Who Are the Archangels?

Sudan, Khartoum State, Khartoum, archangel michael from petros cathedral, faras, in the national mus
The Archangel Michael, in the Petros Cathedral in Khartoum, Sudan. Eric Lafforgue/Art in All of Us / Getty Images

The Seven Archangels—also known as the Watchers because they tend humanity—are mythical beings found in the Abrahamic religion underlying Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. According to the "De Coelesti Hierarchia of Pseudo-Dionysius" written in the 4th-5th century CE, there was a nine-level hierarchy of the heavenly host: angels, archangels, principalities, powers, virtues, dominions, thrones, cherubim, and seraphim. The angels were the lowest of these, but the archangels were just above them. 

Seven Archangels of Biblical History

  • There are seven archangels in the ancient history of the Judeo-Christian bible. 
  • They are known as The Watchers because they take care of humans.
  • Michael and Gabriel are the only two named in the canonical Bible. 
  • The others were removed in the 4th century when the books of the Bible were configured at the Council of Rome. 
  • The main legend concerning the archangels is known as the "Myth of the Fallen Angels"

Background on Archangels 

There are only two Archangels named in the canonical bible used by Catholics and Protestants alike, as well as in the Quran: Michael and Gabriel. But, originally, and still found in the apocryphal Qumran text called "The Book of Enoch," there were seven: the other five have various names but are most often called Raphael, Urial, Raguel, Zerachiel, and Remiel. 

The archangels are part of the "Myth of the Fallen Angels," an ancient story, far older than the New Testament of Christ, even though Enoch is thought to have been first collected about 300 BCE. The stories originate from the Bronze Age First Temple period in the 10th century BCE, when King Solomon's temple was built in Jerusalem. Similar tales are found in ancient Greek, Hurrian, and Hellenistic Egypt. The names of the angels are borrowed from the Babylonian civilization of Mesopotamia

Fallen Angels and the Origins of Evil

In contrast to the Jewish myth about Adam, the myth of the fallen angels suggest that the humans in the Garden of Eden were not (entirely) responsible for the presence of evil on earth, fallen angels were. The fallen angels, including Semihazah and Asael and also known as the Nephilim, came to earth and took human wives, and had children who turned out to be violent giants. Worst of all, they taught Enoch's family heaven's secrets, particularly precious metals and metallurgy. 

The resulting bloodshed, says the tale, caused an outcry from the earth loud enough to reach the gates of heaven, which the archangels reported to God. Enoch went to heaven in a fiery chariot to intercede, but he was blocked by the heavenly hosts. Eventually, Enoch was transformed into an angel ("The Metatron") for his efforts. 

God then commissioned the archangels to intervene, by warning Adam's descendant Noah, imprisoning the guilty angels, destroying their offspring, and purifying the earth which the angels had polluted.

Rejection of the Mythologies

By the Second Temple period, this myth is transformed, and some religious scholars like David Suter believe it is the underlying myth for endogamy rules—who a priest is allowed to marry—in the Jewish church. Religious leaders are warned by this story that they should not marry outside the circle of the priesthood and certain families of the lay community, lest the priest run the danger of profaning his seed or the family line. Anthropologists note that as the Cain and Abel story reflects anxieties between hunting and gathering and agriculture, so the fallen angels' myth reflects those between farmers and metallurgists.

What's Left: The Book of Revelation

However, for the Catholic church, as well as the Protestant version of the Bible, a fragment of the story is left: the battle between the single fallen angel Lucifer and the archangel Michael. That battle is found in the book of Revelation, but the battle takes place in heaven, not on earth. Although Lucifer battles a host of angels, only Michael is named among them. The rest of the story was removed from the canonical bible by Pope Damasus I (366–384 CE) and the Council of Rome (382 CE).

Now war arose in heaven, Michael and his angels fighting against the dragon; and the dragon and his angels fought, but they were defeated and there was no longer any place for them in heaven. And the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the Devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world—he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him. (Revelation 12:7-9)

Michael 

Mosaic on the facade, Serbian Orthodox church Saint Spyridon Church, Piazza Sant Antonio, Trieste, Friuli-Venezia Giulia, Italy
The Archangel Michael, Portrayed on the Facade of the Serbian Orthodox Serbian Orthodox Saint Spyridon Church in Italy. Wilfried Wirth / Getty Images

The Archangel Michael is the first and most important of the archangels. His name means "Who is like God?" which is a reference to the battle between the fallen angels and the archangels. Lucifer (a.k.a. Satan) wanted to be like God; Michael was his antithesis. 

In the Bible, Michael is the angel general and the advocate for the people of Israel, the one who appears in Daniel's visions while in the lion's den, and leads God's armies with a mighty sword against Satan in the Book of Revelation. He is said to be the patron saint of the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist. In some occult religious sects, Michael is associated with Sunday and the Sun. 

Gabriel 

The Annunciation
The Archangel Gabriel meets with the Virgin Mary. Print Collector / Getty Images

Gabriel's name is translated variously as "the strength of God," hero of God," or "God has shown himself mightily." He is the holy messenger and the Archangel of Wisdom, Revelation, Prophecy, and Visions.

In the Bible, it is Gabriel who appeared to the priest Zacharias to tell him he would have a son called John the Baptist; and he appeared to the Virgin Mary to let her know that she would be soon giving birth to Jesus Christ. He is the patron of the Sacrament of Baptism, and occult sects connect Gabriel to Monday and the moon. 

Raphael

Tobias and the Angel by Girolamo Savoldo
Tobias and the Angel Raphael. Corbis via Getty Images / Getty Images

Raphael, whose name means "God heals" or "God's Healer," doesn't appear in the canonical Bible by name at all. He is considered the Archangel of Healing, and as such, there may be a leftover reference to him in John 5:2–4: 

In [the pond of Bethaida] lay a great multitude of sick, of blind, of lame, of withered; waiting for the moving of the water. And an angel of the Lord descended at certain times into the pond; and the water was moved. And he that went down first into the pond after the motion of the water, was made whole, of whatsoever infirmity he lay under. John 5:2–4

Raphael is in the apocryphal book Tobit, and he is the patron of the Sacrament of Reconciliation and connected to the planet Mercury, and Tuesday. 

The Other Archangels

The other four Archangels on our list are completely missing in canonical Bible, and the books they were explicitly removed from the list of beings to be venerated by the Council of Rome.

  • Uriel: Uriel's name translates to "Fire of God," and he is the Archangel of Repentance and of the Damned. He was the specific Watcher assigned to watch over Hades, the patron of the Sacrament of Confirmation. In the occult literature, he is connected to Venus and Wednesday. 
  • Raguel: (also known as Sealtiel). Raguel translates to "Friend of God" and he is the Archangel of Justice and Fairness, and patron of the Sacrament of Holy Orders. He is associated with Mars and Friday in the occult literature. 
  • Zerachiel: (also known as Saraqael, Baracheil, Selaphiel, or Sariel) 
  • Called "God's command," Zerachiel is the Archangel of God's Judgment and the patron of the Sacrament of Matrimony. The occult literature associates him with Jupiter and Saturday. 
  • Remiel: (Jerahmeel, Jehudial, or Jeremiel). Remiel's name means "Thunder of God," "Mercy of God," or "Compassion of God." He is the Archangel of Hope and Faith, or the Archangel of Dreams, as well as the patron saint of the Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick, and connected to Saturn and Thursday in the occult sects. 

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