A profound part of ancient literature, dreams have long served as signs, omens, or portents conveying important information about the future. When analyzing the texts of the Old Testament (Jewish Bible) and Epic of Gilgamesh, literary experts concluded that the two books contain interconnected topics, such as mortality, sin, and divine intervention. This assignment will focus on the similarities and differences between the aforementioned books in terms of content, underlying message, and literary context.
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Despite a drastically different plot, the Epic of Gilgamesh and the Bible convey similar symbolic meanings with their usage of dreams. The Epic’s flood story, for example, is associated with Noah’s ark, while Gilgamesh resembles Adam from the Bible, beaten by a snake. As explained by Quick, in the Hebrew Bible, Jacob has a dream, after which he wrestles with God’s angel, asking for a blessing (26). Similarly, in the Epic of Gilgamesh, Gilgamesh, the protagonist of the story, struggles with a divine creature to declare his hero’s identity and right to prevail over others. Dreams in both stories suggest that the only possible way to live righteously is to make the right moral choices, following God’s commands. Another critical similarity between the two books is their literary context. Both in the Epic of Gilgamesh and the Bible, dreams are used to foretell future events, establish a connection between gods and human beings, and help them accept their fate.
One of the core differences between the Old Testament and the Epic of Gilgamesh lies in the identity of the dream interpreter. As noted by Quick, in the Epic of Gilgamesh, the symbolism of Mesopotamian dreams is usually explained by females (18). Women with such a gift to interpret visions even belonged to a particular social class, known as šā’ilta, chosen by the assembly of gods to deliver their message to ordinary people (Quick 18). In the Bible, however, dreams are predominantly used among male prophets. For instance, when Jacob has a vision of stairs stretching to heaven with the angels of God, he acknowledges the connection between God and man (The Holy Bible, NIV, Genesis. 28. 12-15). Sending him this vision, the LORD also gives him the power to understand its meaning: one day, Jacob will have numerous descendants, later blessed in God’s holy nation.
Another example from the Bible refers to Jacob’s son, Joseph, and his ability to interpret dreams. After having a vision of binding bundles of grain leaning toward him, Joseph proclaims his authority over the eleven siblings (Genesis. 37. 6-7). Not only he understands that he will rule among his family but also over God’s chosen nation. Similar to his father, Joseph does not turn to other individuals to receive an explanation for his imagery but patiently waits until God reveals his intention to him.
The usage of dreams is one of the distinctive features of ancient literature with vivid examples in the Holy Bible and Mesopotamian epic story of Gilgamesh. Regardless of the distinctions in the texts’ purpose and framework, the visions of the characters carry similar underlying meanings, uncovering the topics of mortality, sin, and divine intervention. Nevertheless, for Mesopotamians, dreams are interpreted by chosen females, while, in the Bible, the gift for interpretation belongs to God only who imposes it on those who shall receive his message.
The Holy Bible. New International Version. Grand Rapids: Zondervan House, 1984.
Quick, Laura. “Dream Accounts in the Hebrew Bible and Ancient Jewish Literature.” Currents in Biblical Research, vol. 17, no. 1. 2018, pp. 8–32, Web.
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