Nearly twenty years ago I worked directly across the street from the Liberty Bell, driving by it six days a week. To a certain extent, I took this local landmark for granted, just another piece of scenery on my ninety minute commute home. Two years after leaving this position, National Treasure debuted in theaters. Nicolas Cage and Justin Bartha play treasurer hunters, Benjamin Gates and Riley Poole, searching for a treasure left behind by several founding fathers who were Free Masons. In this film, the Liberty Bell holds a clue, the next piece to a puzzle that ultimately leads to a hidden vault underneath a church in New York City. Yet, this two thousand pound structure made out of copper and tin is much more than just a bell.
And you shall consecrate the fiftieth year, and proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a jubilee for you, when each of you shall return to his property and each of you shall return to his clan, Leviticus 25:10.
In 1751, the Pennsylvania assembly ordered a bell for its State House, today’s Independence Hall. The assembly chose a biblical inscription from the Bible that proclaims “liberty throughout the land,” Leviticus 25:10. This bell would become an emblem of American independence. One century later this bell also served as a symbol of the anti-slavery movement during the Civil War. Initially, the Liberty Bell summoned Philadelphia lawmakers to their assemblies and local citizens to public announcements. Today, over five million visitors travel to Independence National Historical Park to see this national treasure.
The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; Isaiah 61:1.
The context of the phrase “liberty throughout the land” comes from an Old Testament practice known as the Year of Jubilee. The symbolism of this celebration is based upon freedom, setting anyone living in bondage or enslaved free. Every fifty years on the Jewish calendar, the Jubilee cancelled any outstanding debts. Thus, slaves were allowed to return to their homeland without being forced to return. When you add the year of Jubilee to the end of slavery in America, the Liberty Bell has duel meanings. If you ever have a chance to visit Independence National Park in downtown Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, remember that this monument is much more than a bell.
by Jay Mankus