Oneirocritics and Midrash. On reading dreams and the Scripture


  • Erik Alvstad Göteborg University


Fortune-telling by dreams, Dreams in the Bible, Dreams -- Religious aspects -- Judaism, Rabbinic literature, Midrash, Dream interpretation


In the context of ancient theories of dreams and their interpretation, the rabbinic literature offers particularly interesting loci. Even though the view on the nature of dreams is far from unambiguous, the rabbinic tradition of oneirocritics, i.e. the discourse on how dreams are interpreted, stands out as highly original. As has been shown in earlier research, oneirocritics resembles scriptural interpretation, midrash, to which it has lent some of its exegetical rules. This article will primarily investigate the interpreter’s role in the rabbinic practice of dream interpretation, as reflected in a few rabbinic stories from the two Talmuds and from midrashim.  It is shown that these narrative examples have some common themes. They all demonstrate the poly-semy of the dream-text, and how the person who puts an interpretation on it constructs the dream’s significance. Most of the stories also emphasize that the outcome of the dream is postponed until triggered by its interpretation. Thus the dreams are, in a sense, pictured as prophetic – but it is rather the interpreter that constitutes the prophetic instance, not the dream itself. This analysis is followed by a concluding discussion on the analogical relation between the Scripture and the dream-text, and the interpretative practices of midrash and oneirocritics.



How to Cite

Alvstad, E. (2003). Oneirocritics and Midrash. On reading dreams and the Scripture. Nordisk judaistik/Scandinavian Jewish Studies, 24(1-2), 123–148.