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Guido Reni's archangel Michael (in the Capuchin church of Santa Maria della Concezione, Rome, 1636) tramples Satan.

Ancient Angels: Heavenly Messengers or Myths? The Origins of Cherubim – Part I

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If one does a Google search and types in “movies about angels”, you will receive a plethora of films that feature angels or what could be angels. Of course, this list includes the fallen ones as well. While Hollywood provides the films today, many people believe in the Heavenly beings from other sources – and have for thousands of years.

According to an Associated Press-GfK Poll that was conducted in 2011, nearly eight out of 10 Americans believe in angels. According to the report:

Belief is primarily tied to religion, with 88 percent of Christians, 95 percent of evangelical Christians, and 94 percent of those who attend weekly religious services of any sort saying they believe in angels.

Of course, the majority of believers are religious. However, “more than four in 10 of those who never attend religious services” believe in angels. While belief in such beings is subjective, it is without question interesting.

A colorized image from ‘Paradise Lost’

A colorized image from ‘Paradise Lost’ ( Public Domain )

Before continuing, understand that this piece does not endorse any particular religious beliefs. Rather, this article seeks to uncover the nature of angels and man from a historical perspective as to what mankind believes, and what the Hebrew biblical texts indicate. In other words, are they real or a figment of our imagination, or perhaps a combination of both? We will look at angels, but focus primarily on the origins of the cherubim.

Cherubim from Barton Turf Rood Screen, Norfolk, U.K.

Cherubim from Barton Turf Rood Screen, Norfolk, U.K. (Martin Harris/ CC BY-SA 4.0 )

Angel: The Messenger

According to the Oxford Dictionary, the word angel comes from the “Old English engel, ultimately via ecclesiastical Latin from Greek angelos ‘messenger’; superseded in Middle English by forms from Old French angele.” In Hebrew, the term angel means the same thing. Moreover, the word angel and the word spirit are interchangeable, but one has to be careful for there are a few times when the term angel has nothing to do with a spiritual being. In the Bible, depending on the context, an angel could be a human messenger as well. The book of Malachi 1:1 states, “This is the message that the Lord gave to Israel through the prophet Malachi.” While it is obvious that an angel can be human or a heavenly being, the term itself becomes somewhat generic due to its interchangeability within the physical and spiritual realms. The question that needs to be addressed is: what are these heavenly creatures so many people believe in? What are they, where do they come from, and what do they look like?

What are They?

So, what is an angel? The following texts are examples of where the term "angel of the Lord" can be read:

Genesis 16:7–14. The angel of the Lord appears to Hagar. 

Genesis 22:11–15. The angel of the Lord appears to Abraham.

Exodus 3:2–4. The angel of the Lord appears to Moses in a flame.

Numbers 22:22–38. The angel of the Lord meets the prophet Balaam on the road.  

Judges 2:1–3. The angel of the Lord appears to Israel.

Judges 6:11–23. The angel of the Lord appears to Gideon.

Judges 13:3–22. The angel of the Lord appears to Manoah and his wife.

However, one has to be mindful of the variances when reading these few passages provided. For at times, an angel is mentioned but then the Hebrew god, Yahweh (Lord)  is injected into the passage as the one who is present. Take Exodus 3:2–4 for example. The ‘angel of the Lord’ appears to Moses in a flame, but the voice coming from the flame is that of Yahweh. So, what does one make of this? Like with an ambassador or diplomat of any nation, a messenger usually comes first to announce the coming of his or her king, queen, prime-minster, president, etc. After the messenger makes the announcement, the leader takes over from there.

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Cam Rea  is an author and military historian. He has written numerous articles for Ancient Origins, Classical Wisdom Weekly, and has authored several books, including:  The Wars of Israel: A Military History of Ancient Israel from the End of Judges to Solomon

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Top Image: Guido Reni's archangel Michael (in the Capuchin church of Santa Maria della Concezione, Rome, 1636) tramples Satan. ( Public Domain );Detail.

By Cam Rea

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