How did the depiction of God in Ezekiel 1 become likened to angels?

I don’t say a lot about angels in this class, but angels as we come to understand them (flying beings who are intercessors for God) come pretty late in biblical history, and this is why they often resemble the Babylonian or Persian art encountered in exile. The Hebrew god was supposed to be formless or “aniconic” (without image or likeness), and though Ezekiel tried to represent God as “something like” a creature in a chariot born by winged cherubim, these were interpreted by later readers as angels.

We see named angels named for the first time in Daniel (165 BCE), which was a Hellenistic work with some Hebrew and some Aramaic passages (some additions in the Apocrypha were written in Greek). Daniel mentions Gabriel and Michael, who are called “princes” and don’t have wings. By the New Testament Gabriel is called “angelos” in the gospels (“angelos” was also a word for “messenger,” so you can see why people linked Torah “malakh” or “messengers” with Greek angels.)

But we see the closest connection between Ezekel’s cherubim and angels in Revelation and other apocalyptic texts, which tended to borrow Ezekiel’s imagery for imagining the end times. In Revelation, Michael gives the speaker a book to eat (an image from Isaiah) in order to prophesy. This Micahel has a rainbow on his head, one foot on sea and one on shore, and fiery feet. Another apocalyptic text, Enoch, mentions cherubim and seraphim (a winged serpent mentioned in Isaiah and possibly derived from Assyrian or Egyptian art) as being near the throne of God. By the middle ages, cherubim and seraphim are orders of angels in both Rabbinic and Christian works, but exactly how that happens is not clear to me.

Coogan, who edited our textbook, believes the named angels we see in Daniel, intertestamental stories like Tobit, and Luke evolved primarily from Persian thought; Persia’s Zoroastrian religion was dualistic, meaning it divided divine beings into good and bad, God and the Devil, angels and demons. At any rate, by the first century BCE, we see references not only to Michael and Gabriel as angels but to demons, magic fish, and the first references to a devil called Azazel (eventually associated with the New Testament Satan, who is definitely not the same dude as the Hebrew “Satan,” a prosecuting attorney of sorts working for God). 

If you read the bible in English, of course, you may have seen the word “angel” in early parts of the bible, but these creatures were really part of a pantheon of Gods called Ben Elohim (sons of El)–in other words, the large Canaanite pantheon that included Baal, Anat, Asherah, Yam, and others. We also see “malakh” or messengers from God in the Torah, but though these are often translated into English as “angels,” they weren’t described as having wings and haloes until the New Testament. (The haloes were appropriated from sun-god worship during Roman times; Sol Invictus was considered the official God of late empire times, and Mithras, who birthday was appropriated by followers of Jesus, also  usually had a halo or sunburst. )

Angels in apocryphal Greek works like Tobit answer human prayers and do God’s’ bidding. Angels in Rabbinic literature are often in competition with human beings, but in the Kabbala, angels are a kind of emanation in a level above the human realm. In early Christian thought, saints and martyrs often took on the intercessory function of angels, such as virgin Mary’s of various locales or Saint Frances or St Thomas of Becket. I am not sure when people decided that humans themselves could join the order of angels after they die; more research needed!

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