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Wednesday, February 14 2018

What Did Jacob's Stairway To Heaven Really Look Like?

"He saw a raised highway that had been built with its ending point on Earth and its beginning point in Heaven. God's angels were ascending and descending on it"

Jacob's "stairway to heaven" of Genesis 28:12 is one of the most famous incidents of Bible history. It has been popularized in a number of fanciful ways, including by artists as shown in the example below from 1691.

Jacob's Dream Most English-language translations render the original Hebrew word as either "stairway" or "ladder." Which one is more accurate? Or was it actually something else that is just as familiar today?

First, the literal meanings of "stairway" and "ladder."

"Stair" originated from an old Anglo-Saxon word, staeger, which meant to climb, or to mount. The word "stirrup" originated from the same word. "Way" means a road (i.e. highway, freeway etc), so "stairway" means a climbing road. Many English translations render Genesis 28:12 with that term. Examples:

"He had a dream in which he saw a stairway resting on the earth, with its top reaching to heaven, and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it." (New International Version)

"He dreamed. Behold, a stairway set upon the earth, and its top reached to heaven. Behold, the angels of God ascending and descending on it." (World English Bible)

"As he slept, he dreamed of a stairway that reached from the earth up to heaven. And he saw the angels of God going up and down the stairway." (New Living Translation)

"Ladder" originated from the old Anglo-Saxon word hloedder which meant a grating or a trellis - which would imply that the original use was for other things than climbing by people - although plants, such as climbing vines, will ascend up a trellis. Many English translations render Genesis 28:12 with that term. Examples:

"And he dreamed, and behold a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven: and behold the angels of God ascending and descending on it." (King James Version)

"And he dreamed, and behold, 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!" (English Standard Version)

"And he dreamed. And behold, a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven. And behold, the angels of God ascending and descending on it." (American Standard Version)

But all of that is about what the literal meanings of the words that were used to translate the actual Hebrew word of the Holy Scriptures. What does the actual word mean?

The actual Hebrew word, pronounced sool-lawm, means a mound of Earth with an upward path. It was used to refer to such a mound that was built for a specific purpose - it wasn't merely a natural rising from the Earth. Interestingly, the word occurs only once in the entire Holy Bible - Jacob's "stairway to heaven."

Many examples of that actual Hebrew word are seen today in many places - from bridge and road embankments for automobiles or trains, to barn embankments that permit access to an upper level. They have been known from the most ancient times. Examples are shown in the photos below.


So, what term is most accurate in describing what Jacob saw? The International Standard Version matches the actual word of the Holy Scriptures in that verse: "a raised highway that had been built with its ending point on earth and its beginning point in heaven." A "high" way indeed!

"He saw a raised highway that had been built with its ending point on earth and its beginning point in heaven. God's angels were ascending and descending on it." (International Standard Version)

The photograph below shows the place where Jacob saw that "raised highway that had been built with its ending point on earth and its beginning point in heaven" (see the Fact Finder question below).


Fact Finder: Where did Jacob see that "stairway" to heaven?
See What Did Jacob Do With The Stones Of Bethel?


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This Day In History

This Day In History, February 14

842: Charles the Bald and Louis the German swore the Oaths of Strasbourg.

1014: Pope Benedict VIII crowned Henry II as Holy Roman Emperor (see The Holy Roman Empire Of The German Nation).

1076: Pope Gregory VII excommunicated Henry IV, the Holy Roman Emperor (see Emperors and Popes).

1349: 2,000 Jews were burned at the stake in Strasbourg, Germany.

1400: The deposed King Richard II died "under suspicious circumstances" in Pontefract Castle in Yorkshire.

1658: The Battle of Bahadurgarh; it helped to decide the war of succession among the sons of Shah Jahan, Mughal emperor of India.

1779: English explorer Captain James Cook was killed by natives in Hawaii.

James Cook

1797: The British fleet, under Admirals John Jervis and Horatio Nelson, defeated the Spanish at the battle of St. Vincent off Portugal.

1804: Karadjordje led the First Serbian Uprising against the Ottoman Empire.

1876: Inventors Alexander Graham Bell and Elisha Gray applied separately for U.S. patents related to the telephone. The U.S. Supreme Court eventually ruled that Bell was the rightful inventor (by his own statement, Bell invented the telephone at his home in Brantford, Ontario, which is today a National Historic Site of Canada). Bell worked on many other inventions, including aircraft, at his later home in Nova Scotia, Canada, where he is buried.


1879: The War of the Pacific began between Chile and Bolivia.

1896: Der Judenstaat ("The Jewish State" - see A History Of Jerusalem: Zionism) by Theodor Herzl was published in Vienna; English and French translations soon followed.

1922: Italian inventor Guglielmo Marconi began the first regular radio broadcasting transmission from England.

1929: The "St. Valentine's Day Massacre" in Chicago. Al Capone's gang, in order to prevent the hijacking of whiskey shipments, killed 7 members of the Bugs Moran gang in a Chicago garage.
Among Capone's gang was a young errand boy named Jacob Rubenstein, the son of Polish-immigrant Jewish parents, who grew up in Chicago. Jacob Rubenstein is better known to history as Jack Ruby, who shot Lee Harvey Oswald in 1963 before Oswald could be tried for the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.

1939: The German navy launched the battleship Bismarck.

1942: The German Afrika Korps was organized under the command of Lt. Gen. (later Field Marshall) Irwin Rommel. It consisted of two armored divisions and one motorized infantry division. After initial successes, the Afrika Korps was defeated by British and Canadian forces under Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery.

1944 The Mark I, the first computer that could perform arithmetical operations without human intervention, was completed by inventor Howard Aiken. It was 51 feet long, 8 feet high, and weighed 35 tons. It had about 500 miles of wire and 3 million connections.

1946: An "electronic brain", or "computer", began working at the University of Pennsylvania, taking seconds to do calculations which normally took hours. It was called ENIAC, or Electronic Numerical Integrator And Computer.

1946: The Bank of England was nationalized.

1947: British Foreign Secretary Ernest Bevin announced that Britain was turning the "Palestine situation" over to the United Nations (see A History Of Jerusalem: The British Mandate).

The British Mandate

1949: The first session of the Constituent Assembly (later entitled the Knesset) of the new state of Israel was opened (see Israel In History and Prophecy: Israel Of Judah).

1958: The Arab Union, a federation of Jordan and Iraq, was formed to counter the formation of the United Arab Republic by Egypt and Syria 2 weeks earlier. King Hussein of Jordan dissolved it August 2 of that same year.

1971: Richard Nixon installed a secret taping system in the White House to record conversations of political enemies. The recording system later provided much of the criminal evidence that brought down paranoid Nixon himself.

1989: Iran's Ayatollah Khomeini ordered a worldwide death sentence for writer Salman Rushdie for his book "The Satanic Verses (see also Has Another Haman Arisen?).

1992: The European Community and the seven-nation European Free Trade Association struck a final deal, clearing the way for the creation of the world's biggest single free market, exceeding that of the combined markets of the United States and Canada.




Copyright © Wayne Blank