Michael and Gabriel

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MICHAEL AND GABRIEL , two *angels named in Daniel 10:13, 21; 12:1 and Daniel 8:16; 9:21 respectively.

The Attributions of Proper Names to Angels

Michael and Gabriel are usually cited as the earliest instance of the practice of attributing proper names to angels; and it is just the contrast between the anonymity of the seraphim in Isaiah 6:2, 6 on the one hand and the explicit naming of Gabriel in Daniel 9:21 and of Michael in Daniel 10:21 on the other that is cited by R. Simeon b. Lakish as proof that the names of the angels were something that the returning exiles brought with them from Babylonia (tj, rh 1:2, 56d). But these are not strictly the oldest examples. According to the critical view, the Book of *Daniel is of later authorship than those of *Zechariah and *Job; yet "the Satan [Accuser]," Zechariah 3:1–2; Job 1:6–12; 2:2–7 is a virtual proper name, and it is retained as the name of the angel in question throughout Jewish literature; but these passages too are post-Exilic. A special early instance is Beth-El (Jer. 48:13), a real proper name shortened from (Ha) El-Beth-El, Genesis 31:13; 35:7, "The Numen of Beth-El," who was the special tutelary genius of Jacob and of the nation Israel (see the Book of *Hoseab-b; H.L. Ginsberg, in: jbl, 80 (1961), 339–47). Already the E document of the Pentateuch has made an angel of this being (Gen. 31:11), and Deutero-Hosea, who in Hosea 12:3–5, 13 palpably draws on the e story of Jacob embedded in Genesis 25 and 27–35 (and modifies it for his own purposes), refers to the being alternately as eʾlohim, "a divine being" (Hos. 12:4) and malʾakh, "an angel" (Hos. 12:5).


Michael (Mikhaʾel, מִיכָאֵל "Who is like God?" – in ten passages the name of as many men: Num. 13:13; i Chron. 5:13, 14; 6:25; 7:3; 8:16; 12:21; 27:18; ii Chron. 21:2; Ezra 8:8). Daniel 10:2–11 states that Daniel practiced asceticism for three full weeks in his endeavor to move Heaven to reveal to him what he wanted to know. At the end of that period a frightening figure appeared to him. He fell on his face in terror, but the being helped him to his feet and told him that he had been sent to deliver a message to him. In 10:12–21 he then explains that Daniel's petition had been received favorably on the very first day, but the speaker was unable to leave his post for 21 days because he was holding in check "the prince [sar, שַׂר] of the kingdom of Persia"; at the end of that period, however, he was relieved in this task by "Michael, one of the chief princes [sarim]," whom he left there "with the kings of Persia." He himself will only stay with Daniel long enough to inform him "what will befall your people at the end of the days" (verse 14), for he will have to "return to fight with the prince of Persia and when he retires – there comes the prince of Greece … and there is none who shares my efforts against all these but your (pl., i.e., the Jews') prince, Michael." At the climax of history, it is "Michael, the great prince who stands guard over your fellow countrymen," who will arise and save them (12:1). It will be seen that sar – properly "dignitary," "official," or "minister," but here better "prince" in view of the designation of God in 8:25 as "the sar of sarim" – means "angel," that every nation is conceived of as having an angelic representative, and that the author conceives of these representatives as engaging in clashes with each other which prefigure clashes between the respective nations. Obviously, the germ of this idea is Deuteronomy 32:8, which reads, according to the text of the Septuagint and a fragment from Qumran: "When the Most High gave nations their countries,/ When he set the divisions of man,// He established peoples' homelands/to the number of the divine beings."// For "the divine beings" (beneʾel, lit. "children of God"), the Masoretic Text reads "the Israelites" (bene Yisraʾel, lit. "the children of Israel"). The latter, however, is a conflation of the Septuagint-Qumran reading בני אל and a variant שרי אל which is presupposed by the above Daniel passages (H.L. Ginsberg, in: Eretz-Israel, 9 (1969), 45, n. 4). On the other hand the writer in Daniel diverges from his source in one important respect. The next verse in Deuteronomy 32, namely verse 9, specifically makes an exception of Israel: the latter is not apportioned to any benʾel or sarʾel ("But yhwh's people is his own portion,/ Jacob is his own allotment.") All the passages cited above from Daniel 10–12 are from the pen of Apoc iii (see *Daniel, Book of, b).


Gabriel (Gavriʾel, גַּבְרִיאֵל). This angel is the creation of Apoc iv, the author of Daniel 9 and of sundry interpolations in chapters 7, 8, 11, and 12 (see *Danielb). In chapter 9 itself, Gabriel appears to the apocalyptist (9:21) in the first year of Darius the Mede (9:1, see *Danielb) in answer to his prayer for enlightenment on the subject of the 70 years of Jeremiah (Jer. 25:11–12; 29:10). Gabriel explains that those 70 years are in reality 70 weeks of years (septennia), and proceeds to sketch the course that history will take during those 70 hebdomads. This is closely analogous to the role that is played in Apoc iii (chs. 10–12) by an angel who is not named but merely described, who appears to Daniel in the third year of Cyrus in response to three weeks of mourning, and tells him in astonishing detail what is destined to take place from that date until the horrors of Antiochus iv. Apoc iv wished to imply that his Gabriel was identical with this informant of Apoc iii, and this he did in a subtle way. Apoc iii's informant explains to him in 10:12–13 that Daniel's petition for enlightenment was favorably received at the very beginning of his quasi-fast, and the delay was only due to the informant's being tied down with keeping the prince of Persia at bay (see above). Then in 10:20–21 he goes on to say that he has barely enough time at his disposal to impart to Daniel "that which is written in the book of truth [or, that which is written in the book, truly]" because he must presently go back to the combat with the prince of Persia, and after that with the prince of Greece, "and there is none who shares my efforts against these but your [i.e., the Jews'] prince Michael," after which Apoc iv interpolates (11:1) "and ever since the first year of Darius the Mede [the date of 9:1, on which Gabriel appeared to the seer] I have been standing by him to strengthen and support him." The implication is clearly this: "The same cause that prevented me from coming to you during the past three weeks also explains why I have not appeared to you for such a long time since my last visit." In other words, the unnamed linen-clad one of chapters 10–12 is identical with the Gabriel of chapter 9. Apoc iv has also taken steps to identify with the latter the originally unnamed being of Apoc ii (ch. 8). Daniel 8:15 reads. "And when I, Daniel, beheld the vision [ḥazon] I asked [prayed] for an explanation, and lo, there was standing before me one having the appearance of a man [gaver]." Inspired by this last word, Apoc iv interpolated here, "(16) And I heard somebody's voice between [the banks of?] Ulai. He called out, 'Gabriel [Gavriʾel]! Explain the statement [marʾeh] to him.'" Marʾeh must mean "statement," and the reference must be to the statement about the evenings and mornings in verse 14, in view of verse 26; and verses 13–14 and 26a – also, by the way, verse 27b – are, just like verse 16, interpolations of Apoc iv in the text of Apoc ii (the original text of ch. 8), so that they may be described as ii-d. In 9:21b, then, when Apoc iv tells how he was visited by "the man [here the Hebrew has ha-ʿish, but the Aramaic original doubtless had gavra here as well as gevar in 8:15] Gabriel who had appeared to me before in the vision," he is referring back to chapter 8 as interpolated by himself.

[Harold Louis Ginsberg]

In the Aggadah

Michael and Gabriel, along with Uriel and Raphael, are the four angels who surround the throne of the Almighty (Num. R. 2:10; cf. Enoch 9:1). Michael, as the constant defender of the Jewish people (pr, 46), is considered greater than Gabriel (Ber. 4b). The aggadah consistently identifies Michael and Gabriel with the anonymous divine messengers or angels mentioned in the Bible. Thus, they were two of the three angels who visited Abraham after his circumcision (Gen. R. 48:9), Michael's task being to announce the future birth of Isaac while Gabriel's was to destroy Sodom (Gen. R. 50:2). It is Michael who called to Abraham at the *Akedah, telling him not to offer up Isaac (Midrash Va-Yosha in A. Jellinek, Beit ha-Midrash, 1:38). It was either Michael or Gabriel who wrestled with Jacob (Gen. R. 78:1) and appeared to Moses at Horeb (Ex. R. 2:5). It was Michael who rescued Abraham from the fiery furnace (Gen. R. 44:13) and also informed him of the capture of Lot (pdre, 27). He also accompanied the servant of Abraham in his mission to find a wife for Isaac (Gen. R. 59:10). Michael and Gabriel were called upon to record that the birthright was sold to Jacob by Esau (Gen. R. 63:14). They were both among the angels who accompanied God when He came down on Mount Sinai (Deut. R. 2:34). Although they were considered the kings of the angels, they were afraid of Moses (Eccles. R. 9:11, 2), and they refused to take his soul, so that God himself had to do so. Michael and Gabriel then stood at either side of Moses' bier (Deut. R. 11:10). On the day that Solomon married the daughter of Pharaoh-Neco, Michael came down from heaven and stuck a reed in the sea, round which matter settled, and upon this Rome, the future destroyer of Israel, was built (Song R. 1:6, 4). Michael smote Sennacherib and his army, and Gabriel delivered Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah (Ex. R. 18:5) from the fiery furnace. Michael acted as the defender of the Jews against every charge which Haman brought against them (Esth. R. 7:12). It was Michael who pushed Haman against Esther to make it appear as if Haman intended to violate her (Esth. R. 10:9). Both Michael and Gabriel will be among those who will accompany the Messiah, and they will then contend with the wicked (Otiyyot de-Rabbi Akiva Shin). Michael is made up entirely of snow and Gabriel of fire, and though they stand near one another they do not injure one another, thus indicating the power of God to "make peace in His high places" (Job 25:2; Deut. R. 5:12). Michael also occupies an important place in the interpretation of biblical stories in later Midrashim, e.g., Exodus Rabbah, Midrash Avkir, and Midrash Konen.

[Aaron Rothkoff]

In the Kabbalah

The motifs of Michael and Gabriel as found in the aggadah are in general repeated in the Kabbalah, but Michael is given an added importance.

In the Heikhalot and Merkabah literature of the late talmudic period and the period of the geonim, Michael plays a central role in the realm of the Chariot. He is the guardian of the south side, the figure of the lion in the Chariot, and so on (the descriptions vary in the different versions of this literature). In any case he is one of the four archangels, despite the interchange of names in the list. G. Scholem has deduced, from a statement in Perek Re'iyyot Yeḥezkel (Wertheimer, Battei Midrashot, 2 (1955), 132–3) and from other sources, that at first Michael and *Metatron were identical – the guardian of the interior and the highest figure in the domain of the angels in the Merkabah literature and in the Kabbalah which succeeded it – and that some of the descriptions of Michael in talmudic and midrashic literature were later transferred to the figure of Metatron. He is outstanding as guardian and protector of Israel in Merkabah literature and in the European mystical literature of the Ḥasidei Ashkenaz and early kabbalistic circles. A central role in bringing about the redemption was attributed to him in midrashic and Merkabah literature. Such descriptions of the role of Michael relied mainly on sayings in the Book of Zerubbabel and other apocalyptic works dating from the end of the ancient era and the beginning of the Middle Ages, in which Michael was assigned the role of revealer and bringer of tidings. (As there is in the various versions an interchange between Michael and Metatron, it does indeed seem that the two figures are basically identical.)

In kabbalistic literature Michael is allotted the role of grace in the Merkabah, angel of the right, representing the Sefirah Ḥesed ("grace"). In several places in the *Zohar Michael symbolizes the Sefirah Ḥesed itself (Zohar 1:98b–99a, Sitrei Torah; 2:147, et al.). All the symbols of grace (the right side, silver, water, etc.) are to be found in the descriptions of the angel Michael. He is frequently described as a high priest, and the Zohar and later kabbalists (e.g., Moses Cordovero) portray him as bringing the souls of the righteous before the Almighty, an act which led to their inclusion in the world of emanation (aẓilut).

[Joseph Dan]


H.L. Ginsberg, Studies in Daniel (1948). in the aggadah and in kabbalah: J. Kaufman (Ibn Shemuel), Midreshei Ge'ullah (1954), 73ff.; R. Margulies, Malakhei Elyon (1945), 87–89, 108–35; I. Tishby, Mishnat ha-Zohar, 1 (1949), 463–9; Ginzberg, Legends, 7 (19673), 311–2 and index; G. Scholem, Jewish Gnosticism… (1960), 43–45.