The Ladder of Jacob
H. F. D. Sparks
The Ladder of Jacob is extant only in Slavonic, in two distinct recensions, preserved in several MSS of the Palaea interpretata. 1 On the Palaea see above, p. 364, n. 5.
About its origin nothing whatever is known. According to Epiphanius 2 Epiph. Haer. XXX. xvi. 7. the Ebionites possessed an apocryphal work called Ἀναβαθμοὶ Ἰακώβου (‘Jacob's/James's Steps’); but the contents of the work as described by Epiphanius in no way correspond with the contents of the Ladder. Moreover, both the literary context in which Epiphanius places it (‘… other Acts of apostles’), and the fact that he uses the declinable form of the proper name (Ἰάκωβος) strongly suggest that it was a New Testament apocryphon to which he was referring and that it was concerned with James, the Lord's brother. 3 The normal Christian Greek for the patriarch Jacob is the indeclinable form, Ἰακώβ, following the Septiagint (e.g. John iv. 5 ; Ep. Barn. viii. 4).
The central feature of the Ladder is Jacob's dream at Bethel. It begins as an amplification of Gen. xxviii. 10–12 after the manner of Jewish haggada. Then an angel appears, in typical apocalyptic style, to interpret Jacob's dream and goes on to prophesy his descendants' future suffering and their ultimate vindication.
That a Greek text lies behind the Slavonic is not only probable in itself, but it is also rendered more probable by certain points of contact between chap. vii in the ‘longer’ recension and one of the sources of the Narrative concerning things done in Persia, a 5th (?) cent. Greek work, first published in full in a critical edition by Bratke in 1899 . If there was a Greek text of the Ladder, it will doubtless have formed part of the Greek Palaea; and since the Greek Palaea is usually dated in the 8th or 9th cents., a Greek Ladder must be pushed back into the 7th or 8th cents. at the latest, and it may well be very much earlier. There are no sound arguments for suggesting a Semitic original, though obviously such a possibility cannot be altogether excluded.
Since the Ladder is relatively brief it has been thought worthwhile to print translations of both the available Slavonic recensions one after the other. First is printed the ‘shorter’ recension from the Palaea in the Rumyantsev collection (= Rum. 453: AD 1494), published by A. N. Pypin in 1862 , and designated by the symbol ‘R’. Then follows a translation of the ‘longer’ recension from the Palaea of the Solovetski Library (= Sol. 431) published by I. Ya. Porfir'ev in 1877 : this last MS is designated by the symbol ‘S’; and in the apparatus are added certain readings from the Palaea of the Troitse-Sergieva monastery (no. 38), written in Kolomna in AD 1406, published by N. S. Tikhonravov in 1863 , and designated ‘K’. The chapter and verse numerations are so far as possible the same in both recensions.
The reader can thus study the differences between the recensions for himself and appreciate the problems that their existence raises. The ‘longer’ recension not only offers a more satisfactory opening, but also in chaps. v–vii goes into far greater detail about Israel's vindication (in particular there is a full description of the accompaniments of the coming of the ‘man from the Most High’, much of it, if not all, manifestly Christian). On the other hand, the ‘shorter’ recension offers in chap. ii a longer version of Jacob's prayer. And both recensions have suffered from having interpretations of the Palaea incorporated into the text (see especially the addition in chap. i). In these circumstances it would be hazardous to affirm simply that one recension is to be preferred and that the other is either an ‘expansion’ or an ‘abbreviation’. And it would be equally hazardous to pick out passages here and there and stigmatize them as ‘later additions’ or ‘interpolations’ – unless, of course, they are very evidently pieces of Palaea interpretation. In a situation like this such terms as ‘original’ and ‘interpolation’ tend to lose their meaning. In both recensions, it seems, we are dealing with a document in an almost permanent state of literary flux.
1 On the Palaea see above, p. 364, n. 5.
2 Epiph. Haer. XXX. xvi. 7.