The Circle of Ancient Iranian Studies
Book 2. How Persia Created Judaism
Angels: Winged Beings from
Angels and Monotheism
The word “angel” is the Greek “angelos” meaning a messenger—someone who brings messages from God. The Hebrew is “malak.” The Greeks had Iris, in Homer, who brought messages from Olympus to humanity. The Greeks also had Hermes or Mercury who also was a messenger, the Herald of God. Do Christians accept these as angels? And they had their own name for the lesser spirits that acted as messengers for the gods—daimones.
To accept angels is immediately to become polytheistic—an angel is a lesser god! Catholics will deny that angels and demons are gods at all, and presumably that Satan is also not a god, which is all puzzling to we mortals deprived of patriarchal religion. A god is a notional being with divine, that is to say superhuman or supernatural, powers. If angels are not gods why can they do supernatural things? If Satan is not a god like Yehouah, why is he such a trouble to God himself? If God is all powerful, why does he need angels to bring messages to earth on his behalf? If we are to believe all this then God is not all powerful, the Devil is just as powerful and both have armies of lesser gods to fight their cosmic battles and bring messages to earth while they are busy elsewhere.
Despite this morass of contradictions, Christians will claim to be monotheistic and still believe in angels. The angels they believe in appear to men at God’s behest wearing a pair of large feathered wings on their shoulders and flowing robes. What is so odd about heaven that angels need wings? Or do they only attach their wings to fly down to earth? If God can make men walk on water why should angels need wings? Why do they need flowing robes? Is it cold in heaven? Or are angels prudish? Do Christians ever ask these questions?
Angels are always depicted as men but looking effeminate. They were traditionally depicted as androgynous, sexually ambiguous looking youths (as are the earliest pictures of Jesus). Perhaps this is because Jesus had explained to the Sadducees in Mark 12:25 that angels were sexless beings. He said when the Righteous Ones rose from the dead, they “neither marry, nor are given in marriage, but are as the angels which are in heaven.” On rising, the Righteous lived for ever just like the angels. Marriage only has purpose for sexual procreation, and immortal creatures do not need to reproduce—which makes it odd that he should call God, Father.
God Himself is plainly masculine in all His attributes, yet all his servants and hosts are androgynes. It is a lonely business running a cosmos without a wife. The ancient Israelites, of course, were not so unkind as to leave their god without a wife. She was called His Asherah. But modern Jews and Christians are so patriarchal that they will not let Yehouah have a sexual companion. He only has all those sexless angels. They are not great thinkers angels. They only do as they are told. Perhaps they are robots.
Did Angels Evolve?
Christians, particularly fundamentalists, are sure that Christianity was fully revealed by God and owes nothing to history or evolution. The wings of the angels therefore are singularly Christian things. They have feathers like birds, but fairies have insects’ wings. One supposes the angels are therefore from a higher evolutionary level, but fundamentalists do not believe in evolution! Well, fairies do not exist but angels do, as Yehouah’s exclusive hosts. Why then were Assyrians and Persians in the first millennium BC depicting non-avian creatures with feathered wings just like those of the angels? The Assyrians had angelic bulls and angelic lions that they called “lamassu.” Like angels, they were protective spirits. The Greeks too had an angelic horse called Pegasus, and they always depicted the Goddess Victory as an angel.
A tomb in Volumni, near Perugia, has two figures kneeling in prayer for the dead person in the coffin. They have long flowing robes and large birds’ wings growing from their shoulders. Were they angels? The tomb is dated in the second century BC! On a Pagan fresco, also pre-Christian an angelic looking figure with wings and robes is whipping an initiate. Is this an angel?
Some Christians think they have an angelic double called a guardian angel, and they even have festival for them—the Festival of Guardian Angels was fixed on 2 October by the church in 1621 AD. Peter’s guardian angel is even mentioned in the gospels. The Egyptians had a similar belief called the “ka” and the Persians had their “fravashis,” heavenly doubles. Do we really have heavenly doubles, and if so why did God reveal them to the Egyptians and the Persians long before He revealed them to Christians? In the work of Hermas, in the second century AD, the fravashi of Zoroaster appears in the dual form of a good angel and a wicked angel. It was for each human to decide which angel to believe.
The point is that the Christian concept of an angel is much older than Christianity despite the averments of some empty headed Christians. The Zoroastrians had angels that were of the Christian type—winged figures—and their priests, to judge by pictures of them, wore an angelic outfit, unless this was an artistic convention, akin to the Christian halo, signifying holiness. The figure hovering above royal inscriptions is either meant to be Ahuramazda, or some think it was his fravashi, or heavenly double (even God had one!—everything had), Ahuramazda not revealing himself directly, just like the Jewish concept of God after the Persian conquest.
That the Persian supreme god, Ahuramazda, had his own fravashi, is an idea that Christians will doubtless chuckle over, until they recollect that the Jewish religion was no different because Yehouah appears in Exodus (Ex 3:2-4) as the Angel of Yehouah, not as himself. Of course, this is lost in modern translations intended to fool the faithful because Angel of Yehouah (malak Yehouah) is translated as Angel of the Lord, Yehouah is translated as the Lord, and elohim is translated as God. The angel is plainly God because both are mentioned separately as being in the burning bush, so there is no mistake in the scriptures that the Jewish God had an angel, as Ahuramazda had. Human beings could not look on th face of Yehouah, but could have a chat with His fravashi, with no sweat. In Isaiah 63:9, the fravashi of Yehouah is described as the “angel of His presence”.
The Origin of Good and Evil
Yehouah was not the first god to reveal secrets to His prophets. Zoroaster gives his convictions as revelation by the god, Ahuramazda, the Holiest, the Far-Seeing and the All-Knowing. For a revelation of Ahuramazda to have been meaningful to the Iranians, Ahuramazda must have already been a notable god. Zoroaster also speaks of the two spirits of the first beginning as if they two were familiar to his audience.
The Iranians seemed at first to have had a pantheon of celestial gods of light and darkness, creation and destruction, among them being Varuna (Uranus), a sky god, but perhaps conceived of as a god of space, and Mitra (Mithras), a sun god, and Zurvan (Cronos), a god of time, who is possibly Vishnu, in Indian religion, in his destructive aspect, or the goddess, Kali, Time. S G F Brandon says that Zurvan, the Persian god of Time can be traced back to 1200 BC. The Indians identify time with decay and destruction, but see both as necessary and therefore no less godly than creation.
One idea was that Zervan created the Good and the Bad, a later belief of some Zoroastrians but a heresy for others. Eudemus of Rhodes, a follower of Aristotle, before 300 BC wrote:
The Magi and the whole Aryan race call by the name Space or Time that which forms an intelligible and integrated whole from which a Good God and an Evil Demon were separated out, or as some say, light and darkness before these.
Thus undifferentiated nature condensed into two elements, one led by Ormuzd and one by Ahriman, as they came to be called. It seems that Space-Time was deified in fourth century Persia. Zurvan creates light and dark, life and death, and other ambivalent qualities.
Ahuramazda seems to be identifiable with Varuna of the Vedas, the Lord of Heaven and the guardian of Rita (Arta, Asha), often translated as Truth but also having the connotation of law and order in the nature of things—like the impersonal god of the early Greek philosophers and the Stoics. Zoroaster might have rejected Zurvan and made Varuna as Ahuramazda the primal creator, or seen Varuna as merging with Zurvan as the god of Space and Time, creating at the beginning and destroying at the end of time.
The trouble is that the Holiest had then to have created Evil as well as Good. Zoroaster seemed not to be too bothered with the cosmic details because he seemed to be interested in morals not cosmology. For him, what was important was that people had to choose between the two opposite principles. So Ahuramazda is shown by Zoroaster as creating Right as author of the Good, and creating the Lie as author of the Bad, balanced such that each Good creation was balanced by an Evil creation. The daughter of Right is the “Goddess,” Piety.
A Good Spirit and an Evil Spirit
Mithras does not appear explicitly in the Gathas but later was considered the guardian of honour and contracts, implying a guardian of Truth. Zoroaster had designated seven spirits of Mazda and Mithras was either an alternative name of one of the spirits or was later associated with the particular spirit of Mazda. Spenta Mainyu was the Good or Holy Spirit. Spenta Mainyu seems to be the Right, the Truth, the Order behind the “massy heavens” that “clothe” the Holiest Spirit, an alternative name for Ahuramazda. The later depictions of Mithras killing the Cosmic Bull has much astrological symbolism that implies he is seen as the Order behind existence—a transcendental god.
In Mithraism, Mithras was the Good Spirit but the Evil Spirit was a lion headed winged being entwined by a serpent. This seems to have meant Time as the destroyer, identified with Ahriman, the Prince of Darkness, whom the Gnostics saw as Lord of this world, the God of the Hebrews, the Set of the Egyptians. The Christian God was therefore Satan, according to the Gnostics, and the history of Christianity can only be considered to prove it.
The wicked spirit, Satan, first appeared in Egypt about 2,500 BC as Set the evil brother of Osiris. As the god of evil he was equated with Apophis, the celestial dragon that consumed the sun each night. Perhaps for this reason, he came to be seen as the equivalent of the Greek dragon, Typhon. Since Atum-Ra was the sun as creator, the Evil One was in constant warfare with the principle of Good. As the murderer of Osiris, Set was also associated with death.
The Babylonians had millions of fearful demons, but no single Evil One. The king of the Underworld, Nergal, was not seen as Evil, but merely the king of the dead, and that was scary enough without supposing he had evil intentions towards humanity. The human race were the servants of the gods, and would be rewarded by them through prosperity, if they served them well. Whether anyone served well or badly, the outcome was the same—death and the rule of king Nergal.
In Judaism, Satan, the Evil Spirit, appears as a “fallen angel,” but Isaiah admits that Yehouah created both good and evil, so the concepts is the same as Zoroaster’s. In 1 Samuel 19:9-10, Yehouah sends an evil spirit to possess Saul and make him try to impale David against a wall with his spear! In Job, Satan is a tormentor of human beings and has the role with the consent of Yehouah.
The Bene Ha-Elohim
Did the Israelites have a concept of angels before the Persian period? It seems most likely that, just as every important element in the Jewish religion came from the Zoroastrianism practiced by the Achaemenid kings, the angels did too. The scriptural references common in Genesis to the “sons of the gods” (beni ha-elohim), always translated as “Sons of God,” so as not to spoil the perpetual monotheism of the scriptures, are often taken to mean angels, but this is harmonization. The sons of the gods look upon the daughter of men, lusted after them, copulated with them and bred a race of mighty ones or “Nephilim.” It sounds like a variant of the Greek myth of the Titans. In later tradition, to judge from Jesus speaking in Mark’s gospel (Mk 12:18-27), the angels were considered to be sexless because they had no need of reproduction, being immortal, so they cannot have been the lustful bene ha-Elohim.
In Job 1:6, Satan is one of the sons of the gods.
Now there was a day when the sons of Elohim came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan came also among them. (Job 1:6)
The apparent classification of Satan as a son of the gods in this passage is used by clerics to suggest that the ancient Israelites called their angels bene ha-Elohim. In the sense that Zoroaster classed the minor Indo-European gods as angels or demons, it might be true that the sons of the gods did become identified with angels, but plainly that was a later development. The bene ha-Elohim were a rank of gods below the Elohim themselves and evidently Yehouah was included among their number, as the fravashi of the Israelite nation, besides Satan. The head of the Elohim was evidently El, but Yehouah displaced him and was elevated to the top god of the Israelites some time before about 450 BC.
Later Judaism, desiring a perfectly good Yehouah, depicted the fallen angels as rebelling against Him, just as the wickedness of humans also had to be depicted as a rebellion against God. It fails to answer the problem because God is omniscient—He already knew when he created the angels that fell and sinful humanity, that they would fall. Creating something that He knew would finish up being evil, means that He was wilfully creating evil. He knew how it would turn out, but he still made it! The developers of Jewish mythology saw the equality of the fall of angels and the fall on humanity and decided that the fall of the angels, like tha fall of man, must have been because they had consorted with wicked women! So a woman was the cause of Adam’s fall and women were the cause of the fall of the angels. This is patriarchy at work.
Seraphim and Cherubim
The real angels, as represented in Persian and Assyrian iconography appear in Isaiah 6:1ff, as the six winged seraphim that surround the throne of Yehouah. They were described as speaking and having hands and feet, so were of human form, apart from the six wings. Curiously, “seraph” is the name of the bronze serpent that Moses gave to the Israelites (Num 21:6) to worship, and that they did worship, according to the scriptures, until Hezekiah (716-687 BC) suppressed it allegedly as an apostasy from Yehouah. In reality this was the imposition of the God of Heaven over the former snake god of the Israelites.
Another type of angel evidently were the “cherubim” upon whom Yehouah rode as if on “the wings of the wind” (Psalms 18:10). Ezekiel also saw winged figures supporting Yehouah’s throne. These were descriptions of the “lamassu,” the winged bulls, griffins and lions commonly seen in Assyrian art. The Greeks called them sphinxes. Sphinxes were popular as decorations for the arms of Ancient Near Eastern thrones. Exodus 25:18-20 describes similar figures as decorating the Ark of the Covenant.
Michael and Mithras
Rabbinic tradition confirms that the names of the archangels were brought from Babylon. What the Rabbis will not admit is that the Jewish religion altogether was brought from Babylon. The immediate lieutenants of Yehouah were the seven archangels, just as Ahuramazda had seven Amesha Spentas, or sons of the Holy One (God). The concept of angels as messengers of God was theologically necessary because high gods were perceived as too remote in their transcendence, so lesser gods, that walked on the earth occasionally, were needed to attract the attention of the Almighty. In Zoroastrianism, the seven primary angels were aspects of God himself, but they were increasingly personified and revered in their own right. One of them (Truth) apparently became identified with a pre-existent god, Mithras, and became another derivative religion.
A parallel development happened from Judaism, the archangel Michael being worshipped by Christians as Jesus, Yehouah’s anointed Saviour. Jesus was undoubtedly an Essene and Essenes were preparing for the introduction of Heaven on earth by trying to be perfectly holy. They expected, if successful, to be resurrected as angels, and so eschewed sex and lived a life of chastity—practising to be angels! For this reason too they identified the Messiah with the leader of the Heavenly Host, the archangel Michael, whose arrival would sweep evil to destruction. The first Christians believed Jesus would be the archangel Michael on his return.
The original role of Michael and the identity of Jesus with him is clearly shown in Revelation. “War arose in heaven” and Michael and the hosts of angels fought against the dragon and his hosts—a legend taken from the Babylonian myth of Marduk’s fight with the ancient Earth Mother, Tiamat, denigrated into a dragon. This is the cosmic war of the War Scroll. In Revelation and in the War Scroll, It is Michael who leads the forces of Good, but in Christian tradition it became Jesus who “returned” to win the cosmic war at his parousia. Inthe Christian scheme, Michael fell from being an archangel to being the saint given authority over high places as the saintly equivalent of the sun god, just as Mithras had been a sun god too. Saint Michael has mounts, hills and chapels on hills that were once sanctified to sun worshipping. September 29th, Michaelmas, is his day.
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