Ancient Israel had no lending institutions or banks in the modern sense. Commercial transactions and the lending of credit were entirely in the hands of private individuals, landowners, and merchants. Contemporary cultures in Mesopotamia lent money or produced at interest (in some cases as much as 33 1/3 percent per annum). The temptation among the Israelites to do this was suppressed by laws forbidding the charging of interest on loans (Exodus 22:25;
Ezekiel 18:8). According to these statutes, only foreigners could be charged interest on a debt (Deuteronomy 23:20).
Pledges were sometimes required to guarantee a loan (Genesis 38:17), but essential items, like a cloak, could not be kept past nightfall (Deuteronomy 24:12;
Amos 2:8). A strict protocol of debt collection was also to be followed with the lender forbidden to enter the home of the debtor to “fetch his pledge” (Deuteronomy 24:10-11). In periods of famine or high taxation a man might mortgage his home and fields, pledging his labor as a debt-slave or the labor of his family to satisfy the loan (Nehemiah 5:1-5;
Psalms 119:11). Abuse of this system occurred often enough that the prophets condemned it (Nehemiah 5:6-13;
Ezekiel 22:12), Proverbs called it folly (Ezekiel 17:18;
The widespread introduction of coined money after 500 B.C. and the expansion of travel and commerce in the Roman empire aided the establishment of banking institutions in the New Testament period. Money lending (Gk. trapezites, from the table trapeza where business was conducted) was a common and acceptable activity in the cities. Jesus' parables of the talents (Matthew 25:14-30) and the pounds (Luke 19:11-27) lend credence to the practice of giving sums to the bankers to invest or to draw interest. The older custom of burying one's money for safe keeping (Joshua 7:21) Jesus condemned as “wicked and slothful” (Matthew 25:25-27).
Some who were involved in finance, however, took advantage of the large number of currencies in circulation in Palestine. Farmers and merchants came to them to weigh coinage and exchange it for the Tyrian drachma favored in the city. The regulations regarding the Temple tax in Jerusalem also worked in the financiers' favor. The “moneychangers,” known as kollybistes, charged a fee of 12 grains of silver (a kollybos) and set up their tables in the Court of the Gentiles. They exchanged foreign currency for the silver didrachma required by the law (Matthew 17:24). Jesus' cleansing of the Temple may have been in part a response to the unfair practices of these money-changers (Matthew 21:12-13;
With sums coming into the Temple from Jews throughout the empire, the Temple itself became a bank, lending money to finance business, construction, and other programs. Pilate raised a storm of protest when he tapped one of the Temple funds (Qorban), which was to be used exclusively for religious purposes, to build an aqueduct. After the destruction of the Temple in A.D. 70, the Roman emperor Vespasian ordered the continued payment of the tax and its deposit in the Temple of Jupiter.
Victor H. Matthews