The Ladder of Jacob

Like many of the smaller books in the Pseudepigrapha, it is nearly impossible to guess a date the Ladder of Jacob. H. G. Lunt argues for a Jewish origin of the first six chapters based on the otherwise inexplicable reference to “lawless Falkon” as a Satan-figure in 6:13. Observing that Isaiah 27:1 Leviathan is called a crooked or twisted serpent (נָחָ֖שׁ עֲקַלָּת֑וֹן), Lunt suggests this can be taken as a proper name and speculates the Hebrew ʿqltwn was transliterated as καλθον, then through a transposition error, the word became θαλκον. When translated into east Slavonic, the word became φαλκον. Since the only extent copies of this work are Slavonic translations, it is not difficult to change a θ to a φ in the copying process. At best this thin piece of evidence indicates a Jewish origin.

The book expands on the details of the dream of Jacob only briefly described in Genesis 28. After his vision, Jacob worships (chapter 2) and the angel Sariel visits Jacob and explains this dream of the angels going up and down a ladder. This angel is identified as the “leader of the beguiled,” but this term can mean “sweetness, charm” or negatively, “deluded.” He is further described here as the angel who is in charge of dreams. The twelve steps of the ladder are the twelve ages of the earth, each with two kings who will oppress the people of God.

In Jacob’s vision the ladder going up to heaven had twelve steps on each step were two human faces which continually changed their appearance. Chapter five uses the twelve steps of the ladder from Jacob’s Vision as a kind of “timeline” of the future. Like other apocalyptic visions where heads on a beast refer to kings, each step on the ladder are the “kings of ungodly nations.” These wicked kings

“You have seen a ladder with twelve steps, each step having two human faces which kept changing their appearance. The ladder is this age, and the twelve steps are the periods of this age. But the twenty-four faces are the kings of the ungodly nations of this age. Under these kings the children of your children and the generations of your sons will be interrogated. These will rise up against the iniquity of your grandsons.”

In chapter 6 we are told a king will arise in judgment and Israel will go into slavery. This is such a general statement it cannot be used for dating the book since it could refer to 568 B.C., 67 B.C. or A.D. 70. The Mighty One will rise at that time and fight for his people when the land is swarmed by reptiles and all sorts of deadly things, killing the lawless Falkon by the sword. After this seed of Israel will sound a horn and the kingdoms of Edom and Moab will perish.

Chapter 7 is a Christian addition giving a few of the signs of the impending apocalypse. Lunt indicates the work is described as a first century A.D. work, but he does not argue in his introduction (OTP 2:404). Lunt states the source for the chapter is the Explanation of the Events in Persia (also known as the Tale of Aphroditanus, known from thirteenth to nineteenth century Russian and Serbian Slavonic texts). This book appears as The Legend of Aphroditanus in New Testament Apocrypha (Burke and Landau (Eerdmans, 2017, p. 3-18), although the translator Katharina Heyden does not reference the Ladder of Jacob. In two manuscripts one of the Magi describe their first encounter with Jesus. The first sees a child, the second sees a thirty year old man and the third as like an old man. This is similar to Ladder of Jacob 7:6-9, but it is far from a clear allusion and cannot be used to determine dependence. Other than the reference to wise men in 7:18, there is less connecting the two books than expected.

In the final chapter of the book, author of the Ladder of Jacob describes several signs the “expected one” will soon arrive: “Such will be the signs at the time of his coming: A tree cut with an ax will bleed; three-month-old babes will speak understanding; a baby in the womb of his mother will speak of his way; a youth will be like an old man” (7:4-8).

As with most of the short expansions of Scripture in the Pseudepigrapha it is difficult to assess the value of the Ladder of Jacob. The activity of the angels in the book certainly is consistent with other apocalyptic books and the series of kings who will oppress Israel until a messiah-like liberator appears is similar to Daniel or 2 Baruch.