The manuscript for Idols of Nations went off to the press (Fortress) a month ago, so here’s some details, the preface, and a table of contents:

Idols of Nations: Biblical Myth at the Origins of Capitalism

Roland Boer and Christina Petterson

Minneapolis: Fortress Press (2014)


How do the early ideologues of capitalism engage with the Bible and theology? Why do they wrestle with the Bible in constructing myths to justify what was still a new economic order? What is it like to read those whom Marx read when researching Capital? These are some of the questions that played in our minds as we read, discussed, and wrote this book, Idols of Nations. Hugo Grotius, John Locke, Adam Smith, and Thomas Malthus are our concerns, and into their thoughts we have delved. We have been intrigued, surprised, exasperated, underwhelmed at their banalities, and laughed out loud at their often astonishing contortions as they sought to retell biblical stories. Or rather, they try to retell the story of the Fall, and of Adam more generally, finding there the origins of private property, self-interest, labor, exchange, commerce, law, states, and what have you. In the process, greed becomes a social benefit, acquisitiveness part of the divine plan, and labor a result of God’s command to subdue the earth. Idols indeed, worshipped and justified by a text that systematically condemns those idols. After all, it takes some deft story-telling to make the text say almost exactly the opposite of what it does say.

In the process of writing, we have been assisted by those … To all these people, we are extremely thankful.

As we read and wrote, we were always mindful of the fact that we were treading in Marx’s footsteps to some extent. These were the same texts he read in the slow process of writing Capital. Although we cannot hope to match his critique and insight, we have undertaken this project with a similar approach: to ascertain the patterns of argument, the myth-making, and blind spots of what became the ideological carapace for capitalism.

On the Кра́сная стрела́ (Red Arrow) train

Somewhere between St. Petersburg and Moscow

September 2013

Table of Contents



Chapter 1: Hugo Grotius: Rewriting the Narrative of the Fall

Softening the Fall

Retelling the Myth

The Paradox of Liberalism

Class, or, The View from the Height

Chapter 2: John Locke and the Trouble with Adam

Something About Adam




A Myth Retold – Again

Setting the Scene

The Commons

Use and Appropriation


Tilling the Earth

Adam and the Plot Lines of the Fall

Downcast Ending

Conclusion: On Human Nature and Biblical Limitations

Chapter 3: Adam Smith the Story-Teller

Human Nature

Truck, Barter, and Exchange

Self-Love and the Invisible Hand

Tall Tales

Sayings, Moral Tales, and Vignettes



In the Rude State of Society: The Foundation Myth

In Ancient Times

Conclusion: On Myth, Utopia, and Transitions

Chapter 4: The Lust and Hunger of Thomas Malthus

A Melancholy Hue: On Human Nature

Fallen Creatures

Misery, Vice, and Perfectibility

Retelling and Retelling the Myth

From Savagery to Civilization

The Basic Postulata: The Reverend’s Lust and Hunger

The Traps of God’s Good Gifts

Facing up to Evil

Conclusion: On Good and Evil


September 2013


At Liam’s request, the table of contents for Criticism of Earth:

Preface 5

Introduction 12

Synopsis     16

The terrain of struggle: theology and the Bible   26

Conclusion    47

Chapter One: The Subterranean Bible 53

Outwitting the Censor  56

Against the Ruling Class  65

Clergy as part of a Corrupt Ruling Class    73

Economic Allusions          77

Against Other Opponents    84

Appropriation and Ambivalence   89

Conclusion   95

Chapter Two: The Leading Article: Theology, Philosophy and Science 96

Theology and Scientific Research    97

Theology and Philosophy   101

Church and State   110

Fetishism and Idolatry  116

Conclusion  121

Chapter Three: Against the Theological Hegelians I: Bruno Bauer 122

The Book of Isaiah (with Herr Licentiate Bauer)     125

‘My Friend for Many Years Standing …’     139

The Jewish Question        152

Holy Families      167

Conclusion  181

Chapter Four: Against the Theological Hegelians II: Max Stirner and the Lever of History 190

Stirner’s Ego, or, the Lever of History  194

The engine room of historical materialism     200

Conclusion  218

Chapter Five: Against the Theological Hegelians III: Ludwig Feuerbach’s Inversion 222

Inversion    223

Idealism and Theology  231

The Theological Springboard   236

Irreligious Criticism, or, Completing the Criticism of Religion  240

The New Luther 255

Conclusion   263

Chapter Six: Hegel, Theology and the Secular State 269

The Formal Theologian   270

The Theological State    275

The Death of Theology? 281

The Paradox of the Secular State 289

Conclusion   304

Chapter Seven: Idols, Fetishes and Graven Images 308

History of Religions  310

Idolatry 322

Economy   332

Alienation and Labour  332

Money and Christology   339

Commodities and Capital    343

Conclusion  355

Chapter Eight: Of Flowers and Chains: The Ambivalence of Theology 361

Theological Tension and the Gospel of John   363

The Bible and Class Conflict   382

The Two Sides of Opium 389

Marx’s Demurrer: On Grace   401

Chapter Nine: Engels’s Biblical Temptations 407

Engels’s Self-Exorcism  408

The Challenge of Contradictions  425

Schelling, the Philosopher in Christ    452

Conclusion: On the Loss of Faith  470

Chapter Ten: Revelation and Revolution 475

The Two Minds of Friedrich Engels  477

Doctrinaire Atheism  479

Revolutionary versus reactionary Christianity  485

The Ambivalent Calvinism of F.W. Krummacher  489

A Soft Spot for Apocalyptic   494

On Thomas Müntzer and the Peasants  507

Early Christianity  517

Conclusion  531

Conclusion 533

References 563

The manuscript is just shy of 160,000 words, so it should come out, even with Brill/Haymarket’s big pages, at about 450 pages. Due out October 2011.