If you’ve had a hankering to watch an I Love Lucy Marathon, a Wile E. Coyote and The Roadrunner Binge-a-thon, Mission Impossible back-to-back (tv) episodes, or even a single viewing (or two) of Some Like It Hot, may I suggest (if such viewing is not available or even if it is) checking out the book of Genesis? There you will find not one, not two, but (at least) 13 trickster tales filling the pages (er Genesis scroll); each, like the modern entertainments listed above, depicting sharp-witted characters caught in harrowing predicaments concocting crazy schemes to fool and upend formidable opponents. Once the trick succeeds, often ridiculously well, the trickster (and the audience) prepare for the next impossible predicament and the next astonishing trick…. And the next opportunity, no matter your mood, to laugh!
Let's have a brief review of Genesis 13 sneaks:
(1) Genesis 12:10-20. When Abram and Sarai come to Egypt to escape famine Abram has Sarai pretend to be his sister. That way, when Pharaoh falls in love with Sarai (who at 75 years old is apparently still a dish) Abram’s life will be spared. Pharoah thanks Abram for “sister Sarai” with gifts of cattle, donkeys, servants. Then, as unsuspecting Pharoah seeks to bed Sarai, God strikes Egypt with a plague. A flustered Pharoah throws Sarai & Abram out of country… along with their prodigious new stash. Nice work if you can get it!
(2) Genesis 20. When Abraham and Sarah come to Gerar they tell King Abimelech they are brother and sister so things won’t turn out as feared in the previous episode. As the Abimelech prepares to bed Sarai (who at 90 remains apparently dishy), God comes in a dream threatening to kill the King and strike his household with infertility. Putting his clothes immediately back on, the King contritely presents Abraham and Sarah with land, cattle, and silver so God will allow everyone’s zygotes to work once more. All's well that ends well.
(3) Genesis 25:29-34. When Esau (Isaac’s first born) comes home after hunting he’ll do anything for the “red stuff” (aka lentil stew) second-born Jacob is cookin’ up. Anything? Jacob requests Esau’s birthright. Done!
(4) Genesis 26:1-16. Isaac and Rebekah come to Gerar. Like his father Abraham, Isaac calls his wife his sister so none of the locals will kill him when they want to wed her because she so is attractive (and not so old). Boy is King Abimelech surprised when he spies “brother and sister” fondling one another! Fearing God will smite the nation if anyone comes near the couple, they’re given land that reaps 100 fold.
(5) Genesis 27. Jacob, with Rebekah’s help, dresses up in animal skins to fool blind old Isaac that he is Esau, ready to receive the family blessing. Amusing charades ensue…until Esau shows up causing Jacob to scram.
(6) Genesis 29:15-30. Jacob, head-over-heels in love with beautiful Rachel, agrees to work for her father Laban for seven years to win her hand. When the time comes and he wakes up the morning after the wedding night, is he shocked to discover lying next to him... Leah! Rachel’s older sister who is not said to be beautiful but rather to possess “tender eyes" (ie "woof woof")! Laban explains the "fine print" of the deal: the first-born must of course be married before the second-born. If Jacob wants Rachel as well, well, that’s seven more years of (free) labor. (This is starting to sound a lot like a "Green Acres" episode to me....)
(7) Genesis 30:25-43. Laban offers to give Jacob all his striped, spotted and speckled goats; Laban then removes them from his flock and hides them. Jacob, sensing something afoot, places special magical rods of poplar and almond before Laban’s stronger goats as they breed, causing their lambs to be born striped, spotted and speckled and in large number. Suddenly Jacob’s flock is far superior to Laban’s!
(8) Genesis 31:17-35. As Jacob prepares to move his livestock and family to Canaan, Rachel steals Laban’s household idols, putting them in her camel’s saddle and sitting on them. Laban furiously and frantically chases down Jacob’s entourage hoping to retrieve his gods and when he walks up to search Rachel she says she cannot rise because it’s her “time of the month.” That stops him in his tracks!
(9) Genesis 32:22-32. An angel challenges Jacob one night to a wrestling match. It goes on and on and on….. Dawn is breaking and the one with the power of heaven still hasn’t won the match. How can a puny human put up such a challenge? (Maybe God is realizing he created man a little too much in His own image!) The angel finally resorts to pulling out part of Jacob’s thigh in order to cripple him. I know it's hardly fair, but when you’re an angel and exhausted and it's time for a nap you do what you have to do.
(10) Genesis 34. When Shechem the Hivite rapes Jacob’s daughter Dinah and then purportedly falls in love with her, Jacob’s sons tell Shechem he may marry Dinah if all the Hivite men are circumcised. All hence go under the knife, and as they writhe in pain from their snip-snip Dinah’s brothers descend and easily slaughter everyone. The trickster humor here is pretty pitch black….
(11) Genesis 38. When Tamar’s husbands won’t impregnate her (it’s complicated), she dresses up as a veiled temple prostitute and beds her unsuspecting father-in-law (and Jacob’s #4 son) Judah, when he stops in to a roadside “shrine” on his way to shear some sheep (suggestive jokes here welcomed). Tamar's womb now carries a man named Perez (and I can hear Tamar now exclaiming “He’s my son! He’s my brother! He’s my son! He’s my brother!”). Perez goes on to be one of David’s ancestors btw.
(12) Genesis 42-5. Sold into slavery by his jealous brothers, Joseph rises to power in Egypt. When these brothers during a famine come to Egypt to beg for food they grovel before Joseph (not recognizing him). Joseph, recognizing them instantly, feigns ignorance and begins wildly accusing them of being spies and thieves (stealing contraband he has ordered put in their saddles). When he’s messed with their heads long enough and can’t stand it anymore, he reveals his identity so a happy party of fully united family can ensue. L’Chaim!
And then there’s the “pilot” trickster episode. In (13) Genesis 3, the snake pulls one over on God. When the Almighty isn’t looking, snake coaxes humans into eating fruit that gives them awareness of free will. From now on those human creatures will forever be keeping God on God’s toes (causing God to forever reach for the heavenly Excedrin). That darned snake!
So many funny, playful, witty trickster tales are found in the bedrock of the biblical story. I think that's really something, especially because the Israelites were a people who were overwhelmingly poor, powerless, and always on the verge of extinction. You'd think they'd tell stories that focus on how bleak everything always was (and this is usually the lens that present-day Hollywood uses when depicting the world of Genesis).
It's good to remember not only is Genesis a lot more like Candid Camera or, yes, Green Acres (and we can pray for the day a biblical movie in that spirit will someday be made) but also that the ancients wanted us to discover, as they had, that the walk with God really begins when, in spite of whatever your circumstances, you claim your place, as all of us can, as a Child of Isaac. Child of Laughter.
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