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Angels

 

English translations are very misleading when they use the word angel. For example, in Numbers 22, the word angel is used to translate the Hebrew word satan (one who stands in opposition). The word malakh, in Hebrew, does not mean angel (as is commonly understood*); it means messenger. Any cursory glance at the Hebrew text will reveal this; for a few examples, see, Num. 22.5, Jud 9.31, 2 King 1.2, etc.,. Where, then, did this concept of angels come from? How did it find its way into Jewish consciousness? If there is no word in Hebrew for angel, what are the malakhim, s'tanim, and keruvim mentioned in the scriptures?

ZOROASTRIAN ORIGINS
As with many things that are foreign in Judaism, the theology of angels as we know it today finds its source in Zoroastrianism. Zoroastrianism recognizes various classes of spiritual beings besides the Supreme Being Ahura Mazda: The Amesha Spentas ("Archangels"), Yazatas, and Fravashis ("Guardian Angels"). In practice, Zoroastrians pick a patron angel for their protection, and throughout their lives are careful to observe prayers dedicated to that angel.

The Fravashis, are also known as Arda Fravash ("Holy Guardian Angels"). Zoroastrianism teaches that each person is accompanied by a guardian angel (Y26.4, 55.1), which acts as his guide throughout life. They originally patrolled the boundaries of the ramparts of heaven (Bd6.3, Zs5.2), but volunteer to descend to earth to stand by individuals to the end of their days. Ahura Mazda advises Zarathushtra to invoke them for help whenever he finds himself in danger (Yt13.19-20). If not for their guardianship, animals and people could not have continued to exist, because the wicked Druj would have destroyed them all (Yt13.12-13). The Fravashi also serves as an ideal which the soul has to strive for and emulate, and ultimately becomes one with after death (Y16.7, 26.7, 26.11, 71.23, Yt22.39) (See Dhalla, History of Zoroastrianism, pg 232-243, 375-378).

They manifest the energy of God, and preserve order in the creation. They are said to fly like winged birds, and are represented with wings on their backs.  The Yazatas, or 'adorable ones', are created spiritual beings, worthy of being honored or praised. Like the Amesha Spentas ("Archangels") they personify abstract ideas and virtues, or concrete objects of nature. The Yazatas, Zoroastrianims teaches, are always trying to help people, and protect them from evil (cf. Dk3, ch. 66). We would know these as angels, or cherubs (from the Hebrew word Keruv).

IN THE SCRIPTURES
What, then, are these malachim, s'tanim and keruvim mentioned in the scriptures?  Very simply, each one represents an expression of the will of God. Malachim, from the Hebrew word for messenger, only appear with a message from God.  S'tanim, from the Hebrew word for accuser, only appear as an obstacle sent from God against man.  Keruv is a little bit more evasive word; it either means "hybrid" or, by a metathesis, "mount," "steed."  In Caananite mythology the keruvim were the terrible winged beasts that the sky god rode through the air on.  These beings alone may have been represented with wings - but they would have been represented as winged animals.  In the Torah, they appear in connection with protection.  For example, it was keruvim that were placed outside the Garden of Eden to guard its way; keruvim also symbolically guarded the ark of the covenant.

Whether these entities mentioned above (malahcim, s'tanim and keruvim) has been an element of debate in Karaism.  Daniel al-Qumisi, a Karaite scholar of the tenth century, believed that the angels collectively were nothing more than forces of nature used to express God's will.  Other scholars have held that the angels were actual beings.  The important thing to remember, regardless, is that angels - whatever they may be - are nothing like the common conception held about them in the popular mind.


*The word angelos in Greek, where we derive our word angel from, means messenger.