Jacob’s stairway to heaven

Furthermore, if we were talking about stairways, we would be reminded of Jacob’s stairway to heaven (Gen 28.11-22), which I believed was also related to ziggurat ideology. The story went like this. Jacob came to a certain place and stayed there at night. He put a stone under his head and lay down in that place to sleep. He dreamed 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!

YHWH then appeared to him in his dream and blessed him as he blessed his grandfather and father. Jacob then awoke from his sleep and said, “Surely YHWH is in this place, and I did not know it.” So he was afraid and said, “How awesome in this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.” Finally, Jacob set up a pillar (using the stone he slept on!) and poured oil on the top of it: “And this stone, which I have set up a pillar, shall be God’s house.”

Jacob’s sentence clearly echoed the temple complex ideology of the Mesopotamians. The house of God refers to the temple, and the gate of heaven refers to the ziggurat. That’s why he built a pillar: ‘and this stone, which I have set up a pillar, shall be God’s house.’ On the other hand, although this story was influenced by the Mesopotamian ideology, it subverted the ideology at the same time. For, in this story, there was no need to build a complete temple for a proper house of YHWH, and there was no need to build a ziggurat in order for YHWH to come down to earth. He might not need a ladder, since it was the angels that were ascending and descending on it.

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