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seraphim

seraphim the living creatures with six wings of Isaiah 6, in early Christian interpretation taken to be a class of angels. OE., ME. seraphin, later seraphim (XVI) — biblical L. seraphim, -in ( = Gr. seraphím, -pheím) — Heb. serāphīm, pl. of sārāph.

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seraphim

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Seraphim

SERAPHIM

Plural noun probably derived from Hebrew transitive verb meaning to burn. It designates celestial beings of the court of Yahweh in the vocational vision of Isaiah (6.26), which is the only occurrence of the word in this sense in the Bible. Commonly they are called the burning ones, not to indicate their intransitive flame of charity toward Yahweh, but rather referring to purifying mission of one seraph to Isaiah, preparing him for his prophetic vocation.

Various opinions identify seraphim with winged grifons of Egypt, cherubim, and AkkadianCanaanite genii associated with divine majesty. But Isaiah clearly presents them as humanlike beings with faces, hands, feet, and equipped with six wings. With one pair of wings they veil their faces lest they see Yahweh (Ex 33.20); with a second pair they "hovered aloft"; with the third pair they veiled their feet (euphemism for pudenda). They may have been well known in Israelite lore because Isaiah mentions them without preparation or explanation. Unwarrantedly, some have associated seraphim with the saraph (burning) serpents of Nm 21.49; Dt 8.15; Is 14.29, 30.6, whose bite caused a burning sensation; or with the Nohestan (bronze serpent) of 2 Kgs 18.4. As to their number, while some say choirs of seraphim are indicated, the text favors the opinion that just two seraphim cry the Trisagion "one to the other."

Unliteral acceptance of "burning" intransitively as of the flame of love, together with seraphim choirs praising thrice holy Yahweh, have led Christian speculation, piety, and art to place seraphim as the highest and most ardent of the angelic orders.

Bibliography: j. steinmann, Le Prophète Isaïe: sa vie, son oeuvre et son temps (2d ed. Paris 1955) 3638. e. lacheman, "Seraphim of Isaiah 6," Jewish Quarterly Review 59 (1968) 7172. j. d. savignac, "Les seraphim," Vetus Testamentum 22 (1972) 320325. j. day, "Echoes of Baal's Seven Thunders and Lightnings in Psalm 29 and Habakkuk 3:9 and the Identity of the Seraphim in Isaiah 6," Vetus Testamentum 29 (1979) 143151.

[t. l. fallon/eds.]

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"Seraphim." New Catholic Encyclopedia. . Encyclopedia.com. 18 Nov. 2018 <https://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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