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Jacob's Ladder

jacob's ladder movie, jacob's ladder bible
Jacob's Ladder Hebrew: Sulam Yaakov סולם יעקב is the colloquial name for a connection between the earth and heaven that the biblical Patriarch Jacob dreams about during his flight from his brother Esau, as described in the Book of Genesis The significance of the dream has been somewhat debated, but most interpretations agree that it identified Jacob with the obligations and inheritance of the ethnic people chosen by God, as understood in Abrahamic religions It has since been used as a symbolic reference in various other contexts


  • 1 Biblical narrative
  • 2 Judaism
  • 3 Christianity
  • 4 Islam
  • 5 Gallery
  • 6 Pseudepigraphic apocalyptic literature
  • 7 Cultural references
  • 8 See also
  • 9 References
  • 10 External links

Biblical narrativeedit

The description of Jacob's ladder appears in Genesis 28:10-19:

Jacob left Beersheba, and went toward Haran He came to the place and stayed there that night, because the sun had set Taking one of the stones of the place, he put it under his head and lay down in that place to sleep 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 or "beside him" and said, "I am the Lord, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie I will give to you and to your descendants; and your descendants shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south; and by you and your descendants shall all the families of the earth bless themselves Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done that of which I have spoken to you" Then Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, "Surely the Lord is in this place; and I did not know it" And he was afraid, and said, "This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven

Afterwards, Jacob names the place, "Bethel" literally, "House of God"


The classic Torah commentaries offer several interpretations of Jacob's ladder According to the Midrash, the ladder signified the exiles which the Jewish people would suffer before the coming of the Messiah First the angel representing the 70-year exile of Babylonia climbed "up" 70 rungs, and then fell "down" Then the angel representing the exile of Persia went up a number of steps, and fell, as did the angel representing the exile of Greece Only the fourth angel, which represented the final exile of Rome/Edom whose guardian angel was Esau himself, kept climbing higher and higher into the clouds Jacob feared that his children would never be free of Esau's domination, but God assured him that at the End of Days, Edom too would come falling downcitation needed

Another interpretation of the ladder keys into the fact that the angels first "ascended" and then "descended" The Midrash explains that Jacob, as a holy man, was always accompanied by angels When he reached the border of the land of Canaan the future land of Israel, the angels who were assigned to the Holy Land went back up to Heaven and the angels assigned to other lands came down to meet Jacob When Jacob returned to Canaan he was greeted by the angels who were assigned to the Holy Land

Yet another interpretation is this: The place at which Jacob stopped for the night was in reality Mount Moriah, the future home of the Temple in Jerusalemcitation needed The ladder therefore signifies the "bridge" between Heaven and earth, as prayers and sacrifices offered in the Holy Temple soldered a connection between God and the Jewish people Moreover, the ladder alludes to the giving of the Torah as another connection between heaven and earth In this interpretation, it is also significant that the Hebrew word for ladder, sulam סלם and the name for the mountain on which the Torah was given, Sinai סיני have the same gematria numerical value of the letters

The Hellenistic Jewish philosopher Philo, born in Alexandria, d ca 50 CE presents his allegorical interpretation of the ladder in the first book of his De somniis There he gives four interpretations, which are not mutually exclusive:2

  • The angels represent souls descending to and ascending from bodies some consider this to be Philo's clearest reference to the doctrine of reincarnation
  • In the second interpretation the ladder is the human soul and the angels are God's logoi, pulling the soul up in distress and descending in compassion
  • In the third view the dream depicts the ups and downs of the life of the "practiser" of virtue vs sin
  • Finally the angels represent the continually changing affairs of men

A hilltop overlooking the Israeli settlement of Beit El north of Jerusalem that is believed by some to be the site of Jacob's dream is a tourist destination during the holiday of Sukkot3


Jesus said in John 1:51 "And he saith unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Hereafter ye shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man" This statement has been interpreted as associating or implicating Jesus with the mythical laddercitation needed

The theme of a ladder to heaven is often used by the Church Fathers Irenaeus in the second century describes the Christian Church as the "ladder of ascent to God"4

In the third century, Origen5 explains that there are two ladders in the life of a Christian, the ascetic ladder that the soul climbs on the earth, by way of—and resulting in—an increase in virtue, and the soul's travel after death, climbing up the heavens towards the light of God

In the fourth century, Gregory of Nazianzus6 speaks of ascending Jacob's Ladder by successive steps towards excellence, interpreting the ladder as an ascetic path, while Saint Gregory of Nyssa narrates7 that Moses climbed on Jacob's Ladder to reach the heavens where he entered the tabernacle not made with hands, thus giving the Ladder a clear mystical meaning The ascetic interpretation is found also in Saint John Chrysostom, who writes:

"And so mounting as it were by steps, let us get to heaven by a Jacob’s ladder For the ladder seems to me to signify in a riddle by that vision the gradual ascent by means of virtue, by which it is possible for us to ascend from earth to heaven, not using material steps, but improvement and correction of manners"8

Jacob's Ladder as an analogy for the spiritual ascetic of life enjoyed wide influence thanks to the classical work The Ladder of Divine Ascent by John Climacus

Furthermore, Jesus can be seen as being the ladder, in that Christ bridges the gap between Heaven and Earth Jesus presents himself as the reality to which the ladder points; as Jacob saw in a dream the reunion of Heaven and Earth, Jesus brought this reunion, metaphorically the ladder, into reality Adam Clarke, an early 19th-century Methodist theologian and Bible scholar, elaborates:

That by the angels of God ascending and descending, is to be understood, that a perpetual intercourse should now be opened between heaven and earth, through the medium of Christ, who was God manifested in the flesh Our blessed Lord is represented in his mediatorial capacity as the ambassador of God to men; and the angels ascending and descending upon the Son of Man, is a metaphor taken from the custom of dispatching couriers or messengers from the prince to his ambassador in a foreign court, and from the ambassador back to the prince9


Jacob is revered in Islam as a prophet and patriarch Muslim scholars, especially of the perennialist tradition,clarification needed drew a parallel with Jacob's vision of the ladder and Muhammad's event of the Mi'raj10 The ladder of Jacob was interpreted by Muslims to be one of the many symbols of God, and many saw Jacob's ladder as representing in its form the essence of Islam, which emphasizes following the "straight path" The twentieth-century scholar Martin Lings described the significance of the ladder in the Islamic mystic perspective:

The ladder of the created Universe is the ladder which appeared in a dream to Jacob, who saw it stretching from Heaven to earth, with Angels going up and down upon it; and it is also the "straight path", for indeed the way of religion is none other than the way of creation itself retraced from its end back to its Beginning11


Pseudepigraphic apocalyptic literatureedit

The narrative of Jacob's Ladder was used, shortly after the destruction of the Second Temple in the Siege of Jerusalem 70 CE, as basis for the pseudepigraphic Ladder of Jacob This writing, preserved only in Old Church Slavonic, interprets the experience of Patriarchs in the context of Merkabah mysticism

Cultural referencesedit

Jacob's Ladder has been depicted in many artworks the largest of which is the facade of Bath Abbey in England where sculptures depict angels climbing up and down ladders on either side of the main window on the west front

Jacob's Ladder is also the name given to a long, steep and winding stairway in Edinburgh, with the steps carved directly into the volcanic rock face of Calton Hill12 Written records indicate it has existed since at least 1759, although it is likely much older as it is the quickest pedestrian route up the hill which dominates the skyline of the Scottish capital In July 2016, it was announced that the much-used stairway will be given a £50,000 revamp as part of a UNESCO World Heritage preservation programme 13

See alsoedit

  • Jacob's Ladder disambiguation
  • Crepuscular rays
  • "Locus iste" motet by Anton Bruckner
  • "Nearer, My God, to Thee" hymn lyrics written 1841 by Sarah Flower Adams
  • Rectify, S1E6: "Jacob's Ladder"
  • Stairway to Heaven disambiguation


  1. ^ Morris Eaves, Robert N Essick, and Joseph Viscomi eds "Jacob's Dream, object 1 Butlin 438 "Jacob's Dream"" William Blake Archive Retrieved September 25, 2013 CS1 maint: Uses editors parameter link
  2. ^ Verman, Mark Fall 2005 "Reincarnation in Jewish Mysticism and Gnosticism review" Shofar 24 1: 173–175 doi:101353/sho20050206 Retrieved 14 June 2010 
  3. ^ Bresky, Ben 30 September 2012 "Sukkot Music Events Abound in Israel" Arutz Sheva Retrieved 6 October 2012 
  4. ^ Irenaeus, Adversus haereses, III,24,1
  5. ^ Origen, Homily n 27 on Numbers, about Nm 33:1–2
  6. ^ Gregory of Nazianzus, Homily n 43 Funeral Oration on the Great S Basil, 71
  7. ^ Gregory of Nyssa, Life of Moses 224-227
  8. ^ John Chrysostom, The Homilies on the Gospel of St John n 83,5, Text from CCEL
  9. ^ Clarke, Adam 1817 The holy Bible, from the authorized tr, with a comm and critical notes by A Clarke 
  10. ^ The Vision of Islam, Murata and Chittick, Pg 84
  11. ^ The Book of Certainty, Martin Lings, Pg 51
  12. ^ https://wwwgooglecom/maps/@559532244,-31818109,3a,17y,18906h,8258t/data=!3m6!1e1!3m4!1s77NDcBeFtBdDi0CHvokitw!2e0!7i13312!8i6656
  13. ^ http://wwwedinburghnewsscotsmancom/our-region/edinburgh/old-town/50-000-revamp-planned-for-steps-at-jacob-s-ladder-1-4187525

External linksedit

  • Jacob's Ladder from a Jewish perspective at Chabadorg

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