The book of Genesis contains a latent tension: Jacob is both a brazen trickster who deceives members of his own family as well as YHWH’s chosen, from whom the entire people Israel derive and for whom they are named. How is one to address this tension? Scholars have long focused on the implications for the character and characterization of Jacob, but the very question, 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. 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 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).
Anderson’s careful and thoughtful interweaving of trickster texts and traditions in the interest of theology is a unique contribution of this important volume. Anderson thus rightly gives due attention to the Old Testament’s image of God as dynamic, subversive, and unsettling, appreciating 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.
“John Anderson has taken up old texts and has given us a bold, fresh reading of the narrative. While his work evidences sound and informed critical judgment, he has moved beyond such critical categories to see that the defining and most interesting character in the narrative is YHWH, the God of Jacob and the provocateur of the dramatic action. This God, of course, does not conform to any conventional faith but is much more thick, suggestive, and surprising than any usual rendering. Anderson works with a careful, self-conscious method that lends force and credibility to his suggestive argument.”—Walter Brueggemann, Columbia Theological Seminary
“Interpreters of the Jacob cycle have long noted the themes of deception and the trickster; what John Anderson has done is pressed these issues toward theology and the portayal of the divine. With an intentional literary method, Anderson reads the text in both careful and creative ways. The volume makes several fresh contributions on these ancient texts in a lively and engaging style. Anderson’s candid and provocative reading of the Jacob narrative has implications that Old Testament theologians will not want to miss!”—W. H. Bellinger, Jr., Baylor University
“It is not often that one fundamentally reenvisions a biblical narrative with such profound theological implications for understanding the God of the OT as John Anderson has in Jacob and the Divine Trickster. Such ambitious proposals tend to stretch the integrity of the narrative and the patience of the reader. Anderson, however, has proved capable, engaging, and most persuasive in demonstrating his thesis that Jacob is not the only trickster in the Jacob cycle—that Yhwh too is a trickster who engages in deception for the purpose of bringing to fulfillment the ancestral promise of Gen 12:1–3.”—Joseph Kelly in Bulletin for Biblical Research
“What Anderson’s work shows, interestingly, is that readers commonly engage in a form of self-deception: they trick themselves into ignoring the deceptive nature of the God of the Hebrew Bible. This works for some, but Anderson’s book makes the job of self-deception that much more difficult. The theological contribution of Anderson’s work, therefore, is twofold: it elucidates the presence of an uncomfortable theology that runs throughout the biblical narrative; and more importantly, in so doing, warns the serious reader not to manipulate the text to make it fit better their own theological presuppositions and desires.”—Song-Mi Suzie Park in Horizons in Biblical Theology
“One insight will not fail to impress all readers of Anderson’s skillful and bold study: the book of Genesis is quite unlike other books of the Bible. It is untouched by the standard (i.e., Deuteronomistic) notion of a God who sets up laws in order to reward or punish people according to their obedience. Here we have another world-view, one based on the divine blessing that will eventually work out to the advantage of those who have received it.”– Bernhard Lang in Journal of Theological Studies 2013
“John E. Anderson sets himself two main challenges in this well-written, thoughtful, stimulating, and unsettling revised doctoral dissertation from Baylor University. First and foremost, he tackles difficult and important questions about the portrayal of God in the Hebrew Bible, especially in the Jacob Cycle. . . . Anderson’s theological claims about God the divine trickster are built on detailed textual exegesis characterized by unobtrusive theoretical sophistication and sensitive engagement with secondary scholarship (full disclosure: that includes mine). He makes some nice general methodological points; I appreciated his caution about the need to privilege probable interpretations over possible interpretations (a valuable lesson for many of us!). And his readings are often persuasive.”–Diana Lipton in Journal of Hebrew Scriptures 2013