Were Jesus’ disciples capable of differentiating between a vivid dream and reality?
In the Gospel of Matthew, an angel appears to Joseph twice, once to tell him that he should go ahead and marry Mary, even though she is pregnant (not by him), and then again a couple of years later to warn him of Herod’s plan to kill Jesus and that he should take the family to Egypt. The author of Matthew tells us that both of these “appearances” occurred in dreams.
The question is: Did Joseph believe that God had sent a real angel to him to give him real messages?
If first century Jews were truly able to distinguish dreams/visions from reality, why would Joseph marry a woman who had been impregnated by someone else just because an angel “appeared” to him in a dream? If first century Jews knew that dreams are not reality, Joseph would have ignored the imaginary angel and his imaginary message. For Joseph to go through with his marriage to a pregnant Mary was a very rare exception to the behavior of people in an Honor-Shame society. His act of obeying an angel in a dream is solid proof that he believed that the angel was real and the message was real.
And if Joseph understood that dreams are not reality, why would he move his family to a foreign country based only on a dream?
And how about Paul’s dream/vision? Paul saw and heard a talking bright light in a dream. Paul saw the men accompanying him to Damascus collapse to the ground with him…in a dream. Paul reported that these men also saw the light but didn’t hear the voice…or heard some kind of noise but didn’t see the light…in a dream….depending which passage of Acts you read.
So it is obvious that first century Jews were just as likely to believe that a dream is reality as some people do today! People have been seeing angels, bright lights and dead people for thousands of years…in their dreams…and have believed that these events are reality.
So the fact that four, anonymous, first century books contain stories of people “seeing” dead people and even “seeing” large groups of people “seeing” dead people, should come as no surprise.
They were vivid dreams. Visions. Nothing more.