Joseph Interprets Dreams & Dreams in Ancient Times

 Hands OutI can’t believe Potiphar would believe that Joseph would do that, but then again, You know how women are, You made them.

So you made it so the keeper of the prison liked Joseph, that’s good, but why did You let him go to prison?  Do You have a plan?

“And it came to pass after these things, that the butler of the king of Egypt and his baker had offended their lord the king of Egypt. 

And Pharaoh was wroth against two of his officers, against the chief of the butlers, and against the chief of the bakers. 

And he put them in ward in the house of the captain of the guard, into the prison, the place where Joseph was bound” (Gen 40:1-3).

1. Ancient Egyptian laws
Ancient Egyptian laws were written by the Pharaoh and enforced by him (her) and the officials. Breaking these laws almost never ended well for the criminal, because of the harsh punishments. The decisions to administer these punishments were in the hands of a vizer or an oracle, but the most significant cases were referred to the Pharaoh. Below you can find a list of the most common fatal and non-fatal punishments of Ancient Egypt.
Fatal punishments
Fatal punishments were rare, but merciless. They were imposed for the worst crimes, such as treason and plotting against the Pharaoh. One of the most notable examples is Ramses III executing a team that plotted against him by impalement – very slow and painful death.

Tomb raiding was another crime for which capital punishment was administered. Usually it was decapitation or drowning. These two punishments were also executed in severe cases of corruption – the decision in these cases was Pharaohs.

Burning alive was another method used in Ancient Egypt and was administered in cases of vandalism of temples and other places of worship. It wasn’t carried out very frequently because the Egyptians believed that burning alive would rob the deceased of his body and prevent him from achieving eternal life.

Perhaps surprisingly, death sentences were rarely administered for murder and manslaughter (no distinction in Ancient Egypt) – well, rarer than in other ancient civilisations. However, there are quite a few known instances of forced suicide in Ancient Egypt, instead of administered death sentence. In those cases, the convicted criminals were also punished posthumously by not being given a proper burial.
Non-fatal punishments
There were much more common than death sentences and sometimes were even performed on members of the family of the convicted criminal. The most commonly executed ones were:
100 strokes of a cane, coupled with five bleeding cuts in more severe occasions, were administered for illegal trade and fencing of stolen goods, as well as tax evasion.

Sometimes, the cane was coupled with enslavement or exile to Nubia or the Western Oasis.
Disfigurement and mutilation
These punishments were mostly inflicted on thieves and often coupled with fines. However, the Egyptians also administered them in order to punish corrupt government officials.

Some of them had their noses and ears cut off and were either exiled or enslaved.

Torture wasn’t an unusual means of obtaining confessions and details and accomplices of the crime committed.

The most common method of torture involved beating a criminal’s foot with a stick (bastinato).

Egyptians prisons were deep pits and wells and weren’t used too often. The only known victims of imprisonment are Egyptian debtors and deserters and in those cases, imprisonment was more of a means of preventing escape and forcing them to pay up their debts than actual punishment.

Pharaoh Bocchoris has eventually banned punishment of debtors by imprisonment.

“The butler and the baker each had a dream one night but they didn’t understand them.  Joseph then told that only God can interpret dreams and asked them to tell him their dreams.

And the chief butler told him his dream: to Joseph, and said to him.  In my dream, behold, a vine was before me;

And in the vine were three branches: and it was as though it budded, and her blossoms shot forth; and the clusters thereof brought forth ripe grapes. 

And Pharaoh’s cup was in my hand: and I took the grapes, and pressed them into Pharaoh’s cup, and I gave the cup into Pharaoh’s hand” (Gen 40:9-11).

Through God, Joseph interpreted the dream:

“…The three branches are three days:

Yet within three days shall Pharaoh lift up thine head, and restore thee unto thy place: and thou shalt deliver Pharaoh’s cup into his hand, after the former manner when thou wast his butler. 

But think on me when it shall be well with thee, and shew kindness, I pray thee, unto me, and make mention of me unto Pharaoh, and bring me out of this house” (Gen 40:12-14).

“The baker was happy with the outcome of the butler’s dream so he told his to Joseph:

…I had three white baskets on my head: 

And in the uppermost basket there was of all manner of bake meats for Pharaoh; and the birds did eat them out of the basket upon my head” (Gen 40:16-17).

Joseph interpreted the dream:

“…The three baskets are three days:

Yet within three days shall Pharaoh lift up thy head from off thee, and shall hang thee on a tree; and the birds shall eat thy flesh from off thee” (Gen 40:18-19).

Joseph’s interpretations came true, but the butler forgot all about Joseph.

1 Only God can interpret dreams accurately – Dan 2:22 & 28, 4:9.

Dreams in Ancient Times

The meaning of dreams has been one the most fascinating topics of discussion around the world.

The answer to the question “Where do dreams come from?” depends on who you ask.

Some people believe dreams are just a byproduct of brain wave activity, and that they don’t have any psychologically significant meaning at all.

Some argue that our dreams are a reflection of our deepest desires, others believe they are a connection to God.

People have been fascinated by dreams for thousands of years and cultures around the world have developed their own traditions for interpreting dreams.


Early information about the analysis of dreams comes from Mesopotamia (the land between the Tigris and Euphrates – part of what is now Iraq).

The civilization that existed there around 5,000 B.C. left behind what is believed to be the world’s first book of dreams — a compilation of dream symbols and their meanings.

Sumerians viewed their dreams as signs sent from gods. People had their dreams translated by “dream priests” who foretold the dreamer’s future.

It is speculated that the process of incubating dreams and summoning them by means of special rituals was invented during this period.

2. Ancient Egyptian Dream Interpretation
Ancient Egyptian Dream Interpretation
Many religions and beliefs are often formed and rely on hallucinogenic aids.

Many indigenous tribes take hallucinogenic aids to contact or have vision beyond the physical realm and many religious figures often describe prophecies originating from their dreams.

One of the first civilizations to have learned to record, ancient Egyptians wrote down and revered their dreams.

These practices then spread throughout the ancient world and survived in various forms until the twentieth century.

Some believe that the Mesopotamian model of dream interpretation had an impact on the cultural beliefs of the Egyptians and gave rise to the Hebrew, Arabic and Greek traditions of dream interpretation.

Ancient Egypt

The Egyptians took many ideas from the Sumerians; they also viewed dreams as messages from gods and created their own Dream Book (currently part of the archives at the British Museum in London).

In temples dedicated to Serapis (a Hellenistic-Egyptian god), where special dream interpreters lived, Egyptians celebrated rituals, gave sacrifices and recited prayers in hopes that their dreams would reveal fragments of the future.

The dreams of the Pharaohs attracted the most attention, because they were seen as gods themselves. (We’ll look more into this tomorrow).

Given their status, it seemed perfectly natural that the gods wanted to deliver important messages in the Pharaohs’ dreams.

Ancient Greece

3. The Parthenon
The Parthenon, a temple dedicated to Athena, located on the Acropolis in Athens, is one of the most representative symbols of the culture and sophistication of the ancient Greeks.

Around 335 B.C. Greek philosopher Aristotle said that human beings are capable of achieving the pure form of wisdom only during sleep, when our minds are liberated.

At that time Greece was the most powerful civilization on earth. The source of the wisdom of Greeks was the oracle at Delphi, who had an impact on even the most important decisions in the country.

Not everyone realized that the oracle’s prophecies were created based on dreams. Dreams played a significant role in military decisions as well as family life and impacted the development of the ancient world.

The Greek system of dream interpretation wasn’t concerned only with predicting the future; it was also used to ensure prosperity in one’s life.

Hippocrates (regarded by many as the father of modern medicine) saw dreams as important indicators of physical and mental health.

Perhaps this was the first time a man came to realize that dreams do not have a divine source, and may come from human thoughts.

The ancient Greeks created one of the most significant books about dreams that have ever been written. Oneirocritica (Interpretation of Dreams), was written by Artemidorus in ancient Greece; today, this book is the basis for many contemporary books about dreams.

Ancient Rome

4. Beginning in the eighth century B.C.
Beginning in the eighth century B.C., Ancient Rome grew from a small town on central Italy’s Tiber River into an empire that at its peak encompassed most of continental Europe, Britain, much of western Asia, northern Africa and the Mediterranean islands.

Among the many legacies of Roman dominance are the widespread use of the Romance languages (Italian, French, Spanish, Portuguese and Romanian) derived from Latin, the modern Western alphabet and calendar and the emergence of Christianity as a major world religion. After 450 years as a republic, Rome became an empire in the wake of Julius Caesar’s rise and fall in the first century B.C.

The long and triumphant reign of its first emperor, Augustus, began a golden age of peace and prosperity; by contrast, the empire’s decline and fall by the fifth century A.D. was one of the most dramatic implosions in the history of human civilization.

The Roman tradition of dream interpretation was largely drawn from the Greeks.

It has been said that Augustus, the successor of Julius Cesar, believed so strongly in the prophetic nature of dreams that he created a law requiring every citizen who had a dream about the empire, to talk about it on the market in their town.

Moreover, the existence of unfair or unpopular laws was justified by the fact that they were suggested in dreams.

In Rome, the importance of dreams was a topic widely discussed among scholars who openly proclaimed that dreams are inspired by our own passions, emotions and experiences of everyday life and do not come from gods.


For millennia, people have sought help with understanding and interpreting dreams; it is believed that by doing so we could gain wisdom and find solutions to our problems.

The cause of dreams is not known for certain, some may come from God, they could come from the devil, they could come from our own subconscious, who knows.

Only God can truly interpret dreams.

“And they said unto him, We have dreamed a dream, and there is no interpreter of it. And Joseph said unto them, Do not interpretations belong to God? tell me them, I pray you(Gen 40:8).

The Pharaoh’s had men that were supposed to be able to interpret their dreams, but they  couldn’t (Gen 41:8).

King Nebuchadnezzar had a dream and he wanted his men to tell him what he had dreamed and interpret of they would be executed (Dan 2:5).

And of course, there are scammers today, such as psychics, that promise to interpret dreams for a small fee, such as the picture directly above.


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