A Feature Review of
Between Babel and Beast: America and Empires in Biblical Perspectives,
Paperback: Cascade Books, 2012.
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Reviewed by Branson Parler
For some, the adjective “evil” is necessarily entailed in the concept of “empire.” Not so, argues Peter Leithart, who is compelling, provocative, and insightful as always. Why do we need a more complex account of empire? In part, Leithart argues, the historical reality is that all empires are living and therefore not static and not all identical. We also need a nuanced account of empire because the Bible does not treat historical empires with a one-size fits all lens. Furthermore, Leithart contends, “imperial ambitions and concepts were ‘reinscribed’—or better, always already inscribed—at the heart of Jesus’ teaching” (37). In other words, if we purge the concept of empire from the Bible, we would purge the core of Jesus’ life and message: the imperium of God is at hand. Leithart contrasts God’s Abrahamic empire with both Babels—empires that attempt to impose uniformity on other nations—and beasts—empires that devour the saints and drink their blood.
The book is divided into three sections. In part 1, Leithart uses three metaphors for Scripture’s analysis of various empires—rod (Isa 10), refuge for God’s people (Dan 2), and beast (Dan 7). Leithart’s concise overview would serve as a great introduction to the theopolitical nature of the biblical text. Leithart’s attentiveness to the craft and art of biblical and theological exegesis is a delight.