“Marxist Criticism of the Bible,” by Roland Boer, 2003
(This is the second in a series of 4 looking at purely academic books, as I’ve run out of books by public intellectuals or left authors.)
This book is not so much an atheist take-down as a historical materialist analysis of the real roots of the Bible. Boer focuses on ‘mode of production,’ which is key in understanding the Bible and how and why it was written. He also uses the methods of a number of more modern Marxist thinkers – Althusser, Gramsci, Eagleton, Lefebrvre, Lukacs, Bloch, Adorno, Jameson and Benjamin – to penetrate various ‘books’ of the Bible.
This is a book for specialists or those deeply knowledgeable of the Bible itself. I am only concerned with one ‘book’ – “The Book of Daniel” – otherwise known as Revelations. It ends the ‘new’ Testament, a part of the Bible seen by liberal regligionists as less cruel, less misogynist, less bloodthirsty, less weird and less backward than the ‘old’ Testament. Yet it is what you might call the bloodiest book of all. I’d call it a pretty incredible revenge fantasy. Holy shit!
Revelations concerns the apocalypse or
‘Armaged’don’, which in Greek, (apokálypsis) is the ‘unveiling,’ ‘uncovering’ or
revelation of what is to come when Christ returns. This apocalypse is supposed to be a positive
thing. But it involves the ‘whore of
Babylon,’ the 4 Horsemen – power, war, famine and death; a Beast, dragons, locusts,
the Mark of the Devil – 666, stars falling to earth, the moon turning blood
red, poisoned waters and islands flying away.
Then there are the 7 plagues – 1. sores on human bodies, 2. the death of
everything in the sea, 3. river waters all turning into blood, 4. a scorching
sun, 5. endless darkness, 6. a drying-up of the
at this creepy fever-dream through the lens of Walter Benjamin, an atheist who
thought that Biblical language is some kind of ‘basic’ return to the roots of
language, to the original ‘naming’ of things in the misty past. Boer doesn’t think so. He understands Revelations to be a
‘closed system’ of allegorical thought, dominated by the sacred Yahweh (God). Revelations itself combines myth and
historical names without any real ability to parse one from another. In it a religious apocalypse is supposed to
‘end time.’ Revelations says “I
am the First and the Last … the Alpha and Omega.” Marxists understand that,
|Hieronymous Bosch? The Bible's hell on 'earth'|
Who is the all-encompassing Yahweh in this historical world? Boer likens him to the ruling despot of Marx’s ‘Asiatic mode of production,’ dominating an empire through cruel military force, with ‘the sacred’ as the overwhelming cultural power binding his empire together. The ‘Asiatic’ form of production involved tribute paid by vassal states, and tribute (somewhat like taxes…) paid by peasants and a few traders to those vassals in exchange for some protection. When an empire got too large, smaller kingdoms would revolt and break off, which accounts for the many conflicts mentioned in the Bible. Boer thinks Revelations might be written as ‘code’ by possible insurrectionists or rebels against an oppressive king or kingdom, using symbols and metaphors instead of naming names. Their anger is wrought large in a violent and fantastic revenge parable of eventual triumph. Sound familiar?
Mode of production is key to any understanding of society and even literary texts like the Bible, wrapped in Yahweh as it is. It relates to how humans survived at that time in history – how they obtained food, clothing, shelter, protection, solidarity, children and family, etc. Boer himself practices a text-dense look at the Bible and notes a huge gap – the frequently missing role of women and childbirth, which makes sense in a patriarchal society.
over other Marxists’ various versions of Marx and Engel’s “Asiatic” mode of
production in the Bible and
This is another academic book with limited use except to specialists, but which shows the breadth and depth of applying the historical materialist method to any text, even the Bible, in order to demystify and reveal.
P.S. - The 'death' count in the Bible decreed by God was counted by Steve Wells. He counted 2.82 million verified dead and estimated 24.99M estimated dead. No king has ever killed that many. Bloodiest work of fiction ever!
Other prior reviews on this subject, use blog search box, upper left: “The Da Vinci Code’ (Brown); “God is Not Great” (Hitchens); “The Dark Side of Christian History,” “The Rise of the Nones,” “To Serve God and Wal-Mart,” “Religulous” (Maher); “Go Tell it on the Mountain” (Baldwin); “The Jesus Comics,” “Jude the Obscure” (Hardy).
And I got
it at the
The Cultural Marxist
March x, 2021