Exodus and liberation : deliverance politics from John Calvin to Martin Luther King Jr.


Exodus and liberation : deliverance politics from John Calvin to Martin Luther King Jr.

John Coffey

Oxford University Press, c2014

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Includes bibliographical references (p. 265-286) and index



The history of deliverance politics in Anglo-American history contains remarkable moments of achievement, but this is not a story of triumphal progress. Exodus was hotly contested, used by the powerful as well as the weak, and mobilized to support a host of rival causes. By writing themselves into the Protestant history of liberty, African Americans undercut complacent narratives of progress, injecting a powerful sense of unease into the tradition. The argument over who owns the biblical narrative has continued into the twenty-first century. If Barack Obama saw himself as an inheritor of Exodus politics, so too did George W. Bush. Many Christians - and many non-Christians too - remain understandably suspicious of those who read Israel's history as political paradigm, especially when it underpins religious nationalism. This story is riddled with moral ironies. The Books of Moses could be used to justify anti-black racism and the dispossession of Native peoples as well as freedom from slavery. In the name of liberation, Protestants have justified war, revolt, and imperialism. High-minded missions have often had dismal consequences. In excavating the history of deliverance politics, Coffey relies on sources buried in many generic strata. As a study of political rhetoric, the core materials are sermons and speeches, the published versions of oral performances. Deliverance discourse found its way into almost every kind of genre, just as it left its mark on virtually every kind of Hebrew literature. It is present in an array of literary texts, including pamphlets, treatises, biblical commentaries, letters, memoirs, newspapers, periodicals, constitutional documents, and even children's literature. Most strikingly, the gospel of liberation was depicted in visual sources, such as paintings, illustrated Bibles, official seals, commemorative coins and medals, mastheads and banners. Finally, deliverance politics proved easy to sing. Its strains are heard in Puritan psalms, Evangelical hymns, African-American spirituals and the Freedom Songs of the Civil Rights Movement. These sources form a documentary record, testifying to the powerful political appeal of the Exodus, the Jubilee and the biblical language of liberty.


  • Acknowledgments
  • Introduction: "Biblical Traditions that Call for Liberation"
  • Part I: Reformations, Revolutions, and Political Slavery
  • 1. "The Only Parallel": The Puritan Revolution as England's Exodus
  • 2. "God's Favourite People": The Revolutions of 1688 and 1776
  • Part II: Abolitionists, African Americans, and Racial Slavery
  • 3. "Pretended Votaries of Freedom": The Rise of Protestant Antislavery to 1807
  • 4. "Yours for the Jubilee": The Abolitionists' Scriptural Imagination, 1808-1865
  • 5. "When Israel was in Egyptland": Black Exodus Politics, 1808-1865
  • Part III: Exodus after Slavery
  • 6. "I Have Seen the Promised Land": The Persistence of Deliverance Politics, 1865-2008
  • Conclusion: Sacred Texts, Godly Readers, and Historical Change
  • Notes
  • Bibliography
  • Index

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