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Homo Economicus and the Stories of Jacob: On the Methodological Relevance of Rational Choice Theory for Studying the Hebrew Bible

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image of Method & Theory in the Study of Religion

Abstract Economics is widely accused of being a portrayer of a dark and dismal image of human nature (i.e. its model of homo economicus as a self-interested, even selfish and opportunistic maximizer of its own gains). This article argues that the model of homo economicus is not an empirical or prescriptive image of human nature but a useful, “heuristic,” methodical instrument for economic theorizing (in our case, for the economic study of religion that connects to the Hebrew Bible). This article demonstrates that in generic, methodological perspective, the model of homo economicus compares well to similarly unrealistic, “dismal” models of human nature in other disciplines that study religion. I develop these arguments by focusing on selective stories from Genesis, especially the stories of Jacob. Implications are derived regarding the application of economic methods and concepts for research on the texts in the Hebrew Bible.

Affiliations: 1: School of Management, University of Leicester University Road, Leicester LE1 7RH UK


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