You probably have heard the paying the prostitution is one of the world’s oldest professions. Well when people first started visiting prostitutes, you can bet there was stealing going on around town as well. As a teacher for an online theft course I often like to educate my students in the history of shoplifting. This is the first of a 2-part series that will trace the origins of theft from the earliest manifestations through current times where shoplifting has become the number 1 property crime in America.
Be Careful You Might Get Clubbed In The Head!
Did cavemen steal from one another? That is an interesting question. Among students in my stop theft courses and various colleagues in the industry this question brings up imaginative conversation. An image of Early Man conjures up a simple, primitive lifestyle, where hunter-gatherers banded together to eat and survive. While it may be hard to imagine them stealing from one another, for me, I would find it nearly impossible that they didn’t.
While I believe theft had to be a part of caveman and Neanderthal life, there is no visual proof it happened. Have you ever seen a cave painting involving theft? Me, neither, but that does not mean it didn’t happen.
News From Mount Sinai
Moving forward in time a little, to a period that has solid documentation, let’s take a look at Biblical times. Did people steal then? Of course! The problem was rampant enough that when God sent his list of edicts to live by, otherwise known as the Ten Commandments, theft was specifically mentioned. Theft had the honor of being in God’s “Top 10” do not do list!
I do not think God was being vague when Commandment #5 said, “Thou shalt not steal” (Exodus 20:15 and again in Deuteronomy 5:19). It seems simple enough, and I am certain you do not want people stealing from you.
Thou Hast Stolen My Donkey!!
Did people really steal during Biblical times? If so, what were they stealing? I am not talking about Cain killing his brother Abel over petty jealousies surrounding parental love, or Jacob literally “pulling the wool over” his blind father Isaac in order to secure his family’s birth right, I am talking stealing of goods and merchandise. So what were people thieving?
First of all, the Bible is very clear that if you steal, restitution must be made. For example in Exodus 22:1, “If a man steals an ox or a sheep and kills it or sells it, he must pay back five head of cattle for the ox, and four sheep for the one sheep.” And further in Exodus22:4, “If the stolen item should in fact be found alive in his possession, whether it be an ox or a donkey or a sheep, he must pay back double.”
So it appears they were definitely stealing livestock. Ah, but did people need to lock their houses to avoid being burgled? You bet! Check out Exodus 22:7, “If a man gives his neighbor money or articles for safekeeping, and it is stolen from the man's house, if the thief is caught, he must repay double.”
It certainly would not have been fun if you could not pay the reparations for your theft during these times. Exodus 22:3 says, “A thief must surely make full restitution; if he has nothing, then he will be sold for his theft.” That would certainly make a thief think twice. You get caught and can’t pay, you don’t get a simple fine or a few days in jail, you become someone else’s personal property.
Judas Was A Traitor And A Thief
We all know how Judas Iscariot was one of Jesus’ 12 apostles whose betrayal caused him to be hung from the cross. But did you know that Judas was also a thief? In one of the earliest cases for “corporate greed,” Judas, as the treasurer for the disciples, stole from the money bag they kept to help feed the poor.
So far we have taken a brief look at theft from Early Man through Biblical times. In the following article will move right into the Middle Ages and the Industrial Revolution which will segue into the modern area.