In Genesis 28:12 and following we read about Jacob's dream (empahsis mine):

And he dreamed, and behold, there was a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven. And behold, the angels of God were ascending and descending on it! And behold, the LORD stood above it...

Each line begins with an emphatic hinneh, introducing a new development within the dream. What is the purpose of the second development wherein angels are seen ascending and descending on the ladder? How would this have been interpreted by Jacob?

  • Based on your other question, you're going to love my answer.
    – user947
    Commented Sep 22, 2013 at 22:48
  • For the sake of completeness, there are people claiming that this story is one of fertility. argument 1: He is laying on his back. Argument 2: "Things" move up and down. Argument 3: He is promised to become a big people. (Needless to say, this is not how I view this story) Commented Oct 8, 2013 at 10:30

1 Answer 1


HALOT page 757 says that סלמ isn't a ladder. It's a stepped ramp, or a flight of steps. (It's a hapax, so this is based entirely on cognate languages.) In other words, well, a ziggurat.

I think (with emphasis on 'I') that the 'beholds' are simply descriptive of his dream experience. The dream presented itself to him as a series of reveals, one after the other.

It is thought that stepped pyramids have steps to emphasize their roles are connections between earth and heaven.

You asked, what would Jacob think? Well, you could mean, 'What would Jacob, as a typical ancient near-easterner think?' Or you might mean, 'What would Jacob, the patriarch, in particular, think?' I'll stick to the patriarch.

Now, here we go with my personal reading— when Jacob sees the angelic traffic, what he knows is that this is the real deal. The messengers going to and fro indicate that it is, indeed, the most high whom he is communicating with.

To look for a more specific function of the imagery, you might consider the circumstance that Jacob is on the, well, lam(b), far from home. The image of messengers coming and going might be suggestive of an eventual safe return. As well as emphasizing that his father's G-d is not purely a local deity, but is present, and active, over a wide range, including his (Jacob's) wanderings.

In the end, far be it from me to presume to give you a better answer than verse 16, which tells you exactly what he thought upon waking. We should all be so lucky as to realize that this about wherever we find ourselves.

  • Verse 16 tells us how Jacob interpreted the dream as a whole. But did the part of 12b add anything in particular to this (spoken or otherwise)? Or are the three "beholds" all indicative of the same thing?
    – Soldarnal
    Commented Sep 23, 2013 at 4:36
  • סולם definitely meant (and means) "ladder" - גבינה is also a hapax; do you doubt that it meant (and means) "cheese"?
    – rotten
    Commented Sep 30, 2013 at 9:44
  • @rotten your sources that disagree with HALOT? They don't even offer a ladder as an alternative.
    – user947
    Commented Sep 30, 2013 at 10:22
  • For the cheese fans in the audience: HALOT page 173 indeed knows this word as cheese, by evidence of cognate languages. Same process.
    – user947
    Commented Oct 6, 2013 at 22:22

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