"Let books be your dining table, / And you shall be full of delights. / Let them be your
And you shall sleep restful nights" (St. Ephraim the Syrian).

Friday, June 11, 2021

Dreams as the Royal Road to Religious Enlightenment?

When he released his landmark book The Interpretation of Dreams at the dawn of the last century, Sigmund Freud was both being and not being original and revolutionary. Truth be told he was merely calling to mind again the fascination with dreams that people have had since the beginning of time. 

Muslims and Christians are no different in this regard. I have noted books on dreams in religious traditions on here over the years. Now we have another. Released in March of this year is a book by Bronwen Neil, Dreams and Divination from Byzantium to Baghdad, 400-1000 CE (Oxford UP, 2021), 256pp. About this book the publisher tells us the following:

Why did dreams matter to Jews, Byzantine Christians, and Muslims in the first millennium? Dreams and Divination from Byzantium to Baghdad, 400 - 1000 CE shows how the ability to interpret dreams universally attracted power and influence in the first millennium. In a time when prophetic dreams were viewed as God's intervention in human history, male and female prophets wielded was unparalleled power in imperial courts, military camps, and religious gatherings. The three faiths drew on the ancient Near Eastern tradition of dream key manuals, which offer an insight into the hopes and fears of ordinary people. They melded pagan dream divination with their own scriptural traditions to produce a novel and rich culture of dream interpretation.

Prophetic dreams enabled communities to understand their past and present circumstances as divinely ordained and helped to bolster the spiritual authority of dreamers and those who had the gift of interpreting their dreams. Bronwen Neil takes a gendered approach to the analysis of the common culture of dream interpretation across late antique Jewish, Byzantine, and Islamic sources to 1000 CE, in order to expose the ways in which dreams offered women a unique opportunity to exercise influence. The epilogue to the volume reveals why dreams still matter today to many men and women of the monotheist traditions.

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