Ruth Fidler, «A Touch of Support: Ps 3,6 and the Psalmist’s Experience», Vol. 86 (2005) 192-212
Vv. 5-6 mark a turning point in Psalm 3, both structurally
and thematically, probably reflecting a significant personal experience. Due to
the mention of sleeping and waking (v. 6a) this experience is sometimes
interpreted as a dream in which the psalmist got word of his imminent
deliverance. Recently supported by a Qumran parallel that mentions dreaming
explicitly (11QPsa xxiv 16-17;B. Schroeder,
Biblica 81  243-251), this argument nevertheless
seems questionable, given e.g. the tendency of later Judaism to attribute dreams
also to biblical figures that are not characterized in such terms in the Bible.
The main thrust of this article is to examine the psalm in comparison with
theophanic reports elsewhere in the Bible and in ANE literature. This analysis
shows the language of Psalm 3 to be compatible with an incubatory ritual that
culminates in a real experience of presence with a divine gesture of support.
These findings are related to the proximity to God that finds expression in the
202 Ruth Fidler
contrasted with the prophetic dream). As in psalm 3 it is debatable
whether this ultimate vindication of the psalmist is visualized here as
an â€œintimate spiritual experienceâ€ (36) or as a morning theophany (37),
but clearly the nocturnal setting does not necessarily lead to a dream.
Possibly it reflects an incubatory procedure that culminates in a real
This brief and incomplete review of liminal reports in the Bible has
touched upon several possible explanations for the co-occurrence of
dream or sleep features with wakeful features in these reports: (1) A
literary-historical explanation: Liminal reports were in fact dream
reports that had their dream terminology subdued. This seems suitable
in the case of 1 Chr 1,7; but in prophetic and quasi-prophetic accounts
such as 1 Sam 3, 1 Kgs 19,9-18 or Gen 15 it would be more
appropriate to consider one of or a combination of the following: (2) A
phenomenological explanation: a liminal report may reflect a liminal
experience, e.g. in a state of consciousness that cannot be categorized
by the usual dichotomy asleep/awake (39) or a mixed experience, that
crosses the threshold of sleep during its evolvement, as may be the
case in I Sam 3 or Ps 17 in view of the comments above. (3) A Traditio-
historical approach: The common belief in the potential of dreams to
reveal â€˜anotherâ€™ reality and thus bridge over gaps in time, space or
being (i.e. between divine and human) was part of the heritage also of
prophets and psalmists. This notion â€” evident in Num 12,6 â€” may
explain why the patterns of prophetic reports of visions resemble those
of parallel types of dream reports (40), or why certain accounts of
prophetic experiences â€” e.g. 1 Sam 3 or Jer 31,23-26 â€” come so
(36) E.A. LESLIE, The Psalms (New York 1949) 353.
(37) WEISER, The Psalms, 180. Weiser is sympathetic to H. Schmidtâ€™s
hypothesis that finds here a temple ordeal. See above, note 15.
(38) LINDBLOM, â€œTheophanies in Holy Placesâ€, 104-105.
(39) G. HÃ–LSCHER, Die Propheten (Leipzig 1914) 57-58; J.-M. HUSSER, Le
songe et la parole, 151-157; ID., Dreams and Dream Narratives, 153-154, 176-
178. HÃ¶lscher attributed such experiences as 1 Sam 3 to a transition stage,
whereas Husser discusses them in terms of conditioned prophetic sleep and lucid
dreams. For various reports of â€˜presenceâ€™ experiences that occurred at night but
were not dreams see W. JAMES, The Varieties of Religious Experience. A Study in
Human Nature (London 1960) 74-91.
(40) M. SISTER, â€œDie Typen der prophetischen Visionen in der Bibelâ€, MGWJ
78 (1934) 399-430; Z. WEISMAN, â€œPatterns and Structures in the Visions of
Amosâ€, Beit Mikra 14 (1969) 40-57 [Hebrew]; B. LONG, â€œProphetic Call
Traditions and Reports of Visionsâ€, ZAW 84 (1972) 494-500; ID., â€˜Reports of
Visions among the Prophetsâ€™, JBL 95 (1976) 353-365.