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Ideological Criticism

Ideology is one of those words that has accrued a variety of uses (Larrain 1979; Eagleton 2007). It can vary from the neutral description of a system of ideas such as an institution to a system of ideas, held by society, that underlie the power and values of a certain class. Hence, theology could be the ideology of Christianity and thus the ideology be virtually synonymous with theology. Of greatest interest, however, is the use of term within the Marxist tradition, succinctly put in Karl Marx’s “The German Ideology” (Marx 1998), to indicate the way in which ideas are intimately related to the struggle for power and hegemony and particularly the ways in which ruling elites promote their values by recourse to “ideologies” that are deemed to be natural or normal but, in fact, serve their interests. Thus, by subscribing to such ideas in their culture and everyday lives, the majority of people are unaware that they are supporting the interests of their rulers and other powerful groups. This lack of awareness is what Marxists call false consciousness. While the Bible contains numerous examples of false consciousness, a glaring one is when the oppressed Hebrew slaves, who are on the verge of a degree of freedom, find themselves looking back to the ideology of Egypt and its culture: “If only we had died by the hand of the LORD in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the fleshpots and ate our fill of bread; for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger” (Exod 16:3A).

Ideology and Texts.

All texts are ideological in some sense and have a relationship to vested interest in relation to social formations (Jameson 1981; Williams 1987). The text is an individual representative of the struggles between social classes and the contradictions of human existence. Texts’ relationships to the world are never straightforward, as they both reflect and refract social reality. Through them the tensions of wider society are expressed, for example, offering a resolution of the contradictions and frustrations of the world. A text may be interpreted as part of a struggle between different class interests in which a ruling class ideology seeks to offer itself as “common sense” or “normality” and all else as deviant, abnormal, and irrational. A ruling class ideology will offer strategies of legitimation, while an oppositional culture or ideology will often, in covert ways, seek to contest and to undermine the dominant value system. But there is also an attempt by the powerful to pick the best ideas of the opposition and use those to minimize their potency and the strength of the opposing groups who use them. However loud the note of protest in a text, it is going to be shot through with the ambiguities of being part and parcel of a world that is itself full of contradiction and pain. Any text’s relation to that struggle will not necessarily stand firmly on one side or another. Sometimes it will manifest the voice of the oppressor and his ideology in the process of seeking to articulate that subversive memory. Part of the task of interpretation is to lay bare the ambiguities and contradictions that are inherent in all texts. A critical examination of the Bible suggests that texts that have had a radical impact in the subsequent history of religion—such as Second Isaiah—were in their original production a means of reinforcing the ideas of the ruling elite who were transported into exile and then sought to establish their God-given right to lead on their return. So, even what may appear to us to be the most reactionary texts, produced by the elite’s representatives, may surprise us by offering what Jameson calls a “utopian impulse.”

Ideological Criticism.

Ideological criticism is rooted in historicism, but its social and political edge pushes it much further into the actualities of history as compared to much of the results of historical criticism that are frankly usually ideological in nature, whether in the neutral or more political sense. Hegel discusses the detachment that is typical of historical study of the Bible, which, whatever its other virtues, can miss the political character of its own discourse and the extent to which its exponents are themselves implicated in maintaining the citadels of power in their own day or unaware of the extent to which there may have been similar struggles going on within and behind the biblical text:

"It is to be noted that there is a type of theology that wants to adopt only a historical attitude towards religion; it even has an abundance of cognition, though only of a historical kind. This cognition is no concern of ours, for if the cognition of religion were merely historical, we would have to compare such theologians with counting-house clerks, who keep the ledgers and accounts of other people’s wealth, a wealth that passes through their hands without their retaining any of it, clerks who act only for others without acquiring any assets of their own. They do of course receive a salary, but their merit lies only in keeping records of the assets of other people. In philosophy and religion, however, the essential thing is that one’s own spirit itself should recognise a possession and content, deem itself worthy of cognition, and not keep itself humbly outside. (Hegel 1984, p. 128, quoted in Bennett, 1997–1998)"

Detachment, according to Hegel, is an impoverished form of knowledge, for it ignores our part in maintaining certain ideas and values. Standing at a distance is impoverished knowledge and it risks ignoring the deeper truths of why certain ideas are deemed more important than others. For Hegel true knowledge and the knower are inseparable, as also the knower is inseparable from that which is known, be it nature, the human community, or God. As the title of the book Knowledge and Human Interests by one of the most distinguished modern critical theorists writing in the Marxist tradition, Jürgen Habermas, suggests, knowledge and human interest are inextricably interwoven (Habermas 1978). That applies as much to the biblical authors as their modern interpreters. “Theologians do not live in the clouds” (Boff 1978, p. 265; Freire 1985), however much they might like to think they do.

Ideological criticism suggests the imposition of modern concerns onto the text of the Bible. Such imposition is true even if we think that we search the pages of the Bible to find reference to either ideology or criticism. It is the case that in an intellectual world in which the Marxist tradition has played such a significant role, it was only a matter of time before discussions of class, ideology, and praxis caught up with biblical studies. But it is appropriate that it has done so. Ideological criticism may not be referred to explicitly in the Bible, but the underlying characteristics of what we know as the criticism of ideology are. Thus, particularly in the New Testament, we have texts, that emerge not from the center of power but from a marginal group, which was not just religious but political. We need think only of the terms that it used about itself—even church is a term rooted in the Hebrew word (qahal, which is widely believed to lie behind the Greek, ekklesia) for a community. Church gives entirely the wrong impression. Elsewhere, languages about commonwealth, cities, even the body of Christ have a political ring to them. People became Christians in antiquity for a variety of reasons, but they soon came to realize that they were signing up to a different kind of political culture and values. It may be difficult at times to live out those ideas in the world of Roman domination, but that difficulty did not stop them from exploring exactly that. Theirs was not some retreat into a holy huddle but the exploration of a different kind of politics, which for two centuries was rather marginal from the power politics of the Roman Empire. Here was a group from the margins, who through their intellectuals, gave a different picture of the kingdoms of this world, which challenged the center of power in the Realpolitik of empire from the angle of the down trodden and nobodies. This is not to say that the early Christian texts were revolutionary tracts (de Ste. Croix 1983). Far from it, but their focus on the story of a man executed for blasphemy in a Roman colony is symptomatic of the critical perspective that is typical of much early Christian literature and has remained true down the centuries even when Christianity became a central part of the kingdoms of this world after Constantine.

In The German Ideology, Marx and Engels start from “real human beings,” who must produce their means of subsistence in order to satisfy their material needs. So, material life conditions social life. The political and legal institutions of society are explained by the nature of the economic structure. The nature of a society’s ideology—its religious, artistic, moral, and philosophical belief—is determined by its economic structure and the wielders of economic power. Marx’s understanding of the critique of ideology was more on the basis of a conventional academic analysis of economics and the power relations, which such an analysis laid bare. The effect of that approach is essentially the same as a long standing critique of what has come to be called ideology, the series of ideas that are part and parcel of a society’s culture, many of which are taken for granted as representations of normality when, in fact, they exhibit patterns of deference and subordination whose wide acceptance guarantees the imbalance of power and injustices in society. The challenge to ideology goes back deep into the memories of Jewish origins in the critique of Pharaoh and of idolatry that is imbedded in the Bible but most particularly in the apocalyptic tradition represented by the book of Revelation.

Ideological Criticism of the Bible.

In the Hebrew Bible, apologists for priests and kings and other elites may have their say but the pages of this remarkable collection, as two centuries of biblical scholarship have shown, evince different kinds of power struggles between priest and prophet, between true and false prophet, between one holy place, Jerusalem in particular, and the rest, and between those who supported the institution of kingship and those who did not. To describe this as an ideological struggle is entirely appropriate. To embark on ideological criticism of the Bible is not to impose alien categories on it.

The poverty of our historical sources prevents any certainty in the practice of ideological criticism even to the story as we have it, let alone to whatever historical circumstances may lie behind the text. But the latter may be less important than the impression that the author wishes to communicate. Thus, the way in which the situation of the Hebrews in Egypt is presented in Exodus gives a clear impression of a group who, at the very bottom of the pile sociologically, were exploited and vulnerable to the whims of an autocratic political system. Their Lenin-like leader Moses, however, was, to use Gramsci’s terms, “an organic intellectual,” the one who enabled the peasants’ revolt to become something more than a mass revolt against the oppression of the Egyptian Pharaoh and to turn into the emergence of a different kind of society as exemplified in Deuteronomy or the laws of Exodus (Gottwald 1999; Gramsci 1982, p. 9). The ideological infection is nowhere better demonstrated than in the words “the fleshpots of Egypt” illustrating the deprivations of political struggle: “If only we had died by the hand of the LORD in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the fleshpots and ate our fill of bread” (Exod 16:3A).

Ideological struggles can be found in the Hebrew Bible: the building of the Temple (2 Sam 7, a point picked up in Stephen’s speech in Acts. 7:47: “But it was Solomon who built a house for God”) and especially over its rebuilding after the exile. Then the returning exiles, themselves a humbled and deprived elite, found themselves, in the collective memory, at the whims of another autocrat, as the opening chapters of the book of Daniel indicate. But it would appear that the returning exiles had little time for the ordinary people who were left behind but fell out among themselves about the rebuilding of the Temple. The advocacy for the latter project exemplified in Haggai and Ezekiel contrasts with another, perhaps more utopian, vision in the later chapters of Isaiah, which culminates in a recognition of the failure of the visionaries and a pessimism that any change can come about except through divine intervention (Isa 59, especially 15–21; Hanson 1975).

In the New Testament Gospels, a provincial prophet conflicts with contemporaries and is executed on the basis of his sense of vocation. Ideological criticism will set Jesus in the context of contemporary movements for change (Jewish War vi. 281ff and 301ff; Antiquities p. xx. p. 97ff; 167ff; 185ff). Jesus is presented as an agent of the Kingdom of God rather than waiting for some kind of divine intervention. Like John the Baptist and Jesus, son of Ananias, mentioned in Josephus’s Jewish War Book VI, a prophet of doom could end up on the wrong side of authorities and be seen as a political threat. Jesus’s journey to Jerusalem was a politically provocative act. The entry into the city (according to the Synoptic Gospels) and the “cleansing” of the Temple could be seen as threats to public order that demanded a response (so Mark 11.18; John 11:49). As a result, there was a conflict between Jesus and the semiautonomous hierarchy in Jerusalem backed by Roman colonial power. Historically, the Jesus movement was a failure as he was crushed by the political desire of the priestly elite that “one should die for the people,” so that the Romans would not take away the Holy Place or the nation. But both of those things happened within half a century of his death. The story that the first Christians told about him was of one who not only fractured the power of the Temple, this central economic motor and ideological symbol of Jewish society, but also was himself identified with it so that holy space was now Jesus’s space (1 Cor 3:9; 6:19). That daring move was not an unqualified blessing for Christianity gradually inheriting language of restriction and exclusion, but it indicates that the story they told of Jesus was a challenge to an ideology that unmasked the power and pretensions of those who maintained it (Belo 1981). But emerging Christianity before the fourth century C.E. was characterized by such a counter-cultural ethos. An alternative political commitment was supported by practical and administrative arrangements manifested in networks of communication and mutual support. The latter in particular embodied an alternative polity that could be seen at the local level (Justin Apology I 65—67) and internationally (Paul’s collection for the poor in Jerusalem being the earliest and most remarkable example of this; e.g., Rom. 15: 25; 2 Cor 8–9). What is so striking about the New Testament texts is that they were written by people who had little or no political power and with a vision of the world that was at odds with the prevailing culture. Christians were a different sort of people, committed to a different kind of life and culture, more often than not (until the time of Constantine) at odds with the wisdom and politics of the age. Once it became the religion of the rulers (Bloch 2009 ; de Ste. Croix), its inclusive rhetoric could easily be used to serve rather different ends. The radical slogan of Galatians, 3:28, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female,” has a rather different ring when uttered to serve as the “social glue” of an inclusive, cosmopolitan, and eventually fragmenting empire.

Theology and Ideology.

Marxist philosophers like Ernst Bloch (Bloch 1986, 2009) have noted the ideological critique in early Christian discourse. He provides suggestive insights into the character of Christian doctrine and its mutation into an ideology of the powerful. In this, he contrasts Jesus, the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven to establish justice for the poor, with the Lord Christ enthroned in heaven in a glorious state similar to the imperial oppressors of the poor. He contrasts the expectation of the Son of Man as liberator and vindicator who would come to transform the lot of the lowly with the figure of the Kyrios, buttress of church and authorities. He shows how the former expectation has moved to the margins of the Christian tradition, ostracized by the exponents of the dominant ideology. Gradually, this Son of Man belief was displaced by the divine Kyrios, a title “which,” as he puts it, “admirably suited the purposes of those who would reduce the Christian community to a sort of military service of their cultic hero” (p. 36). The language of Kyrios with all the panoply of the Divine Pantocrator took the place of the apocalyptic maverick, who died on a Roman gallows. He rightly points to the eclipse of the expectation of the messiah who would subjugate the earthly principalities and powers and to the transformation of heaven by the Son of Man’s ascension, a promise that divinity will be manifest on earth in an age of perfection in the future. According to Bloch, the Second Coming reveals the real point of the Ascension, as transformation of heaven as the preserve of God into heaven as the city of humanity, the New Jerusalem, which is to come down to earth. Bloch’s utopian horizon, illuminating forgotten paths and sensitive to the growth of ideology, goes alongside his repeated emphasis on the present need to live as if the new age were here. This is similar to what New Testament theologians have often stressed about the ethical priorities of the New Testament: the tension between the now and the not yet, living in the present age but seeking to live as if the reign of God were here. Bloch considers that the utopian is not something far off in the future but is at the heart of human experience; it is already at hand in an anticipatory and fragmentary way. These fragments are themselves an encouragement to human action in the present. Since utopia is not fully possible within the limitations of the present order of things, Bloch looks for its fulfillment beyond the limitations of the present world. Consequently, he disputes Engels’s belief that utopianism is merely a retreat into a fantasy world, for the vision of a better world is the other side of the coin of the unmasking of political and economic power. Living “as if” may mean opposition, but it more often requires discovering the cracks in history to survive and inhabit in the face of the seemingly impregnable cliff face of the dominant power and its ideology. In the face of this compromise, an accommodation is necessary: “the powers that be are ordained of God” (Rom 13:1). Living “as if” may mean that change in conformity with the New Jerusalem has to be put on hold. Engels saw radical Christian movements as “the anticipation of communism by fantasy” (1972, p. 112; quoted in Turner 1983, p. 167).

From a strict Marxist point of view, communism could only come after the bourgeois revolution to which they were opposed, and such anticipatory politics could not succeed. All that the political analysts could do was interpret the world. Indeed, Marx’s view of the utopian movements in 1848 was distinctly suspicious (Avineri 1968), more akin to Romans 13 than any kind of revolutionary politics. But Bloch rightly indicates that there is more, and life “as if,” even with all its failings, is crucial for the ideologically critically aware. As Marx himself wrote, “the philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways. The point, however, is to change it” (Marx 1992, p. 11). That means going wrong and even, as in the case of the Jesus movement, ending in death.

The death of Jesus in the Gospel of Mark, for example, is a sign of the revolutionary potential of martyrdom, as the ideological system based on the Temple is challenged when the veil of the Temple is torn in two from top to bottom, but what Fernando Belo terms “the cross narrative” is at odds with the “Kingdom narrative.” That tension represents the contradiction confronting the revolutionary this side of the new age (Belo; Clévenot 1985; Myers 2008). The appeal to follow the example of the suffering Christ can have the effect of leaving the world very much as it is. A very different understanding of the example of Christ emerges in the way in which the cross is seen as an act of rebellion, whereby the interests of the powerful are challenged. So, when Jesus told his followers to take up the cross, he was advocating the path of rebellion and capitulation to the hierarchy and monarchy and, more importantly, its practice from surrounding culture. Thus, in the evolution of its theology (what might be termed ideology) and its adoption of the language of the authority and power from the contemporary culture, we see in the church the gradual infiltration The words of the Johannine Jesus, “my kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over” (John 18:36) are not a recipe for otherworldliness but a challenge to the pity of this world by the emissary from that world in the name of non-violence and one “commandment” you shall love one another. It is a theme that runs throughout all the Gospels. It is a king who is meek and lowly who rides into Jerusalem (Matt 22:5). Also, Jesus advises his disciples: “You know that those who are supposed to rule over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you; but whoever would be great among you must be your servant” (Mark 10:42–44; Wengst 1985).

The Apocalypse: Unmasking Empire as Ideological Criticism.

The visions of Revelation do not provide the currency of our everyday exchange of ideas and patterns of existence. Yet, in the ancient world visions and dreams were regarded as having great theological importance. They proved to be a potent force for understanding the divine and the human, not to mention the pretensions of economic and political power. What passed as normal is criticized in the unmasking of the effects of evil, as a millennial dream of what things may be like, and offers an alternative horizon of hope. Revelation is the least “churchy” text in the New Testament. Christ stands outside the door of the church never to be coopted to the values of those in the comfort of the ecclesiastical, or indeed any other, ghetto. The political and economic challenge Revelation presents includes the church members. They are not exempt from the judgment meted out on those taken in by the political and economic injustice of the imperial beast and its Babylonian culture. There is no escape from having one’s nose rubbed in the brutality of imperial power and the harsh realities of the nature of the injustice of the political system of John’s day, which is imagined and evoked in awesome graphic word painting. Like the most pungent political cartoon, John’s imagery challenges and may probe the defenses of human complacency.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer seems to have glimpsed something of the interpretative potential of the book of Revelation in its ability to challenge the Laodicean culture by unmasking the character of Christian compromise and the beast of nationalism and oppression when he exhorted fellow church men and women to be “a community which hears the Apocalypse…to testify to its alien nature and to resist the false principle of inner-worldliness” and so to be at the service of “those who suffer violence and injustice.” In his view, “the Church takes to itself all the sufferers, (all) the forsaken of every party and status. ‘Open your mouth for the dumb’ ” (Prov 31:8; Bonhoeffer 1965, pp. 324–325). Witness and counter-cultural character are well exemplified by the Apocalypse. In the Germany of the 1930s, Revelation, so often suspected in the Lutheran tradition, offered a resource for theology that enabled another perspective on the terrible events through which Bonhoeffer and his contemporaries were living.

In his striking messianic tract written at the very end of his life as he contemplated persecution and death, Walter Benjamin wrote of “utopian hopes and critical energies” as “a necessary corrective to the repetition of the ‘ever- the same’ in the guise of the new, the return of the seemingly repressed even amidst apparent enlightenment” (Benjamin 1992, p. 247). The subversive, apocalyptic memory witnesses to those affirmations of utopia “that seem so out of place against the more frequent hopes of bleak despair.” The “unmasking of Babylon” may show that “the cultural monuments celebrated by official, establishment history could not be understood outside the context of their origins, a context of oppression and exploitation. Apocalypse offers a fleeting glimpse of an alternative, the ‘involuntary memory of a redeemed humanity’ that contrasts with convention and false tradition. That means that it is necessary to rescue tradition from the conventional and conformity and to wrest tradition away from a conformism that is about to overpower it” (Benjamin, p. 247). No more eloquent description of the ideological criticism and the hermeneutics of the Apocalypse could be offered.

The book of Revelation, and the apocalyptic tradition generally, has often been linked to the projects of agents of social change, yet just as often it can be found buttressing the projects of those whose quest for utopia is firmly rooted in conventional values and the nostalgic yearning for a golden age of moral perfection based on hierarchy and subservience. In this nostalgic quest, apocalyptic symbolism serves to undergird a view of the world that supports the conviction of a comfortable elect that they will ultimately be saved. On the one hand, this outlook, with its alternative horizon beckoning toward a different future, enables a group to maintain clearly defined lines between the godly and the godless. On the other hand, apocalyptic symbolism can serve to enable the oppressed to find and maintain a critical distance from an unjust world from the prospect of the hope of a reign of justice. There is little new in this struggle over the language of apocalypse. The apocalyptic symbolism has never been the sole preserve of the oppressed and poor. Even in postexilic Israel, in the very years when eschatological hope was being formed, there was a common stock of images that two sides in a struggle for power used to achieve preeminence for their own positions.

A Later Ideological Unmasking: Gerrard Winstanley (c. 1625–1676).

Ideological criticism based on the Bible did not start with Marxism. Gerrard Winstanley was a seventeenth century practitioner of ideological criticism and in many ways took up the baton of his apocalyptic predecessors. Winstanley shot to prominence in 1649, and then almost completely disappeared from the annals of history for the rest of his life (he died in 1676). He grasped a moment of the king’s execution as an opportunity to establish a different kind of society and interpreted that moment in the light of the Bible as a word for his time. Like many of his radical predecessors, Winstanley engaged dynamically with the imagery of the books of Daniel and Revelation—particularly the references to the beasts arising from the sea—as a means to comprehend the oppressive political powers that kept the common people in thrall. Perhaps his most daring interpretation was of Genesis 2—3, the story of “the Fall.” For Winstanley, the Fall meant that humans had turned toward a life of “covetousness” and the maintenance of self-centeredness, institutionalized in private property and the social inequalities that arise from it and justified by a theology that is ideological, when the earth was to have been originally a “common treasury” for all to share. Winstanley’s theological hope is that this situation may be overcome through “consciousness raising” that might, thereby, lead to a restoration of humankind to a very different vision of the world grounded in justice and equality.

To support his version of ideological criticism, he offers a reading of the Bible in which social and political combine with the exegetical to enable an engagement with the Bible and to read it “relative to life,” as the liberation exegete Carlos Mesters puts it (Mesters 1993, 1989); so there is an unmasking of the reality of the power relations. Winstanley brilliantly relates Daniel 7 to the oppressive behavior of the wielders of political and economic power of his day. According to Winstanley, the first of the four beasts in Daniel was royal power, which by force makes a way for the economically powerful to rule over others, “making the conquered a slave; giving the earth to some, denying the Earth to others” (“Fire in the Bush” In Corns et al. 2009, vol. 2, p. 190). The second beast he saw as the power of laws, which maintain power and privilege in the hands of the few, by the threat of imprisonment and punishment. The third beast is what Winstanley calls “the thieving Art of buying and selling, the Earth with the fruits one to another” (p. 191). And the fourth beast is the power of the clergy that is used to give a religious or (in something like Marx’s sense) an ideological gloss to the privileges of the few. According to Winstanley, the Creation will never be at peace until these four beasts are overthrown, and only then will there be the coming of Christ’s kingdom (pp. 190–196). Here the apocalyptic imagery of the Bible enables one to discern the way in which religion, the opium of the people sensitized the populace to the injustices that were being perpetrated.

A Cautionary Conclusion.

The tone thus far has been positive about the ideological critique within the Bible itself, but in one respect, the liberationist hermeneutics that has been crucial in promoting ideological criticism (Segundo 1976; Rowland and Corner 1989) was at least initially not attentive to the issue of gender. A major feature of ideological criticism has been the way in which feminist criticism has laid bare the androcentrism that pervades the whole of the Bible (de Boer and Økland 2008). An ideological criticism must have this as a central focus. The Bible presents a more difficult interpretive problem than other liberation approaches. For example, women’s experiences and voices are not evident in its pages, and when they are found, the women are usually portrayed as the problem. The Bible has been a tool of the oppression of women and a source to legitimate the dominance of men. It is not only a question of the way in which women are portrayed, or even the acceptance of patriarchally constructed relationships between men and women; it is at a much deeper level an issue of the kind of God portrayed in the Bible and the nature of the God who endorses and authorizes the Bible. The images and language for God, as well as the actions ascribed to God, are predominantly male in character. The male and stereotypically masculine attitudes, capacities, and actions, are thus more highly valued and regarded as “god-like.” It is this God whose omnipotence authorizes and guarantees the sacred text, and “He” whose authorized interpreters are so often male, the justification for which is both biblical and also based on the very nature of God in Christ. Liberation theology privileges the voices of those who are not being heard, of the oppressed, but women’s experience raises radical question marks over that story itself.



  • Aichele, G., et al. The Postmodern Bible. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1995. This work includes an essay on ideological criticism in a survey of modern interpretative strategies.
  • Avineri, S. The Social and Political Thought of Karl Marx. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1968. This is a treatment of Marx’s thought that traces the essential continuities and his ambivalence about support for the revolutionary movements of his own day.
  • Belo, F. A Materialist Reading of the Gospel of Mark. New York: Orbis, 1981. Belo’s work is an application of Roland Barthes’s structuralist analysis of Balzac’s Sarrasine in S/Z and a Marxist approach to ideology that is applied to the Gospel of Mark.
  • Benjamin, W. Illuminations: Essays and Reflections. Edited and with an introduction by Hannah Arendt. London: Fontana, 1992. This book includes Benjamin’s “Theses on the Philosophy of History,” which was written in the last months of his life as he fled Nazi captivity and before his tragic death. Its pessimistic tone reflects the more sober Marxism of the Frankfurt School.
  • Bennett, Z. “On Copy Clerks, Transformers and Spiders: Teachers and Learners in Adult Theological Education,” British Journal of Theological Education. 9, no. 3, (1997–1998). A leading expert on adult theological education relates the Hegelian tradition and the contribution of Paulo Freire to understanding the practice of education.
  • Bloch, E. Atheism in Christianity: The Religion of the Exodus and the Kingdom, with an introduction by Peter Thompson. London: Verso, 2009. Bloch explores the ideological character of theological ideas and the radical alternatives.
  • Bloch, E. The Principle of Hope. Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1986. This work is an exploration of hope in human life and culture from a Marxist perspective.
  • Boer, R. Marxist Criticism of the Bible. London: T.&T. Clark, 2003. This work consists of discussions of various Marxist theorists (e.g., Gramsci, Althusser, Bloch, Lukács, and Benjamin, and more recent critics, like Jameson and Eagleton) followed by the application of their theories to various a biblical texts.
  • Boer, R., and J. Økland. Marxist Feminist Criticism of the Bible. Sheffield, UK: Sheffield Phoenix Press, 2008. The authors describe the ways in which the ideological critique of Marxism complement the challenges of feminism.
  • Boff, L. Jesus Christ Liberator: A Critical Christology of our Time. New York: Orbis, 1978. A leading Brazilian liberation theologian, who was “silenced” by the Vatican for the views expressed in his book Church, Charism and Power, reflects on a classic theological theme from the perspective of liberation theology.
  • Bonhoeffer, D. No Rusty Swords. London: Collins, 1965. This collection of Bonhoeffer’s lectures and letters is an excellent introduction to his thought.
  • Botta A. F., and Andiñach, P. R. The Bible and the Hermeneutics of Liberation. Leiden: Brill, 2009. This is a collection of essays from authors from different contexts in which various biblical texts are explored from a liberationist perspective.
  • Clévenot, M. Materialist Approaches to the Bible. New York: Orbis, 1985. This work offers a simplified version of the kind of thesis exemplified by Fernando Belo’s book.
  • Corns, T. N., A Hughes, and D. Loewenstein. The Complete Works of Gerrard Winstanley. 2 vols. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009. This is the first edition of the complete works of Gerrard Winstanley (1609–1676), the foremost radical English thinker and activist of the English Revolution.
  • De Ste. Croix, G. E. M. The Class Struggle in the Ancient Greek World. London: Duckworth, 1983. This pioneering study offers an account of forms of exploitation in the ancient world and demonstrates the rich possibilities of a Marxist perspective on the texts from antiquity, including Christianity.
  • Eagleton, T. Ideology: An Introduction. London: Verso, 2007. This work is a doyen of literary of British and Irish criticism whose work was influenced by Raymond Williams and left-wing Roman Catholicism.
  • Freire, P. The Pedagogy of the Oppressed. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1985. This is the classic text of modern liberationist pedagogy in which the experience of ordinary people is valued and the dominant ideologies and power relations challenged in the context of enabling “literacy” for life.
  • Gottwald, N. The Tribes of Yahweh: A Sociology of the Religion of Liberated Israel. 1250–1050 B.C.E., Sheffield, UK: Sheffield Academic Press, 1999. This classic study explores the Jewish origins and the emergence of a rival liberationist ideology in the circumstances of revolt.
  • Gottwald, N., and R. Horsley. The Bible and Liberation: Political and Social Hermeneutics. New York: Orbis 1993. A collection of essays on the influence of liberationist interpretation on biblical exegesis including a classic essay by Carlos Mesters on reading the Bible in Basic Ecclesial Communities.
  • Gramsci, A. Selections from the Prison Books, Lawrence and Wishart: London, 1982.
  • Habermas, J. Knowledge and Human Interests. 2d ed. London: Heinemann, 1978. Habermas’s work is a seminal study from arguably the most influential member of the Frankfurt School of Marxist philosophers.
  • Hanson, P. D. The Dawn of Apocalyptic. Philadelphia: Fortress, 1975. Hanson presents a study of the later chapters of Isaiah as a power struggle between hierarchy and visionaries in post-exilic Judaism.
  • Hegel, G. W. F. Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion of 1824, Vol. 1. Introduction and Concept. Edited by P. Hodgson. Berkeley, University of California Press, 1984. This work is a presentation of Hegel’s final and most decisive contents of his philosophy.
  • Horsley, R. A. Hidden Transcripts and the Arts of Resistance: Applying the Work of James C. Scott to Jesus and Paul. Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2004. This work introduces a new quest for a contextually historical Jesus. The work will engage both biblical scholars and others who are interested in teasing the out of the biblical texts the historical Jesus through an examination of the words and actions of Jesus.
  • Jameson, F. The Political Unconscious. London: Methuen, 1981. Jameson presents an outstanding application of Marxist theory to literature that demonstrates the ways in which literary texts betray the tensions and contradictions of their authors’ place within specific social contexts.
  • Larrain, J. The Concept of Ideology. London: Hutchinson, 1979. Larrain gives a thorough examination of the value of some of the most important conceptions of ideology, from Mannheim to the modern structuralist.
  • Marx, Karl, with Friedrich Engels. The German Ideology: Including Theses on Feuerbach and Introduction to the Critique of Political Economy. Amherst, N.Y. Prometheus, 1998. This is considered by many to be Marx’s first fully matured statement about his thinking.
  • Marx, Karl, and Friedrich Engels. Marx and Engels on Religion. Moscow: Foreign Language Publishing House, 1972. The collection includes works in which Karl Marx and Frederick Engels present their views on the essence and origin of religion and its role in class society; these works lay the theoretical foundations of proletarian, Marxist atheism.
  • McLellan, D. Marxism and Religion: A Description and Assessment of the Marxist Critique of Christianity. Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1987. This important work offers a consideration of the different forms of Marxist thought and the possibilities of their relationship with religion.
  • Mesters, C. Defenseless Flower: A New Reading of the Bible. Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis, 1989. This volume is a concise summary of the nature of grassroots education and biblical study in Basic Ecclesial Communities in Brazil written by someone immersed in popular education for decades.
  • Mesters, C., ‘The Use of the Bible in Christian Communities of the Common People.’ In The Bible and Liberation: political and Social Hermeneutics, edited by N. Gottwald and R. Horsley, 119–133. New York: Orbis, 1993.
  • Mosala, I. J. Biblical Hermeneutics and Black Theology in South Africa. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1989. Mosala engages in a detailed investigation of competing ideological discourses in the prophecy of Micah.
  • Myers, C. Binding the Strong Man: A Political Reading of Mark’s Story of Jesus. 2d ed. Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis, 2008. This work is an approach to Mark that follows the method of modern literary and historical study of the gospel more closely yet with a clear grasp of the text’s counter-cultural agenda and ideological critique.
  • Pippin, T., ed. Ideological Criticism of Biblical Texts. Semeia 59, 1992. This volume of Semeia is a collection of essays by different authors on different biblical and related texts that take ideology and the issue of the mode of production seriously.
  • Rowland, C. The Cambridge Companion to Liberation Theology. Rev. ed. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2007. A selection of essays, this work examines the emergence and character of liberation theology, including Gerald West’s The Academy of the Poor: Towards a Dialogical Reading of the Bible, on the biblical interpretation.
  • Rowland, C. “The Theology of Liberation and its Gift to Exegesis.” New Blackfriars, 66 (1985): 157–172. Rowland examines Fernando Belo’s book, A Materialist Reading of the Gospel of Mark, and its relationship with the theology of liberation.
  • Rowland, C., and M. Corner. Liberating Exegesis: The Challenge of Liberation Theology to Biblical Studies. London: SPCK, 1989. The author gives a discussion of the interpretation of the Bible in the theology of liberation, including popular education material and an application of Frederic Jameson’s method to the Book of Revelation.
  • Scott, J. C. Domination and the Arts of Resistance: Hidden Transcripts. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1990. This work is an influential examination of the ways in which a subaltern culture finds way of exercising power to resist in the face of dominant ideologies and power structures.
  • Segundo, J. L. The Liberation of Theology. Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis, 1976. This is an influential essay from one of the seminal figures in liberation theology on the ways in which liberation theology offers a critique “from below” of the dominant ideology embodied in mainstream Christianity.
  • Turner, D. Marxism and Christianity. Oxford: Blackwell, 1983. This work is an important contribution to the ongoing Christian-Marxist dialogue in which Turner approaches the problem of the relation between Marxism and Christianity.
  • Wengst, K. “Pax Romanaand the Peace of Jesus Christ. London: SCM, 1985. Wengst explores the ways in which different New Testament texts manifest contrasting compromises with the dominant ideology of their day.
  • West, G. The Academy of the Poor: Towards a Dialogical Reading of the Bible. Sheffield, UK: Sheffield Academic, 1999. West argues that recent trends in biblical exegesis create opportunities for serious dialogue between biblical scholars and readers living in poor and marginalized communities.
  • Williams, R. Marxism and Literature. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1977. This volume is a classic discussion of the relationship between Marxism and literature from the foremost British Marxist literary scholar of his day.

Christopher Rowland

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