Cherubim, Seraphim and Demythologization: Some Aspects of Babi-Baha'i Angelology and the Supreme Concourse (Ar. mala' al-a'la).
Stephen Lambden, Athens, Ohio (USA) and Newcastle upon Tyne (UK); now UC Merced.
This Abstract - the original paper remains lost - was originally written around the year 2000 and now under revision and supplementation.
Last updated 17-05-2021.
The English word "angel" derives from the Greek angelos and basically signifies, like the Biblical Hebrew mal'akh which it often translates, 'messenger'. On the most basic Ievel angels are divine messengers though the word "angel'' further indicates a bewildering variety of largely benevolent spiritual beings with a wide range of functions. Within religious and other literatures penned by thinkers of both the East and the West, a bewildering variety of angels have been pictured, identified with, worshipped, pondered, catalogued and studied. An almost endless number of individual angels as well as myriads of orders of angels has been catalogued. Numerous detailed listings of the variously mapped aut angelic hierarchy have been registered by pious and learned Jews, Christians, Muslims and others. Knowledge of the sometimes secret names of specific angels has long formed part of mystico-magical gnosis.
Numerous massive dictionaries of angels have been published during the past few centuries. On an academic Ievel one thinks of the recent over 900 page E.J. Brill publication 'Dictionary of Deities and Demons in the Bible' (2nd edition, 1999). More popular is Gustav Davidson's quite bulky 1960s (with frequent reprints) Dictionary of Angels, including the Fallen Angels. Many similar works including Moolenburgh's Handbook of Angels are noteworthy though such writings cannot possiby all be listed here.
Fascination and concern with "angels" is an important feature of the contemporary `new age' scene. For some, identification with angels appears to many to be among the hallmarks of modern spirituality. Many today claim visionary or earthly experience of angels as conveyors of an otherworldly guidance or worldly tokens of a beatific presence. lnspirational books purporting to contain `angelic messages' advising seekers after truth are easily obtained. The spirituality surrounding 'The Angel Within You', 'Guardian Angels', 'Angels in Music', and even `Angels and Food' are examples of topies covered within modern booklets on matters angelological. The 1993 Guideposts book `Angel Among Us' is an example of such literature as is Don Fearheiley's 'Angels Among Us' which contains 'Amazing True Stories of Ordinary People Helped by Extraordinary Beings' (Avon Books, NY 1993).
ln Victorian times healthy country walking and butterfly collecting were thought appropriate pursuits. Today, in marked contrast, we could be guided by an almost 300 page book entitled, 'Field Guide to Demons, Fairies, Fallen Angels and Other Subversive Spirits'. The harmless pursuit of nature and its wonders has been replaced by guidance on what some might view as demonological or supernatural aberrations! Though somewhat suspicious of new age spirituality, it is no wonder such well-known Christian evangelicals as Billy Graham (1918 – February 21, 2018) had been moved to set down their understanding of biblical angels at the same time offering allegedly quasi-Christian guidance on popular angelological pursuits and beliefs. What some view as potentially "dangerous" books about angels are legion -- to coin or utilize something of an angelological phrase. ln many modern European bookshops shelves can be well-stocked with books about angels. Some of these books call people to very strange behaviour.
Baha'i angelology, the doctrine regarding angels (sing. Ar. malak, pl. mala'ika; Per. firishtih) is rooted in and seeks to interpret references to angelic beings and their roles found in Abrahamic religious scripture and tradition. Though a wide range of angelic beings are mentioned in Babi and Baha'i scripture these references and terminology is essentially that of earlier sacred books. Such references are usually meant to be understood symbolically, "spiritually" or "allegorically". Gabriel and Michael, the Cherubim
and the Seraphim, the archangel Michael and Metatron, Azaziel and Diabolos and among the myriad angelic or demoniac beings considered essentially symbolic. Gabriel is not a real archangelic figure but has symbolic import. The angels and archangels are symbolic, archetypal figures as are supernatural demoniac entities which are without metaphysical reality. ln simple terms, for Bahais "angels" are signs of divine activity, of assistance and mediatorship. Their satanic counterparts, devils and demons, etc are
deemed non-existent indications of opposition to truth and reality. Evil forces can be real but can often be expressions of negative, egocentric opposition to divine providence and human creativity.
ln developed Babi-Baha'i sacred scripture belief in "angels", "demons" and their like is often demythologized, to use a phrase much utilized by the late German Christian theologian Rudolph Bultmann ( 1884-1976). It can indicate a quasi-rationalistic rejection of things no longer entirely credible in the light of modern thought and science. For Baha'is such aforementioned demoniac entities have no reality in the sense of a metaphysical existence. They are not viewed as an ontologically verifiable reality. ln the Baha'i viewpoint "angels" do not constitute a distinct celestial order superior in rank to humankind. Baha'ī scripture maintains that humans beings can be "angels" by living an angelic spiritual life while "angels" are sometimes a transcendentalization of human
activites and propensities as well also as cosmic laws and forces.
lssues touched upon in the above paragraphs will be set out in greater detail in this paper. So too aspects of the Shaykhi and Babi-Baha'i interpretation of specific angelic figures within the Abrahamic religious tradition. Baha'i symbolic interpretations of religious angelology and to a lesser extent demonology will be analysed and summed up. It will be argued that while there is a something of a demythologization of angels, the jinn and demons, etc. This does not mean that there is no Baha'i belief in human immortality
or multiple worlds populated by innumerable deceased individuals. There certainly is a clear Baha'i belief in supernatural assistance from angelic humans passed on. lndeed, the Baha'i interpretation of the implications of the Arabic qur'anic phrase mala' al-a 'la ("Supreme Concourse") all but replaces the tradtional belief in archangels with a new superhuman though very real link with the unseen worlds. ln Baha'i scripture traditional angelology is largely spiritually interpreted. Belief in multiple supernatural
"worlds" beyond time and space and populated by "angelic" humans and "archangelic" mazahir-i ilahi (Manifestations of God) overseeing universes seen and unseen is fundamental.