with a just and moral society.

Yet these references, which so often guide political thought, are not the first mentions of usury throughout history.

Religious texts from India contain some of the oldest references to usury in the known world. These mentions date back to 2000 BC, where usury referred to any loan that came with interest. The Hindu texts have many references, but seem to express equal disdain for the practice as most Western religions do.

Brahmans and Kshatryas, part of India’s highest caste, were barred from participating in usury by the prominent law maker Vasishtha. At a certain point, there was a legal limit to usury, where a rate was named and loans below that legal rate were deemed acceptable. Modern India still practices usury, but they don’t typically call it by that name.

All over the world, the word “usury” has come to mean something negative. Usury usually refers to loans given at exorbitant interest rates, but the common practice of money lending is neither right nor wrong from a moral perspective. Throughout history, religion and philosophy have sought to deal with the paradox of usury and self-reliance. India may have been the first to write it down, but it was certainly not the first time humans bartered for items.

Phin Upham is an investor from NYC and SF. You may contact Phin on his Phin Upham website or Facebook page.

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