Book by Alumnus, Visiting Professor Earns Praise
"Jacob and the Divine Trickster: A Theology of Deception and YHWH's Fidelity to the Ancestral Promise in the Jacob Cycle," a new book by visiting Assistant Professor Dr. John E. Anderson, class of 2004, explores the character of Jacob from the book of Genesis, including his deceptive traits and why he was guided and protected by God.
A native of Mitchell, Anderson discussed his book, and reflected on his experiences at Augustana, in an interview with The Daily Republic. The following story appeared in the Saturday, Oct. 22, issue of The Daily Republic:
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.”
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