Angels, the spiritual messengers and servants of God, form an important part of Christian and Jewish beliefs. Angels feature extensively in the books of the Bible, but most details about their nature come from the deductions and speculation of religious scholars in later centuries. However, the Bible does occasionally mention particular classes of angels, such as seraphim, cherubim and archangels.
One type of angel clearly mentioned in the Bible is the seraphim, whose name means "burning" in Hebrew. Seraphim are creatures of radiant energy whose job is to proclaim the greatness of God. The Book of Isaiah describes them as "six-winged creatures."
Cherubim act not only as proclaimers of God, but also as throne-bearers -- ceremonial guardians of holy places and things. Their name may come from an ancient Akkadian word that means "pray" or "bless." The Bible suggests that cherubim take the form of impressive winged people or animals, but in the European Renaissance it became popular to depict them as innocent, chubby-faced children.
Archangels are a special category of angels serving as God's messengers and servants. These are some of the most prominent angels in the Bible, due to their direct appearances to God's people. Some traditions interpret the archangel Michael as being the only archangel, but others list several more, such as Gabriel and Raphael.
There are many other types of angels that some scholars list, but most sources of detailed information are not part of the Bible itself. The ancient Book of Enoch, which is not accepted into the Jewish or Christian Bibles, lists seven types of angels: the seraphim, the cherubim, the ofanim, the "angels of power," the "Principalities," the Messiah and "the powers of the earth and the water." An influential Christian work is Dionysius the Areopagite's "The Celestial Hierarchy," from around the year 500. In it, he reasons that God's angels are ranked into nine "choirs" within three "hierarchies": the first hierarchy includes the seraphim, cherubim and "Thrones"; the second the "Dominions," "Virtues" and "Powers"; and the third the Principalities, Archangels and common angels.
- University of Michigan News: The History of Angels: U-M Research
- The Jewish Encyclopedia: Angelology
- Michigan State University: Esoterica: Dionysius the Areopagite's The Celestial Hierarchy
- Christian Classics Ethereal Library: Ministering Spirits: Terms and Descriptions of Angels
- Dictionary.com: Cherub
- Claremont Coptic Encyclopedia: Archangel
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