Numinous Dreams in the New Testament-or-The Idea of the Holy

Easter is seen as a moveable feast, a festival about the resurrection of Christ, that is celebrated around the world by Christians. The following Field Note speaks and focuses on some of the numinous and religious dreams found in the New Testament. 

The Gospels of Christ -or- Jesus Christ Superstar 

In terms of dream visions, the New Testament begins with the Gospel of Matthew 1:20 informing the reader; "But while he thought on these things, behold the Angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost." The passage about being of the Holy Ghost, is evidently a prophetic allusion made in the Old Testament found in Isaiah 7:14; "Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel." 

As for Joseph, the New Testament informs us that he did marry Mary, and Mary did bear the child, culminating with the nativity of Jesus. From this, we can infer that Joseph interpreted his dream as a religious message emanating from a divine messenger and its numinous source. A divine message from the G_d of the Jews and Israel, a message Joseph was compelled to heed based on his faith

Rudolf Otto "The Idea of the Holy" discusses "The Numinous in the New Testament" (Chapter10) telling us; "In the Gospel of Jesus we see the consummation of that process tending to rationalize, moralize, and humanize the idea of God, which began with the earliest period of the Hebrew tradition and became specially prominent as a living factor in the Prophets and the Psalms, continually bringing the apprehension of the numinous to a richer fulfillment by recognizing in it attributes of clear and profound value for the reason. The result was the faith in ‘the fatherhood of God' in that unsurpassable form in which it is peculiar to Christianity." 

Christ would deliver his numinous Messianic message of the Kingdom of God. Before his earthly departure, we are informed in Matthew 16:19 that Jesus gave Peter the keys to heaven; "And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth will be bound in heaven; and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. The passage may allude to the religious idea that what binds the Christian faith of the Holy Spirit on earth with heaven, can be found in the numinous holy land of our dreams. A point I shall return to when you are reading further down. This passage also clearly provides the institutional foundation for the Catholic Church and the Ministry of Christ that continues to this day. 

The Dream of Pontius Pilate's Wife -or- Christ's Prayer and Psalm 22

The Roman governor of Judea Pontius Pilate sentenced Jesus to death, after Jesus' disciple Judas sets the unfolding of religious events into dramatic motion. In the much disputed Gospel of Judas we find a different narrative about the religious beliefs, numinous motives and mystical abilities of Jesus. Matthew 27:11 reports that at his trial Jesus is asked "Art thou the King of the Jews? And Jesus said unto him, Thou sayest." Ultimately, Pilate pronounces the death sentence on Jesus. Before the crucifixion, Pilate is warned of the consequences of the death of Jesus. 

We can read in Matthew 27:19; "When he (Pilate) was set down on the judgment seat, his wife sent unto him saying, have thou nothing to do with that just man: for I have suffered many things in a dream because of him." Some believe that the dream of Pontius Pilate's wife was sent by G_d, as a prophesy of the Holy Spirit. The oracle like prophetic dream warns of the ominous consequences of the death of Jesus. Pilate does not heed his wife's warning, setting in motion the Gospels which provide the spiritual and theological foundation for understanding the Christian canon of the parables of Christ, the last supper, stations of the cross, the crucifixion  and Jesus sayings on the cross

On the cross, Jesus is found praying, his prayer surrounds Psalm 22 of the Old Testament "My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?" Jesus message can be seen and heard as a Biblical invocation of hope in the face of despair. The academic question of the literary genre of the Gospels seems to have been much debated. Some believe, they represent the memoirs and theological teachings of Christ. It can be argued that the Gospels laid the literary foundation for Christian hagiography, that continues to this day. If we were to research Christian hagiography, (chronological list) we will most likely find that many if not most of these men and women experienced numinous visions and/or dreams. I am unaware of any book which historically traces the numinous dream visions of these men and women canonized by the Roman Catholic Church? Said differently, is such a book necessary to understand Christian history, from a dream vision perspective? 

The IIDR dream interpretation "Origins of Women's English Poetry" speaks of Saint Wiborada who was the first woman to be fully canonized by the church. Other well known stories of numinous dreams experienced by Saints include; Saint Ambrose dream of the relics of Saint Gervasius and Protasius and the visions and dreams of Caius of Korea. We know that the Roman emperor Constantine experienced a numinous dream that ultimately influenced him to convert the Roman Empire from a pagan religious State into a Roman Catholic one. The prophet Mohammed's dream vision "Night Journey" theologically transformed the Middle East Arab tribes by writing the Koran (revealed by the angel Gabriel), which is celebrated by the Muslims. It is dream vision that has always bound the holy and the numinous, and dream vision will always theologically bind the hierographology (Holy Writ) of all religious texts including those of the Jews, Christians, and Muslims. 

On a few final notes we can turn from Biblical to modern dreams, where the dramatic monotheistic ideas of the Bible and the Koran can still be found circulating. Here, are some of the dream interpretations posted at the IIDR website that talk about such ideas; 

Finally from more popular literary and film perspectives, we can turn to John Keats, as well as to the Hollywood dream factory, who have produced just a few reworked numinous messages of Christianity. In "The Eve of Saint Agnes" Keats uses the patron Saint of virgins to cultivate religious, erotic and poetic thoughts, feelings and dreams. In the Hollywood dream factory film "Jesus Christ Superstar" we find a musical rock opera (watch music video) celebration of Jesus life, where it is Pilate who has a numinous dream. 

Further Reading: 

  • Victor White, "God and the Unconscious"
  • Morton T. Kelsey, "God, Dreams and Revelations: A Christian Interpretation of Dreams"
  • Herman Dooyeweerd, "A Christian Theory of Social Institutions" (translated by Magnus Verbrugge)
  • William A. Beardslee, "Literary Criticism of the New Testament"
  • David Manning White, "The Search for God: A World Treasury of Quotations about the Eternal Quest"
  • "An Illustrated Introduction: Explaining the Gospels" (Foreword Joseph Bayly)
  • Herbert Fingarette, "The Self in Transformation: Psychoanalysis, Philosophy and the Life of the Spirit"
  • William James, "The Varieties of Religious Experience"
  • John R. May and Michael Bird (eds) "Religion in Film"
  • Harper's "Encyclopedia of Mystical and Paranormal Experience"


All material Copyright 2006 International Institute for Dream Research. All rights reserved.