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Angel

An angel is, in many religious traditions, a lesser spiritual being which assists and serves God or the gods. The word originally comes from the Latin angelus, itself derived from the Greek αγγελος, ággelos, meaning "messenger" (written "gg" = spoken "ng" in Greek). The closest Hebrew word for angel is מלאך, mal'ach, also meaning messenger.

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Jewish views

Angels appear in several Old Testament (Hebrew Bible) stories, such as the warning to Lot[?] of the imminent destruction of Sodom. Many Bible chapters mention an "angry God" who sends His angel to smite the enemies of the Israelites. Traditional Jewish biblical commentators have a variety of ways of explaining what an angel is. The earliest Biblical books present angels as heavenly beings created by God, some of whom apparently are endowed with free will. Later biblical books in the Tanach present a stunningly different view of angels, such as in the book of Ezekiel, and these angels bear no relation whatsoever to the popular understanding of what an angel is.

The archangels named in post-exile Judiasm are Gabriel, Michael, Raphael[?], Uriel[?], Raguel[?], Sariel[?], and Jerahmeel[?]. Gabriel and Michael are mentioned in the book of Daniel, Raphael in the book of Tobit[?] and the remaining four in the book of Enoch.

In the medieval era, Judaism developed a rationalist view of angels that is still accepted by many Jews today. The rationalist view of angels, as held by Maimonides, Gersonides, Samuel Ibn Tibbon[?], etc., states that God's actions are never mediated by a violation of the laws of nature. Rather, all such interactions are by way of angels. Even this can be highly misleading: Maimonides harshly states that the average person's understanding of the term "angel" is ignorant in the extreme. Instead, he says, the wise man sees that what the Bible and Talmud refer to as "angels" are actually metaphors for the various laws of nature, or the principles by which the physical universe operates, or kinds of platonic eternal forms. This is explained in his "Guide of the Perplexed" II:4 and II:6.

II:4 "...This leads Aristotle in turn to the demonstrated fact that God, glory and majesty to Him, does not do things by direct contact. God burns things by means of fire; fire is moved by the motion of the sphere; the sphere is moved by means of a disembodied intellect, these intellects being the "angels which are near to Him," through whose mediation the spheres [planets] move....thus totally disembodied minds exist which emanate from God and are the intermediaries between God and all the bodies [objects] here in this world."

II:6 "...Aristotle's doctrine that these disembodied spheres serve as the nexus between God and existence, by whose mediation the sphere are brought into motion, which is the cause of all becoming, is the express import of all the Scriptures. For you will never in Scripture any activity done by God except through an angel. And "angel", as you know, means messenger. Thus anything which executes a command is an angel. So the motions of living beings, even those that are inarticulate, are said explicitly by Scripture to be due to angels.

...Our argument here is concerned solely with those "angels" which are disembodied intellects. For our Bible is not unaware that God governs this existence through the mediation of angles...(Maimonides then quotes discussions of angels from Genesis, Plato, and Midrash Bereshit Rabbah)...the import in all these texts is not - as a primitive mentality would suppose - to suggest any discussion or planning or seeking of advice on God's part. How could the Creator receive aid from the object of his creation? The real import of all is to proclaim that existence - including particular individuals and even the formation of the parts of animals such as they are - is brought about entirely through the mediation of angels.

For all forces are angels! How blind, how perniciously blind are the naive?! If you told someone who purports to be a sage of Israel that the Deity sends an angel who enters a woman's womb and there forms an embryo, he would think this a miracle and accept it as a mark of the majesty and power of the Deity - despite the fact that he believes an angle to be a body of fire one third the size of the entire world. All this, he thinks, is possible for God. But if you tell him that God placed in the sperm the power of forming and demarcating these organs, and that this is the angel, or that all forms are produced by the Active Intellect - that here is the angel, the "vice-regent of the world" constantly mentioned by the sages - then he will recoil. For he [the naive person] does not understand that the true majesty and power are in the bringing into being of forces which are active in a thing although they cannot be perceived by the senses.

The sages of blessed memory state clearly - to those who are wise themselves - that every bodily power (not to mention forces at large in the world) is an angel and that a given power has one effect and no more. It says in Midrash Bereshit Rabbah "We are given to understand that no angel performs two missions, nor do two angels perform one mission." - which is just the case with all forces. To confirm the conclusion that individual physical and psychological forces are called "angels", there is the dictum of the sages, in a number of places, ultimately derived from Bereshit Rabbah, "Each day the Holy One creates a band of angels who sing their song before him and go their way." Midrash Bereshit Rabbah, LXXVIII] When this midrash was countered with another which suggests that angels are permanent...the answer given was that some are permanent and other perish. And this is in fact the case. Particular forces come to be and pass away in constant succession; the species of such forces, however, are stable and enduring....[Giving a few more examples of the mention of angels in rabbinic writings, Maimonides says] Thus the Sages reveal to the aware that the imaginative faculty is also called an angel; and the mind is called a cherub. How beautiful this will appear to the sophisticated mind - and how disturbing to the primitive."

Maimonides thus presents a virtual rejection of the classical Jewish view of miracles; they substitute a rationalism that seems more appropriate for 20th and 21st century religious rationalists.

Christian views

In the New Testament the angel Gabriel appears to Mary in the traditional role of messenger to inform her that her child will be the Messiah, and other angels are present to herald his birth. An angel appears at Jesus' tomb, frightens the Roman guards, rolls away the stone fom the tomb, and later tells the myrrh-bearing women of Jesus' resurrection. Two angels witnessed Jesus' ascent into Heaven and prophesied his return. When Peter was imprisoned, an angel put his guards to sleep, released him from his chains, and led him out of the prison. Angels fill a number of different roles in the book of Revelation. Among other things, they are seen gathered around the Throne of God singing the thrice-holy hymn.

Angels are frequently depicted as human in appearance, though many theologians have argued that they have no physical existence. (Hence the frequently recounted tale of Scholastics arguing about how many angels could fit on a pinhead; if angels possess physical bodies, the answer is "a finite number", if they do not, the answer is "an infinite number".) Seraphim are often depicted as 6 wings radiating from a center either concealing a body or without a body. Starting with the end of the 4th century, angels were depicted with wings, presumably to give an easy explanation for them travelling to and from heaven.

Some Christian traditions hold that there are as many as ten classes of angels; this is particularly clear in the work of Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite, an unknown 5th Century author whose work The Celestial Hierarchy gives the names that have become part of tradition: angels, archangels, principalities, powers, virtues, dominions, thrones, cherubim, and seraphim. In this hierarchy, the cherubim and seraphim are typically closest to God, while the angels and archangels are most active in human affairs.

Some Christian traditions also hold that angels play a variety of specific roles in the lives of believers. For instance, each Christian may be assigned a guardian angel at their baptism. Each consecrated altar has at least one angel always present offering up prayers, and a number of angels join the congregation when they meet to pray. In the story of the 40 martyrs of Sebaste, in which 40 Christian Roman soldiers were ordered to stand naked on a frozen lake in the snow until they renounced their faith, angels were seen descending from Heaven placing the crowns of martyrs on their heads.

Some medieval Christian philosophers were influenced by the views of Maimonides, and accepted his view of angels. Today, these views of angels are still technically acceptable within many mainstream Christian denominations. However, for all practical purposes most Christian laypeople know little or nothing of these views, and do not accept them.

Satan and the demons are thought by Christians to be angels who rebelled against God and fell from Heaven.

Islamic views

A belief in angels is central to the religion of Islam, beginning with the belief that the Quran was dictated to the Prophet Mohammed by the angel Gabriel.

Angel of death

Many religions have a concept of an angel of death. This angel is described in a separate entry.

New Age

Angels are also a part of New Age beliefs, and are sometimes referred to as dakini.

Aleister Crowley, who some call the Magus of the New Aeon, tried to teach people to attain what he called "the Knowledge and Conversation of the Holy Guardian Angel". He writes in Magick in Theory and Practice that he chose the name because he thought no one of any intelligence would waste time on the theory behind it. Crowley repeatedly warned students of occult phenomena "against attributing objective reality or philosophic validity to any of them."


See also: Angels in art


Angel is also a character from the Marvel Comics universe whose true name is Warren Kenneth Worthington III and serves as one of the founding members of the X-Men.
Unsurprisingly he possesses a pair of wings just like the typical depiction of an angel. That also sums up his powers. He can fly and perform agile aerial maneuvers with his wings. He has since changed his codename to Archangel. Recently he developed a secondary mutation, developing the new found power of a healing factor and can cure others by mixing his blood with theirs.


Angel is also a US television series, a spin-off from Buffy the Vampire Slayer; see Angel (series).


There exists also a relatively new role playing game called Engel, what is german for Angel.
The original german version uses a new kind of RPG-System in which GameMaster and Players draw associative, tarot-like cards instead of rolling dice to determine the outcome of an event.



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