Jacob's Ladder (Bible)

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Depiction of the sleeping Jacob with the ladder to heaven in the background, as found in the original Luther Bibles (around 1534).

The Jacob's ladder or stairway to heaven ( Hebrew סֻלָּם יַעֲקֹב sullām jaʿakow ) is an ascent and descent between earth and heaven , which Jacob sees in a dream vision during his flight from Esau from Beersheba to Harran, according to the biblical story in Gen 28.11  EU . It stood on the ground and its point reached into the sky (מֻצָב אַרְצָה וְרֹאשׁוֹ מַגּיִעַ הַשָּׁמָיִמָה Gen 28.12  EU ). On it he sees angels of God ascending and descending (מַלְאֲכֵי אֱלֹהיִם עֹליִם וְיֹרְדיִם בוֹ Gen 28.12  EU ), but above is the Lord ( YHWH ) himself (וְהִנֵּה יְהֹוָה נִצָּב עָלָיו Gen 28.13  EU ), who introduces himself to him as the God of Abraham and Isaac and renews the promise of land and descendants. After awakening Jacob calls the place Bet-El ( House of God ) or Gate of Heaven (שָׁעַר הַשָּׁמָיִם šāʕār ha-šāmāyim ) Gen 28.17  EU .


The angel ladder , Michael Lukas Leopold Willmann , around 1691
Angels climbing Jacob's ladder ( Bath Abbey , England, UK)

“Ladder” is not the only possible translation, even if it became predominant in the occidental pictorial tradition. The Hebrew word sullām can also mean “stairs”, “stairs” or “ramp”. The visual representation of the story is probably based on that of a temple staircase of an ancient oriental ziggurat , which led up from the ground to the holy of holies. This explains why Jacob believed he had found the true "house of God".

Historically, the place name Bet-El is probably pre-Israelite, i.e. older than the Jacob story, which explains it and at the same time claims it for the history of Israel .

In the Gospel of John ( John 1.51  EU ) the image of Jacob's ladder is typologically transferred to Jesus Christ . In the Gospel of Mark in the 3rd verse Isa 40: 3 is quoted: "Voice of someone who calls in the desert: Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his path!" Ladder ( Hebrew sullām) has the same root as m'sillah (= mountain climbs); “Make straight” means to establish the direct connection.

The Christian chant Closer, my God, to you refers to the biblical story of Jacob's dream and the ladder. The motif is also used in spirituals, for example in the songs We are climbing Jacob's ladder and Climb up (Jacob dreamed, he saw a ladder)

Spiritual interpretation

Ladder and cross

The Gospel of John relates Jacob's ladder to the revelation of Christ with the climax on the cross : "You will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending over the Son of Man" (Jn 1,51). This is why the Fathers of the Church interpret the cross as the ladder to heaven or to paradise ( scala paradisi ). The abbess of the Benedictine Abbey of Mariendonk , Christiana Reemts, takes up this spiritual understanding of the church fathers : “The cross is erected as a wonderful ladder on which we are led up to heaven. Through the birth of the Son of God the angels descended to the people and at the same time the people could ascend from the depths to heaven. Through the cross heaven and earth, which were previously enemies, were reunited, and peace reigned between the two parts that were previously separated. (...) Just as a ladder consists of two stiles, so the cross of Christ is based on the two testaments. For the cross of our Lord is the content of all scripture. In the cross, Christ brought all the mysteries to completion and brought them together, brought Adam back to the Father and opened up the way to heaven. "


  • Werner Groß and Wolfgang Urban (eds.): Dieter Groß [Ill.] , Himmelsleitern. A book accompanying the exhibition in the Rottenburg Diocesan Museum , March 19 to May 4, 1997 . [Catalog: Dieter Groß and Wolfgang Urban] (= publications of the Diözesanmuseum Rottenburg , No. 2). Schwabenverlag, Ostfildern 1997, ISBN 3-7966-0892-2 .

Individual evidence

  1. Cf. Photina Rech: Inbild des Kosmos. A symbolism of creation , Salzburg 1966, vol. I, pp. 515-546 (world axis and heavenly ladder), esp. Pp. 524-540.
  2. ^ Christiana Reemts: The Jacob's Ladder. Two conversations , in: Geist und Leben 5/1999, pp. 364–374, here p. 372.

Web links

Commons : Jacob's Ladder (Bible)  - Collection of images, videos and audio files

See also