Marxist contributions to biblical criticism are far more sustained and complex than many would expect. This critical survey of the state of play, with a look back at the main currents that have led to that state, deals with Marxist contributions to the reconstructions of biblical societies and the interpretation of the literature produced by those societies. It begins by outlining the major Marxist positions within current biblical criticism and then moves on to consider two possible sources of further insight from outside biblical criticism: Western-Marxist studies of the ancient world (Karl Kautsky, Perry Anderson and G.E.M. de Ste. Croix) and the long and neglected tradition of Soviet-era Russian work on the ancient Near East. I conclude by pointing to a number of lingering problems: the unreliability of the literature for historical purposes; the lack of fit between juridical distinctions in the literature and class distinctions in the ancient world; the question as to whether the state can be a class; and the viability of imposing on the ancient world Marxist categories developed in very different situations.