Theological Dream Interpretation

Dreamer: Jon, 17, North American

Hi. I am a student in high school. I was wondering if you would be able to send me some information on dreams, dream interpretation and theology. Those are the main points I am interested in.

Mr. Hagen's Reply: Theological Dream Interpretation

Erich Fromm, in "The Forgotten Language" says, citing the Talmud, "Dreams which are not interpreted are like letters which have not been opened."

When you total up all dreams and visions in the Bible (Old and New Testaments) and the Qur'an and all the stories and actions which come out of these dreams and visions, they represent a substantial portion of our inherited literature and wisdom.

Jews, Christians and Muslims alike strongly believe that dreams are a central way God has chosen to communicate with us, and thus must be taken seriously.

Dream Vision and the Divine Comedy

William Blake said that "the Old and the New Testament are the Great Code of Art." Northrop Frye, in "The Great Code: The Bible and Literature," argues that the Bible has influenced Western collective modes of literary thought, imagination and figuration.

The Western Judeo-Christian mythology and poetry is clearly visible in many of the dreams received at the International Institute for Dream Research.

Despite Friedrich Nietzsche's 19th-century declaration that "God is dead" and Freud's 20th century attempt to replace God with science, the rhetoric of religion and the Good Book still resonates in Western collective memory and dreamwork patterns. Starting with the archetypal narrative structure of Genesis, and moving to Exodus, the Gospels (Mathew, Mark, Luke and John) and ending with Revelations, the Bible provides an existential vision, a mythology and a dream.

Dreams and dreamwork reflect the literary structures of myths, fairy tales, historical and supernatural novels. Humans fashion and pass on to their children these myths, rituals and symbols from their collective conscious and unconscious literary experience. The lesser known literary structure of Dream Vision provides insight into the literary operations of humanity's dreamwork. James Joyce's "Finnegan's Wake" has been viewed as a cosmic Dream Vision as has Dante's Divine Comedy. Harold Bloom, in "The Western Canon," envisions the cycle of literary achievement flowing from the Divine Comedy to Samuel Beckett's Endgame. The literary methods employed to examine the Western Canon of collective dreamwork patterns points not so much to Beckett's Endgame as it does to Bertold Brecht's collective "alienation effects" as envisioned by Nietzsche and Martin Buber.

The Russian literary theorist Mikhail Bahktin, in "The Dialogical Imagination" sees a literary text as having multiple voices, these voices can be subject to dialogical criticism. The political and religious conflicts in the dialogue between Jews, Christians and Muslims can be examined in the light of dialogical criticism.

Martin Buber, in "I and Thou," sees the modern community and people existing in a state of alienation and psychological homelessness. "I and Thou" was a utopian literary attempt to develop a new sense of community. This sense of community is deeply connected to authentic dialogue and monologue. For Buber, genuine dialogue involves a unity of mouth, heart, head, feeling, motivation and behaviour.

Divine Comedy or Shattered Dreams

Dante's "Divine Comedy" is an allegory of human life and literally sums up the intellectual and theological knowledge of the Middle Ages. In Dante's allegorical cosmology Jerusalem, earth, heaven and hell are central places and metaphors on one's journey through life.

Charles Enderlin ("Shattered Dreams") has provided a perspective as to why the dream of peace has been transformed into a nightmare of war, violence and terror.

The Ancient Hebrew Prophets and the Theological Theory of Dreams

In the Hebrew language there is no clear-cut distinction made between dreams and visions. The dream experience is often referred to as a vision of the night. In Job 20:8: "He shall fly away as a dream, and shall not be found: yea, he shall be chased away like a vision of the night." And again in Job 33:14-16: "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."

The first important vision in the Old Testament occurs in Genesis 15:1 (King James version), when God reveals to Abraham the future inheritance of his descendants and performs a ceremony thereafter known as the generational Covenant between God and man. The Old Testament states that the prophets were in contact with both a physical reality and a spiritual or visionary reality. Dreams and visions were the supernatural gateway to perceiving this spiritual reality. The "seer" or prophet is one who perceives this non-physical reality. This idea is expressed in Numbers 12:6: "Hear now my words: If there is a prophet among you, I, the Lord, make myself known unto him in a vision, and I speak to him in a dream." God thereby declares Himself the agent inducing dreams and visions.

Jacob's Ladder or Stairway to Heaven

The next notable dream is found in Genesis 28:11-17: Jacob's dream of a ladder reaching between heaven and earth, upon which angels were ascending and descending. When Jacob wakes he does not doubt that God has spoken to him in his dream: "And he was afraid and said 'Surely the Lord is in this place, and I knew it not.'" "How dreadful is this place! This is none other but the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven!" (Gen. 28:16-17)Kaballistic and Masonic teachings are based on understanding the nature of this stairway to heaven.

Joseph and the Technicolor Dreamcoat

Joseph's ability to dream and interpret dreams stands out among all the Hebrew patriarchs. Joseph (Genesis 37:5), dreams that the sheaf of wheat he is binding stands upright and the sheaves of his brothers bow down before it. Joseph tells his brothers this dream, and they interpret the dream as Joseph reigning over them. The brothers react to their interpretation as if it were a fact: "And they hated him yet the more for his dreams and for his words" (Gen. 37:8). Soon thereafter, Joseph dreams another dream. "'Behold, I dreamed a dream more and behold the sun the moon, and the eleven stars made obeisance to me.' So he told it to his father and his brothers and his father rebuked him and said to him, 'What is this dream that thou hast dreamed? Shall I and thy mother and thy brethren indeed come to bow down ourselves to thee to the earth?'" (Gen. 37:9-10). As a result of this dream and its interpretation, Joseph's brothers sell him into slavery in Egypt.

In Egypt Joseph comes to serve as Pharaoh's dream interpreter after Pharaoh's magicians prove unable to satisfactorily interpret his dreams. "Pharaoh said to Joseph, 'I have dreamed a dream, and there is no one who can interpret it: and I have say of thee, that thou canst understand a dream, to interpret it.' So Joseph answered Pharaoh, saying, 'It is not in me; God will give Pharaoh an answer of peace.'" (Gen. 41:15-16)

Pharaoh tells Joseph a pair of disturbing dreams, ending with, "I told this unto the magicians, but there was none that could declare it to me" (Gen. 41:24). Thus Pharaoh reveals his belief in the rhetorical value of dreams as well as his advisors' ineffectiveness in discerning the dreams. Joseph states "The dream of Pharaoh is one; God has shown Pharaoh what he is about to do. . ." (Gen. 41:25).

Joseph provides Pharaoh with an appealing interpretation of the dream, and then goes beyond the interpretation to formulate an elaborate glorifying and profitable plan of action for the nation to undertake a based upon the revelation of Pharaoh's dream. "'Can we find such a one as this is, a man in whom the Spirit of God is?' Then Pharaoh said to Joseph, 'Forasmuch as God hath showed thee all this, there is none so discreet and wise as thou art.'" (Gen. 42:37-39)

Wisdom of Solomon

"In Gideon the Lord appeared to Solomon in a dream by night: and God said, 'Ask what I shall give thee.' "Give therefore thy servant an understanding heart to judge thy people, that I may discern between good and bad: for who is able to judge this thy so great a people?' 'Behold, I have done according to thy words: lo, I have given thee a wise and an understanding heart; so that there was none like thee before thee, neither after thee shall any arise like unto thee.' And Solomon awoke; and, behold, it was a dream." (I Kings 3:5,9,12,15).

Daniel and Nebuchadnezzar

"As for these four children, God gave them knowledge and skill in all learning and wisdom: and Daniel had understanding in all visions and dreams" (Dan. 1:17).

In Daniel's interpretation of King Nebuchadnezzar's dream: Daniel described the dream, and explained that the metals that the king dreamed of (gold, silver, bronze and iron) each represented one earthly kingdom: his own and three to come in the future.

True and False Dreams

"'Behold, I am against those who prophesy false dreams,' saith the Lord, 'and do tell them, and cause my people to err by their lies and by their lightness; yet I send them not, nor commanded them: therefore they shall not profit this people at all,' saith the Lord." (Jer. 23:32)

The Bible is relatively silent when it comes to the art of dream interpretation. "Are not interpretations God's business?" Joseph explained to the Pharaoh's officials (Gen. 40:8). Both Ezekiel and Jeremiah struggled with developing an interpretative method that would distinguish between true dreams, those sent by God, and those sent by the deceits of false prophets' hearts (Jer. 23:16). They were unable to do more than formulate a wait-and-see, time-will-tell strategy.

The practice of deliberately seeking the path of supernatural dreams was not unknown in Israel. Those dreams that provided a path that led the people astray were false; those paths that brought them closer to God were true.

Isaiah placed the responsibility for false dreams on the rebellion against truth by the people: "Which say to the seers, See not; and to the prophets, Prophesy not unto us right things, speak unto us smooth things, prophesy deceits." (Is. 30:10). According to Isaiah, those hearts that are not in tune with God's truth can neither hear nor recognize God's voice. In this light Saul despairs that (1 Samuel 28:15): "God is departed from me, and would not hear me, neither by the hand of prophets, nor by dreams".

The dream is like an eternal inner guru and a counselor, "I will bless the Lord who hath given me counsel; my reins instruct me in the night seasons" (Ps. 16:7). And again, "Counsel in the heart of man is like deep water; but a man of understanding will draw it out" (Prov. 20:5).

Christian Dream Interpretation: The Gospel

At Christmas Christians remember the angel of the Lord appearing to Joseph in a dream, and directing him to fear not and care for his wife Mary and the coming child Jesus (Matthew 1:20).

Dreams in the New Testament, specifically in Mathew, serve as warnings. In Matt. 2:12 Joseph is warned by a dream and again later Joseph is made aware of danger in a dream to escape the infanticide of Jesus (Mat 2:19). In Mathew 27:19 Pilate's wife warns Pilate of the consequences of crucifying Jesus.

Other supernatural functions of dreams were to provide a path for the dissemination of the Gospel (good news of Christ). Paul was wondering where to go next on his Christian missionary journey and had a dream of a Macedonian man praying for him to come (Acts 16:9).

Allegories of Christian Individuation

The Individuation Process is metaphorically described as a psychological journey. The best known Christian Dream Vision and allegory of this journey is John Bunyan's "The Pilgrim's Progress" (1678). Bunyan's biblical reference "I have used similitudes." -Hosea 12:10, led him to use Dream Vision as a literary device to create the Similitude of a Dream. "As I walked through the wilderness of this world, I lighted on a certain place where was a den (the jail), and laid me down in that place to sleep and as I slept I dreamed a dream".

Bunyan was imprisoned for most of his mature life for his religious activity. "Pilgrim's Progress" is an allegory of Christian salvation. Christian, the hero represents everyman, fleeing the City of Destruction in search of the Celestial City. Christian meets many characters (such as Mr. Worldly Wiseman, Faithful, Hopeful, Giant Despair) and on his journey he passes numerous places (House Beautiful, the Valley of Humiliation, the Valley of the Shadow of Death, Vanity Fair). The soul-work is a similitude of a dream of the average man's journey through the trial and tribulations of life on his way to Heaven.

In both the Old as well as the New Testament God promises to intercede through dreams. In Joel 2:28-29 (Old Testament), God promised to intervene by dreams and visions in the "last days." "I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh; your sons and daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men see visions". In Acts 2:17 (New Testament) this promise is repeated.

Dreams in Islam

Mohammed, in 621 AD, at the age of 51 years old, flew in a dream on a magical Winged-Horse of Fire. In classic Dream Vision fashion the story of the Ascension of Mohammed, known as "Miraj", or "Stairway to Heaven" began with Mohammed falling asleep on a carpet at his cousin's. The dream became the inspirational source of different literary tales including "Tales of the 1001 Nights" involving magic carpet rides.

The following is a summary of his miraculous dream which has different versions: Mohammad had gone to rest at dusk. He slept deeply on the carpet of his cousin, Mutem ibn Adi. Suddenly, the silence of the night was broken and a voice as clear as a trumpet called: 'Awake, thou sleeper, awake!' And Mohammed saw in front of him, dazzling in darkness the shining Archangel Gabriel who was inviting him to follow him outside. Before the door stood a Horse as bright as Gabriel. It had glittering wings of an immense eagle. Gabriel presented the Horse to Mohammed, saying this was the Horse of Abraham.

They flew to the summit of Mount Sinai, at the very place where God had given the stone tablets [the Ten Commandments] to Moses. Then, they flew on and went to Bethlehem at the exact place where Jesus was born. And finally, depending on the different versions, they went to Heaven, or into a Holy Temple in Heaven. On his journey to heaven he reportedly traveled through seven celestial spheres, each sphere relating to the seven levels of life and existence; material, vegetable, animal, human and three which were beyond human nature. In heaven Mohammed partook in a divine meeting and spoke with many of the Holy Land's previous Horsemen... Adam, Abraham, Noah, Enoch, Moses, Isaac, Jesus and others. The belief in the inspiration given by God's angel Gabriel during the dream became a fundamental component of Islam.

Call me Ishmael

Ishmael was the son of Abraham and Hagar. God established the covenant with Abraham, which required that all male children be circumcised as a kind of flesh sacrifice. The first persons to be circumcised under this covenant were Abraham and his thirteen year old son Ishmael (Gen. 17:23). The word for circumcision in Arabic is `Chatuna' which also means a relationship with God.

The problems of a blended family were not unknown to biblical characters. Abraham's wife Sarah asked Abraham to send Hagar and Ishmael away. "The son of this bondwoman shall not be heir with my son." (Gen 21:10). He turns to God for advice. God replies "'Hearken unto her voice.' (Gen 21:12). 'And also the son of the bondswoman will I make a nation, because he is thy seed.'" (Gen 21:13) Some believe that the historic conflict between Jews and Muslims dates to Sarah's dismissal of Ishmael.

Ishmael was a messenger and a prophet. Ishmael's progeny became known as the Quraysh, the direct ancestors of Muhammad. Ishmael was the first Prophet to write and preach monotheism, devotion to the one true God, to perform prayer with due observance. In Islam he is known as the father of all Muslims.

Jerusalem the Holy City or Mohammed's Dream of the Spirit of Dialogue

After David established the kingdom of Israel and Judah with his capital at Jerusalem in 957 BC, his son Solomon built the First Temple on the mountaintop rock in the city's center where the Jews believed Abraham almost sacrificed his son Isaac. Muslims believe that it was Ishmael and not Isaac that Abraham nearly sacrificed. Destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar in 586 BC, the Second Temple was built in 515 BC and rebuilt by Herod, 37-4 BC. It was destroyed again by the Romans in 70 AD when the Jews were banished from the Holy Land, creating the Diaspora.

Why is Al Aqsa and the Rock of the Dome so vitally important to the Muslims?

After Mohammed died in 632 AD, Caliph Umar I six years later captured Jerusalem from the Persians. Seeing the magnificent Church of the Holy Sepulcher built by Constantine in 330 A.D. and well aware of how sacred the city was to both the Christians and the Jews, Umar declared that the city was sacred to the Muslims as well. Umar decreed that the "Furthermost Point" of Sura 17, where Mohammed ascended to heaven in his dream, was none other than the Jews' holiest of holies, the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.

It has been rumored for some time that radical Jews and Christians (there are people devoted to this mission) desire to build the third temple on the Temple Mount (where also some believe that the Ark of the Covenant is still buried).

For the Jews building the third temple would represent the coming of the Messiah and for the Christians the second coming of Christ.

Mohammed's Dream Vision, referenced above, involved such a dialogue of Muslims with Jews and Christians....this dream has gone unrealized.

Jews, Christian and Muslims from all over the world dream of visiting the Holy Land at least once to follow the route of Abraham, the father of all believers, the route of Israel Prophets and the route of Christ as well as the route of founders of Islam.

Can a dialogue and a peace ever be achieved?

Planet Earth: Cosmological Tragedy?

Emile Durkheim and Marcel Mauss in Primitive Classification tell us that  classification systems were first intended to unify knowledge of cultural space, time, and tribal membership. They distinguish between the sacred and profane, the union of which they find in the idea of "navel of the earth." In Art and the Artist, Otto Rank believes that the ancient Greeks humanized the earth by introducing the idea of the earth's navel into its cultural cosmology. This conception allowed the Greeks to frame, connect, and relate the heavenly or sacred to human geography through the idea of an axis mundi. Born from the womb of Mother Earth (Gaia), this omphalos gave them a spiritual and political foundation for building cities and temples, the most famous being at Delphi. Temple-building became the template for classical Greek architecture. Rank, however, believes that the omphalos at Jerusalem predates and transcends the significance of the one at Delphi, a sacred place for Jews, Christians, and Muslims.

Cosmologies can be either theist or atheist. As dramas, dream texts point to archetypal planes or allegorical levels of consciousness and meaning. The concept of cosmological planes or dimensions of existence can be found in esoteric beliefs such as theosophy, as well as in scientific explanations of consciousness. Beliefs such as Kabbalism, shamanism, and mysticism conceptualize a vertical axis or axis mundi, organized from the Deity of creation down to inanimate matter. This axis acts as a stairway to heaven for the mind. Mircea Eliade in Cosmos and History: The Myth of the Eternal Return says that symbols, myths, and rites serve as affirmations of the sacred in building temples, cities, and nations.The conception of the sacred city of New Jerusalem was shown to Ezekiel in a Dream Vision of a cosmic mountain. The Sibyline Oracles preserved the symbolism of the sanctuary, the mountain, and the centre, an imago mundi or map of the creative forces of the universe. The navel of the earth was perceived as the starting point of all creation. As Eliade tells us, "Paradise, where Adam was created from clay, is, of course situated at the centre of the cosmos."The navel at Jerusalem is the cosmological axis mundi, the meeting point of Dante's heaven, earth, and hell. 

Although such cosmological enquiries and speculations are powerfully appealing, do they distract us from such real problems as poverty, starvation, disease, genocide, crime, mental illness, greed, and pollution? I believe, that we need to direct most, if not all, our energies and resources to the most pressing problems. The work of the dream as an oracle is best served when we find ways to end the global Tragedy of the Commons. The term "Tragedy of the Commons" was popularized in an essay by Garrett Hardin, and refers to medieval herders who grazed their animals on village land. In Hardin's hypothesis, the herders are assumed to wish to increase their herds, and gain a reward from each additional animal they allow to graze on the commons. However, each added animal slightly degrades the pasture. This problem is vastly enlarged if we extend this paradox to human population growth and the use of the Earth's resources. Finding common ground in the Global Village is imperative if we living on the Planet Earth (view film trailer of Planet Earth) hope to survive.

If you want to research the bible using keywords such as dream or vision see:

  • Dreams in Scripture   Dreams have numerous theological functions as signs, deliverer of warnings and commands of God, provide revelation, prohesy, understanding and wisdom.

Here are some references that might help your research:

  • R.V.C. Bodley, "The Messenger, the Life of Mohammed"
  • Victor E. Frankl, "The Unconscious God"
  • Victor White, "God and the Unconscious"
  • W. Wolff, "The Dream, Mirror of Conscience"
  • James Hillman, "The Dream and the Underworld"
  • James Gollnick, "Dreams in the Psychology of Religion"
  • Herbert Fingarette, "The Self in Transformation: Psychoanalysis, Philosophy and the Life of the Spirit"
  • Morton T. Kelsey, "God, Dreams and Revelation: A Christian Interpretation of Dreams"
  • Morton T. Kelsey, "Dreams: The Dark Speech of the Spirit"
  • Morton T. Kelsey, "The Other Side of Silence"
  • Morton T. Kelsey, "The Christian and the Supernatural"
  • Maria F. Mahoney, "The Meaning in Dreams and Dreaming"
  • John A. Sanford, "Dreams: God's Forgotten Language"
  • Paul Meier and Robert Wise, "Windows of the Soul"
  • Greg Cynaumon, "God Still Speaks Through Dreams"
  • Bezalel Naor, "Bringing Down Dreams: Exploring the lost art of Jewish dream interpretation"
  • Ken Frieden, "Freud's Dream of Interpretation"
  • Louis Ginsberg, "The Legends of The Jews" (7 volumes)

Hope these thoughts are of help and provide some insight,
Mark H.

All material Copyright 2006 International Institute for Dream Research. All rights reserved.