Babel, Tyranny and Totality: Reading Genesis 11 with Luther

Michael Laffin

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In this paper, I consider Martin Luther’s treatment of the tower of Babel narrative in his late Lectures on Genesis in order to display the continuing fruitfulness of a close reading of his exposition of Scripture for the task of contemporary political theology. Luther addresses the themes of, politics, tyranny, totality, and language with a theological attunement instructive to those of us formed within the societies and politics of late-modernity. In addition to attending to Luther’s reading of Genesis 11 for its critical usefulness in interrogating our understandings of the mechanisms of political formation, I also look to his reading of the Eucharist in light of the Christological doctrine of the communicatio idiomatum, and his exegesis of the account of the Syrophenician woman in the Gospels, to indicate constructive ways in which the idolatrous politics of Babel might be resisted and the politics of Pentecost embraced.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)408-421
Number of pages14
JournalStudies in Christian Ethics
Issue number4
Early online date1 Aug 2018
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2018


  • Martin Luther
  • Babel
  • political theology
  • tyranny
  • Genesis
  • repentance


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