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ngles have been depicted by humanity as the most blissful beings that could exist, of an exquisite divinity whilst still resembling human-like characteristics. But how accurate are these depictions of the actual appearance of angels as described in the Bible? Take for example the Cupid which humanity has depicted as an adorable infant with small wings when the truth is that this type of angel defined in the bible as Cerebus has quite a more ugly appearance.

The Bible says that there are several kinds of angels who serve God. Jewish philosopher Maimonides, who lived in the 12th century, assigned these beings a position in the hierarchy of Heaven based on significance. What arises is a description of four beings from that hierarchy that have been explained in detail in scripture, and the historical circumstances around their conceptualization.

Seraphim

Depiction of Seraphim By Theophanes the Greek (1378), Public Domain

The Seraphim are celestial beings that surround God’s throne and sing “holy, holy, holy” in unison when God approaches, according to the prophet Isaiah. According to the prophet, they have six wings, using two of them for flight and the other four for covering their heads and feet. Seraphim have the second-highest position in Maimonides’ hierarchy of angels.

From its name, one can infer the Seraphim’s historical influences. Seraphim is a translation of the Hebrew word seraph, which in English means “to blaze.” Further research reveals that “Saraph” in Hebrew means “venomous desert snake.” The cobra was referred to as “the blazing one” in ancient Egypt. Its emblem, known as Uraeus, was frequently affixed to the Pharaoh’s headdress.

Historians speculate that the authors of the Old Testament derived Seraphim’s wings and flames from Egyptian imagery and associations with the cobra.

Malakim

Depiction of Malakim By Guido Reni (1636), Public Domain

The word “angel” is derived from the Greek word “angelos,” which was itself derived from the Hebrew word “malakh” (messenger). The Malakim are God’s messengers and have the most resemblance to modern humanity. They are third in rank among the four.

They served God in the Old Testament, just like Michael, the archangel who guards heaven, or the death angel in the Passover account. They frequently served as messengers in the New Testament, as did Gabriel when he informed Marry of her virginal conception. When asked to imagine an angel, many people immediately conjure up these referred-to beings.

The Bible makes no mention of the Malakim having wings, despite the fact that they resembled humans in appearance. From the middle of the third century, the earliest known Christian representation of an angel lacked wings. It wasn’t until the latter half of the fourth century that artists began to depict angels as having wings. While painters were aware that scripture did not refer to them as having wings, some experts claim that this was done to symbolize their magnificent nature.

Cherubim

The Cherubim of Glory By Julius Bates (1773), Public Domain

The Cherubim, subsequently reduced to Cherub, is the lowest in rank among the four. These creatures, which the Bible depicts as animal-human hybrids, were put in charge of defending the Garden of Eden from humans. According to the prophet Ezekiel’s vision, they had four faces: those of a lion, an ox, an eagle, and a human. They stand upright, have four wings, and have feet that glisten like polished brass. Their body is covered by one set of wings, while the other pair is utilized for flying.

This depiction is a long cry from how we now picture the Cherub. While academics trace its current incarnation to Roman and Greek gods like Cupid, they place the biblical detail attributable to cultural interactions with ancient Babylonia, Syria, and Egypt. The Cherub’s job of guarding sacred sites and their mixed appearance is comparable to that of the Babylonian Lamassu, Egyptian Sphynx, and Hittite Griffin.

Ophanim

Ezekiel’s Wheel in St. John the Baptist Church in Kratovo, Macedonia (1836), Public Domain

The Ophanim, often known as “the wheels,” are possibly the strangest creatures in the Bible. The Bible’s account of them by Ezekiel portrays them as entities composed of interconnecting gold wheels with many eyes on the outside of each wheel. They travel by floating through the air. They are in charge of protecting God’s throne since they are at the top of Maimonides’ hierarchy.

The Ophanim’s precise historical genesis is unknown. Former NASA employee Josef F. Blumrich hypothesized that Ezekiel’s vision of the wheels and other angels may have actually been a UFO sighting. However, critics characterize him as a conspiracy theorist.


Other writers assert that the prophet’s vision was brought on by psychedelic drugs that were consumed. Additionally, some academics have suggested that the picture was only a metaphor for God’s enigma. It’s fascinating to step back and consider how these beings are conceptualized from a purely secular perspective. What we have collectively forgotten and reinterpreted as angels have been shaped by centuries of culture, geography, and history.

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