Gabriel is mentioned four times in the Bible (Dn8.16; 9.21; Lk 1.19, 26). In the book of daniel he is the angel sent to explain to Daniel the meaning of his visions. In Luke's gospel he is the angel who foretells to Zechariah that he is to have a son (John the Baptist) and announces to Mary the coming birth of her son, Jesus. His name in Hebrew (gabrî’ēl ) means "hero of God."
To Daniel, Gabriel appeared as "a manlike figure"(8.15). On another occasion "a hand touched" Daniel and raised him from his faint to a posture on hands and knees, and addressed him as "Daniel beloved"(10.9–12); presumably this also was Gabriel. Gabriel came to Daniel "in rapid flight" (9.21), though there is no explicit mention of wings. To Zechariah Gabriel appeared also in the form of a man standing and speaking (Lk 1.11, 13). Though there is no advertence to the form of the angel in his visit to Mary, the pericope (Lk1.26–38) asserts personal identity between Mary's visitor and Zechariah's and presumes identical appearance.
In Daniel, ch. 8 to 10, the seer is professedly seeing visions; and in 10.7–8, the author asserts, "I alone, Daniel, saw the vision"; the men who were with him fled "although they did not see the vision." The objectivity of the appearances of Gabriel is not asserted. The internal and subjective character of these visions is quite possible. Moreover, Luke was not witness of either visitation of Gabriel that he records, and it is possible that he is using the literary form of haggadic midrash, with his mind dwelling on the striking parallels existing between Daniel's visitation and Luke's own meditations on God's announcements to Zachary and to Mary of the impending parenthood of each.
Despite the scholarly doubts about the objective reality of Gabriel, Christian devotion venerates him as an archangel, a title never given him in the Bible, though perhaps suggested in Lk. 1.19 where Gabriel asserts he stands in the presence of God—possibly a Lucan reference to Tb 12.15. The universality and antiquity of representations of Gabriel (a 5th–century mosaic of Gabriel at the Annunciation is the oldest known representation of an angel with feet and two wings in St. Mary Major, Rome) testify to Gabriel's reality and power. The earliest liturgical recognition of Gabriel has been traced to a Greek litany of the Saints (7th century) where michael, Gabriel, and raphael occur in that order, and enjoy precedence over John the Baptist and the Blessed Virgin [see D. Bishop, Liturgica Historica (Oxford 1918) 142–151]. Gabriel has never been as popular or as versatile as Michael in Christian devotion. On Jan. 12, 1951, Gabriel was declared by Pius XII to be patron before God of people engaged in telecommunications (telephone, telegraph, television, radio).
In Jewish legend and apocrypha Gabriel has filled many functions: he is one of the four angels who stand at the four sides of God's throne, guardians of the four parts of the world and intercessors for the world at the time of the deluge; angel destroyer of Sodom; destroyer of the army of Sennacherib; foreteller of the birth of Samson. In Islamic literature, under the name Jibril (plus variants and other titles) Gabriel is the principal in many strange tales. He is supposed to have been the one who revealed the qur’Ān to the Prophet Muḥammad.
Historically, the Feast of Gabriel, Archangel was celebrated on March 24 in the Roman Rite. The post–Vatican II reform of the Roman liturgical calendar created a combined Feast of the Archangels Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael on September 29. In the Eastern Christian tradition, the Feast of the Archangels is celebrated on November 8.
Bibliography: d. keck, Angels and Angelology in the Middle Ages (New York 1998). b. otzen, "Michael and Gabriel," in The Scriptures and the Scrolls, ed. f. garcia martinez, a. hilhorst and c.j. labuschagne (New York 1992).
[t. l. fallon/eds.]