Marxism and the New Testament

As Roland Boer and Christina Petterson see it, the Gospels contradict the witness of Jesus about slavery and property.

The Sacred Economy of Ancient Israel (2015) established Ro­land Boer as a foremost interpreter of the economic realities of ancient Israel. Now Boer, who teaches at the University of Newcastle in Australia, along with Christina Petterson, another Australian scholar, turns to the New Testament to offer “a new economic framework for early Christianity.” Their realism about biblical economics overturns any tendency toward a romantic reading of the Bible.

The book’s use of Marxian analysis will be unfamiliar to many readers, and its economic jargon demands attentiveness. Grounded in Karl Marx’s class analysis and mediated by G. E. M. de Ste. Croix’s insistence that class is the defining factor in economics, Boer and Petterson challenge the “economic imperialism” of Adam Smith’s market ideology. Classical market theory insists that a growth economy is a tide that will raise all boats. Boer and Petterson believe that claim to be wholly and manifestly false.

Ste. Croix identifies four economic “regimes,” patterns that reflect the realities of social class. The slave regime assures the legitimacy and normalcy of slave production through which the ownership class can live well. In the colonial regime, the ownership class siphons off the produce and wealth of socially powerless workers. The land regime allows the powerful to own the land and practice patronage toward those who work the land—with the workers’ economic helplessness used by owners to legitimize the workers’ dependency.