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Angels in Yefet ben-Eli

The following passage is a discourse on angels by Yefet ben Eli Hallewi, one of the most prominent commentators in ancient Karaite thought. 

This material has been reprinted with permission from Angels and Fire:  The Commentaries of Yefet ibn Ali Hallewi on Daniel and Nahum © 2000 gan-eiden Press, all rights reserved.

Now, no clear text of Scripture denies the possibility of God's having created angels; nor does the reason reject it. Neither can their existence be rejected, whether we hold they are accidents, or that they are created and destroyed. Angels are mentioned in the Scriptures in many places, in two different ways. Sometimes they appear sensibly and are witnessed by people, like any other visible object; sometimes they appear in dreams, and there too like other objects. Instances of the first type of appearance were witnessed by Jacob, Moses, Balaam, Joshua, Gideon, Manoah, David, Nebuchadnezzar, and Daniel. Instances of the second type of appearance were witnessed by Abimelech (as some think), Jacob, and Balaam. Their voices too have been heard without their being seen, as by Hagar, Abraham, Samuel, and David. These all occur in our Chronicles, and there is no ground for rejecting these texts. It is known that nothing but body can be perceived by the sense of the eye: and that an accident cannot exist by itself. An angel therefore must have a body. Now, a body cannot bring itself into existence. It must have a Creator to create it. Furthermore, it is a thing which persists. An angel, therefore, being created must be capable of persistence; and what is there to necessitate his annihilation?

If any one holds that an angel is only created for the moment, for the sake of a message or something similar, and when it is finished, there is no reason why he should endure - what, we ask, indicates that he is created at the moment - or created merely for the message or purpose which renders him for the moment necessary? If you say: 'Then what has the angel to do besides delivering messages and similar tasks?' We answer: To praise and glorify his Creator. Is not the prophet too chosen to deliver a message? Nevertheless, he is not created merely to speak [and then be destroyed]. We find, in fact, in our accounts that angels do endure. Thus the Glory abode with the children of Israel nine hundred years. Daniel says of Gabriel, and the man Gabriel, whom I had seen in the Vision at the beginning, and a year had elapsed between the two occasions. Nor can we suppose the second Gabriel was merely like the first, who had been created a year before and then destroyed. That would not entitle the second to be [called] the same as the first. Again, there are the words of this angel who is speaking to Daniel, who says: 'I have been some time in war, and am going to fight those who remain:' see also 52.1. These verses point to their persistence. After this discussion there may be a stop put to the assertions of those who maintain that they are created for a moment and annihilated. As for their orders, doubtless some are higher than others; see our Commentary on Ezekiel, chap. 1, and Psalms 106.1.

Observe, too, that in this chapter (11) Daniel says of one like the similitude of a man, and tells us that he came near him, and was not afraid, whereas he was terrified and alarmed by the great angel. Such things are common in our books; and their powers are limited according as the Creator has given them. Observe that when Jacob wrestled with the angel, the angel was unable to get rid of him (Genesis 32.26). Though their forms are frightening, God has given men the ability to see them, except the great and mighty Glory which the blessed Messenger [Moses] asked God to show him, when He said 'you can not,' etc. (Exodus 33.20). This is a concise account of this matter. We would gladly explain what we have said on this subject in other places. It would not, however, be proper to introduce that subject in this place.