fannishliss (fannishliss) wrote,
fannishliss
fannishliss

Angels

Is anyone curious about Angels in the Bible?  If so, this is the meta for you. 

Here is a meta on the Biblical nature of Angels.  I’m writing this kind of stubbornly; I don’t expect Kripke to adhere to the Bible – his source material is folkloric, not religious – and I don’t expect him to have any more respect for Biblical accuracy than he does for modern day Wiccans. I actually have more sympathy for the Wiccans, whose beliefs are not in the majority and which have historically been the object of violence, than I do for the Christian mythos, which has bled over into popular thought and so is fair game in my opinion.  I myself am a practicing Christian of the protestant variety, though I am heterodox and very open-minded, as I hope you’ll recognize by my other metas and comments and participation in general in SPN fandom! :)  However, for the purposes of this meta I want to talk about the Nature of Angels as described in the Hebrew and Christian Testaments. (For further reading there is an informative article about angels at http://www.bible.org/page.php?page_id=711. 
This article takes an evangelical tone but it gives a fairly comprehensive overview of how angels are presented in the Bible, especially the first half of the article.)

So far on Supernatural we have met two Angels, Castiel and Uriel. Of the two, Uriel is more well-known in folklore, as one of the four major Archangels, along with Gabriel and Michael (who are mentioned by name in the Bible) and Raphael (who is mentioned by name in the Apocryphal book of Tobit).  Uriel’s name is found in the non-canonical book of Enoch. Uriel, whose name means “flame of God,” has been identified as one of the bearers of the flaming swords, so that might be why he has such disdain for mudmonkeys – he was there at the “casting out of Eden.” Learn more about the book of Enoch at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Book_of_Enoch --it is especially interesting regarding Azazel and Samyaza.

On Supernatural, Angels are presented as powerful beings.  Castiel has a high-pitched, destructive True Voice and a dangerous True Visage (having burnt out the eyes of psychic Pamela Barnes and several demons).   The Angels on Supernatural claim to be doing the Lord’s will, but they are not omniscient. They are powerful enough to transport Dean through time or to destroy a whole town (Uriel is a “specialist”—perhaps he was there at Sodom and Gomorrah?).

If Angels are presented as powerful supernatural beings on the show, how are they presented in the Bible?  This is not as easy a question as it might first appear. In the stories of Genesis, we meet Angels who convey the blessings of the Lord and carry out God’s will.   Technically, Angels are the Messengers of God.  The word Angel is from the Greek, aggelos, pronounced angelos, meaning messenger.  The Hebrew word is Malakh, messenger.   In the book of Genesis, the Messengers of God appear and often stand in for God, that is, sometimes they are taken for men, angels, or God, all in the same passage.  It can be very confusing, because the being will be described as an Angel of the Lord, yet then be referred to or speak in the voice of the Lord.  The quandary this presents to our Show is that the Angels we meet, who are not omniscient, nevertheless sometimes speak with the authority of God – but not always, as is indicated by the disagreements between Castiel and Uriel in 4.07. These Angels clearly have free will, as Castiel chides Uriel that he approaches blasphemy when he criticizes humanity. (edit:  I read an interesting comment about angels vs. Djinn, which stated that in Islam, Angels are considered to be slaves of God with no free will -- I'd be interested to hear from someone who knows more firsthand.)

The first Angels we meet in the book of Genesis are the Cherubim who are given a flaming sword to defend the tree of Life when Adam and Eve are cast out of the Garden (Gen 3:24).  Remember that there are two Creation stories; the Angels are not mentioned in either as created beings, but are spoken of elsewhere in the Bible as created beings (Ps 148; Job 38: 4-7) who seem to have been created prior to the Earth.  (When God refers to Godself in the plural, the word is Elohim in Hebrew, but does not mean a group of gods or God plus Angels.)  The Cherubim are presented as tireless and eternal.  One imagines the swords of flame spinning for all eternity as the Cherubim ceaselessly guard the gate. The name of Uriel is sometimes associated with these Cherubim.

The Serpent who tempts Eve in the Second Creation Story (Gen 3) is not identified as Satan, demon, or fallen angel, but as a subtle beast. (It is in Revelation 12: 9 where the Serpent is conflated with the Devil or Satan.)

The beginning of chapter six tells about the Nephilim or Anakim, the offspring of women and the Sons of God.  They are giants or men of renown. They seem to be the Hebrew equivalent of Heroes like Hercules or Gilgamesh.  Not much is said directly, but just after that, the earth is filled with wickedness so that God plans the flood. In the canonical Bible, no Angels are involved with the Flood, its aftermath, or the destruction of Babel. (More about Angels and Women, below.)

In the stories of the patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, Angels are mentioned rather frequently. It’s important to note that these men, especially Jacob, receive the blessing of God’s grace without particularly meriting it.  Were Dean to read the story of Jacob, a trickster at the very least, he might find it illuminating that Jacob receives the Blessings of his father and God through his own insistent machinations, not through obedience.

I find it very interesting that Angels twice interact directly with Hagar, mother of Ishmael. Hagar is a slave girl, not a patriarch or anyone important in the eyes of the world, yet Angels come to her with significant messages.  The first time, Sarah gives her handmaid Hagar to Abraham to bear a child for her, and when Hagar conceives, she and Sarah fight, and Hagar flees; in the desert an Angel comes and tells her to return, to submit to Sarah, and that Ishmael, her son, shall also be the head of a great nation and that no one will tame him (ch 16). So this Angel gives her hard news but also a word of mercy – that altho she should return and submit to Sarah, her son will survive their oppression to become a great nation.  The second time an Angel comes to Hagar, in chapter 21, Hagar and Ishmael have been expelled into the desert.  Abraham has been promised that Ishmael will survive and prosper, but it doesn’t say whether he told Hagar this.  She runs out of water and despairs, but an Angel of the Lord comes and tells her directly that Ishmael will prosper. The words of the Angel are comforting and reminiscent of the Gabriel’s words to Mary in the Annunciation:  “What aileth thee, Hagar?  Fear not; for God hath heard the voice of the lad where he is.  Arise, lift up the lad, and hold him in thine hand; for I will make him a great nation.”  The Angel of the Lord comes to Hagar and Ishmael to help and bless them in their time of adversity, despite the fact that Ishmael is not specially chosen by God.

Angels come appear to Abraham several times. In ch 18, Abraham entertains three Angels, one of whom appears to be the Lord.   Sarah laughs to herself in the tent, and they know about it. It’s right after this that the Angels and the Lord intend to destroy Sodom and Abraham argues with the Lord to spare Sodom if righteous men can be found there. In chapter 19, the two Angels arrive in Sodom and greet Lot. He escorts them to his house, and when the men of Sodom surround the house and threaten them, the two Angels “put forth their hand, and pulled Lot into the house with them, and shut the door, and they smote the men that were at the door of the house with blindness,” so they couldn’t find the door.  They told Lot they had been sent to destroy the city, and after Lot and his daughters left, the Lord destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah with fire and brimstone.

I'd like to add here some more information that was brought forward by greek scholar, Dr. Ann Nyland, at this article http://ezinearticles.com/?Gay-and-Christian?-Its-OK---Why-Sodom-Really-Was-Destroyed&id=1640363. 
Oftentimes the destruction of Sodom is used as evidence of a Biblical condemnation of homosexuality, yet apparently something different is at work (besides what I personally think, that the inhabitants were punished for being rapists, prideful and violent, not for being homosexual).     This Greek Scholar points out that the Sodom story echoes other early angelic lore in its condemnation of Angels (the sons of God) having sex with women (the daughters of men) as mentioned in Gen 6. The men of Sodom lust after "strange flesh"  meaning particularly the flesh of angels.   Apparently lore about the taboo against sex with angels, including the book of Enoch, persisted into the time of Christ, when the Epistle of Jude was written, or when the Apostle Paul wrote that women should keep their heads covered "because of the angels" (I Cor 11:10). It makes me sad for Castiel though, if he should not have hopes for Dean!  ;)  (Of course on the Show, Castiel is possessing someone else's body, and this old Angelic lore sounds like the Angels may have had "flesh" of their own.)

In chapter 22, God “tempts” Abraham by sending him to kill Isaac as a sacrifice.  He is on the point of stabbing his son when an Angel of the Lord calls his name and says “Lay not thine hand upon the lad... for now I know that thou fearest God, seeing thou has not withheld thy son, thine only son, from me.”   This is a very hard story to interpret, because in it God asks a father to prepare to sacrifice his beloved son; in Christian terms, it prefigures the sacrifice God makes of God's own son on the cross. The story  is also echoed in the Winchesters’ story by how Dean is asked to “stop” Sam, should he turn bad. In the Isaac story, an Angel calls a halt to the sacrifice and provides a literal scapegoat. Will Angels prevent another heartrending sacrifice among the Winchesters?

Jacob has two encounters with Angels.  The first is the dream Jacob had at Bethel (ch. 28) in which he dreams that angels are going up and down from Heaven by a ladder, and the Lord is at the top. This dream occurs after he incited the wrath of Esau by first gaining his birthright and then tricking Isaac into giving him Esau’s blessing as well – despite being a liar and a thief, the Lord blesses him in this dream.  He then goes to work for Laban, and after he has married both Leah and Rachel and made his fortune, he is on his way home to reconcile with Esau when he meets the Angel of the Lord (who is described as “a man”) and he wrestles with him.  He wrestles with “the man” all night, and in the morning refuses to let go until he is blessed.  After he receives the blessing in which his name is changed to Israel, “for he has striven with God and with Man, and has prevailed” he realizes that he was wrestling with an Angel, and calls the place Peniel, face of God.   In this episode, Jacob strives with someone he thinks is a man, but he realizes it is God when the Man renames him, blessing him for his ability to Strive with God and man and prevail.  So Jacob becomes Israel because of his willingness to oppose God – not by meekly obeying.

In Exodus, an Angel of the Lord appears to Moses in the burning bush (Ex 3-4), and this angel speaks with the voice of God.  In Exodus 12 – 13, when we commonly speak of the Angel of Death, no Angel is mentioned, but instead it is the Lord that smites the firstborn of Egypt. In general, in Exodus, the Lord and Moses speak directly, or the Lord appears as a cloud or a pillar of fire, without sending Angels.

In the stories of Abraham, Sarah, and Hagar, Lot, and Jacob, the Angels are not always sent to people who are perfect or highly respected.  In terms of the Winchesters, Sam and Dean ought to take comfort from the book of Genesis.  According to the example of Genesis, it is right to argue with God if you think God is being unfair.  It is right to demand that God keep you safe and bless you even if you are badly behaved. And it is right to expect God to take care of you and your family when you are in a life-threatening situation. In fact, it is right to hold God accountable for what the Angels are threatening to do.

I don’t really have time to talk about everything the Angels do in the Revelation.  Basically they break the seals and release the Tribulation; also they praise the Lord a lot. Chapter 12 is of particular interest, since it names Michael in verse 7: “And there was war in Heaven: Michael and his Angels fought against the dragon, and the dragon fought, and his angels, and prevailed not... and the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world, and he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him” (Rev 12: 7-9).   Note that this seems to be a prophecy of things to come in the endtime, not things that have already occurred, unless they are always constantly occurring.  There is also some discussion of Michael and Enochian imagery in the one-chapter Epistle of Jude.  The imagery of the Book of Revelation is influenced by eschatological imagery in the Books of Daniel and Ezekiel – especially the Cherubim, Angels who are like wheels, living creatures with wings, etc.

I was also interested to discover a reference to Lucifer in my old King James Bible. (For those who might be interested, I have the world’s cutest KJV, a tiny white Bible inscribed with the Order of the Eastern Star – the sister organization of the Masons.)  In the New Revised Standard Version, preferred for scholarly work, there is no reference to Lucifer; but in the old language, “Lucifer” appears in Isaiah 14:12.  It’s a poetic passage of divine justice, carried out against a Babylonian king who carries the titles of Day Star and Son of the Morning.  He pridefully aspires to displace God in Heaven and is thrown into Sheol (the pit). The story echoes the destruction of prideful Babel. The idea that Satan fell with a third of the angels seems to come from Rev 12:4, in which the dragon sweeps down with his tail a third of the stars of heaven.

So, what can we learn about the nature of Angels?  After all this, I’m still not sure.  They certainly appear in the Bible in the forms of men, delivering the Words of the Lord, and carrying out Divine Judgment. This is why Angelic Lore is so much more exciting than Biblical Angels, who are the messengers of God and do God’s will without much improvisation on their own parts. This is not to say that they never speak words of Mercy of Divine love, because they often do.  Yet they can be terrifying to look upon (witness the story of Balaam and the Ass, who saw the Angel blocking the road and refused to proceed), or the many kinds of Angels that appear in the different eschatological narratives.

Do angels have free will?  I have to argue that they do.  Simply because they have never exercised their will in order to disobey God, does not mean they do not have that choice. The primary difference between Angels and Humans is that Angels exist in the direct knowledge of God (but are not omniscient themselves) whereas humans have to discern God through the use of their own heart, mind, and spirit.

So Castiel and Uriel may KNOW God’s will, but it’s up to Sam and Dean, as humans, to decide how to act on it. And it’s also incumbent upon Sam and Dean to insist that God have mercy, regardless of whether they believe themselves to deserve it.
Tags: angels, castiel, episcopagan, heavymeta, meta
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