Augsburg Fortress

Idols of Nations: Biblical Myth at the Origins of Capitalism

Idols of Nations: Biblical Myth at the Origins of Capitalism

Roland Boer and Christina Petterson here produce a critical survey showing that the rise of capitalist theory was shaped by the way different economic philosophers—Smith, Hobbes, Grotius, Malthus, Locke––read the Bible. Invoking Jeremiah (14:22) and Adam Smith—who took the title of his Wealth of Nations from Isaiah (61:6; 66:12)—they show that early theories of capitalism were shaped by particular assumptions that these theorists brought to their readings of the story of Eden in particular. They examine those assumptions and evaluate what has changed in subsequent centuries.

Idols of Nations shows that the Bible was central to the theorization and economic thought of these key thinkers as it explores the distinct problems each sought to overcome.
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  • Publisher Fortress Press
  • Format Paperback
  • ISBN 9781451465440
  • eBook ISBN 9781451484410
  • Dimensions 6 x 9
  • Pages 208
  • Publication Date July 1, 2014


"This is 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

"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
The University of Sheffield
"For decades, Fortress Press has been a bold publisher of well-researched books with their values (Christian, political, ethical, or otherwise) safely out of the closet. The current book is a typical, yet surprising addition to this proud track record. In their first co-authored book, Christina Petterson and Roland Boer shift their lens away from the Marxist thinkers' critical and constructive involvement with religious texts, over towards the 'fathers' of capitalist theory. The book is an an exceptionally persuasive analysis of the intersections between economic theory and theology. "
—Jorunn Økland
University of Oslo