Cover image for Jacob and the Divine Trickster: A Theology of Deception and Yhwh’s Fidelity to the Ancestral Promise in the Jacob Cycle By John Anderson

Jacob and the Divine Trickster

A Theology of Deception and Yhwh’s Fidelity to the Ancestral Promise in the Jacob Cycle

John Anderson

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Siphrut: Literature and Theology of the Hebrew Scriptures

Jacob and the Divine Trickster

A Theology of Deception and Yhwh’s Fidelity to the Ancestral Promise in the Jacob Cycle

John Anderson

The book of Genesis portrays the character Jacob as a brazen trickster who deceives members of his own family: his father Isaac, brother Esau, and uncle Laban. At the same time, Genesis depicts Jacob as YHWH’s chosen, from whom the entire people Israel derive and for whom they are named. These two notices produce a latent tension in the text: Jacob is concurrently an unabashed trickster and YHWH’s preference. How is one to address this tension? Scholars have long focused on the implications for the character and characterization of Jacob. The very question, however, at its core raises an issue that is theological in nature. The Jacob cycle (Gen 25–36) is just as much, if not more, a text about God as it is about Jacob, a point startlingly absent in a great deal of Genesis scholarship. Anderson argues for the presence of what he has dubbed a theology of deception in the Jacob cycle: YHWH operates as a divine trickster who both uses and engages in deception for the perpetuation of the ancestral promise (Gen 12:1–3).

 

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  • Table of Contents
The book of Genesis portrays the character Jacob as a brazen trickster who deceives members of his own family: his father Isaac, brother Esau, and uncle Laban. At the same time, Genesis depicts Jacob as YHWH’s chosen, from whom the entire people Israel derive and for whom they are named. These two notices produce a latent tension in the text: Jacob is concurrently an unabashed trickster and YHWH’s preference. How is one to address this tension? Scholars have long focused on the implications for the character and characterization of Jacob. The very question, however, at its core raises an issue that is theological in nature. The Jacob cycle (Gen 25–36) is just as much, if not more, a text about God as it is about Jacob, a point startlingly absent in a great deal of Genesis scholarship. Anderson argues for the presence of what he has dubbed a theology of deception in the Jacob cycle: YHWH operates as a divine trickster who both uses and engages in deception for the perpetuation of the ancestral promise (Gen 12:1–3).

Through a literary hermeneutic, emphasizing the symbiotic relationship between how the text means and what the text means, and a keen eye to the larger task of Old Testament theology as literally “a word about God,” Anderson examines the various manifestations of YHWH as trickster in the Jacob cycle. The phenomenon of divine deception at every turn is intimately tethered in diverse ways to YHWH’s unique concern for the protection and advancement of the ancestral promise, which has cosmic implications. Attention is given to the ways that the multiple deceptions—some previously unnoticed—evoke, advance, and at times fulfill the ancestral promise.

Anderson’s careful and thoughtful interweaving of trickster texts and traditions in the interest of theology is a unique contribution of this important volume. Oftentimes, scholars who are interested in the trickster are unconcerned with the theological ramifications of the presence of material of this sort in the biblical text, while theologians have often neglected the vibrant and pervasive presence of the trickster in the biblical text. Equally vital is the necessity of viewing the Old Testament’s image of God as also comprising dynamic, subversive, and unsettling elements. Attempts to whitewash or sanitize the biblical God fail to recognize and appreciate the complex and intricate ways that YHWH interacts with his chosen people. This witness to YHWH’s engagement in deception stands alongside and paradoxically informs the biblical text’s portrait of YHWH as trustworthy and a God who does not lie. Anderson’s Jacob and the Divine Trickster stands as a stimulating and provocative investigation into the most interesting and challenging character in the Bible, God, and marks the first true comprehensive treatment of YHWH as divine trickster. Anderson has set the stage to continue the conversation and investigation into a theology of deception in the Hebrew Bible.

Preface and Acknowledgments

Abbreviations

Introduction

Divine Deception in Genesis: A Scholarly Gap

Precursors to Divine Deception: The Ancient Near East and Anthropological Evidence

Toward a Theology of Deception

Assumptions and Methodology

The Ancestral Promise in Genesis

Definitions

A Brief Overview of the Book

A Trickster Oracle: Reading Jacob and Esau between Beten and Bethel (Genesis 25–28)

Introductory Remarks

A Trickster’s Oracle (Genesis 25:19–34)

Fulfilling the Trickster Oracle (Genesis 27:1–45)

Divine Corroboration at Bethel: Genesis 28 and Deception

Conclusion: A Trickster Oracle and Yhwh’s Preference for a Trickster

Divine Deception and Incipient Fulfillment of the Ancestral Promise (Genesis 29–31)

Introductory Remarks

The Trickster Tricked and Yhwh’s Role (Genesis 29:1–30)

Children, the Ancestral Promise, and Deception (Genesis 29:31–30:24)

Trickster as Blessing (Genesis 30:27–30)

The Great Escape and Yhwh’s Deception of Laban (Genesis 30:25–31:54)

Conclusion: Deception and Incipient Fulfillment of the Ancestral Promise

Replaying the Fool: Esau versus Yhwh and Jacob (Genesis 32–35)

Introductory Remarks

Encounters: Preparations for Reconciliation (Genesis 32:1–33)

Reconciliation and Deception (Genesis 33)

Deception and the Ancestral Promise, Reprise (Genesis 34–35)

Conclusion: Tricky Encounters

Concluding Remarks and Prospects for Further Study

Introductory Remarks

A Theology of Deception in the Jacob Cycle

Prospects for Further Study

Concluding Thoughts

Bibliography

Indexes

Index of Authors

Index of Scripture

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