Jacob’s Ladder- William Blake, 1805, British Museum
Dreams are intricate to ancient religions. Dreams fill the holy books of the major monotheistic faiths—Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.
Some assert the supreme writings of the three Abrahamic creeds are literal truths. For me, the Bible and the Qur’an and their dream narratives are metaphorical manuals for growth of the soul and expanded awareness.
The Epic of Gilgamesh, from the eighteenth century BCE, is possibly the oldest work of literature. Gilgamesh, king of Uruk (modern-day Iraq), part god and part man, dreamt of terrifying times filled with falling mountains, storms, wild bulls, and a fire-breathing thunderbird.
An impending flood, a gliding garden serpent, the beast-like Enkidu, and vivid god-sent dreams read like precursors of the biblical Garden of Eden, Noah’s flood, and Nebuchadnezzar’s madness.
By the fourth century BCE, Babylonians and Assyrians, living along the banks of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers—the region eloquently known as the cradle of civilization—had vanquished fragments of a polytheistic past. In their religious texts, dreams emanated from a singular god.
Dreams in biblical tales occurred in sacred places or the places were sacred because a divine revelation occurred there. Dozens of dreams fill the Old and New Testaments, the holy teachings of Judaism and Christianity.
Angels and trances and voices and spirits and visions—siblings of nighttime dreams—grace nearly every page, delivering God’s guidance and prophecy.
The Talmud, rabbinic teachings of Jewish law, contains a dream manual.
Throughout the Jewish Bible, God speaks to prophets and kings:
In Genesis, “God came to Abimelech (king of Gerar) in a dream of the night” and “God spoke unto Israel in the visions of the night.”
In Exodus, “And the angel of (God) appeared unto him (Moses) in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush.”
In Numbers, “If there is a prophet among you, I, God, do make Myself known unto him in a vision, I do speak with him in a dream.”
For me, Jacob’s dream, a mystical occurrence beautifully told in Genesis, is an allegory of the two-way communication dreams tender between God and humankind.
One night, Jacob, traveling to Haran to find a wife, put a stone under his head and slipped into sleep.
Like angels ascending and descending Jacob’s ladder, dreams link the heaven and the earth, the cosmic and the physical.
The angel Gabriel visited Mary and divulged she would bear the Son of God: “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.”
After he learned of the pending birth, Joseph thought about deserting Mary, his betrothed, but the “angel of the Lord” came forth in a dream and convinced the reluctant Joseph to wed Mary.
The night Jesus was born in a Bethlehem stable an angel appeared to shepherds in a nearby field. The angel announced the birth of the Messiah and described where to find Him.
After visiting the baby, the Wise Men dreamt the king of Herod intended to harm Jesus. In three dreams, angels told Joseph how to keep Jesus safe.
A dream birthed another biblical narrative. Around 95 AD, a heavenly figure emerged in a dream to John of Patmos on the Aegean Island where he lived.
The dream directed him to record his visions. Stars and dragons, seals and a leopard-like beast, dense numerology, and apocalyptic scenarios became Revelation.
The final book of the Christian Bible tells the sensational stories of the Four Horsemen and the Second Coming of Christ.
Dreams are also intricate to the holy books and teachings of Islam.
Muhammad, a shepherd and merchant, was meditating in a cave near Mecca when the angel Gabriel pronounced in a dream to the future prophet and founder of Islam, “O Muhammad, you are the messenger of Allah.”
From 610 CE, when Muhammad was nearly forty until his death twenty-three years later, the angel in dreams and visions imparted the Qur’an, believed by Muslims to be the word of God.
Dreams foretold the course of the first female Muslim saint, Rābia al-Basri. After she was born in Basra, Iraq, in 717, Muhammad told her father in a dream, “Your newly born daughter is a favorite of the Lord, and shall lead many Muslims to the right path.” Al-Basri founded Sufism, the mystical aspect of Islam.
A prescriptive dream induced Persian scholar Muhammad ibn Ismail al-Bukhari to compile the Muslim religious book, Sahīh al-Bukhārī. His dream is recounted in Hady al-Sari, the introduction to Fath al-Bari by Ibn Hajr: “I saw the Prophet in a dream, and it was as if I was standing in front of him. In my hand was a fan with which I was protecting him. I asked some dream interpreters, who said to me, ‘You will protect him from lies.’”
The Sahīh al-Bukhārī, translated as authentic or correct, published around 846, is a collection of oral prophetic traditions.
One passage illustrates the significance Muslims attach to dreams: “Whenever the Prophet finished the (morning) prayer, he would face us and ask, ‘Who amongst you had a dream last night?’ So if anyone had seen a dream he would narrate it.
“The Prophet would say, ‘Mā shā’a-llāh’ (‘What Allah has willed’).”
–From Dreams and the Wisdom Within by Joyce Lynn
WHY EMBRACE DREAM AWARENESS
Dreams strengthen the spiritual seeker and houses of worship, nurture personal growth, and empower communities – all values of today’s Jewish institutions. JASD aims to re-instill appreciation of dreams to synagogue services and individual and communal Jewish life by empowering the affiliated and unaffiliated to call on the power of dreams in all aspects of life.
We explore the potency of Jewish and interfaith communities sharing dreams, and draw upon the positive insights and actions flowing from attention to our dreams.