Biblical Archaeology Review 40:6, November/December 2014

Strata: How Many?

How many angels are mentioned by name in the Hebrew Bible?

Answer: Three

While the Hebrew Bible references groups of angels, only three are mentioned by proper name: Michael, Gabriel and Satan. Michael and Gabriel appear in the Book of Daniel—Michael as the angelic patron of Israel (Daniel 10:13, 21; 12:1) and Gabriel as the interpreter of Daniel’s vision (Daniel 8:16; 9:21). Satan appears as a proper name in 1 Chronicles 21:1, where he is said to have incited David to take a census of his kingdom. Elsewhere in the Hebrew Bible—the Book of Job and Zechariah 3:1–2—the Satan (Hebrew השׂטן) functions as the adversary of God, but in those instances the name Satan is always preceded by an article, making it a title rather than a proper name.

In English, the term “angel” has a clear definition, but it is less straight-forward in the original Hebrew. The word used most frequently to describe one of these beings—mal’akh (Hebrew מלאך)—means “messenger.” Yet mal’akh can refer to human messengers as well and at times is used figuratively. The Greek angelos (ἄγγελος) shares this diversity in meaning.1

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