My Response to Koog P. Hong’s RBL Review of my Jacob and the Divine Trickster

(Below is a copy of the response I have submitted to RBL in the hopes they will publish and circulate it, as a fitting response to Hong’s review of my book, which you can read HERE).

A Response to Koog P. Hong’s Review of My
Jacob and the Divine Trickster (RBL 3/13)

John E. Anderson, Ph.D.

ImageI welcome this opportunity to respond to a recent RBL review of my book (published 3/22/13), written by Koog P. Hong of Yonsei University. Hong has offered a review that strives to take my work seriously. For this I am appreciative; what more could a scholar want? But there are some missteps and misstatements in the review to which I would like to respond. It is my hope also that this response—motivated by the very tenets of the SBL to “foster biblical scholarship”—will encourage a robust dialogue on some of these questions I raise that are, to my eye, far too often ignored, be it out of theological convenience, Testamental dissonance, and/or personal bewilderment at their presence. There are two basic issues I wish to raise: 1) matters of content and argument; 2) matters of theology and method.

Matters of Content and Argument

Hong’s critiques make constant mention of what I don’t do. Barring the ‘maxim’ that a reviewer is to articulate fairly and accurately the book the author wrote, not what s/he should have written, I take Hong’s points seriously. On nearly every occasion, however, I do indeed discuss—at times in depth—what he suggests I do not.

The Morality and Theology of Divine Deception

For example, Hong writes that “Anderson does not discuss the moral and theological implications revolving around his bold thesis: YHWH the divine trickster. His insistence that YHWH’s deception is intimately bound to the covenantal fidelity to the ancestral promise (i.e., deception is used only to advance the promise) does little to alleviate the moral unease inherent in it” (emphasis added). But I do indeed discuss the “moral and theological implications” in both the introductory and concluding chapters. Indeed, in the final chapter of the book is a bolded subject heading entitled “Theological Implications” (174-77) in which I advance and develop five theological implications arising from this study; in short, they are: unexpected modes of divine fulfillment/fidelity, the “centripetal force of the ancestral promise,” the destabilizing and subversive tendencies of this portrait of God, that the Old Testament and thus our theologies should not “whitewash, sanitize, or domesticate God,” and that one avoid systematic approaches to doing Old Testament theology. This critique is odd given that Hong himself notes in the summary portion of the review that “Anderson concludes with a reflection on the implications of the theology of deception.”

Moreover, while my book is not primarily concerned with issues of morality as it relates to this material, I do discuss it, again in both the introductory and concluding chapters. In the introductory chapter, this point appears as early as page 2. Later in that same chapter, I argue that “in its original context, the Jacob cycle is not a narrative ultimately concerned with matters of ethics” (39). Attached to that statement is a lengthy footnote, maintaining that “there does not appear to be any moral commentary running throughout [these texts]” and that “I disagree with the sentiment that a contemporary reader must deem these texts unethical.” I am, at bottom, here suggesting that there is an inherent danger in importing our modern sensibilities of ethics and morality onto an ancient text. Our primary task—and the task I take up—is to offer a descriptive theology, and only with that in place should we begin to move toward questions of contemporary application. More germane to Hong’s “moral unease” is my final chapter, a section following immediately upon the “Theological Implications” section, entitled “Trustworthy Deception,” where I wrestle with this question as articulated in the biblical text, with ramifications for the life of faith. To be fair, this is not my primary concern in the book, but to suggest I ignore “moral and theological implications” is simply untrue. I don’t ignore them, yet I do seem to argue a perspective contrary to one Hong holds.

One might more appropriately ask whose “moral unease” I should have set out to address and redress. Certainly, given my comments above, I am not persuaded ancient Israel took moral issue with this portrait of Jacob but rather saw it existing in a beautiful and meaningful tension with other portraits of Jacob.[1] Nor am I persuaded the authors and/or compilers of Genesis in its final form felt any sort of ethical impulse to tame Jacob or God (a point I also develop in the book). It seems Hong’s main contention is that I don’t address the “moral unease” of contemporary readers. Surely the God of the Old Testament is unsettling in many respects, but I don’t understand my task—be it in this book, or as a believer, or as a professor—to be to assuage difficulties with or apologize for the Old Testament’s raw portrayal of God. Not that these issues are unimportant to me or are not questions with which I live and wrestle, but not everyone is troubled by a God capable of/complicit in deception. Ancient Israel wasn’t. The authors/compilers of Genesis weren’t. Nor were the authors/compilers of the multitude of other biblical (and ancient Near Eastern) texts I enumerate in my first chapter. I often tell my students, who are unwilling to admit that God may be complicit in deception, violence, or some other unsettling behavior in the Bible, that when the Bible clashes with your theology, one of the two needs to give way; they are free to choose their theology over the biblical text, but they must then be aware of the implications of the choice they have just made (I may here be betraying my Protestant bias, but as an Old Testament scholar I am deeply committed to the text and wrestling with the Bible we have, not the one we wish we had). This is not to say the Bible or its portrait of God is beyond critique or censure, but one must be honest with where the ethical impulse is located: in the text, or the reader?

This may provide little consolation to those who are unsettled by a God who engages in trickery, but this book was not written for those in the pews; it was written for the academy, as an attempt to crack open a larger conversation that occurs far too infrequently. But, I do still feel I have attempted to answer, or what Hong calls a way “to cope with it and present the present-day audience with the message that is still relevant today.” I would affirm, as I do in the book, that the Old Testament challenges and empowers readers to delight in, be challenged by, and puzzle over a God whose trustworthiness can be displayed, in a beautiful paradox, through deception (see pp. 177-86).

I must note, as I do in the book, that I am in good scholarly company in not being repulsed by divine deception: Hermann Gunkel, O. H. Prouser, as well as several others I have become aware of since the publishing of my book. Among the most recent, Marvin Sweeney offers this insightful comment about God in Genesis with which my book resonates: “Freed from the presuppositions of historical analysis that the trickster or deceptive nature of G-d’s character in Genesis is simply the product of a primitive and theological unsophisticated stage in Israelite religious development, scholars are now coming to recognize that divine duplicity and deception cannot be dismissed as the product of primitive culture, but must be taken into account in biblical interpretation.”[2]

God and Deception: “Through” or “Despite”?

Another example warrants mention. Hong writes that “Anderson ignores an interpretive possibility that God works despite human errors.” This is not a new criticism, and it is, again, one I take up in the book.

Hong’s challenge centers on God’s relationship to deception in the Jacob cycle; in the opening chapter I survey at length and engage with extant scholarship on several possibilities, one of which is that God persists with Jacob in spite of his seemingly lackluster character. There is no need to repeat at length the material already in the book, but at bottom I argue the text is clear in its articulation, from beten (Gen 25:23) to Bethel (esp. Gen 28:13-15) to Peniel (Gen 32) and at scattered moments in between that God is not making a concession in dealing with Jacob. Up until this point in Genesis thus far God has felt perfectly free to change course on a number of occasions; the primeval history bears this point out fully. Moreover, while I don’t state this in the book, the ancient Near Eastern evidence I adduce, replete with examples of trickster deities who are happy to work deception for (and sometimes against, but not despite) human characters is informative. Knowing that ancient Israel shared this cognitive environment makes the resonances that much more striking.

The larger operative question is who is to say whether Jacob has erred? Hong seems to assume as much, given his statement cited above. But who is to adjudicate whether Jacob has failed? Whose assessment matters in the world of the text? Us, or God? This is not to suggest we read uncritically and simply accept at face value anything in the text. We should indeed read discerningly. But my argument, that the prenatal oracle in Gen 25:23 animates the conflict (a conclusion I share with Brueggemann, whose bold and daring foray into this oracle is illuminating and honest), and that God’s first appearance to Jacob on the heels (pun intended!) of a family shattering act of deception—where Jacob is met not with punishment but with promise—underscores that God has no moral qualms with Jacob’s shenanigans. The “tragic side of the trickster’s celebrated life” that ensues, mentioned by Hong, no where connects the moments of theophany with divine punishment. Rather, as I argue in the book (and along similar lines as Diana Lipton in her Revisions of the Night), the moments of theophany are revelatory in their ability to communicate that God has been at work, to co-opt a well-worn phrase from Luther, “in, with, and under” Jacob’s many deceptions. Not despite. In, with, and under.

Moreover, it is precisely the “tragic side” of Jacob’s life with Laban that I argue leads to incipient fulfillment of the ancestral promise in Gen 29-31 in and amidst deception (see esp. pp. 97-129). And while Hong contends that I “fail to see that Jacob has to pay a heavy price for his behavior” (in Gen 34, which Hong incorrectly labels the “Tamar incident”; Tamar occurs in Gen 38, while it is Dinah who is subject, and object, in Gen 34), I do not see God as a character here working “despite” or “against” Jacob; even Hong is tentative here in his conclusion, stating that “one may take these as God’s implicit punishment for Jacob’s trickery” (emphasis added). Readers will have to read my arguments for themselves to see whether they find them persuasive.

Matters of Theology and Method

We operate in an age of methodological plurality, where dissonant scholarly voices grapple for a hearing, much like the tensive voices in much of the Hebrew Bible. And to be sure, methods can at times distort the text much more than they can inform it. I have, however, attempted to be up front about these issues in the book, offering as much transparency into my method and the assumptions I bring to the work (handily discussed in a section titled “Assumptions and Methodology,” pp. 33-40). In brief, I work with two mutually-informing vectors—how and what the text means—as an avenue into genuine theological inquiry, channeling scholars such as Robert Alter, Adele Berlin, and Meir Sternberg. Methodologically, I am not treading new ground as much as I am working to put new literary criticism more intentionally in the service of Old Testament theology, a discipline that has, until recently, largely been dominated by historical-critical methodologies.

Modern or Postmodern?

Hong identifies my method as “modernistic” given that I maintain “rhetoric of [my] reading’s superiority over other readings.” While I see the point he is attempting to make, I am hard-pressed to think anyone would come away from a reading of my book and label it “modern.” Perhaps the problem resides more in the sometimes unhelpful and fluid labels modern and postmodern. He is correct that I have followed Brueggemann’s lead (though I would include Leo Perdue as a seminal voice here as well) in embracing polyphony, but this is not tantamount to saying all meaning is up for grabs. Hong critiques me for defending my reading in engagement with others. I remain unclear what he envisions a truly postmodern/polyphonic argument to look like, though it is apparently not one that has an interest in defending an argument critically and thoughtfully. He does suggest “the argumentation would have been more nuanced had he presented his reading as an alternative conditioned reading that adds another facet to the ‘richness’ of the text, candidly admitting his own involvement in its production.” This, however, is precisely what I do. I write: “Old Testament theology is not a monolithic entity; there are, rather, theologies in the Bible. In this book, I offer one such theology, a theology of deception in the Jacob cycle” (34). It is my literary-theological method that helps clear this path, and while I do persist in affirming the integrity and persuasiveness of my own reading, that does not mean that I have exhausted all possible meaning-potential from the Jacob cycle, a point that is true whether one does or does not agree with my method and my conclusions.

Where is Meaning Found?

In a similar vein already alluded to above, Hong expresses the desire that my methodological proclivities would have given me reason for “candidly admitting his own involvement in its [the text’s meaning] production.” But, again, I do make just such an admission. I write: “Readers play a role in discerning a text’s meaning, and this meaning arises in the dynamic relationship between text and reader. While no reading can be entirely disinterested, the text itself serves as a ’control’ for one’s interpretation, and it is against the text that the authenticity of any interpretation must be judged” (35). On that same page is a lengthy footnote that provides even greater clarity, appealing to W. Lee Humphrey’s The Character of God in the Book of Genesis and assuming the posture of a first time reader, ignoring as much as possible “a priori ontological assumptions about God’s character deriving from classical systematic theology” (my words) and “both claims by historians of religion about the God(s) of ancient Israel and early Judaism and particular and fundamental claims about God from theologians and members of religious communities who assert an identity between God in Genesis and the God who commands their worship and allegiance” (Humphrey’s words). ‘Checking’ (as much as possible!) this theological and ecclesiastical baggage leaves, as I have already described, little more than the text and I. I have, in essence, attempted to ‘put off’ the very garb Hong seems to wish I had kept on! Therefore, in conversation with extant scholarship, I fully admit to my own involvement in the production of the text’s meaning. The only caveat I would extend is that I wish more scholars would admit the same.[3]

Psychologizing Biblical Studies

One final point warrants brief mention. At several points Hong engages in little more than psychologizing my thought process or rationale in writing various parts of the book. I don’t find such speculations helpful or warranted in pursuing genuine scholarly inquiry or the conversation I have attempted to begin.

The Divine Trickster: Moving Forward

I wrote this book with twin objectives: 1) to give uniquely theological expression to an oft-ignored portrait of God that some may deem unsettling or problematic; 2) to provide a fresh reading of the Jacob cycle that honors the textual tension between Jacob’s character and God’s election of him. The topic of God’s character is a hot-button and controversial issue to be sure with much at stake, and I suspect readers will have many visceral reactions to some of what I suggest. It is my hope that whether one finds my arguments compelling or not, that I have opened up new avenues for dialogue on these two very timely issues, dialogue that will not be animated by any animus to my reading but by an honest attempt to wrestle together, theologically, with the unsettling God of Genesis and the Hebrew Bible.

The day Hong’s review was published I received an email from Gershon Hepner, author of Legal Friction: Law, Narrative, and Identity Politics in Biblical Israel, who shared with me an original poem he wrote, inspired by my work and Hong’s review of it. Gershon has kindly agreed to allow me to share the poem here.


The theory that Jacob’s trickeries reflect

his imitation of our God

may not  sound religiously correct,

but precisely since it’s odd

should be considered seriously. We see

as soon as the great God of Abram picks

the Jews He does not mind their trickery,

approving the repeated tricks

that Abraham and Isaac choose to play

by claiming that their wife

is just their sister, which each one would

not just to save their life,

but to demonstrate  to every ruler

such tricks are an M. O.

that God, the universe’s Foremost Fooler,

considers not de trop

provided that the end seems good, believing

that to be Machiavellian

when faced by those who’re murdering and thieving

is not rebellion

against His principles, for they’re more real-

istic than we might

have thought, brought up to think we must  repeal

all trickery, and fight

the good fight,  one hand tied behind our backs,

against all tricky foes.

Simplistic views like that the Lord  attacks,

and Patriarchs oppose,

especially the third, whose name means “fraud”—-

Hosea says this clearly.

Fraud is the M. O. that the Lord

does not regard as merely

acceptable for Jacob, but a path

that turn a Forefather

into what some may call sociopath,

but a great hero, rather,

behaving in a way that God  would too

if He lived down on earth,

since Jacob does the sort of things He’d do

to show his godly worth.

In the Torah’s laws God changes all the rules,

and outlaws all deception.

The rules’ great proof, we should be taught in schools,

is Jacob—their exception!
(This poem was inspired by Koog P. Hong’s SBL  review of a book by John E. Anderson at Baylor University, performed under the supervision of Bill Bellinger. The book, Jacob and the Divine Trickster: A Theology of Deception and Yhwh’s Fidelity to the Ancestral Promise in the Jacob Cycle)

[1] On this, see most recently Yair Zakovitch, “Inner-Biblical Interpretation” in Reading Genesis: Ten Methods (ed. R. Henden; Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010), 92-118.

[2] Marvin A. Sweeney, Reading the Hebrew Bible After the Shoah: Engaging Holocaust Theology (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2008), 25.

[3] While I wouldn’t classify my book as attempting the same thing, one may helpfully consult Fortress Press’ new Texts@Contexts commentary series for examples of scholars foregrounding their respective contexts and being open to how context informs and indeed at times creates meaning.

Blogging SBL San Francisco 2011

I’m back from the Annual Meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature in San Francisco, which I attended Friday, Nov 18 – Tuesday, Nov 22. It was an excellent meeting this year, though the one complaint I have is that things were quite spread out between sessions and the book exhibit. It was about a 15 minute walk from my hotel, where sessions were held, to the book exhibit. Not a big deal, but it does make it difficult to jump from session to session for those who want to hear only certain speakers.

A few highlights of the meeting from my perspective:

1) Genesis consultation launch: This meeting saw the first sessions of the new Genesis consultation I started and co-chair with Chris Heard. The first session at 1pm on Saturday was themed ‘Genesis and Theology,’ with myself, Terry Fretheim, Joel Kaminsky, and Tammi Schneider presenting papers; Walter Brueggemann served as respondent. We were amazed and delighted when 15 minutes before the session was even to begin the room was already full, with folk standing in the back.

The 'Genesis and Theology' session; looks deceiving, but between the room and the hallway there are about 120 people present!

This is something I had feared when first seeing the room; there were exactly 50 chairs, and all were taken. Jim Eisenbraun said he counted up folk and came up with between 120 and 140 in attendance. We later learned many came, saw the crowd, and left, but remarkably many also came and despite not being able to hear, stayed, no doubt in the hopes of touching the hem of the garment of either Brueggemann or Fretheim! The papers were all exceptional, and Brueggemann’s response was classic Brueggemann. What we all especially appreciated was his conclusion, carving out a new niche for Genesis studies going forward that doesn’t rehearse the traditional historical-critical questions but embraces, what he described, as four main features . . . all four papers, Brueggemann said, shared the following marks: ideological/theological, contemporary, bearing marks of contestation, and interest(ing).

The 'Genesis and Theology' presenters: myself, Terry Fretheim, Joel Kaminsky, Tammi Schneider, and Walter Brueggemann.

He juxtaposed this with earlier studies in Genesis, which would either parrot the biblical text or deal with issues of the numinous history of the text, enterprises which he called, if you read them, “boring.” This was truly a gift. We were also privy to a fun but brief exchange between Brueggemann and Fretheim; Brueggemann was pushing Fretheim on Fretheim’s idea that in the Jabbok wrestling match God had self-limited; Brueggemann rightly asked why not just say God is limited in some capacity. Would that there were more time for such a discussion!The second Genesis session was themed ‘Genesis 1: The State of the Question and Avenues Moving Forward.’ Again, a much too small room, and we had about 100 folk, standing room only again. Chris Heard opened with a paper surveying where Gen 1 research is now, and posing questions to our panelists for where things need to go. I presided over the session. Each of our panelists–John Walton, Bill Brown, Ellen van Wolde, and Mark Smith–have recently published seminal works on Gen 1, within the last two years. After Chris’ paper, each panelist received 15-20 minutes to address Chris, one another’s work, and the larger discipline of Gen 1 studies. There was some very worthwhile and interesting discussion about Walton’s view of ‘functional ontology’ and whether it is an either/or situation or a both/and in regards to material ontology. Walton argues that God is not creating matter but ascribing functions. Also some interesting conversation about method in biblical studies.The Gen 1 panel: John Walton, Mark Smith, Chris Heard, Bill Brown, and Ellen van Wolde.

What I found most interesting–perhaps because of the panelists we selected–is that the conversation focused almost entirely on historical/critical approaches and the ancient Near Eastern cognitive environment, which is no doubt appropriate and fitting, but I was surprised the conversation didn’t ever turn much explicitly to discussion of theological purpose, thrust, or image of God. This is not a critique, merely an observation. I had Walton, Smith, and Brown sign copies of their books for me, and also Terry Fretheim sign my copy of his God and World in the Old Testament.

Both sessions I have heard from various folks were quite well received, and the new Genesis consultation is off to a vibrant start and is one that, I think (and hope) will have a robust and bright future. Did any of you attend, and if so, what were your thoughts?

(I am also looking for someone with an audio recording of the Gen 1 session; I noticed several in the audience recording the session. If you have this, please let me know, as I’d love to obtain the file).

2. Catching up: The more I attend SBL, the less I find myself in sessions and the more I find myself catching up with folk and making new connections. I had a number of appointments scheduled going into the meeting. Saturday morning I had breakfast with my dissertation advisor, Bill Bellinger. Always a joy to see him and catch up, and even more of a joy to see him later in the conference and learn that he and Brueggemann had been together on Baylor’s campus recently, and at the conference itself, and both times they spoke of me, with Brueggemann speaking highly of me and my work; given how influential he has been for me, this is truly affirming. Saturday evening I joined Bellinger with all his former dissertation advisees, as is customary every year, for a wonderful meal and time of conversation. An interesting development potentially arose from this meeting, and that’s all I’ll say right now, but I am hopeful for something significant in the (near) future re: it.

With Eric Seibert

I had lunch with my friend Eric Seibert, author of Disturbing Divine Behavior (if you haven’t yet, see my RBL review HERE), and as always some stimulating conversation re: the character God in the Bible. The more I talk with Eric and the more I use his book in class, the more appreciative I become for what he’s done, though I still stand by all my critiques in the RBL review; he’s asking the right questions, just answering them incorrectly in my view. I was also happy to see he had purchased my book, Jacob and the Divine Trickster, and had me sign it. Very cool!

I had an enjoyable meeting with Michael Thomson, acquisitions editor at Eerdmans, about my forthcoming book with them, An Untamable God. Michael has a great sense of humor, and I am deeply appreciative for his interest in the book. We hammered out some questions about tone and audience, which was my primary query. Now that those are clarified a bit more, I plan to start writing in earnest soon.

Chris Heard and I had supper Sunday night; two Genesis geeks together. What did we talk about, you ask? Mainly bad jokes and how forgiving scholars actually are (right Chris?!). Maybe I’ll share your viewpoint more fully when I’m tenured!

Monday night I was blessed to have supper with Terry Fretheim, who along with Brueggemann, are my biggest influences in how I approach the Bible and understand the character God. It was a truly enjoyable, natural conversation spanning many topics.

With Terry Fretheim

I was especially happy to hear of Terry’s positive assessment of my Jacob and the Divine Trickster (which he also cited affirmingly during his presentation in the Genesis session on Saturday).

Had the good fortune to talk to Walter Brueggemann a few times in the book exhibit; one time he especially praised the Genesis session, calling it “fun” and suggesting that in offering a response to such strong papers, he had to come up with something critical to say for each!

3) Books: I live in the book exhibit at these things. It’s where I run into the most people, make new connections, and of course, buy books. This year I bought two books and God two freebies from publishers. The freebies were Russel Pregeant’s Reading the Bible for all the Wrong Reasons (Fortress, 2011) and Thomas Long’s What Shall We Say? Evil, Suffering, and the Crisis of Faith (Eerdmans, 2011). I bought Philip Jenkins’ Laying Down the Sword: Why We Can’t Ignore the Bible’s Violent Verses (Harper, 2011) and Matt Schlimm’s From Fratricide to Forgiveness: The Language and Ethics of Anger in Genesis (Eisenbrauns, 2011). Started Jenkins in the airport during my 2 hr layover in Denver on the way back to South Dakota.

The highlight of the book exhibit, however, was seeing my book for sale with Eisenbrauns.

The Eisenbrauns booth, featuring Siphrut titles and a banner advertising my book.

They had an awesome banner with my book on it too. What was even more of a highlight was hearing from them that after the Saturday Genesis session in which I presented there was a run on them; by the end of the conference, they only had two copies left!

My book at the Eisenbrauns booth.

It was also pretty cool to sign copies for a few folk, including Bill Brown, who is a big name and has been quite influential also in my own scholarly pursuits, especially in the Psalms but also in Genesis.

Another highlight was catching up with old Baylor friends, including two with whom I stayed. It’s great we can get together at least once a year! And I was also encouraged in the number of folk who asked me–and I was surprised at how many actually did–if I had lost some weight. Imagine their surprise when I replied “yep, 85 lbs.”

4. Sessions: Aside from the two Genesis sessions, I only attended one other session in full: the Book of Psalms session commemmorating the 25th anniversary of the publishing of Gerald Wilson’s seminal The Editing of the Hebrew Psalter. Some great papers on the shape and shaping of the Psalter, as well as some very moving reflections on Wilson the man and scholar, as well as where Psalms scholarship has yet to go. Great session. Earlier I had popped into the Exile/Forced Migrations session to hear papers by Erhard Gerstenberger and Chris Seitz.

All in all a great meeting, and I’m really looking forward to SBL in Chicago next year!

And how was your meeting?

Newspaper Story About Me and My First Book, Jacob and the Divine Trickster

It’s apparently a slow news day in Mitchell, SD (we are the 8th largest city in the state, boasting a population of about 15,000!), because the Mitchell Daily Republic, our local newspaper, has today printed a large, half-page story on me and my new book, Jacob and the Divine Trickster: A Theology of Deception and YHWH’s Fidelity to the Ancestral Promise in the Jacob Cycle. The story/interview is wide-ranging, talking about my unexpected interest and entrance into the field of religion, my time teaching at Augustana College, and a bit about my second book, which is currently under contract with Eerdmans. The story is available online (though the online version is lacking the dazzling graphics, which include litrally a HUGE picture of the cover of my book, which dwarfs the photo of me also included), and you can read it HERE. Or . . . below . . .


Professor, a Mitchell native, wins praise for biblical scholarship

John Anderson is one of the few biblical scholars in the state, a professor of religion at Augustana College in Sioux Falls and the author of the new scholarly book, “Jacob and the Divine Trickster.”

By: Jennifer Jungwirth, The Daily Republic

Religion wasn’t always a passion for John Anderson.

“I went to Sunday school and church because my parents woke me up and told me I had to go,” said Anderson, 30, a Mitchell native and son of Ed and Eileen Anderson. “There were plenty of times I pretended to sleep in or went begrudgingly.”

But after taking an introduction to religion course at Augustana College in Sioux Falls, Anderson set down a path that now has him immersed in studies of the Old Testament.

He is one of the few biblical scholars in the state, a professor of religion at Augustana College in Sioux Falls and the author of the new scholarly book, “Jacob and the Divine Trickster.”

The book, which is an updated version of Anderson’s doctoral dissertation, examines the character of Jacob from the book of Genesis. The book looks at Jacob’s deceptive traits and explores why, in the end, Jacob is guided and protected by God.

The book was published in August by Eisenbrauns Publishing in Indiana.

“It was very affirming, validating and motivating,” Anderson said of seeing the first copy of his book.

The book received a positive review from Walter Brueggemann, a well-known Old Testament scholar and theologian. He praised the book as a “bold, fresh reading of the narrative. … Anderson works with a careful, self-conscious method that lends force and credibility to his suggestive argument.”

Anderson was thrilled to receive the review.

“He’s a very big name in Old Testament studies. His work has paved the way for me to be able to offer the type of contribution I am giving. He has been so foundational for the work I’m trying to do. And encouraging, too, of what I’ve done,” Anderson said.

A 2000 Mitchell High School graduate, Anderson originally set out to major in psychology at Augustana.

“Augie requires you to take a religion class. So I took the intro class and ended up having a teacher that was incredibly interesting and motivating. He really made this topic come alive to me,” Anderson said.

The professor, Dr. Murray Haar, is still a faculty member at Augustana and is now a close friend of Anderson’s.

After the intro to religion class, Anderson continued to take other classes to build on the questions and interests he’d formed in the first course.

By the end of his freshman year, he changed his major to religion.

“It was very unexpected and nothing I had anticipated,” he said.

Anderson continued his education at Duke Divinity School, earning his master’s in theological studies. For his doctorate at Baylor University, he narrowed his focus to Old Testament studies.

“The Old Testament is so complex and diverse,” Anderson said. “It is, in a way, very true to life. Some parts are very disturbing and others are very beautiful and empowering.”

Upon his graduation, Anderson knew he wanted to return to South Dakota to teach.

“South Dakota is home. It’s always been home, for my wife, her family, my family and for me. I wanted to come back because it is home, but I also wanted to come back because it is here that this crazy journey into religion started for me.”

As a professor, Anderson strives to give his students the same opportunities he had to voice concerns and raise questions about religion in an “honest and safe environment.”

“I want students to emerge from my class as thoughtful readers of the biblical text and be able to articulate what they believe, and why they believe it. That’s really the heart of what I’m trying to do.”

Anderson is on contract to write a second book, which is due in 2013. The working title is “An Untameable God: Reading the Old Testament’s Troubling Texts Theologically.”

“It’s going to broaden the focus,” he said. “Traditionally in the Old Testament, people have this deception that it is strictly a God of wrath and anger and judgment, and the New Testament is a God of good, grace, mercy and love. That’s wrong. I’m going to try and look more broadly at how do we make sense of the places in the Old Testament where God seems to act problematically.”

My Book, Jacob and the Divine Trickster, is Here! (Or, I’ve got my copy . . . do you have yours?)

Today I received my box of author copies of my book, Jacob and the Divine Trickster: A Theology of Deception and YHWH’s Fidelity to the Ancestral Promise in the Jacob Cycle from the good folks at Eisenbrauns. Beings that this is my first book (though definitely not my last!), I must confess to it being quite the surreal experience finally seeing the finished project and holding it in my hands.

My sincerest thanks for all those who have already purchased a copy. I am hopeful also that even if you are uable to purchase a copy, you would request a copy for your school’s library holdings. And please, to those who read it, don’t be strangers. I’d love to know your thoughts, and to engage in worthwhile and thoughtful conversation on relevant matters.

I’ve got my copy . . . DO YOU HAVE YOURS?

The REAL Cover of my New Book Jacob and the Divine Trickster Revealed!

Here is the real (front) cover for my forthcoming book, Jacob and the Divine Trickster: A Theology of Deception and YHWH’s Fidelity to the Ancestral Promise in the Jacob Cycle (buy HERE). The back cover will be identical to the joke pink cover posted immediately below (see HERE), but I understand it will also include endorsements from Walter Brueggemann and Bill Bellinger (see HERE for those).

So what do you think? If you’re going to pick up a copy, drop a note in the comments!

EDIT: Here is the full cover (front and back), which I just received.

click to enlarge

The Cover for my Forthcoming Book Revealed (sort of . . . )

My fine friends at Eisenbrauns, who are publishing my forthcoming book very soon (see HERE to order a copy) have just now sent me a copy of the cover, and I must say, this thing is going to fly off the shelves. Here it is (click to enlarge):

Wow. Absolutely brilliant! Maybe I should rename the book? How about ‘Edom Means Pink, not Red!’?

So, is your book tough enough to wear pink? Cuz mine is!

Who’s buying a copy now?!

[DISCLAIMER: This is NOT the real cover of my book; at least not the real color scheme. It is a great joke from some of my friends at Eisenbrauns, namely James Spinti].

Blurbing My Book: Two Early Reviews from Brueggemann and Bellinger

My forthcoming book, Jacob and the Divine Trickster: A Theology of Deception and YHWH’s Fidelity to the Ancestral Promise in the Jacob Cycle (ORDER HERE!) now boasts two blurbs from two well-respected scholars. You can see these blurbs on the book website, linked previously, but I have reproduced them here . . .

From Walter Brueggemann:

“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

and from Bill Bellinger:

“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

Not bad, huh? So, does this (hopefully!) whet anyone’s appetite for the book?

My book available for preorder . . . !!

FROM EISENBRAUNS HERE! That site is admittedly quite skimpy right now; the cover art and abstract will be posted on there in due time. You can, however, check out the table of contents.

According to the website, it will be available October 2011, just before SBL, which will make for an exciting meeting, and coincide nicely with the launch of the new Genesis SBL program unit I’m chairing (see HERE and HERE).

For those who are interested, here is the (unedited) abstract for the book:

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?  Scholarship has 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 startling 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 how 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 those who are interested in the trickster are unconcerned with the theological ramifications of the presence of such material 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 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 one 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.

AND here is a blurb on it from Walter Brueggemann:

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 any usual rendering. Anderson works with a careful, self-conscious method that lends force and credibility to his suggestive argument.

So, who’s going to buy their copy?