Journal of Hebrew Scriptures - Volume 5 (2004-2005) - Review

Frances Flannery-Dailey, Dreamers, Scribes, and Priests: Jewish Dreams in the Hellenistic and Roman Eras (Supplements to the Journal for the Study of Judaism, 90; Leiden\Boston: Brill Academic Publishers, 2004).  Pp. xiii + 327.  Cloth, €115.00, US$155.55.  ISBN 90 04 12367 9.

In the last decade or so, dreams and dreaming have become intensely popular topics of publication by scholars of antiquity. While some of these endeavors represent the publication of new or neglected texts and useful updates on the available information,[1] others offer new theoretical models for assessing the data. [2] The work under review here falls mainly into the first camp. Its methodology is decidedly form-critical, and therefore, reminiscent (albeit with greater sophistication) of A. Leo Oppenheim’s now classic work.[3] Its primary contribution, however, is that it offers a thorough treatment of many Jewish dream-related texts hitherto neglected in the study of ancient dreams. These texts range in date from the 3rd century B.C.E. to the second century C.E. and include: 1 Enoch 1-36, 83-90; Daniel; Jubilees, 2 Maccabees; Additions to Esther; Pseudo-Philo; 4 Ezra; 2 Baruch; Ezekiel the Tragedian; Testament of Job; 2 Enoch; the Ladder of Jacob; Testament of Abraham; Testament of Levi (Greek); Testament of Naphtali; Testament of Joseph; Testament of Job; Jewish Wars; Jewish Antiquities; Life of Flavius Josephus; Against Apion, and two New Testament texts (the Gospel of Matthew and the Acts of the Apostles). Texts from Qumran studied include: 1Q Genesis Apocryphon, 1QJubilees, 4QEnoch; 2QBook of Giants; 11QTargum of Job; 4QApocryphon of Jacob; 4QAramaic Levi; 4QVisions of Amram; 4QVisions of Samuel; 4QPrayer of Nabonidus; and 4Q and 11Q Psalms.

The book’s first two chapters provide a greater context for discussing these texts by considering a number of topics that confront the study of dreams and dreaming in ancient Near Eastern, Israelite, and early Graeco-Roman literature (e.g., dream typology, vocabulary, literary motifs, social milieu, divination, dream interpretation, incubation, prophecy, and function). Though most of the texts studied in these chapters have been treated amply elsewhere, they have not been systematically examined from a rigorous form-critical perspective, and thus, they have not produced the sort of comparative data necessary for establishing a broad taxonomy of dream types and texts.

The final three chapters of the book provide in-depth diachronic and synchronic analyses of the aforementioned Jewish texts and a summary of the author’s conclusions. The analyses seek to ascertain what is distinctive about the forms, vocabulary, and functions of dream texts in Hellenistic Judaism. It is in these chapters that one finds the author’s most significant contributions to the study of ancient dreams. It is learned, for example, that though these later Jewish dream texts adhere rather uniformly to the forms, vocabulary, and functions of earlier dream texts (both Jewish and non-Jewish), they also are innovative in that they represent

…a merging of alternate planes and dimensions of reality, whether spatial (heaven, earth, and the underworld), perceptual (sleeping and waking), ontological (humans and angels) or temporal (past, present and future) (p. 200).[4]

They thus elaborate upon, even as they transcend, traditional dream categories in ways that reflect developments in Jewish cosmology and belief.

 (These dream texts) …construct and deconstruct symbolic orderings of the world. Their contents articulate categories that order cosmological, temporal, and ontological reality, revealing a heavenly sphere above earth, a present related to Israel’s past, and visible angels who bridge the gap between an invisible divine and human realm (p. 243).

            Other developments represented in these texts include the sudden ubiquitous appearance of angelic dream messengers, which Flannery-Dailey attributes to the Hellenistic influence of the Greek oneiros (pp. 202-203), and an increasing connection between death and sleep, which is reflected in the thematic intertwining of death, dreams and ascents to heaven (p. 242). One also finds an increasing overlap in content and style between dream texts, apocalypses, and mystical literature.

The texts’ frequent focus on priestly and scribal figures and themes further suggests that the social location of the texts be located in priestly and scribal circles. Thus Flannery-Dailey opines that

…the authors of early Jewish dreams were male priests and/or scribes familiar with a temple milieu, including the practice of sacrifice, dream incubation, and dream interpretation, and furthermore that they were involved in the reading and interpretation of Scripture (p. 269).

One of the primary functions of these texts, therefore, appears to have been to establish or reify priestly and/or scribal status and authority. Such a conclusion offers additional evidence for the continuities that connect these dream texts with their Israelite and ancient Near Eastern counterparts.[5] Nevertheless, as the author continually demonstrates, it is only by paying careful attention to the elements that mark changes or differences in cultural attitudes concerning dreams and/or the influence of cultures one upon another that one may obtain what is culturally specific about a particular dream text. It is this attention to cultural specificity that distinguishes the book’s comparative methodology from many other works on ancient dreams, including that of Oppenheim.

             While the book’s methodology is certainly one of its strong points, it also raises a few issues that are worthy of critical comment. It could be noted, for example, that given the relative consistency in the way that dreams appear in ancient literary accounts it is understandable why the author would employ form criticism as a methodology of choice. Nevertheless, such consistency begs the question of whether a rhetorical-critical approach might be more usefully applied to the data.[6] All of the formal patterns established by the author are thematic. But do these texts share formal patterns in language as well? We are seldom told. The sheer volume of materials makes this a daunting task, as the author acknowledges (p. 117), and it is clearly a more difficult endeavor when comparing texts composed in different languages. But when comparing texts composed in the same or related languages, it can serve to temper the evidence.

Indeed, the author’s exclusive reliance on thematic patterns results in the establishment of the following three-fold structure for dream accounts: 1) an introduction that establishes the setting of the dream; 2) the dream and its delivery; and 3) a conclusion in which the dreamer awakes and his/her mood is recorded (see p. 169). However, the simplicity of this structure gives one reason to question whether it is too basic to be of service.  The continuity of this structure over such a long period of time and across so many cultural boundaries makes one wonder whether the human dream experience would permit any other logical structure.

            The aforementioned issues concerning the formal structures of dream texts are especially piqued by the author’s inconsistent treatment of current taxonomies for dream accounts. On the one hand, the author appears to collapse conventional typological distinctions (e.g., accounts of dreams, visions, ascents, otherworldly journeys, and apocalypses) and to treat them as if they exist on a continuum. On the other hand, the author appears to adopt Oppenheim’s formal categories for dream texts rather uncritically,[7] especially his oft-repeated distinction between so-called “message dreams” and “symbolic dreams.”[8] As many scholars have observed, not every dream account fits neatly into one of the two categories, and there is considerable overlap between them. There exist symbolic dreams that require no interpreter, and message dreams that do. Therefore, while the typology is not without heuristic value, our inability to apply it consistently to the evidence makes it problematic.[9]

            Such methodological questions notwithstanding, readers will find this a well-researched and well-written book.[10] It demonstrates a masterful handling of Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek, and Syriac materials. Moreover, it fills an important gap in the study of ancient dreams and offers scholars a number of new directions for exploration and research. Doubtless it will add a great deal to on-going interdisciplinary discussions concerning dreams and dreaming in antiquity.

Scott B. Noegel
University of Washington

[1]  Just a few of the more significant large-scale publications include: S. A. L. Butler, Mesopotamian Conceptions of Dreams and Dream Rituals (AOAT, 258; Münster: Ugarit-Verlag, 1998); Jean-Marie Husser, Dreams and Dream Narratives in the Biblical World (Biblical Seminar, 63; Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1999); Kasia Szpakowska, Behind Closed Eyes: Dreams & Nightmares in Ancient Egypt (Swansea, Wales: Classical Press of Wales, 2003); and Francis Breyer, Tanutamani: Die Traumstele und ihr Umfeld (Wiesbaden: Harrossowitz, 2003).

[2] See, e.g., Patricia Cox Miller, Dreams in Late Antiquity: Studies in the Imagination of a Culture (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1994); Robert Karl Gnuse, Dreams and Dream Reports in the Writings of Josephus: A Traditio-Historical Analysis (Arbeiten zur Geschichte des antiken Judentums und des Urchristentums, 36; Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1996); David Shulman and Guy G. Stroumsa, eds., Dream Cultures: Explorations in the Comparative History of Dreaming (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999); Diana Lipton, Revisions of the Night: Politics and Promises in the Patriarchal Dreams of Genesis (JSOTS, 288; Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1999); Kelly Bulkeley, ed., Dreams and Dreaming: A Reader in Religion, Anthropology, History, and Psychology (Hampshire, UK: Palgrave-St. Martin’s Press, 2001); Ruth Fidler, “Dreams Speak Falsely”? Dream Theophanies in the Bible: Their Place in Ancient Israelite Faith and Tradition (Jerusalem: Hebrew University Magness Press, 2005): (in Hebrew); Scott B. Noegel, Nocturnal Ciphers: The Allusive Language of Dreams in the Ancient Near East (American Oriental Series; New Haven, CT.), in press.

[3] A. Leo Oppenheim, The Interpretation of Dreams in the Ancient Near East: With a Translation of the Assyrian Dream Book (Transactions of the American Philosophical Society, 46; Philadelphia, PA: American Philosophical Society, 1956).

[4] Italics are the author’s.

[5] See especially Noegel, Nocturnal Ciphers.

[6] I note also that while the author informs readers from the start that she will adopt a form critical approach to the materials, a more detailed discussion of her methodology and its possible drawbacks does not appear until pp. 114-119. I suggest that this material might have served readers better in the introduction.

[7] The author credits Oppenheim for establishing this typology, though Oppenheim himself (op. cited, p. 186) attributes this distinction to the 2nd c. CE oneirocritic Artemidorus of Daldis. In fact, Artemidorus may have borrowed the typology from the Stoics. See Carl Alfred Meier, “The Dream in Ancient Greece and Its Use in Temple Cures (Incubation),” in G. E. von Grunebaum and Roger Caillois, eds., The Dream and Human Societies (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1966), p. 306, who cites Stoicorum Veterum Fragmenta III: 605. See also A. H. M. Kessels, “Ancient Classifications of Dreams,” Mnemosyne 23 (1970), 225-249.

[8] The author’s only critique (pp. 48-49) focuses on Oppenheim’s argument that non-Israelites experience symbolic dreams in the Hebrew Bible whereas message dreams are reserved for Israelites.

[9] For a thorough re-assessment of the typological issues surrounding the study of ancient dream texts see Noegel, Nocturnal Ciphers.

[10] A few factual and typographical errors, however, appear in the book. These include: “from whence (sic)” (p. 46); incorrect Hebrew root given as āzan (for āzah) “envision” (p. 46); šaʾīlu “diviner, augur” incorrectly derived from mušēlu (š-stem of elû “ascend”) instead of šâlu “ask” (p. 28); apparent lack of awareness of the fragmentary dream manual at Ugarit (p. 32); mem-sophit incorrectly appears in medial position in the Aramaic word ḥalmāʾ “dream” (p. 130); “we have do” (p. 209).