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Hebrew/Jewish Dream Beliefs
The approach to dreams arose originally from the writings in the Old Testament. The dream of Pharaoh is an example of the long established tradition among the Hebrews to interpret dreams. Many dreams in the Old Testament are introduced with such phrases as ‘And God said unto him in a dream’ – or ‘But God came to Abimelech in a dream by night, and said to him’. It is clear that being a nation with a conviction of a single God, they believed important dreams were messages from Him. Also, as Joseph’s words of interpretation suggest, the correct translation was divinely inspired or given. If we put this into more general language we can say that dreams were thought to originate from a source beyond ones limited physical senses. The understanding of a dream could be found through opening to ones intuition rather than from defined logical thinking. As with many cultural traditions however, there were precedents upon which dreams were judged and interpretations arrived at. For instance the Talmud suggests rules for interpreting dreams. Like any people trying to maintain their identity, the aim for interpretation was partly to bring individual and group cohesiveness. For instance in Deuteronomy 13:01 a warning is given about prophets receiving false messages in dreams. If the dream in any way suggests worshipping another god then, “ … that dreamer of dreams, shall be put to death; because he hath spoken to turn you away from the LORD your God.”
But it needs to be understood that their beliefs were based on ancient ideas from another culture. The Babylonian culture lasted from 1800 till 600 BC. They built up a great many speculations, observations and collection of folk beliefs about life, and actually wrote down a mass of information about dreams. These were put into book form by the Babylonians, and are thought to have contained texts on dreams dating back to 5000 BC. These ancient Babylonian dream dictionaries were copied and taken to the library at Nineveh by king Assurbanipal. The great dream encyclopaedist Artemidorus later drew on these records for his own learning. The part of the Jewish/Hebrew Talmud which was written during the Babylonian captivity is also full of dream interpretations and ways of dealing with dreams, and undoubtedly drew on the Babylonian library.
But the early mentions of dream in The Old Testament can give us an idea of what part dreams played in early Hebrew thought. This can be highlighted by the story of God causing Adam to fall into a deep sleep – Genesis 2:21. In Adam’s sleep God works his will on Adam. This idea of sleep and dreams having the possibility of your mind and experience being directed by another will, in fact the Divine will, lies at the root of the way dreams were considered in the Bible. Adam’s sleep has to do with identity. During his sleep something was taken out of Adam – Eve/Aisha – that had a separate existence from himself, and which led to an awareness separated from God. So this story is about the emerging of a personal will, a will that did not, as in the Garden of Eden, have to be entirely the will of God.
In understanding that from what we now know about dreams, it has to be remembered that while we sleep our conscious self is largely or totally unconscious, and while we sleep our voluntary muscles are paralysed – so another will or motivating force moves our body. So we have a Conscious Will, and what I will call a Life Will. The first one we have experience of as we can move our arm or speak; but the second will takes over when we sleep.
This Life will can move us to speak, to move our body, and in fact do things that we cannot do with our Conscious Will. As Freud pointed out this inner will has full access to our memories. It can do so many other things that are described else where – See ESP in Dreams; Edgar Cayce.
This Life Will or motivator has been active for millions of years and we see it working all the time in animals. We are partly split in half because we are often opposed to what our Life Will/God in us wants. So the only way to express what is good for us is in dreams when our conscious will is largely passive.
Life Will created your body and preexisted you as a person you know today. It was working in you prior to your ability to speak or know in the way you do now. But of course it has fantastic wisdom and skills, as can be seen in animals.
According to the Jewish Encyclopedia Dreams, “dreams were not explained physiologically or psychologically, but were ascribed to intercourse with spirits or taken to be inspirations of the gods.”
It is necessary to understand this in a modern sense and not believe that their ideas were based on superstition. In fact we have to understand that they were a very observant race. If we understand that their practices of avoiding eating pork arose from seeing the illnesses arising from it, and the same from the practise of circumcision, we can see it was not superstition but acute observation. In fact it is only in recent years that the connection between circumcision and avoidance of disease has been noted.
But of course their was no understanding of germs and viruses at that time, so the word ’spirits’ or ‘gods’ really meant hidden or unconscious influences that we cannot see, but can see the effects of. So we can really say they believed in the influence of the ‘unconscious’.
Therefore the statements in the Old Testament such as the following, need to be understood in that light.
And He said, “Hear now my words: If there be a prophet among you, I the LORD will make myself known unto him in a vision, and will speak unto him in a dream” (Num. 12:6).
“I will pour out of My Spirit upon all flesh: and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams” (Acts 2:17).
“For God speaketh once, yea twice, yet man perceiveth it not. In a dream, in a vision of the night, when deep sleep falleth upon men, in slumberings upon the bed; Then He openeth the ears of men, and sealeth their instruction, That He may withdraw man from his purpose, and hide pride from man. He keepeth back his soul from the pit, and his life from perishing by the sword.” (Job 33:14- 18).