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?
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
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.