Having just returned from a lively panel on ‘Marxism and Theology’ at the New York Historical Materialism conference, I have been asked whether I would be interested in a panel on my Deutscher-prize book, In The Vale of Tears, for the Sydney event – on 17-18 July. The catch is that not so many Marxists in Australia know much about philosophy, let alone Marxism and religion. One or two come to mind, but this is probably a good moment for some crowd-sourcing. Suggestions welcome (send to my University of Newcastle email address).
30 April, 2015
3 March, 2015
The Sacred Economy of Ancient Israel is due out by the end of the month, in the prestigious Library of Ancient Israel series with Westminster John Knox. But I have been sent (thanks Dan) the endorsements that will adorn the first pages of the book and the back cover. I must admit to being somewhat embarrassed by posting them here in shameless self-promotion:
This is a remarkable book. It is a brilliant analysis of ancient Israel in its broader historical context. Boer has a more profound and extensive knowledge of the ancient economy than any other scholar working on the ancient world. Given the prevailing neoliberal ideology in Western societies, many biblical and ancient Near East scholars looked for trade in an early capitalist market economy; but working from a profound knowledge of the history of political economic theory, Boer offers a desperately needed counter to such anachronistic analysis. In opposition to individualizing, desocializing, and dehistoricizing neoclassical theory, he investigates, explains, and documents how both subsistence and extractive economic life was embedded in social relations, cultural traditions, and institutionalized social forms. He carefully builds a flexible theoretical framework in a multifaceted analysis that is able to comprehend the many interrelated factors and institutional forms of the ancient “sacred economy.” Supplementing his magisterial discussion, his excursuses, critical comments on other approaches, and bibliography provide guided tutorials and rich resources for specialist and nonspecialist alike. Boer’s book finally sets study of economic life in ancient Israel and Southwestern Asia in general on a sound critical theoretical basis from which archaeological explorations, historical investigations, and textual interpretation can work with confidence.
—Richard A. Horsley, Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Liberal Arts and the Study of Religion, University of Massachusetts
This bold and theoretically rich economic analysis should stimulate the rereading of many biblical texts and the rethinking of Israelite life altogether. Rather than dwelling on temple, palace, and the apparatus of empire, Boer shows the economic resilience through centuries of subsistence-level households and villages. While recognizing the injustices common in kinship-based communities, he nonetheless dares to suggest that agricultural subsistence models may hold the greatest promise for the thriving of contemporary communities.
—Ellen F. Davis, Amos Ragan Kearns Distinguished Professor of Bible and Practical Theology, Duke Divinity School
Marxism as a practical political ideology may have lost its momentum, but Marxism as an analytical method has not. Rather, this method is very precise and produces surprising results. Roland Boer’s study is a fine example of what can be achieved by a consequent use of this method. Boer distinguishes between two societal systems in the ancient Near East: the subsistence survival strategy in its various forms and extractive regimes such as states. Thus he has authored a highly readable new kind of book about the society of ancient Israel and its economic forces.
—Niels Peter Lemche, Professor Emeritus, Department of Biblical Exegesis, University of Copenhagen
Roland Boer is without doubt the world’s foremost scholar on the relation between Marxism and religion. Ste. Croix’s magisterial work on ancient Greece set the absolute standard for scholarship on the economies and societies of that part of the world; this book will set the same bar for work on the ancient Near East.
—Kenneth Surin, Professor of Literature and Professor of Religion and Critical Theory, Duke University
Roland Boer’s informative and colorful study provides a thorough treatment of the “sacred economy” of ancient Israel. Boer examines household structures, the plight of subsistence farmers, and financial exchanges. By applying the insights of economic theory, Boer is able to offer a fresh appraisal of key biblical texts. Full of interesting facts and lively prose, this book is essential reading for anyone who wants to understand the vagaries of economic life during the period in which the Bible was written.
—Samuel L. Adams, Associate Professor of Biblical Studies, Union Presbyterian Seminary
The Sacred Economy of Ancient Israel is nothing short of groundbreaking. Through an unparalleled understanding of economic theory, Boer corrects two misguided assumptions in approaching biblical economies: the tendency to assume capitalist structures and the tendency to isolate economy from the rest of the social world. Boer cogently articulates how the economy of Ancient Israel was deeply integrated into its religious institutions. With lucid prose and engaging style, this book will be a welcome resource for students and scholars for years to come.
—Roger S. Nam, Associate Professor of Biblical Studies, George Fox University
A masterful integration of biblical studies, archaeology, and Marxist critical theory that greatly enriches our understanding of the economics of ancient Israel in the larger context of Southwest Asia. Boer analyzes how the five building blocks of this economy—subsistence survival, kinship household, patronage, (e)states, and tribute exchange—rearranged themselves under three economic regimes to respond to different economic situations. Key to Boer’s argument is the fact that any economic crisis or collapse in the Levant, including Israel, primarily affected the upper classes, not the majority of the population. From the perspective of subsistence farmers, indentured servants, and debt slaves, the collapse of kingdoms and empires meant a reprieve from oppressive forms of extraction and the reemergence of the durable subsistence regime. A stimulating and provocative contribution that will be required reading for future investigations into the Bible and economics.
—Gale A. Yee, Nancy W. King Professor of Biblical Studies, Episcopal Divinity School
Roland Boer offers the reader a comprehensive and exhaustive study of Israel’s economy in the context of the ancient world. He draws all sorts of economic theories and models into both use and criticism. The reader is encouraged to read through to the end, where Boer asks the question—and seeks to answer it—as to what normative patterns can be discerned for considering economic life today.
—Patrick D. Miller, Charles T. Haley Professor of Old Testament Theology Emeritus, Princeton Theological Seminary
Boer’s growing corpus of critical work has not received nearly the attention that it merits. With this book Boer establishes himself as a frontline critical scholar whose work will be an inescapable reference point for future work. This courageous book is nothing short of a tour de force in which Boer probes the economic organization, structure, practice, and resources of the ancient Near East and ancient Israel as a subset of that culture. His study is organized around “regimes” of allocation that distribute resources and of extraction that plunder resources according to the deployment of sociopolitical power. The discussion maintains a continuing dialectic of “subsistence” and “surplus” that kept economic practice endlessly open and unstable. It is impossible to overstate the importance of this book and the sheer erudition that has made it possible. Boer’s patient attention to detail, his mastery of a huge critical literature, and the daring of his interpretive capacity combine to make this book a “must” for any who want to probe the economic substructure of biblical faith and the culture that was its environment.
—Walter Brueggemann, William Marcellus McPheeters Professor Emeritus of Old Testament, Columbia Theological Seminary
9 June, 2014
So in yet another moment of shameless promotion, a few endorsements:
A fascinating study unearthing the biblical elements that unexpectedly underpin the classic apologias for capitalism from Grotius to Malthus and Adam Smith, with reference to the Fall, original sin, predestination and freedom, all deeper narratives that sometimes even unconsciously seem to legitimize the emergence of this new and incomprehensible system.
Fredric Jameson, Duke University
The early philosophical promoters of capitalism as an ideology had a profound interest in theological questions. This is the first detailed study of the intersection between their philosophies, economic theories, and theological convictions. Boer and Petterson have given us a simply indispensable text.
Kenneth J. Surin, Duke University
fuckinggreat etc. Very interesting stuff (and Adam Smith is madder than I thought, though I will be retelling the fable of the dogs to explain human society, commerce and exchange). What was particularly striking was the use of the Fall and Genesis … Anyway, it is a great book and I reckon you’ve got a topic here of central importance in the Bible and the development of capitalism. Piss off.
Sorry: the cleaned-up version will appear on the book:
In Idols of Nations, Roland Boer and Christina Petterson have produced a superbly argued book, which will be of central importance to anyone wishing to understand the interaction between the use of the Bible, theology and religion, and economics. They expertly show how discussion of the Fall casts a long shadow over the emergence of capitalism and related issues of liberalism and ethnocentrism, all of which persist in economic thinking to this day. Enjoyable, provocative, and learned.
James Crossley, University of Sheffield
Table of Contents:
Chapter 1: Hugo Grotius: Rewriting the Narrative of the Fall
Chapter 2: John Locke and the Trouble with Adam
Chapter 3: Adam Smith the StoryTeller
Chapter 4: The Lust and Hunger of Thomas Malthus
14 January, 2014
Happened to stumble upon this review of Criticism of Heaven:
What a brilliant, wide-ranging, boundary-scoffing book. Boer rampages through Western Marxist thought for almost 500 pages, dissecting and challenging the theological and Biblical aspects that are part of the approach of these thinkers. Fine. Others have noted such influence. What’s magnificent is that by the end, Boer’s helped you understand these major, fascinating figures more deeply and also inspired you to think about the continued possibilities as we move forward from here to seek to build a better world.
I’m not sure how many people are anxious to read 50-page chunks on the theological/Biblical aspects of Bloch, Benjamin, Althusser, Lefebvre, Gramsci, Eagleton, Zizek, and Adorno. But if you think that might be you, hie thee to your browser and order this delight from Haymarket Books.
It is on Goodreads and has given me a swollen head and rather good feeling for the rest of the day.
24 December, 2013
The publication of the fifth volume, In the Vale of Tears, means that The Criticism of Heaven and Earth is complete. Ten years in the making, with 2000 pages of text, it deals with Western Marxism and religion. And you can get it as a box set – the ideal Christmas gift. Who could want more for a long summer of reading? Or, if you wish to wait for the paperback of In the Vale of Tears, due out in July, you can get the box set at a much cheaper price from Haymarket Books.
7 November, 2013
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No sooner is the hardcover of In the Vale of Tears published than the paperback appears. Or rather, the good lefties at Haymarket plan to publish the paperback in June 2014.
The front cover image is already available:
4 November, 2013
Volume five of The Criticism of Heaven and Earth series is at last published. In the Vale of Tears: On Marxism and Theology V brings to a close my study of Western Marxism and religion, offering a statement of my own response to that tradition. To my complete surprise and great pleasure, the series has become widely read, commented upon, and even translated into other languages. You might want to wait for either the Haymarket paperback of this book or the free download that someone will put up soon (they tell me such free downloads actually assist with people buying the book).
Table of Contents (brief):
Of Old Timber and Lovers
Chapter One: Atheism
Banishing the Gods?
Marxism and Theology
Chapter Two: Myth
Anticipation, or Utopia
For Example …
Chapter Three: Ambivalence
Scandal And Folly
Folly to the Rich
Towards a Marxist Theory of Political Ambivalence
By Way of Conclusion
Chapter Four: History
Method: Search for an Anti-Fulcrum
Paul’s Shaky Transitions
Between the Sacred Economy and Slavery
The Fate of Christian Communism
Chapter Five: Kairós
At the Crossroads of Time
Measure And Immeasure (Negri)
By Way of Conclusion: Political Grace
Chapter Six: Ethics
Ethics, Morality and Moralising
Care of the Self
Greasing the Other
Towards Ethical Insurgency
Chapter Seven: Idols
That Hideous Pagan Idol: Marx and Fetishism 628
On Graven Images: From Liberation Theology to Theodor Adorno
Conclusion: On Secularism, Transcendence and Death