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Daily Life of the Patriarchs

The Way It Was

Shaul Bar

While the literature of the ancient Near East portrays legendary heroes, this is not the case with the biblical narrative, which portrays the patriarchs and matriarchs as fallible human beings. Their story is a multigenerational one of family and the dynamics that exist within. Reading these stories is like hearing the echo of family feuds, which is what makes them timeless.
Were the patriarchs real people? Or can we say that many details in the Book of Genesis are fictions that project later romantic ideals of life and faith? To answer these questions the author examines the patriarchs’ daily life, beliefs, and customs to provide provocative and useful insights into the life of the Patriarchs.
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Chapter 5: Dreams


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In the ancient world, people saw dreams as a channel of communication between human beings and divine forces. They believed that messages that dealt with the future were delivered during sleep. Akkadian sources describe a “god of dreams” whose task it was to send dreams.1 Sometimes, bad dreams and evil signs came from sorcerers who sought to harm a person, but spells and charms could be used to avert them. Egyptians too believed that dreams were from the gods. Therefore, not surprisingly, guidebooks for interpreting dreams from Mesopotamia and Egypt have been found. These books contain instructions and keys for interpretations. Dreams that were left uninterpreted made the dreamer impure, so ceremonies and prayers to remove the evil of the dream from the dreamer were conducted.2

The idea that dreams are from God is also found in the Book of Genesis. At first, however, the patriarchs and humans are confronted directly by God who talks and walks among them. Those tales were widespread in the ancient world. Later, the Hebrew scribes modified this concept by interjecting the concept of angels and describing God’s appearance in the form of dreams. It is believed that anthropomorphism was difficult and embarrassing because it describes God with human qualities. Communication by dreams came to mitigate the directness of anthropomorphism. God became remote there by distancing God from humans.

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