Back to Home Page or Contents Page or Judaism or Index
Angels (Greek, angelos, "messenger") are thought to be intermediaries between heaven and earth. They frequently classed as spirits, usually good. One of the earliest portrayals of angels was by the Hebrews in the attempt to build the Tower of Babel (Genesis 2:1-9). This served as the reason for Jacob seeing a ladder descending between heaven and earth (Genesis 28:12). Later, perhaps from Persian influence, angels evolved self-propulsion by the means of wings.
There are various Biblical angelic appearances. There is the appearance to Hagar (Genesis 16:7), the intervening of Abraham' sacrifice of Isaac (Genesis 22:11), another wrestles with Jacob (Genesis 32), and the angel of the Lord appears to Moses in the burning bush. In Isaiah's vision (6:2) the Lord was surrounded by the seraphim. Angels are frequently mentioned in the books of Psalms, Ezekiel, Daniel, and Zechariah. This tradition continued in the Apocrypha, the Talmud, and midrash liturgy.
Angels are part of Jewish mystical tradition and philosophy. Many angels such as Gabriel, Michael, Metatron, Raphael, Raziel, and Uriel perform such tasks as carrying prayers to God, teaching the Torah to each embryo in the womb, and accompanying Jewish fathers walking home from evening Sabbath. In modern times reverence for angels has tended to diminished, not dismissed but understood as symbolic and poetic figures. Such attitude comes from the Maimonides: "Everyone entrusted with a mission is an angel, all the powers of the body are angels."
The Christians quickly adopted the Hebraic angelology. This was certainly true in association with the supposed events surrounding the birth of Jesus, which was angelically announced to Mary, an angel instructed the wise men not to retune to Herod, Joseph was angelically instructed to take the child and his mother to Egypt and when to return. Angels administered to Christ after his trials with the devil in the desert. An angel announced his resurrection to Mary Madeleine in the empty tomb. Also, in the Book of Revelation, angels played important roles as announcers and heavenly worshipers.
Dionysius ranked angels by their hierarchies, three of three choirs each: Seraphim, Cherubim, and Thrones; Dominions, Virtues, and Powers; Principalities, Archangels, and Angels. The Catholic Church placed a few pronouncements on angels but have them in a similar category as the saints. There also is the belief of the fallen angels who disobeyed and rejected the sovereignty and love of God. They were not destroyed but are only permitted a limited scope of evil activity. A.G.H.
Bowker, John, The Oxford Dictionary of World Religions,
New York, Oxford University Press, 1997, pp. 66-67