God Loves a Trickster

I have not yet had the opportunity to read fellow biblioblogger John Anderson’s new book (for which I offer him congratulations on its publication!), Jacob and the Divine Trickster: A Theology of Deception and Yhwh’s Fidelity to the Ancestral Promise in the Jacob Cycle, published by Eisenbrauns. But I thought I should mention it anyway, for several reasons. First, he asked me to. But second, this being a book published by a biblioblogger this month, and this being the site for this month’s Biblical studies carnival (of which the first installment has been posted here, in case you missed it), it seems appropriate to mention it and to say that anyone else who has published something this month is welcome to blog about it and get it included in the Biblical studies carnival.

But third, the topic of the book connects fairly directly with a major topic about which I blog regularly, namely creationism. Young-earth creationism is forced to maintain that God created an earth with the appearance of age and a cosmos with light already en route from stars a vast distance away. It makes God guilty of deception. And the truth of the matter is that God as depicted in the Bible is not above deception, as becomes clear not only in the Jacob story but even more so in 1 Kings 22. And so thinking about John’s book, I am struck that, if we object to the theology of young earth creationism, the objection probably cannot be on Biblical grounds. Indeed, do you think we need to go further, and say that if we find the idea of a God who is willing to deceive human beings unacceptable, this constitutes a rejection of the Biblical portrait of God?

Perhaps John himself will chime in – if only to clarify that any views expressed by me on this blog, even in a post highlighting his book, are in no way endorsed by him! :-)

  • El Bryan Libre

    I think this highlights the problem with giving every voice in Scripture equal weight in formulating our picture of God and theology in general. sometimes we have to just say particular verses don’t accurately reflect God or reality.

  • Bob MacDonald

    Delighted to see this – bravo for John

  • http://hesedweemet.wordpress.com/ John Anderson

    Thanks for this, James. Interesting twist on the creation bit.

    Bryan, as you may know many have sought to do exactly what you propose; the difficulty is by what metric does one determine what is and is not authentic about God? The biblical text, but also I would venture to say experience, and even reason–the typical triumvirate adduced often to explain away such problematic aspects–point to these as real possibilities. But let it be said, I am in no way in this book making an explicit claim about who God really is, whatever that means. It is an attempt at a descriptive theology, what the character (and characterization) of God is as presented in the HB. Do I think there are resonances with the real thing? Absolutely. But what I take issue with are those attempts that aim to mute the theological voice of even these disturbing portraits of God. The question I am asking, put most simply, is what happens if we allow these texts to say a word about God?

    Bob, many many thanks for your kind words. I do hope you’ll read it; I welcome your comments and thoughts. Shalom!

  • Jason

    Dr. M: Are you opposed to creationism generally, or could/do you make room for old-earth creationism? I guess I could dig through your blog posts, but I figured it would be easier to just ask! 

  • http://www.patheos.com/community/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

    I definitely would dig through the old posts, if I were you! But the short answer is that I am not opposed to any way of thinking about God as creator that does not misrepresent or disregard the current state of our scientific knowledge. 

    Hopefully that brief answer will encourage you to dig further rather than entirely satisfy you! :)

  • Angievandemerwe

    God has little to do with what is considered “the good”, because none of us enjoy being lied to. This is a law in the West about being transparent in government, and accountability in government. Those that justify a biblical “God” also argue for “reasons” of “mystery” that “God” would desire something “such and such” a way!

    What is really the truth is that self is interested in such endeavors and God is used for justfication!!!

  • Angievandemerwe

    God has little to do with what is considered “the good”, because none of us enjoy being lied to. This is a law in the West about being transparent in government, and accountability in government. Those that justify a biblical “God” also argue for “reasons” of “mystery” that “God” would desire something “such and such” a way!

    What is really the truth is that self is interested in such endeavors and God is used for justfication!!!

  • El Bryan Libre

    John,
    I realize it’s descriptive theology. The point is that I think even if it accurately describes a voice in Scripture it is not correct. Nobody is muting it. They’re letting it speak and then saying it’s wrong.

    • http://hesedweemet.wordpress.com/ John Anderson

      Bryan,
      Again, the question is by what arithmetic one figures out what is and is not correct. And again, I have no issue saying the biblical text contains images that may indeed not be accurate of who God really is (whatever that means). But these are not the questions I am asking. But the necessary first step is to allow that voice to speak, and having read a great deal on this topic, I disagree with your last sentence. All too often the ‘conversation’ (a point to which I wish we had gotten in these issues!) begins with the presupposition that such and such a text is not accurate of God, now how do we handle it? Seibert mutes the voice (see my RBL review of his book). Copan essentially eliminates it. Lamb reconciles it to a tidier portrait. You may suggest this is ‘letting it speak,’ but this is often done in a superficial way that seems to begin from presuppositions residing in systematic theology and not in the text. All of these achieve little more than stifling conversation on the issue. It is to tread a Marcionite line that I am not willing to tread.

  • El Bryan Libre

    Which is it John? Is this issue about descriptive theology or normative theology? You say you are just describing what’s in the text, fine, but then you want to switch to questions of what we should believe. Before that discussion takes place we have to get other issues out of the way like the inspiration of the Bible, the Bible’s role in the church and in theology, other sources in theology, theological methodology in general, etc. It’s gonna take more than just saying what’s in certain parts of the Bible since we’re not all Evangelicals who view the Bible the same way.

    I think the Marcionite comment was interesting. Seemed like an attempt to mute other voices in theology by appealing to heresy.

    • http://hesedweemet.wordpress.com John Anderson

      In reading your comment again, Bryan, I think a lot of what you say resides in an assumption you have about me and my theological stripes. I’m not an evangelical, and this book is not written from that perspective. The assumptions you are saying I’m apparently making are a) ones I don’t make; b) ones you are making without having actually read the book. I’m glad to continue the conversation, but I think it would be most helpful and worthwhile if you read the book to see what I’m doing first. Shalom!

      • El Bryan Libre

        “let it be said, I am in no way in this book making an explicit claim about who God really is, whatever that means. It is an attempt at a descriptive theology, what the character (and characterization) of God is as presented in the HB.”

        You mentioned that you were doing descriptive theology. Yet your comments sound as if your fed up with people not allowing these texts to influence our overall view of God. That’s a different issue than just pointing out ‘s in the HB. Which do you want to discuss? I’m willing to assume for the sake of argument that some of the Bible depicts God as a deceptive trickster. So what? It also depicts him commanding the slaughter of people, including children. I don’t think I have to believe that accurately reflects him either.

        And don’t feel obligated to continue this discussion with me. I’m not springing for your book any time soon so if that’s what is required to discuss these issues with you then I’ll pass.

  • http://hesedweemet.wordpress.com John Anderson

    Bryan,

    I don’t know where you gathered from my comments that I was drawing a distinction between descriptive and normative theology. I say nothing in this book explicitly about such issues. What I am saying is that what I have done–giving these texts a fair theological hearing–is the necessary first step before anyone should be making judgments over what is and is not authentic; most interpreters are not making this first step.

    As to the ‘other questions we have to get out of the way,’ fortunately for me I’ve done so in the intro to my book. There’s about a 40 or 50 page intro dealing with a variety of issues re: method, history of scholarship,definitions, etc. I would, of course, suggest you read the book for yourself to see what I actually say and then I’d be happy to continue the conversation.

    The appeal to Marcionism was in the interest of letting texts speak, not muting them. I’m curious what other voices are being muted. And BTW, I’m not an evangelical. Read, and see.

  • http://hesedeemet.wordpress.com John Anderson

    Bryan, by no means are you required to buy the book. But if you do, I’d be glad to continue the conversation.

    But to clarify your question, I am not “fed up with people not allowing these texts to influence our overall view of God.” I am, to use your words, “fed up” with people who don’t probe these texts more deeply for anything, be it what they might reveal about who God really is (not what I’m doing explicitly) or who the God of the text is portrayed as being, and simply dismiss them out of hand because they are problematic. These texts deserve a hearing. Or, to borrow from RWL Moberly, our task is not to “explain away” these texts, but to “explain” them.

  • Angievandemerwe

    John,
    You are free to do as you choose with such texts, but personally,  I believe you are not studying “God” NOT AT ALL *remember God is the evolutionary principle, I suppose.) You are studying ancient people’s VIEWS about God…these are myths that have impacted ancent cultures! You cannot continue to support such texts, as they are problematic in the modern world!!!

    • http://hesedeemet.wordpress.com John Anderson

      Angie,

      I don’t dispute that these texts are problematic at all. The afterlife of many biblical texts are terribly disconcerting. The NT is not immune here either, as one need look only to the heart of Europe in the 1940s for gross misappropriations of these texts. You are correct, however, that what I have done in this book (and intentionally so, at that) is to study “ancient people’s views about God.” I’m not making any ontological claims about the authenticity of these texts. Nor am I condoning deception (though i do think there are instances where it is acceptable; one of my former teachers and now dear friends’ parents survived the Holocaust. His father once told him the only time it is acceptable to lie is if the Nazis are at the door. I’d say lying is the way to go there). In fact, in my final chapter I note the troubling nature of this image, but also attempt to give theological voice to it, rather than casting it aside.

      I would extend to you the same invitation I did Bryan: read the book, and let’s continue the conversation.It only seems fair and reasonable to discuss something as complex as this idea when you, and others, have actually seen what I’ve done.

      Best wishes.