Egyptian Dream Book

The Egyptian Dream Book

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Do you believe that dreams can foretell the future? If you do, then you are not alone. The divination of dreams, or oneiromancy as it is also called, has its roots in the ancient world. For instance, in the Book of Genesis, Joseph, the son of the Jewish Patriarch, Jacob, had the ability to divine the future based on dreams. According to the Bible, this ability allowed Joseph to interpret Pharaoh’s dream, which foretold a 7-year famine. This enabled Egypt to avoid this disaster and contributed to Joseph’s meteoric rise in the Egyptian hierarchy. The Bible is not the only ancient literary source that records the interpretation of dreams. The Egyptians had a ‘Dream Book’ which set on the meaning of many different types of dreams.

Joseph interpreting the Pharaoh’s Dream

Joseph interpreting the Pharaoh’s Dream. Image source .

The Egyptian ‘Dream Book’ is preserved in the form of a papyrus with a hieratic script. This papyrus was found in the ancient Egyptian workers’ village of Deir el-Medina, near the Valley of the Kings. This papyrus has been dated to the early reign of Ramesses II (1279-1213 B.C.). Each page of the papyrus begins with a vertical column of hieratic signs which translates as ‘If a man sees himself in a dream’. In each horizontal line that follows, a dream is described, and the diagnosis ‘good’ or ‘bad’, as well as the interpretation is provided. Thus, as an example: ‘If a man sees himself in a dream looking out of a window, good; it means the hearing of his cry’. The good dreams are listed first, followed by the bad ones (written in red, as it is the colour of bad omens).

Around 108 dreams, which describe 78 activities and emotions, are recorded in the ‘Dream Book’. These activities may be said to be things commonly undertaken by the average person. Most of these activities deal with some form of sight or seeing. The second largest category deals with eating and drinking, and a few more deal with receiving and copulating.  

The papyrus probably had several owners before being finally being deposited in Deir el-Medina. Although it is unclear who its original owner was, some of its owners can be traced through their names on the papyrus. For instance, we know that the scribe Qeniherkhepshef once owned this papyrus, since he copied a poem about the Battle of Kadesh which took place during Ramesses II’s reign. Also, the names of this scribe’s wife’s second husband, Khaemamen, and his son, Amennakht, can be found on the papyrus, indicating that the papyrus belonged to them.

Another interesting thing about the ‘Dream Book’ is that it was once part of an archive. In addition to this papyrus, there were a variety of papyri which dealt with literary, magical, and documentary works. As the ‘Dream Book’ has demonstrated, this was an heirloom that was handed down from one generation to the next. It is interesting to consider whether the ‘Dream Book’ was regarded by the ancient Egyptians as a piece of ‘serious’ or a ‘popular’ piece of writing. After all, if archaeologists of the future were to discover newspaper clippings of the ‘daily horoscope’ (without the knowledge of the social context of our age), they would probably be equally unsure as to whether these ‘predictions’ were meant to be taken seriously or not. Obviously, how serious a reader takes these ‘predictions’ would be a whole different matter that could be explored as well. Nevertheless, the Egyptian ‘Dream Book’ is a fascinating piece of work which shows one of the beliefs (be it serious or not) held by the ancient Egyptians. Moreover, the value placed by the ancient Egyptians on knowledge can also be seen, as this papyrus was passed down from one generation to another as an heirloom.  

Featured image: The Egyptian ‘Dream Book’ . Photo source: The British Museum .    

By Ḏḥwty

References

British Museum, Dept. of Egyptian and Assyrian Antiquities, Gardiner, A. H. (ed.), 1935. Hieratic Papyri in the British Museum, Series III, Vol. I . London: British Museum.

Stratos, A., 2013. Egypt: Perchance to Dream: Dreams and Their Meaning in Ancient Egypt. [Online]
Available at: http://www.touregypt.net/featurestories/dream.htm
[Accessed 29 April 2014].

The Bible : Standard King James Version , 2014. [Online]
Available at: http://www.kingjamesbibleonline.org/

[Accessed 29 April 2014]

The British Museum, 2014. The Dream Book. [Online]
Available at: http://www.britishmuseum.org/explore/highlights/highlight_objects/aes/t/the_dream_book.aspx
[Accessed 29 April 2014].

Comments

Your statement is incorrect -- ".....in the Book of Genesis, Joseph, the son of the Jewish Patriarch, Jacob, had the ability to divine the future based on dreams. According to the Bible, this ability allowed Joseph to interpret Pharaoh’s dream...."
Joseph did not have this power as stated in Genesis, Chapter 41; only God has this power ~
"Pharaoh said to Joseph, “I had a dream, and no one can interpret it. But I have heard it said of you that when you hear a dream you can interpret it.” “I cannot do it,” Joseph replied to Pharaoh, “but God will give Pharaoh the answer he desires.” Then Joseph said to Pharaoh, “The dreams of Pharaoh are one and the same. God has revealed to Pharaoh what he is about to do." (Genesis 41:15, 16, 25)

C'mon, Connie. The entirety of this article was written with anything beyond what is scientifically verifiable cited as a 'possibility'. Yet here you are, correcting the author for his precise, factual, and well-labelled opinions. You are doing so with matters of faith that have no scientific proofs behind them.

Matters of faith are personal, and not to be shoved upon others. Unless you're all for the ethnic cleansing going on, and other intolerances and prejudices based upon the belief that you, and only you and your group, have the answers.

There is no need to preach on this sort of forum. It only hilights the fact that you believe stories over your own five senses. I was raised a pastor's son, and I know the bible inside and out. Save the preaching for when you're talking to those of your particular faith, please. We don't need a miniature Gaza going on on the internet, on top of everything else.

Tsurugi's picture

While I would agree that Joseph's claim that the interpretation of the pharaoh's dream came not from him but from his God is scientifically unverifiable, what is certainly verifiable is that this is what the text of Genesis says. The author of the article refers to the text of Genesis and the story of Joseph specifically for the bit about dream interpretation, an ability which is--incorrectly, according to the text itself--attributed to Joseph.

Connie makes this point by way of direct quotation of the article and the relevant text of Genesis, and leaves it at that. If one were to replace Joseph's brother for "God" in the text, thus removing any possibility for someone to conclude that Connie's comment was a religious declaration, it becomes clear that she made a perfectly normal corrective statement. There is nothing that could be called "preaching" in her comment unless one assumes that she is saying she agrees with Joseph, thereby implying that she believes in the existence of his God...and one would be hard pressed to define an implication based on an unspoken assumption as "preaching".

It seems to me that your comment betrays your own prediliction to preaching, as you seem to have something you want to say about the current conflict between Israel and Hamas. That battle was still months in the future when Connie wrote her comment and thus has no connection, despite your attempts to make one.

Are there any copies of this "Egyption Dream book" scrolls in book form?

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