The Ladder of Jacob


Kate Piscator

The Ladder of Jacob is a text which has not attracted much scholarly attention, with the result that many scholarly claims have been insufficiently challenged. It is also a text which appears to have had a complex compositional history, the latest, and only definite stage in which was its inclusion in the Slavonic Explanatory Palaea. Due to the lack of an English translation of the Explanatory Palaea, it is difficult to assess the Ladder of Jacob properly. However, internal evidence from the text suggests that its composition was influenced by a variety of ancient texts and traditions. This essay will focus primarily on identifying these influences and evaluating their effect on the interpretation of the Ladder of Jacob.

The arguments of James Kugel, in his book, The Ladder of Jacob: ancient interpretations of the biblical story of Jacob and his children, are highly influential to the conclusions reached in this essay. He asserts that the text as a whole is influence by two rabbinic traditions regarding what Jacob sees in his dream at Bethel. Using these traditions as a starting point, the essay moves on to consider the possible influence of Daniel, the Apocalypse of Abraham, the ‘Tale of Aphroditianus’, Helios and Qedushah prayers, and various biblical texts. The three main areas of the Ladder of Jacob which reflect the influence of these texts and traditions are the image of the ‘fiery face’ at the top of the ladder in Jacob’s dream, the prayer or song of Jacob in chapter two, and chapter seven, which is generally agreed to be a Christian interpolation.

What seems to have occurred in the history of the Ladder of Jacob is that the Slavic editors of the Explanatory Palaea have taken a text, about which we know very little, and inserted elements from other sources, both textual and traditional, in such a way that both the original meaning and new, additional meanings have been preserved. By considering the text in light of the possible influences I have identified that it is possible to reinterpret passages in ways which much of scholarship has overlooked.

(c) 2007
Reproduction beyond fair use only on permission of the author.

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