Monday, May 14, 2012

How Beautiful Upon the Mountains: Jewish Interpretations of Isaiah 52, Pt. 1

After Sunday School yesterday, I decided it would be interesting to do a series of blog posts on Jewish interpretations of Isaiah 52. Walker Wright has already posted on both the Dead Sea Scrolls and LDS interpretations of the same chapter, so I'm going to refer the reader there rather than going over it again.
The first interpretation I'll discuss is less an interpretation than it is a use of Isa. 52:7. In the Babylonian Talmud there is a long list of various dream symbols and their range of meanings. A word on the psychology of dreams might be helpful. Carl Jung wrote that dream symbols, subliminal aspects of our daily lives, are "the almost invisible roots of our conscious thoughts." As a result, they play a crucial role in the interpretation of dreams. "That is why commonplace objects or ideas can assume such powerful psychic significance in a dream that we may awake seriously disturbed, in spite of having dreamed of nothing worse than a locked room or a missed train." Jung goes on to say that the reason dream symbols are so vivid is due to the dissimilarity between them and our conscious thoughts in which we "restrain ourselves within the limits of rational statements."[1]
Granted, my dream where I approached someone at night and began running past them as soon as I felt something wrong, too late though as a knife flashed in the dark, that dream disturbed me more than I ever was by any door, but Jung does have a point. Things we see in dreams can stand for something deeper. That being said, Trachtenberg, in his classic study of Jewish "magic," pointed out a different approach to dreams. I might as well mention that this approach is still favoured by many people around the world. Not everyone puts stock in Western psychological paradigms.
In the long pre-Freudian centuries, before the mystery of the dream was reduced to all too human terms, when men still listened for the voice of God in the still of the night, dreams played a greater role in shaping ideas and actions and careers than it is easy for us today to believe. If we have come to look upon these nocturnal visions as the products of experience, we have simply reversed the older, though not yet altogether discarded, view which made of them initiators of experience. The supernatural world communicated with man through the dream, and spoke words of counsel and command which he felt impelled to heed.[2]
There were many different approaches to dreams and their sources. Whether they be 1/60th of prophecy, or revelations to the soul in its nightly journey, dreams (though not all) were considered another form of interraction between this world and those beyond it, conveying information impacting the future.
Since unfavorable as well as favorable dreams come true, and the event therefore came to be regarded as the consequence of the dream, it was believed that if one could somehow nullify the dream itself in advance its effects would be obviated.[3]
Using much the same idea behind the Western scientific process, events were observed and the cause deduced from the effect. It seemed to work in many cases.

Once the dream has been experienced, however, other means must be adopted to forestall its consequences.[4]
Nothing, of course, is infallible. Very few people rely solely upon Plan A, without also having Plans B, C, and so on. Jewish dream interpreters had various methods in place for when the dream couldn't be avoided.

Still a third method is to recite, immediately upon waking, a Biblical verse suggested by the dream, which contains a promise of good.[5]
Here, then, is the talmudic passage.

One who dreams of a mountain should arise and recite, "How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of the messenger of good tidings (Is. 52:7),"  before he is overtaken by another verse, "For the mountains will I take up a weeping and wailing (Jer. 9:9)."[6]
This use of the Bible to ensure a favourable outcome to the future, not to mention that it also controls the negative outcome, underscores both the centrality and the power of the Bible in early Judaism. Howard Schwarz's Tree of Souls expands on those themes. The Torah not only was the means for creating the world, but sustains its very existence.
Thus not only was the Torah created prior to the creation of the world, it was the vessel by which the world was created. Thus the universe was created through the letters of the Torah. So too did God declare, at the time of man’s creation, that the world was created only for the sake of the Torah, and that as long as the Jewish people occupy themselves with the Torah, the world will continue to exist. But if the Jewish people abandon the Torah, God will return all of creation to a state of chaos.[7]
Perhaps unsurprisingly, this method of assigning biblical verses to symbols in order to affect a dream's outcome doesn't appear to be a part of Christian dream-lore. At least, I was unable to find anything similar.

[1]Carl G. Jung, "Man and His Symbols," p. 43.

[2]Joshua Trachtenberg, "Jewish Magic and Superstition," p. 230.

[3]Ibid, p. 244.


[5]Ibid, p. 245.

[6]Babylonian Talmud, t. Berachot 56b. Further examples of the positive verses are found on p. 245 of Trachtenberg. " If one dreams of a well, he should say, "And there Isaac's servants digged a well" (Gen. 26:25); of a river, "Behold I will extend peace to her like a river" (Is. 66:12); of a bird, "As birds flying so will the Lord of hosts protect Jerusalem" (Is. 31:5); of a dog, "Against any of the children of Israel shall not a dog whet his tongue" (Ex. 11:7); of a mountain, "How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of the messenger of good tidings" (Is. 52:7); of a shofar, "In that day a great shofar shall be blown" (Is. 27:13); of a bullock, "His firstling bullock, majesty is his" (Deut. 33:17); of a lion, "The lion hath roared, who will not fear?" (Amos 3:8); of shaving, "Joseph shaved himself and changed his raiment and came in unto Pharaoh" (Gen. 41:14); and so on. "

[7]Howard Schwartz, "Tree of Souls," p. 249.

No comments:

Post a Comment