Jun 5, 2017

Temples as Banks in the Ancient World?

I like many others have often taught that temples in the ancient world often functioned as de facto banks. But if Marty Stevens is correct then such a linkage as at best imprecise or inadequate. Note the following helpful clarification from Stevens.
But the ancient temple as “bank” is imprecise and inaccurate. Most precisely, temples functioned as “treasuries” or “depositories,” a place for the storage and retrieval of (precious) commodities and metals by the depositor. Temple archives demonstrate that the temple held deposits by individuals but did not allow others to access them or in any other way use the negotiable instruments that complete the definition of “banking.” Temples lent their own property, not that of others on deposit with the temple. If the temple used the deposits at all, it was acting as a broker at the direction of the depositor, who retained the risk of the use. The defining issue is the accountability for risk. The broker-intermediary does not assume any risk; a banker-intermediary assumes risks as a creditor. So temples were not “banks” in antiquity. Rather, the more precise designation for the role of the temple in antiquity would be “financial intermediary.” As collector, user, and disburser of goods and financial services, the temple transferred value from the contributor to consumer.”
Marty E. Stevens, Temples, Tithes, and Taxes: The Temple and the Economic Life of Ancient Israel (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2006), 137.

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