Angels and the Heavenly Host

MALACHIM - מַלְאָכִים

From the root LA'ACH (לָאָך) = "a messenger", "minister" or "servant"; the word was probably Ethiopian originally.

Not connected to MELECH (מֶלֶךְ) = "a king", which is spelled quite differently (the Aleph - א - is missing).

Not connected to MELACH (מלח) = "salt" either, as in Yam ha Melach, the Dead Sea (that has a final-letter Chet - ח).

Malachim are generally translated as "angels", which they were not, if we are to understand angels in the modern sense of fairies with wings who sit on top of Christmas trees, and look like Barbie dolls, which are female, where all the angels mentioned in the Bible are un-hermaphroditically male. The Malachim were the messengers of the gods, something in the manner of Hermes to Zeus or Loge (Loki) to Wotan (Woden, Odin), and invariably came in human, or at least predominantly human shape; and as such it would be better to call them "archangels", in the way that there are bishops, but above them there are arch-bishops. To the Persians, from whom the Jews acquired them, they were simply lesser gods of the ancient pantheon, not included in the "Olympian" twelve who later became tribes. In all likelihood they were first and foremost the twelve constellations of the Zodiac, who sent out the messages of the gods in the form of light; angelology therefore a prelude to astrology and horoscope readings.

The Malachim named in the Tanach, or elsewhere in Judaic scriptures, are:

1) SAMA-EL (
סַמָּאֵל): named 
Samil in the Babylonian myths, he is also known as Satan in Christian mythology, though this should not be confused with, or mistaken for, the figure of Ha Satan (הַשָּׂטָן) in Jewish mythology, though there are similarities in that Sama-El means "Venom of El" or "Poison of El," and his role is that of an accuser, seducer and destroyer; but more in the Inquisitional sense of a "Devil's Advocate" than the full-scale scales and forked tail. He was originally the patron-god of Samal, a Hittite-Aramaic kingdom to the east of Charan (חָרָן - see Genesis 11:31). Later versions, especially Christian ones, held that the serpent of Eden was in fact Satan in disguise: i.e. the Archangel Sama-El. Sama-El is also accredited by some as having fathered Kayin (Cain) upon Chava (Eve): this may account for the false rendering of "Kaniti ish et YHVH - קניתי איש את-יהוה" (Genesis 4:1) as "I have gotten a child from YHVH". Sama-El is also linked to the Gnostic Cosmocrator or Demiurge, Ophion.

2) RAZI-EL (רזיאל)‎‎: The name means "Keeper of the Secret[s] of El". He is very much a figure out of Jewish mysticism, especially Kabbalah, where his name is usually translated as "Angel of Mysteries". He is associated with Sephirat Chochmah (the second of ten; the name means "sphere of wisdom"; written phonetically as Chokhmah in the attached illustration) in Beri'ah, one of the Four Worlds of Kabbalistic theory - but rather than me trying to explain what I don't even want to try to understand, click here and make of it what you will. 

Shlomo (Solomon) is said to have possessed "a work of wisdom based on astrology" (the two concepts are logically incompatible, but let that be) and called the "Book of Razi-El". The idea of such a book is first mentioned in Enoch 33, which notes that Elohim dictated such a book to Chanoch (Enoch), and then appointed two angels - Samuil and Raguil, or Semil and Rasuil - to accompany Enoch back to Earth with them. Samuil is presumably a variation on Sama-El, and Rasuil likewise of Razi-El. This may well be the same "Book of Razi-El" which was purportedly given by the angel Razi-El to Adam, who passed it on by generation until it reached Shlomo. But all of this suggests a very late development of angels in Jewish myth. See also my notes to the serpent cult.

3) YAHO-EL (יהואל): Where Sama-El belongs to superstition and Razi-El to mysticism, Yaho-El belongs to the cult of Metatron, and is, at least in the folk-lore of the Babylonian Talmud, yet one more early and alternate version of what will eventually become Christian Satan - here the most senior of the seventy Seraphim, those celestial beings that exist one level of the hierarchy down from the archangels. The name is probably a variant of YAHU-EL, which is itself a masculinisation of the moon-goddess Yah, combined with the male sun-god El, the marriage of the Beney Chet (Hittite) moon-goddess with the Beney Kena'an (Canaanite) sun-god, as is the name Yo-El (
יואל - Joel), by which Yaho-El is also sometimes known. We can see in the development of Jewish angels something akin to the development of the early Christian saints, and a parallel with the creation of Shophtim or Judges in the Book of Judges – the need to absorb and thereby obliterate the rival cults of neighbouring groups by finding a way to make them native and aboriginal to the absorbing cult. By allowing the invented Yahu-El an archangelic existence, those who worshiped Yah and El in their polytheistic form were placated, those who reviled the paganism could apply cognitive dissonance and move on. In the UK we have achieved the same result with such figures as King Arthur, Robin Hood, Ned Ludd and Guy Faux (Fawkes).

מִיכָאל): In the latter chapters of the Book of Judges we follow a character named Michahyehu (מִיכָיְהוּ) who, as suggested in the commentary, is really Michah-Yahu; the Yahu, as with Yaho-El above, a masculinisation of Yah (monotheistic Judaism is strictly patriarchal and has attempted to eradicate the female principle entirely, leaving only the amorphous Shechinah as a condescension to the original male-female equality and duality of Genesis 1:27). Micha-El was probably a later attempt to achieve the same goal, it obviously having failed to eradicate the pagan cults. It will be worthwhile comparing the known stories of Micha-El with those in chapters 17 and 18 of the Book of Judges and the later Prophet Michah, to see what emerges.

5) GABRI-EL (גבריאל): Gabriel's day was Monday; he was the messenger of She'ol, the Hebrew underworld, best known through the story of King Sha'ul's persecution of David, which is the Hebrew equivalent of the Twelve Labours performed by Hercules for King Eurystheus. Gabri-El is the equivalent of Hermes, who is English Herne, Egyptian Thoth.

6) HEYL-EL. Also known, quite erroneously, as LUCIFER; Lucifer in fact is never so much as mentioned in the Tanach, but often translated as if he were - in the King James version of Isaiah 14:12-15 for example, where the Yehudit text reads "Aych naphalta mi shamayim Heyl-El ben Shachar 
- אֵיךְ נָפַלְתָּ מִשָּׁמַיִם, הֵילֵל בֶּן-שָׁחַר - how you are fallen from the heavens, bright son of the dawn", which is to say the morning star; but in Isaiah it is simply a metaphor for the future defeat of the King of Babel

This Lucifer, or correctly Heyl-El, as "son of the dawn" was the chief archangel (the name is probably derived from Hallal-El = "praiser of El") and a keruv (cherub) who walked in Eden wearing an array of precious jewels (Isaiah 14:12-17); he dreamed of supplanting god, was cast down from Eden to Earth (the only hint in the Tanach that Eden was not on Earth), then to She'ol, falling like lightning and reduced to ashes (cf Enoch 29:4). Isaiah refers to his god as Elyon, who we know from Genesis 14:18-22 as the god of Melchi-Tsedek, king of Shalem.

The "bright son of the dawn" may originally have referred to the planet Venus, which was sacred to Ishtar. Chanphey Shachar (כַנְפֵי-שָׁחַר) = "wings of the dawn" is used metaphorically in Psalm 139:9, though it has been treated by some translators as a literal reference to a winged deity. Ugaritic mythology made him into Ba'al son of El, the twin brother of Shalem = Perfect. Heylel's mountain of the north which he aspired to ascending is Tsaphon (צפון), where Ba'al's throne is said to have stood. When Ba'al was killed by Mot, his sister-wife Anat buried him there. Anat is known to the Hebrews from Beit Anatot, later Christian Bethany, where the father of the Prophet Yirme-Yahu (Jeremiah) was a priest. Tsaphon is now Jebel Aqra, at the mouth of the Orontes river; the Hittites called it Mount Hazzi, where Teshub, the storm-god, his brother Tasmisu (sometimes Tashmishu), and his sister Ishtar saw the monster Ullikummi and killed him. The Greeks called it Mount Casius, home of the monster Typhon and the she-monster Delphyne who imprisoned Zeus in the Corycian Cave until Pan subdued Typhon with a shout and Hermes rescued Zeus; though this may be the Mount Casius in Egypt, rather than the one in Anatolia.

The legend of Phaethon also seems to have been added or merged; Phaethon fell driving Helios' sun chariot. In Babylon, Venus was Ishtar and a ritual telling of the Phaethon story was performed to her each year, ending with a human sacrifice. In Greek, Phaethon was the son of Apollo, but later the son of the goddess Eos (the Dawn); Hesiod says Aphrodite (likewise a variation of Ishtar) made him her temple guard. The king of Tsur (Tyre) worshiped Ishtar and made sacrifice to Melkart (Ruler of the City).

Ezekiel 28:11-19 offers a prophesy that, to us, reading it today, appears to echo the fall of Lucifer, but in fact is a prophesy of the fall of the city of Tsur (Tyre). The concept of Lucifer belongs to a post-Hebrew cult.

Enoch 29:4/5 - a first century BCE text that was discovered in the cave of Qumran in the 1950s CE - tells that "one from out the order of angels, having turned away with the order that was under him, conceived an impossible thought, to place his throne higher than the clouds above the Earth, that he might become equal in rank to my power. And I threw him out from the height with his angels, and he was flying in the air continuously above the bottomless." This may well be readable today as Lucifer, but whoever he was then, it was not yet Lucifer. 

The idea of monstrous conspiracy against the ruling deity runs through all these myths. The Bull-God El also ruled here, though there are no legends of conspiracy against him.

7) AZRA-EL. Azrail was the angel of death in the Ethiopian myth of Akaf. The Hebrew equivalent is AZRA-EL (עזראל), which some believe to be a variant of Yisra-El itself, as Ya'akov (Jacob) may be a variant of Akaf. The name means "helper of El", which is interesting, because the High Priest in Yehoshu'a's time, the son of Aharon himself, was named El-Azar (אֶלְעָזָר), the same name in reverse (think of Theodor and Dorothea as equivalents).

8) SHEM-HAZAI: Who goes by many variants of the same name, including Semihazah, Shemyazaz, Shemyaza, Sêmîazâz, Semjâzâ, Samjâzâ, Semyaza. He only appears in the apocryphal writings, both Jewish and Christian, and appears to be drawn from the Greek concept of the Grigori or "Watchers". The name probably means "famous rebel". In the Persian story, which is the likely origin, he is called Semjâzâ, and his name indicates that he alone knows the true but secret name of the Hebrew god; in one tale he makes a bargain with a human named Istahar to tell her the name; but this is likely a late version and in the earlier one it would have been the goddess Ishtar, whose own name is barely concealed here.

A Midrash concerning Shemhazai and Aza-El names Metatron, which may be an alternative name for Chanoch or Enoch; it also presents Aza-El as a variant of Azaz-El.

9) AZA-EL: Also called Azaz-El, the scapegoat of the Hebrews at the beginning of the agricultural year (which is why Rosh Ha Shana now falls in the autumn). Previously, from Kayin (Cain), it must have been a scape-bull, but changed when the cosmological epoch shifted from Taurus to Aries.

10) RAPHA-EL: The angel of healing, the chief patron of the Essenes and an equivalent of Aesculapius. Rapha (רפא)in Hebrew means "to heal".

11) URI-EL: The messenger of salvation.

12) DUDA-EL: Probably an erroneous form of Beit Hadudo or Haradan near Yerushalayim, from which cliff the scapegoat Azaz-El was thrown on Yom Kippur (Leviticus 16:8-10). In the same way Azaz-El has come to be thought of as a place, because the scapegoat was sent there. The word Duda or Dudo comes from the same root as David, so the original Beit Hadudo would have meant "Temple of the Beloved One", an epithet for Tammuz, who is the Babylonian origin of David; it may also be connected to the Ugaritic Ba'al Hadad, who is elsewhere identified with Rimmon and with Teshub.


Keruvim (cherubim) are storm-cloud angels according to Psalm 18:11, but not according to Genesis 3:24 or to Ezekiel 1 and 10; and most definitely they are not as the mediaeval painters depicted them, as little babies with wings; click the link (here) for an illustration and more detail.


(the essay that follows is adapted from my book "A Myrtle Among Reeds", The Argaman Press, 2013, and repeats some of the material above)

A section of the daily prayer service in Judaism, known as Kedushah, reflects the angelology. The first phrase states that: "Then they [the angels] all accept upon themselves the yoke of heavenly sovereignty from one another, and grant permission to one another to sanctify the one who formed them, with tranquility, with clear articulation, and with sweetness. All of them as one proclaim his holiness and say with awe…" After which the congregation, on behalf of the angels, pronounces the Kedushah: "Holy, holy, holy, Lord of the Hosts of Heaven, the whole Earth is filled with glory." The phrase is taken from Isaiah 6:3, and is recited aloud, usually with gentle gusto, by the congregation, after which the chazan repeats it, and adds one of the oddest, most abstruse of lines: "Ve-ha-ophanim ve-chayot ha-kodesh be-ra'ash gadol mitnasim le-umat seraphim - then the Ophanim and the Chayot ha-kodesh raise themselves towards the Seraphim, making a great noise; facing them they give praise."

Isaiah 6 takes this a little further.

"In the year that king Uzi-Yahu died I saw the Lord seated on His throne, high and lifted up, and His trail filled the Temple; seraphim stood above to minister to Him, each one had six wings; with two He covered His face, with two His feet, and with two He flew…then one of the seraphim flew towards me with a live coal in his hands…" (vv 1-6)

This is the Damascene moment, Isaiah's cataleptic fit or haoma-induced hallucinogenic trance, in which his unclean lips are purged by coals of fire - as, in the Midrash, were those of the infant Moses - and he becomes the spokesman of his god. Commentators insist that these seraphim are an order of angel, but there is nothing angelic, in the Christmas tree sense, about this creature; on the contrary, a six-winged opponent for King Arthur sounds far more plausible. And of course, in the Holy of Holies in the First Temple, there stood two winged keruvim (cherubim), described by Ezekiel as living creatures, each having four faces, of a lion, an ox, an eagle, and a man; with the stature and hands of a man, the feet of a calf, and four wings, two extended upward, meeting above and sustaining the throne of YHVH, while the other two stretched downward and covered the creatures themselves. No abstract divinity here, as in the empty Holy of Holies of the Second Temple!

But the text here speaks of seraphim, not cherubim, and requires a different reading. Moses' banner, Nechushtan, was a fiery serpent made of brass. To the Egyptians, from whom we can safely assume that Moses learned it, it was the Aesculapius, the symbol of healing and wisdom, which reappears in later Hebrew as Chochma, who built the mansion of seven pillars and seven houses which T.E. Lawrence cited as the title of his memoirs: "The Seven Pillars of Wisdom". That Nechushtan should be the name of a seraph is made still more likely when the calling of Ezekiel is compared. For "I looked, and behold a whirlwind came out of the north..." Ezekiel (1:4 ff) witnesses four extraordinary creatures - John of Patmos later mistook them for the four beasts of the apocalypse - "chayot ha-kodesh" in Isaiah's phrase, and much like the seraphim, right down to the fact that all four of them "sparkled like the colour of burnished brass - notsetsim ke-eyn nechoshet kalal." Nechoshet - the root word for Nechushtan.

What though of the ophanim? To remain in Egypt for a further moment, the wheel was depicted there in Pharonic times as a quartered circle or mandala, with the head of Horus in the northern quarter, and the heads of Isis, Osiris and Set in the other three. It was a sacred object, and used as a focus of concentration in worship, hence its other name, "the wheel of prayer". But in Persia it was known as "the wheel of fire" and it was depicted as a square cross with angled tips and called a swastika; the "lahat ha-cherev" or "flaming sword" of the Garden of Eden.

If we accept these two - the seraph and the ophanim - then the holy beasts are easy, for in Egyptian mythology all the gods were depicted as beasts, and all had taboo animals attached to them. As Elohim is the sky-god Ra in his Hebrew form, so we can deduce the chayot ha-kodesh as the bull Merwer and the bird Bennu. We can also begin to understand what the Heavenly Host must have consisted of. If Elohim is the Sun who dominates the sky, and His consort is the moon, why, what else can the Heavenly Host of angels be but stars? Isaiah 14:12 confirms this, calling the fallen angel "the morning star". Job 38:7 confirms it too, when God speaks out of the same whirlwind in which He will later address Ezekiel and recalls the Creation of the world: "when the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of Elohim shouted for joy." This, as Borges observes, makes the angels two days and two nights older than the rest of us, for the stars were created on the fourth day.

[note that, in Yoma 67B - see "Day of Atonement" page 100 - the D’vei of Rabbi Yishma-El regarded the goat-ritual as an atonement for the acts of the fallen angels, specifically Uzza and Aza-Eel, whose names, they claimed, had become mixed up. The First Book of Chanoch (Enoch), some fragments of which were discovered at Qumran and form part of the Dead Sea Scrolls, but most of which has survived only in Ethiopian translations, treats Azazel, or Aza-El, as one of the leaders of the angels who desired the daughters of men (Genesis 6:1-4), and taught the skills of manufacturing weaponry and ornaments (Genesis 8:1-2). Almost certainly we should read Aza-El as correct and regard any connections with the Azazel as merely the consequences of post-Biblical dyslexia.]

Later Jewish mythology of necessity rejected all this. In place of a pantheon of gods with attendant symbolic animals, it redefined the entire terminology, leaving unexplained where it could not come up with satisfactory alternatives. Some gods or demi-gods - Av-Raham, Shimshon (Samson), David - simply became mortal men, or Heroes anyway - Jewish Titans. The ophanim became one of the ten orders of angels which even Maimonides (Yesodei Ha Torah 2:7) agreed we lack the vocabulary to define - but still better an unexplained angelology for the Heavenly Host than a set of planetary deities. He called them: Chayot, Ophanim, Er-Elim, Chashmalim, Seraphim, Malachim, Elohim, Beney Elohim, Keruvim and Ishim - in my reading: Symbolic Beasts, Prayer-Wheels, Images of Brass, Winged Serpents, Messengers, Latter Gods, Contemporary Gods, Compound Creatures (the cherub, as we have seen, usually consists of man, ox, lion and eagle), and finally Mankind. These make up the Tseva'ot or Sabbaoth - the Host of Heaven.

All thee creatures then, to return to the phrase in the prayer that triggered this digression, give noisy praise to God, saying - and again the congregation recites the words: "Baruch kevod Adonay mimkomo… Blessed be the Name of the Lord from his place" - words taken from Ezekiel 3:12, an extraordinary coincidence in the light of my analysis, though Yechezke-El does not pronounce these words himself, but hears them "in a great rushing" - a "ra'ash gadol", precisely the same words, for the same sound, as in the Isaiah - right at the point of his vision where the spirit takes him up and carries him away to Tel-Aviv, the spring on the river Kevar where the remnant of Yisra-El has been taken captive. And as he hears that "great rushing" and those sacred words, so also does he hear "the wings of the living creatures (chayot) touching one another, and the noise of the wheels (ophanim) against them."

So the coincidences cannot be coincidences. So the circle of explanation is complete.

Where do the angels Micha-El and Gabri-El and all the others come from, if angel means something other than a messenger of God? The fact that each angel has a name ending -El, and a prefix denoting a role or attribute, allows them to be understood as Beney Kena'an (Canaanite), for El was the name of the principal deity whom Yahweh Elohim in his unity superseded. Micha-El in Hebrew is "mi-cha-El - who is like God", as Gabriel is "gavri-El - El is my strength". But the concept of these übermenschnik super-beings belongs to the Second Temple period, when Hellenisation was in full swing, and it is the figure of Hermes the messenger of the gods who comes to mind - the Romans called him Mercury - especially in the Christian Annunciation. Somewhere along the way the Rabbis tried to graft one strain - the Egyptian - on the other - the Hellenic, but unlike Aaron's Rod, it failed to blossom.

Ophanim are, properly speaking, wheels; chayot ha-kodesh are holy beasts. More complex are seraphim - not to be confused with teraphim, the stone idols kept as household gods or placed at the entrances to vineyards and orchards. The root of seraphim suggests "burning" though it also means "sucking", "swallowing" and "absorbing", any one of which might be applied to Smaug or Gollum. The English word "serpent" almost certainly derives from the root - saraph - in the form in which it appears in Numbers 21:6 (שְּׂרָפִים), as a species of venomous serpent. But Isaiah (14:29 and 30:6) uses it for a flying dragon - from an earlier Sanskrit root, sarpa = serpent, sarpin = reptile.


One final thought. If the 12 angels of the heavenly host were originally conceived of the 12 constellations of the zodiac, as is likely; and if, as is absolutely certain, the twelve-tribe or twelve-city confederations of the ancient world, like the twelve knights of the Round Table and the 12 disciples of Jesus later, were a paralleling on Earth of these twelve constellations, then we should be able to draw exact parallels between the earthly twelve and those in the heavenly host. Click the link to the essay on the Number Twelve for more on this.

Copyright © 2015, 2016 David Prashker
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The Argaman Press

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