Dreams and Dream Narratives in the Biblical World (The Biblical Seminar 63)

Written by Jean-Marie Husser Reviewed By Laurence A. Turner

This volume is composed of two roughly equal parts. The first provides a general introduction and then surveys dream narratives and practices throughout the ancient near-east. The second section deals with the same phenomena in the OT. A chapter on Generalia is followed by discussions of OT narratives under appropriate categories: symbolic dreams (Gen. 40–41; 37; Dan. 2, 4); message-dreams (1 Kgs. 3; Gen. 20:3–7; 31:10–13); dreams and the prophetic vision (Jeremiah, Balaam, etc.), and dreams and wisdom (mainly Job and Ben Sira). A final chapter deals with practices associated with dreams. Helpful bibliographies are included throughout. Husser provides a comprehensive survey of a very complex and much neglected area, indicating its current status in scholarly debate, yet arguing his own case throughout. Quite apart from his analyses of ancient near-eastern sources, the ample citations from the texts themselves provide an invaluable resource for the student. In his treatment of the OT, Husser sometimes displays a cautious approach to critical scholarship, on occasion rejecting doctrinaire reconstructions of hypothetical originals, and being cautious about psychoanalytical readings. Generally, however, he treats the OT texts as having several layers of redaction, with each having potentially discrepant ideologies. For example, he sees the element of the ‘staircase’ as a later addition to Genesis 28:10–22, and accepts Westermann’s reconstruction of Genesis 31:11–13 in order to argue that the redactor ‘copied the Deuteronomic narrative of Exodus 3’ (136). While Husser seems to welcome the growing scholarly questioning of standard source criticism, deuteronomic redactors seem to have filled the gap in many places. Inevitably, given these presuppositions and the methodology used, many of the dream texts in their current form are assigned to the exilic or post-exilic periods. Those who on independent grounds assign the same texts to different periods will obviously have difficulty accepting Husser’s conclusions. The work would be strengthened by giving more consideration to the function of these passages in their current form and context (cf Diana Lipton, Revisions of the Night).

The sheer breadth of subject matter makes it difficult to isolate specific contributions, but two stand out. First, Husser uses a wider range of dream categories than is usual. This helps to clarify the function of individual OT dream passages. Secondly, the work is not entirely text-based, but considers modern study of the physical and psychological phenomena of dreaming. His comparison of these with the content of dream narratives is sometimes stimulating, but necessarily subjective.

The book’s contents first appeared in 1996 as an extensive article in the Supplément au dictionnaire de la Bible. It is a pity that the translation is not more lucid. It does not help the reader’s navigation through the often dense text to be confronted frequently by exotic vocabulary such as ‘continuator’ (41), ‘orant’ (47), ‘concertation’ (48), ‘hypnic’ (120), ‘affabulations’ (141, 143), or ‘outwith’ (155, 163), to mention but a few. A sprinkling of typographical errors, and occasional oscillations between British and American spelling (e.g. 30–31; 160–61), provide further irritations. A final chapter, drawing together the many threads that run through this highly detailed and jargon laden study would enhance the volume by clarifying the larger picture. At times one feels swamped by detail.

Despite the reservations noted above, Husser has written a significant survey which provides an in-depth orientation for the advanced student. It will be of value to exegetes wishing to interpret biblical dream passages within their ancient near eastern context.

Laurence A. Turner

Newbold College, Bracknell