Monday, April 16, 2007

Ladder of Jacob Class Session 23rd March

This post is a rather belated summary of our class session from 23rd March, which involved a student paper examining the Ladder of Jacob.

The paper argued that the Ladder of Jacob as a text draws upon several other works or traditions, including Jewish traditions associated with Jacob and Christian traditions such as the Tale of Aphroditianus. The latter work describes events in Persia at the time of Christ's birth and seems to have influenced chapter 7 of the Ladder. Scholars tend to assume that the first six chapters are Jewish but that the seventh is a Christian addition; this paper instead suggested that the work is much more composite in nature than often assumed.

Interestingly, the paper picked up on some strong similarities between the Ladder of Jacob and the Apocalypse of Abraham, suggesting that the latter influenced the editor of the Explanatory Palaea, in which the Ladder is found. This raises for us again one of the problems of the Slavonic Pseudepigrapha: where works are clearly related closely to one another but quite different to the other texts with which they are often grouped (i.e., the demonstrably Jewish pseudepigrapha of the Second Temple period), should we not be wary of assigning to them a Second Temple date and regarding them as representing the Judaism of that time?

The paper also highlighted the problem that we are essentially dealing with a text that has been extracted from its context in the Explanatory Palaea. In other words, we have no witnesses to the text in the form that it currently takes in English translation. Working with the text, we are faced with the problem that our English translation does not correspond to any actual manuscript and so we are kept from working with the text as it actually is.

All in all, the session opened up a difficult text on which little has been written, opening up some interesting lines of research that could be explored further, particularly concerning the extent to which the work is composite.