My Current Article (“Jacob, Laban, and a Divine Trickster . . . “) – read and enjoy!

To christen my move to wordpress I thought it was a great time to post up my first scholarly article. Well, that and I just received the current issue of Perspectives in Religious Studies that features it!  Please check out ATLA to read it.  The full bibliography is below.

Briefly, as a means of introduction, my research interests lie in the texts of deception in the Jacob cycle. As I read the secondary scholarly literature on the topic, I was particularly struck by the failure to look at these texts theologically–i.e., to ask the question “what about God?” All too often, I aver, scholarship has emphasized the human characters (and their deceptions) to the detriment of the central character in the text: God. It seems quite clear to me that despite God not appearing consistently throughout, the moments of theophany are seminal in their revealing that God has indeed been at work ‘behind the scenes’ throughout. Given this understanding, I have ‘coined’ the phrase “a theology of deception.” My goal in this article–as well as in my dissertation–is to look at God’s role in (and despite the loaded language, complicity in) the deceptions/trickery of Genesis.

This article treats the Jacob/Laban material specifically. I am pleased to have had several other sets of eyes read and comment on it recently, among them the senior Hebrew Bible editor at a major publisher, and Walter Brueggemann. Both offered very positive reviews, for which I am thankful given the nature of the topic. In fact, Brueggemann and I have tentative plans to get together at SBL in light of his reading of this piece.

If anyone feels so compelled to cite the article, here is the full bibliographic reference:
John E. Anderson, “Jacob, Laban, and a Divine Trickster: The Covenantal Framework of God’s Deception in the Theology of the Jacob Cycle,” Perspectives in Religious Studies 36 (2009): 3-23.

Search for it on ATLA.


15 thoughts on “My Current Article (“Jacob, Laban, and a Divine Trickster . . . “) – read and enjoy!

  1. Nevada says:

    Don’t know if I’ll get around to reading it carefully, but I’ve glanced at it looking for references to Michael Williams’ work (a former prof of mine).

  2. John Anderson says:

    Thanks for the comment, Nevada. Indeed, I cite Williams in the piece; he is the subject of one of the (very many!) lengthy footnotes. I will be able to interact with his work in more detail, where relevant, in the dissertation. There are only two pieces by Williams that I am aware of that are relevant to my topic: his Deception in Genesis: An Investigation into the Morality of a Unique Biblical Phenomenon (which is a fine work, but I disagree with him on several points, which if I remember correctly I outline in the article posted here), and a more recent article from 2008 I think, the title of which escapes my mind.

    So, read with interest!

  3. John Anderson says:


    Wow, you blew through it, didn’t you? I trust you read all the footnotes too, right?! ha!

    I appreciate your comments. I would welcome you to elaborate further, if you feel so inclined.

    And for my own clarity, what do you mean by “reader friendly”? I think I have an idea, but just making sure.

    • Rob Kashow says:

      John, yes and yes (well most of the footnotes). What I meant by “I appreciate your effort at making the article reader friendly” is that it was very readable and enabled readers to blow right through it. You have a good writing style that is full of content yet easy to navigate through. This is refreshing especially in light of others who publish in our discipline and write like they are native Germans!

      I think everything you say within the article is convincing and a voice to be considered. What I need to think about, however, is the broader issue of divine causality, which I think much of your article is dependent on. That is, what is exactly meant by ‘God caused.” Outside of God being a trickster, I’m wrestling with this issue in Qoheleth (7.13): Consider the work of God, who can make straight what he made crooked? Typically there is a lot of nuancing that goes on here as is the case with Gen 31, but I’m inclined to agree with you that the Israelites did not have a problem with this nor asked the questions we ask in order to exonerate God.

      Also, (this is going to sound conservative) one additional comment: I’m not so sure we should be so quick to dismiss the ‘faith’ aspect of Jacob. It is true he is a snake, but his eager desire to attain the blessing I think sets him apart from his brother. Of course there are other instances in his life where his faith and heart perhaps give insight as to why exactly he was chosen (I gather this is similar to Ellen Davis from your footnote).

      One question for you (unrelated to the article): I thought I read somewhere that you were at Duke… but it appears that you are at Baylor. Where are you now and where did you do your masters work at?

  4. John Anderson says:


    Thanks! I appreciate your comments, and your positive assessment of my writing style. Native German? Nein!

    Here are some responses that will perhaps provide fodder for others as they read.

    On the topic of divine causality, I concur with Brueggemann (and contra von Rad) that the Jacob cycle is indeed highly theological. While God does not appear as a consistent character throughout (but then again, where does He in the Hebrew Bible), I argue elsewhere–and will develop further in my dissertation–that the moments of theophany that pepper the Jacob cycle are seminal in that they reveal that God has been active behind the scenes throughout. I don’t know that I want to go so far as does, say, Fokkelman in saying it is Providence, but I do think things end up how God wanted them to end up, and I feel a strong case can be made (and I will make it!) that God plays a role in all of this. I am purposely not delving into philosophical categories or discussions of ethics or morals here or in my dissertation; my mind doesn’t work that way, and it doesn’t seem the text is all too concerned with these issues either.

    I have been increasingly struck (and I will make a separate post elaborating on this soon) with the way scholarship has treated the Jacob cycle as one in which (im)morality is central. Scholars will often make a comment along the lines of saying the divine oracle in Gen 25:23 governs the entire cycle (which is correct) or at the very least the events in chs. 25 and 27, but then they go on to discuss how God has no part in any of it! Similarly, more germane to the article, scholarship will often say Jacob is blatantly lying in chapter 31 when he relates his dream theophany to Leah and Rachel (which is a ridiculous a priori assumption to make, as Fokkelman rightly notes). I, as you are aware, argue for a different position in my article. It just seems there is a reticence (understandly so) to see God as complicit in deception. But again, as one of my footnotes points out, there are several places in the Deuteronomistic History–and I would expand this portrait even further to texts in Isa, Jer, and Ezek–where God is clearly active in deception. At bottom, it’s all tethered to the perpetuation of the promise, I believe.

    On Jacob’s ‘faith,’ I certainly hope my article is not meant to demonize Jacob. Quite the contrary, I absolutely love the character and think he is a great literary construction and partner for God. In my dissertation (and my upcoming SBL paper I am presenting in New Orleans on Gen 25:23 as it relates to the rest of chs. 25 and 27, again from a divine trickster perspective–please do come hear it if you are able) I argue that Jacob proves himself to be fit for the blessing, but likely for quite different reasons than what others have interpreted.

    If you have other questions please let me know.

    And, in closing, regarding your unrelated question, the “about me” or “cv” page answers it, but . . . I did my masters work at Duke and now am about to start my fourth year (dissertation and teaching) in the Ph.D. program at Baylor in Biblical Studies with an emphasis on the Hebrew Bible/OT.

    Hope this is helpful!

    • Rob Kashow says:

      So basically you agree with the writers of LOST on divine causality? 🙂

      Thanks for the further comment and clarification and I’ll look to attend your session at SBL. Mike W. and I are driving up together.

  5. John Anderson says:

    Not quite sure what you mean by the LOST analogy—I’m guessing you’re operating under the assumption there exists a continuity and consistency in the writing of LOST. I wasn’t so sure until the last season or two. But that’s another issue.

    I hope we will be fortunate enough to run into one another in New Orleans. There are a lot of people I hope to meet! The book exhibit could prove a busy place for some of us!

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