Dreams among the early hebrews
The early Hebrews placed a high value on dreams as real experiences of the direct voice of God. The Old Testament, or Torah, contains many examples of dreams and waking visions as primary ways that a concerned God speaks to human beings. Sometimes the descriptions do not distinguish clearly between a dream and a waking vision. Perhaps the difference was not important then. Professional dream interpreters were highly respected by the Hebrews.
The first biblical reference to a dream is in Genesis 15:12-16. While the prophet Abram (later renamed Abraham) was in a deep dreaming sleep, God gave him the prophecy that Abram’s descen-dants would be enslaved in a foreign land (Egypt) for 400 years, after which they would be liberated with great possessions and returned to their own land.
Abraham’s grandson, Jacob, had significant dreams, the most famous of which is recorded in Genesis 28:11-22. Jacob had a dream of a ladder to heaven filled with angels moving up and down it. He was so awestruck by the dream that he called the place where he slept “the house of God . . . the gate of heaven.”
Jacob’s son Joseph, who was sold into slavery in Egypt by his brothers, excelled in dream interpretation, and thus he gained the pharaoh’s favor.
Many other great biblical prophets, patriarchs, and rulers were inspired and directed by dreams or visions, among them Moses, Samuel, Saul, Solomon, Elijah, Jeremiah, Job, Isaiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel. Losing contact with God through dreams was a crisis, a serious loss of power.
By about the eighth century BcE, the Hebrew prophets became concerned about false prophets using false dreams to sway people. The common people were told to beware of false prophets dealing in dreams. Dream incubation was not encouraged but was practiced.
In the sixteenth century cE an important Jewish text on dream interpretation was published; it moved dreams away from divine prophecy and more into ordinary life. The text was first titled Chelmin (“Dream Mediator”) and then retitled Pitron Chalomot (“Interpretation of Dreams”). The author, philosopher and rabbi Solomon Almoli, said that most dreams represent the dreamer’s own thoughts and concerns.
Dreams come from a person’s own imagination, he said, woven by an inner “Spinner of Dreams.” Almoli believed that the emotions in a dream were important to the interpretation, because they revealed Alexander the Great (356–323 BCE) was one of the greatest conquering heroes of the classical world. He spread the Greek empire far and wide around the Mediterranean. He seemed unstoppable. How did he do it? According to legend, Alexander was half-god, half-human, and his birth was arranged by dream magic.
The ancient Egyptians were masters of magic. They knew how to cause people to have certain dreams that would influence events and perhaps even the course of history.
The story goes that Nectanebo, the last native king of Egypt, used dream magic on Alexander’s mother, the Greek queen Olympias, and her husband, King Philip of Macedon. First Nectanebo caused Olympias to dream that the Egyptian god Amun would make love to her, and she would bear a god. Nectanebo accomplished this through sympathetic magic. He poured the extracted juices of certain desert plants over a wax doll representing the queen while he recited a spell. Nectanebo then turned his attention to Philip of Macedon. He said a spell over a hawk, which flew to the sleeping Philip and told him to dream that Olympias was going to bear a child who was the son of a god.
The magic was successful, and Olympias became pregnant. When Alexander was born, his divine origin was unquestioned. He was believed to be half Greek and half Egyptian god.
Alexander was probably only a mortal who possessed great abilities and charisma. But in those times rulers and heroes were given divine pedigrees to enhance their status. Nonetheless, dream magic was indeed practiced, and people believed that gods could be made through dreams.