March 26, 2019

What Does Judaism Say About Angels?

“The story of angels stretches all the way back to the opening sections of the Book of Genesis. There, God posts cherubs as sentries at the gates of the Garden of Eden, following Adam and Eve’s expulsion.

They take a more active role later in the same book, when three shadowy figures, sometimes referred to as men, other times as angels and even on occasion as God, appear to the elderly Abraham, sheltering from the noonday sun at Mamre, to tell him that his elderly wife, Sarah, is to have a much-wanted son.

And as if that revelation isn’t sufficient drama, Abraham’s grandson, Jacob, is subsequently entangled in Genesis in a life-and-death nighttime struggle at the ford on the river Jabbok, memorably recreated in 1940 by the British sculptor Jacob Epstein in an alabaster carving now in Tate Britain. Again, the visitor is variously described as a man, an angel or God.

If angel, he — or she — is nameless. It took many centuries for that to change in the Book of Daniel among others. A reflection on the trauma of the Babylonian exile (and by association of subsequent military defeats), it was written around 165 BCE and presents for the first time fleshed-out angels — the fierce Michael (“who-is-like-God”) and the virtuous Gabriel (“God-is-my-strength”), who together act as guardian to Israel in its hour of need.”

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