Studies in Angelology

On My Right Michael, On My Left Gabriel: Angels in Ancient Jewish Culture

Forthcoming with the University of California Press in the Spring of 2021!

Angelic beings can be found throughout the Hebrew Bible, and by late antiquity, the archangels Michael and Gabriel were as familiar as the patriarchs and matriarchs, guardian angels were as present as one’s shadow, and praise of the seraphim was as sacred as the Shema prayer.

In this book I recover once commonplace beliefs and demonstrate that angels were foundational to ancient Judaism. Ancient Jewish practice centered on humans’ complex relationships with these invisible beings who acted as their intermediaries, role-models, and guardians. Bringing non-canonical sources into view—incantation bowls, amulets, mystical texts, and liturgical poetry—I show that when ancient men and women sought access to divine aid, they turned not to their rabbis, nor to God alone, but often to the angels. On My Right Michael, On My Left Gabriel allows these overlooked stories, interactions, and rituals to take center stage, offering a new entry point to the history of Judaism and the wider ancient Mediterranean and Near Eastern world in which it flourished.

From Hammat Tiberius Synagogue (5th century CE). Celestial beings in zodiac mosaics were commonly depicted in late antique synagogue floors.

Gender and the Angels in Late Antique Judaism

In a forthcoming article in Jewish Studies Quarterly, I share ancient Jewish conceptualizations of feminine angels. Scholars have tended to overlook or dismiss the possibility of feminine angelic beings in ancient Judaism, but close reading of texts reveals that gendered divine beings do not exceed the biblical source material, Hebrew linguistic possibilities, late ancient Jewish texts, or the Jewish imagination. Altogether, evidence in found in rabbinic literature, Yannai’s liturgical poetry, liturgical practices, ritual texts, and synagogue art demonstrate that feminine angels were conceivable by ancient Jews.

The Ezekiel panel from the Dura Europos Synagogue (third century CE). Note the butterfly-winged figures, modeled on Roman era Psyche, herself associated with resurrection.
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