Reading Dreams: An Audience-Critical Approach to the Dreams in the Gospel of Matthew
Dodson, Derek S.
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This dissertation seeks to read the dreams in the Gospel of Matthew (1:18b-25; 2:12, 13-15, 19-21, 22; 27:19) as the authorial audience. This approach requires an understanding of the social and literary character of dreams in the Greco-Roman world. Chapter Two describes the social function of dreams, noting that dreams constituted one form of divination in the ancient world. This religious character of dreams is further described by considering the practice of dreams in ancient magic and Greco-Roman cults as well as the role of dream interpreters. This chapter also includes a sketch of the theories and classification of dreams that developed in the ancient world. Chapters Three and Four demonstrate the literary dimensions of dreams in Greco-Roman literature. I refer to this literary character of dreams as the "script of dreams;" that is, there is a "script" (form) to how one narrates or reports dreams in ancient literature, and at the same time dreams could be adapted, or "scripted," for a range of literary functions. This exploration of the literary representation of dreams is nuanced by considering the literary form of dreams, dreams in the Greco-Roman rhetorical tradition, the inventiveness of literary dreams, and the literary function of dreams. In light of the social and literary contexts of dreams, the dreams of the Gospel of Matthew are analyzed in Chapter Five. It is demonstrated that Matthew’s use of dreams as a literary convention corresponds to the script of dreams in other Greco-Roman narratives. This correspondence includes dreams as a motif of the birth topos (1:18b-25), the association of dreams and prophecy (1:22-23; 2:15, 23), the use of the double-dream report (2:12 and 2:13-15), and dreams as an ominous sign in relation to an individual’s death (27:19). The contribution of this research is a more textured or multi-dimensional reading of the Matthean dreams that is lacking in other studies. An appendix considers the Matthean transfiguration as a dream-vision report.