Jacob and the divine Trickster : a theology of deception and YHWH's fidelity to the ancestral promise in the Jacob cycle.
Access changed 3/18/13.
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. These two notices produce a latent tension in the text: Jacob is concurrently an unabashed trickster and YHWH's preference. How is one to reconcile this tension? This dissertation investigates the phenomenon of divine deception in the Jacob cycle (Gen 25-35). The primary thesis is that YHWH both uses and engages in deception for the perpetuation of the ancestral promise (Gen 12:1-3), giving rise to what I have dubbed a theology of deception. Through a literary hermeneutic, emphasizing the symbiotic relationship between both how the text means and what the text means, with theological aims, this study examines the various manifestations of YHWH as Trickster in the Jacob cycle. Attention is given to how the multiple deceptions evoke, advance, and at times fulfill the ancestral promise. In Gen 25-28 YHWH engages in deception to insure Jacob receives the ancestral promise. Here Jacob is seen cutting his deceptive teeth by extorting the right of the firstborn from Esau and the paternal blessing from Isaac. YHWH, however, also plays the role of Trickster through an utterly ambiguous oracle to Rebekah in Gen 25:23, which drives the human deceptions. At Bethel (Gen 28:10-22) Jacob receives the ancestral promise from YHWH, in effect corroborating the earlier deceptions. In Gen 29-31 YHWH uses the many deceptions perpetrated between Jacob and Laban to advance the ancestral promise in the areas of progeny, blessing to the nations, and land. Lastly, in Gen 32-35 YHWH participates in Jacob's final deception of Esau (Gen 33:1-17) through two encounters Jacob has, first with the "messengers of God" and second with God. Jacob's tricking of Esau during their reconciliation results in Jacob's return to the promised land. Attention is given to the theological implications of this divine portrait, along with prospects for further study.