If you’re struggling with bad credit, the credit system can seem like a towering deck of cards precipitously stacked against you. However, while the consequences for having poor credit are tough today, the truth is that in ages past they were much worse — for everyone. Borrowers were dealt with harshly, and lenders were, too.
So join me, won’t you, in my credit spaceship of the imagination, as we journey back in history, to a time when things were simpler … and the credit laws more horrific.
The Code of Hammurabi (1780 B.C.)
This ancient Babylonian code of laws is one of the earliest known written works — and it’s full of rules relating to credit and debt. In some ways, it’s a pretty measured approach to credit: The rules restrict creditors on the amount of interest they can charge, and allow debtors options for how they will repay a debt. Yet some of those options are pretty extreme. Take, for example, this code: “If any one fail to meet a claim for debt, and sell himself, his wife, his son, and daughter for money or give them away to forced labor: they shall work for three years in the house of the man who bought them, or the proprietor, and in the fourth year they shall be set free.”
The Old Testament — Ezekiel (592-570 B.C.)
There’s a reason that the Old Testament has a fire-and-brimstone reputation. The consequences for transgressions are severe. And in the Book of Ezekiel, usury is considered a transgression. The passage in question — Ezekiel 18 verse 13 from the New International Bible — is decidedly unambiguous. “He lends at interest and takes a profit. Will such a man live? He will not! Because he has done all these detestable things, he is to be put to death; his blood will be on his own head.”
I wonder what the punishment for the financial crisis would have been.
The Seventh Circle of Hell, Dante’s Inferno, The Divine Comedy (1308-1321)
Dante’s Inferno is an epic poem detailing one man’s journey through hell. While this literary work didn’t serve as the basis for the law of the land at that time, at the very least it offers a view of the values of people living in the 14th century. So in Dante’s vision, guess who resides in the seventh circle of hell? Usurers, who charge excessive interest. Other residents include warmongers, murderers and blasphemers. All of them spend an eternity in a desert of fire, where it also happens to rain fire … which sounds even worse than Times Square on a summer Friday afternoon.
Check back with us for more strange tales of credit past. In the meantime, if you want to figure out what your credit looks like before you wind up in the seventh circle of debtors’ hell – which is where I think anyone with excessive student loan debt probably already feels like they are – get a free copy of your credit reports every year and go to Credit.com for answers to your credit questions, your free credit scores and a clear explanation of why they are what they are.
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