The Old Testament Use Of An Archetype: The Trickster -- By: Richard D. Patterson

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 42:3 (Sep 1999)
Article: The Old Testament Use Of An Archetype: The Trickster
Author: Richard D. Patterson


The Old Testament Use Of An Archetype:
The Trickster

Richard D. Patterson*

Trickery appears to be a common trait of human culture. For not only does it form an important part of several human activities such as battle and sports strategies as well as humor and entertainment, but wherever the traveler goes he must be acutely aware of trickery. It is small wonder, then, that the antics of the trickster are given literary expression in many parts of the world. Indeed, one may say that the trickster forms an important archetype common to the writings of numerous cultures. 1

I. Trickery In The Ancient World

The trickster archetype is particularly prominent in primitive cultures. Thus in the folklore of the Central African Republic one encounters the tales of Tere. Of divine descent, Tere is the implementor of all that contributes to mankind’s wellbeing. He is also a trickster. In one tale Tere succeeds in escaping a crocodile by convincing it that if he lets him go, Tere will make the crocodile as beautiful as the bird that happens to be flying overhead. Freed from the crocodile’s grasp, Tere proceeds to paint one of the crocodile eggs and convinces him that the hatched reptiles from all the eggs will be as beautiful as this one. Tere assures the crocodile and his family that he will also make them beautiful. All the crocodile gets for his trouble, however, is the loss of all of the crocodile community’s eggs and being duped into transporting Tere across the river where he had first captured him.

In yet another tale Tere’s quest for a wife is rebuffed by the girl’s parents who promise him their daughter on the condition that he bring a leopard’s whiskers to them. Resourceful to the end, Tere persuades a leopard that he can make him beautiful if the leopard submits to a beauty treatment that involves being enclosed in a basket. When the basket is tightly woven around the leopard, Tere presents him to his beloved’s parents, animal and whiskers alike. So it is that he obtains his wife.

Both tales are also aetiological, the former explaining why crocodiles have a hatred for men and the latter how the leopard got his spots from the

* Richard D. Patterson is distinguished professor emeritus at Liberty University, 1971 University Blvd., Lynchburg, VA 24502.

sun shining through the holes in the basket. In addition to this, the latter tale closes with a moral: “If you put your heart on being beautiful for your own gain, you too may become captured.” 2

Trickery is also known in the anc...

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