In Abrahamic religions, fallen angels are angels who were expelled from Heaven. The term “fallen angel” appears neither in the Bible nor in other Abrahamic scriptures, but is used of angels who were cast out of heavenor angels who sinned. Such angels are often malevolent towards humanity.
The idea of fallen angels derived from Jewish Enochic pseudepigraphy or the assumption that the “sons of God” (בני האלהים) mentioned in Genesis 6:1–4 are angels. Some scholars consider it most likely that the Jewish tradition of fallen angels predates, even in written form, the composition of Gen 6:1–4.[a] In the period immediately preceding the composition of the New Testament, some sects of Judaism, as well as many Christian Church Fathers, identified the “sons of God” (בני האלהים) of Genesis 6:1–4 as fallen angels. The presence of these traditions in Christianity, not only in the East but also in the Latin-speaking West, is attested by the polemic of Augustine of Hippo (354–430) against the motif of giants born of the union between fallen angels and human women. Rabbinic Judaism and Christian authorities after the third century rejected the Enochian writings and the notion of an illicit union between angels and women producing giants. Christianity attributed the sin of fallen angels towards the beginning of history, instead of to humans. Accordingly, fallen angels became identified with angels who were led by Satan in rebellion against God and became equated with demons. However, during the intertestamental period, demons were not thought of as the fallen angels themselves, but as the surviving souls of their monstrous offspring. Accordingly, fallen angels had intercourse with human women, giving existence to the Biblical giants. To purge the world from these creatures, God sent the Great Deluge and their bodies were destroyed. However their spiritual parts survived, henceforth roamed the earth as demons.
Islam also knows about the concept of fallen angels. However, their affirmation was also opposed by Islamic scholars, who emphazised the piety of angels by certain verses of the Qur’an, such as 16:49 and 66:6.On the other hand, these verses leave space for further interpretations, since they merely refer to a certain situation or certain groups of angels performing their assigned task. The angels protesting in 2:30 seem to indicate, that angels would have at least a minor ability to act self-sufficient. Reports attributed to some of the companions of Muhammad, such as Ibn Abbas (619-687) and Abdullah ibn Masud (594-653), implied the existence of fallen angels. Other scholars insist that fallen angels are not possible. Hasan of Basra (642-728), an early and influential Islamic ascete, not only emphasized verses which attest absolute obedience of angels to God, but also reinterpreted verses, which might imply the acknowledgement of fallen angels. For example, he read the term mala’ikah (angels) in reference to Harut and Marut in 2:102 as malikayn (kings), depicting them as ordinary men and not as angels. Although sometimes denied, many classical scholars, accepted the existence of fallen angels. These scholars provide different explanations for the impeccability of angels and their fall. Some assert that the impeccability of angels only applies to the messengers among them. Al-Baydawi (d. 1280) and Mahmud al-Alusi (1802–1854) suggested that angels are impeccable as long they remain angels, but if they abandon their obedience, they fall and might become shayatin or jinn. Some academic scholars evaluated whether or not the jinn could be compared to the Biblical concept of fallen angels. But although the different types of spirits in the Quran are sometimes hard to distinguish, the jinn in Islamic traditions seem to differ in their major characteristics from that of fallen angels.[b]
Mention of angels who physically descended (and figuratively “fell”) to Mount Hermon is found in the Book of Enoch, which the Ethiopian Orthodox Church and Eritrean Orthodox Tewahedo Church accept as biblical canon; as well as in various pseudepigrapha.
Second Temple period
The concept of fallen angels is mostly found in works dated to the Second Temple period between 530 BCE and 70 CE: in the Book of Enoch, the Book of Jubilees and the Qumran Book of Giants; and perhaps in Genesis 6:1–4. A reference to heavenly beings called “Watchers” originates in Daniel 4, in which there are three mentions, twice in the singular (v. 13, 23), once in the plural (v. 17), of “watchers, holy ones”. The Ancient Greek word for watchers is ἐγρήγοροι (egrḗgoroi, plural of egrḗgoros), literally translated as “wakeful”. In the Book of Enoch, these Watchers “fell” after they became “enamored” with human women. The Second Book of Enoch (Slavonic Enoch) refers to the same beings of the (First) Book of Enoch, now called Grigori in the Greek transcription. Compared to the other Books of Enoch, fallen angels play a less significant role in 3 Enoch. 3 Enoch mentions only three fallen angels called Azazel, Azza and Uzza. Similar to The first Book of Enoch, they taught sorcery on earth, causing corruption. Unlike the first Book of Enoch, there is no mention of the reason for their fall and, according to 3 Enoch 4.6, they also later appear in heaven objecting to the presence of Enoch.
According to 1 Enoch 7.2 the Watchers became “enamoured” with human women and had intercourse with them. The offspring of these unions, and the knowledge they were given, corrupted human beings and the earth 1 Enoch 10.11–12. Eminent among these angels are Shemyaza, their leader, and Azazel. Like many other fallen angels mentioned in 1 Enoch 8.1-9, Azazel introduced men to “forbidden arts”, but it is Azazel who is rebuked by Enoch himself for illicit instructions, as stated in 1 Enoch 13.1. According to 1 Enoch 10.6, God sent the archangel Raphael to chain Azazel in the desert Dudael as punishment. Further, Azazel is blamed for the corruption of earth:
1 Enoch 10:12: “All the earth has been corrupted by the effects of the teaching of Azazyel. To him therefore ascribe the whole crime.”
Treating theological issues such as the origin of evil as something supernatural, by shifting the origin of mankind’s sin and their misdeeds to illicit angel instruction, is a unique motif found in the Book of Enoch, but not in later Jewish and Christian theology.
The concept of fallen angels is also found in the Second Book of Enoch. It tells about Enoch’s ascent through the layers of heaven. During his journey, he encounters fallen angels imprisoned in the 2nd heaven. At first, he decides to pray for them, but refuses to do so, since he himself as merely human, would not be worthy to pray for angels. In the 5th heaven however, he meets other rebellious angels, here called Grigori, remaining in grief, not joining the heavenly hosts in song. Enoch tries to cheer them up by telling about his prayers for their fellow angels and thereupon they join the heavenly liturgy.
Strikely, the text refers to the leader of the Grigori as Satanail and not as Azael or Shemyaza. The Grigori are identified with the Watchers of 1 Enoch.
The narration of the Grigori in (2 Enoch 18:1–7), who went down on to earth, married women and “befouled the earth with their deeds”, resulting in their confinement under the earth, shows that the author of 2 Enoch knew about the stories in 1 Enoch. In the longer recension of 2 Enoch, chapter 29 refers to angels who were “thrown out from the height” when their leader tried to become equal in rank with the Lord’s power (2 Enoch 29:1–4), an idea probably taken from Ancient Canaanite religion about Attar, trying to rule the throne of Baal. The equation of an angel called Satanail with a deity trying to usurp the throne of a higher deity, was also adapted by later Christian about the fall of Satan.
The Book of Jubilees, an ancient Jewish religious work, accepted as canonical by the Ethiopian Orthodox Church and Beta Israel, refers to the Watchers, who are among the angels created on the first day. However, unlike the (first) Book of Enoch, the Watchers are commanded by God to descend to earth and to instruct humanity. It is only after they copulated with human women that they transgressed the laws of God. These illicit unions resulted in demonic offspring, who battled each other until they died, while the Watchers were bound in the depths of the earth as punishment. In Jubilees 10.1, another angel called Mastema appears as the leader of the evils spirits. He asks God to spare some of the demons, so he might use their aid to lead humankind into sin. Afterwards, he becomes their leader:
“‘Lord, Creator, let some of them remain before me, and let them harken to my voice, and do all that I shall say unto them; for if some of them are not left to me, I shall not be able to execute the power of my will on the sons of men; for these are for corruption and leading astray before my judgment, for great is the wickedness of the sons of men.’ (10:8)
Both the (first) Book of Enoch and the Book of Jubilees, include the motif of angels introducing evil to humans. However, unlike the Book of Enoch, the Book of Jubilees does not hold that evil was caused by the fall of angels in the first place, although their introduction to sin is affirmed. Further, while the fallen angels in The Book of Enoch are acting against God’s will, the fallen angels and demons in the Book of Jubilees seem to have no power independent from God but only act within his power.
Although the concept of fallen angels developed from early Judaism during the Second Temple period, rabbis from the second century onward turned against the Enochian writings, probably in order to prevent fellow Jews from worship and veneration of angels. Thus, while many angels were individualized and sometimes venerated during the Second Temple period, the status of angels was degraded to a class of creatures, thereby emphasizing the omnipresence of God. The 2nd-century rabbi Simeon b. Yohai cursed everyone who explained the term Sons of God as angels. He stated, Sons of God were actually sons of judges or sons of nobles. Evil was no longer attributed to heavenly forces, now it was dealt as an “evil inclination” (yetzer hara) within humans. However, narrations of fallen angels do appear in later rabbinic writings. In some midrashim, the “evil inclination” is attributed to Samael, who is in charge of several satans. But these angels are still subordinative to God. The reacceptance of fallen angels in midrashic discourse was probably influenced by the role of fallen angels in Islamic lore.
The idea of fallen angels is taken into account in the aggadic-midrashic work Pirke De-Rabbi Eliezer. The first fall of angels is attributed to Samael. Samael refused to worship Adam and objected God favoring Adam over the angels. Thereupon he descended to Adams abode and tempted him into sin. While the first fall of angels probably rooted in the motif of the fall of Iblis in the Quran and the fall of Satan in the Cave of Treasures, the second fall of angels echos the Enochian narratives. Again, the “sons of God” mentioned in Gen 6:1–4 are depicted as angels. During their fall, their “strength and stature became like the sons of man” and again, they gave existence to the giants by intercourse with human woman.
Although not strictly speaking fallen, evil angels reappear in Kabbalah. Some of them are named after angels taken from the Enochian writings, such as Samael. According to the Zohar, just as angels can be created by virtue, evil angels are an incarnation of human vices, which derive from the Qliphoth. Further, the Zohar recalls a narration of two angels in a “fallen” state, called Aza and Aza’el, who taught magic to humans, affirming but simultaneously prohibiting such practices.
Luke Luke 10:18 refers to “Satan falling from heaven” and only Matthew 25:41 mentiones “the devil and his angels”, who will be thrown into the hell. All Synoptic Gospels identify Satan as the leader of demons. Paul the Apostle (c. 5 – c. 64 or 67) states in Corinthians 6:3, there are angels, who will be “judged”, implying the existence of wicked angels. 2 Peter 2:4 and Jude 1:6 refer paraenetically to angels who have sinned against God and await punishment on Judgement Day. The Book of Revelation tells of “that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world”, being thrown down to the Earth together with his angels. It further speaks of Satan as a great red dragon whose “tail swept a third part of the stars of heaven and cast them to the earth”. In verses 7–9, Satan is defeated in the War in Heaven against Michael and his angels: “the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world—he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him”. Nowhere within the New Testament writings, fallen angels were identified with demons. Only the several references to Satan, demons and angels combined, led early Christian exegetes to equating fallen angels with demons, whom Satan was regarded as the leader.
Origen and other Christian writers linked the fallen morning star of Isaiah 14:12 of the Old Testament to Jesus’ statement in Luke 10:18 that he “saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven”, as well as a passage about the fall of Satan in Revelation 12:8–9. The Latin word lucifer, as introduced in the late 4th-century AD Vulgate, gave rise to the name “Lucifer” for a fallen angel. Christian tradition has associated Satan not only the image of the morning star in Isaiah 14:12, but also the denouncing in Ezekiel 28:11–19 of the king of Tyre, who is spoken of as having been a “cherub”. Rabbinic literature saw these two passages as in some ways parallel, even if it perhaps did not associate them with Satan, and the episode of the fall of Satan appears not only in writings of the early Church Fathers and in apocryphal and pseudepigraphic works, but also in rabbinic sources. However, “no modern evangelical commentary on Isaiah or Ezekiel sees Isaiah 14 or Ezekiel 28 as providing information about the fall of Satan”.
During the period immediately before the rise of Christianity, the intercourse between the Watchers and human women was often seen as the first fall of the angels. Christianity stuck to the Enochian writings at least until the third century. Many Church Fathers such as Irenaeus, Justin Martyr, Clement of Alexandria and Lactantius accepted the application of the angelic descent myth to the “sons of God” passage in Genesis 6:1–4. However some ascetics, such as Origen (c. 184 – c. 253), rejected this interpretation. According to the Church Fathers who accepted this doctrine, these angels were guilty of having transgressed the limits of their nature and of desiring to leave their heavenly abode to experience sensual experiences. Irenaeus referred to fallen angels as apostates, who will be punished by an everlasting fire. Justin Martyr (c. 100 – c. 165) identified pagan deities as fallen angels or their demonic offspring in disguise. Justin also held them responsible for Christian persecution during the first centuries. Tertullian and Origen also referred to fallen angels as teachers of Astrology.
The identification, based on an interpretation of Isaiah 14:1–17, which describes a king of Babylon as the fallen “morning star” (in Hebrew, הילל), was probably the first time identified with a fallen angel in by Origen. This description was interpreted typologically both as an angel and a human king: The image of the fallen morning star or angel was thereby applied to Satan by early Christian writers, following the equation of Lucifer to Satan in the pre-Christian century.
Augustine, in his Civitas Dei, divided the world into two Civitates: Two societies distinct from each other and opposed to each other like light and darkness. The earthly city was caused by the act of rebellion of the fallen angels and is inhabited by wicked men and demons (fallen angels) led by Satan. On the other hand, the heavenly city is inhabited by righteous men and the angels led by God. Despite the appearance of dualism, Augustine always emphasized the sovereignty of God. Accordingly, the inhabitants of the earthly city can only operate within their God-given framework. The rebellion of angels was also a result of the God-given freedom of choice. The obedient angels are endowed with grace, giving them a deeper understanding of God’s nature and the order of the cosmos. Illuminated by God-given grace, they became incapable to feel any desire to sin. The other angels, however, were not blessed with grace, thus they remained capable to sin. After these angels decided to sin, they fell from heaven and became demons. In Augustine’s view on angels, they can not be guilty of carnal desires since they lack flesh, but of sins that are rooted in spirit and intellect such as pride and envy. However, after they made their decision, they could not turn back. The Catechism of the Catholic Church speaks of “the fall of the angels” not in spatial terms but as a radical and irrevocable rejection of God and his reign by some angels who, though created as good beings, freely chose evil, their sin being unforgivable because of the irrevocable character of their choice, not because of any defect in infinite divine mercy.Catholicism rejects Apocatastasis, the reconcilement with God suggested by the Church Father Origen.
Eastern Orthodox Christianity
Like Catholicism, Eastern Orthodox Christianity shares the basic belief in fallen angels as spiritual beings who rebelled against God. Unlike Catholicism, there is no established doctrine about the exact nature of fallen angels, but Eastern Orthodox Christianity unanimously agrees that the power of fallen angels is always inferior to God. Therefore, belief in fallen angels can always be assimilated with local lore, as long it does not break basic principles. Some theologicans even suggest that fallen angels could be rehabilitated in the world to come. Fallen angels, just like angels, play a significant role in the spiritual life of believers. As in Catholicism, fallen angels tempt and incite people into sin, but mental illness is also linked to fallen angels. Those who have reached an advanced degree of spirituality are even thought to be able to envision them. Rituals and sacraments performed by Eastern Orthodoxy are thought to weaken such demonic influences.
Unlike most other Churches, the Ethiopian Church accepts 1 Enoch and the Book of Jubilees as canonical. As a result, the Church believes that sin did not originate in Adam’s transgression alone, but also from Satan and other fallen angels. Together with demons, they continue to cause sin and corruption on earth.
Like Catholisicm, Protestantism continues the concept of fallen angels as merely spiritual entities, however it rejects angelology established by Catholicism. Martin Luther’s (1483 – 1546)sermons of the angels recount the exploits of the fallen angels rather than dealing with an angelic hierarchy. Satan and his fallen angels are responsible for several misfortune in the world, but Luther always emphasized that the power of the good angels exceeds those of the fallen ones. The Italian Protestant theologican Girolamo Zanchi offered further explanations for the reason behind the fall of the angels. According to Zanchi, the angels rebelled when the incarnation of Christ was revealed to them in incomplete form. Nevertheless, Protestants are much less concerned with the cause of angelic fall, since it is thought as neither useful nor necessary to know.
Angels, both obedient and fallen, play an important role in the 17th-century epic poem Paradise Lost. They appear as rational individuals, thus their personality becomes comparative to that of humans. The fallen angels are named after entities from both Christian and Pagan mythology, such as Moloch, Chemosh, Dagon, Belial, Beelzebub and Satan himself. Following the canonical Christian narrative, Satan convinced other angels to live free from the laws of God, thereupon they are cast out of heaven.The epic poem starts with the fallen angels in hell. The first portrayal of God the reader encounters, are from the fallen angels, who describe Him as a questionable tyrant and blame Him for their fall. Outcast from heaven, the fallen angels establish their own kingdom in the depths of hell, with a capital called Pandæmonium. Unlike most earlier Christian representations of hell, it is not the primary place for God to torture the sinners, but the fallen angels’ own kingdom. The fallen angels even built a palace, play music and freely debate. Nevertheless, hell turns into a place of suffering by their own establishment.
The Quran repeatedly tells about the fall of Iblis. According to Surah 2:30 the angels objected to God’s intention to create a human, because they will cause corruption and shed blood, echoing the account of 1 Enoch and the Book of Jubilees after the angels observed men causing unrighteousness. However, after God demonstrated the superiority of Adam’s knowledge in comparation to the angels, He orders them to prostrate themselves. After the command, only Iblis refused to follow the instruction. When God asked for the reason behind Iblis’ refusal he boasted himself superior to Adam, because he was made of fire, thereupon God expelled him from heaven. In the early Meccan period, Iblis appears as a degraded angel. But since he is called a jinni in 18:50, some scholars argue that Iblis was actually not an angel, but an entity apart, stating his numbering among the angels was just a reward for his previous righteousness. Therefore, they rejected the concept of fallen angels and emphasized the nobility of angels by quoting certain Quranic verses like 66:6 and 16:49, dinstinghuishing between infallible angels and jinn capable of sin. However the denotion jinni can not clearly exclude Iblis from being an angel. According to Ibn Abbas, angels who guarded the Jinan (here: heavens) were called Jinni, just as humans who were from Mecca are called Mecci. Other scholars asserted that a jinni is everything hidden from human eye, both angels and demons as well as earthly jinn. Therefore, this verse could not exclude Iblis from being an angel. In Surah 15:36 God grants Iblis’ request to prove the unworthiness of humans. Surah 38:82 also confirms that Iblis’ intrigues to lead humans astray are permitted by God’s power. However, as mentioned in Surah 17:65 Iblis’ attempts to mislead God’s servants are destined to fail. The Quranic episode of Iblis parallels another wicked angel in the earlier Books of Jubilees: Like Iblis, Mastema requests God’s permission to tempt humanity, and both are limited in their power, that is, not able to deceive God’s servants. However Iblis’ disobedience derived not from the Watcher Stories, but can be traced back to the Cave of Treasuress, a work that probably holds the standard explanation in Proto-orthodox Christianity for the angelic fall of Satan. Accordingly, Satan refuses to prostrate himself before Adam, because he is “fire and spirit” and thereupon he banished from heaven. Unlike the majority opinion in later Christianity, the idea that Iblis tried to usurp the throne of God is alien to Islam and due to its strict monotheism unthinkable.
Harut and Marut
Harut and Marut are a pair of angels mentioned in 2:102. Although the reason behind their stay on earth is not mentioned in the Quran, the following narration became canonizied in Islamic tradition. The Quranexegete Tabari attributed this story to Ibn Masud and Ibn Abbas. Briefly summarized, the angels complained about the mischievousness of mankind and made a request to destroy them. Consequently, God offered a test to determine whether or not the angels would do better than humans for long: the angels will be endowed with humanlike urges and Satan would have power over them. The angels choose two (or in some accounts three) among themselves. However, on Earth, these angels entertained and acted upon sexual desires and were guilty of idol worship, whereupon they even killed an innocent witness. For their deeds, they were not allowed to ascend to Heaven again. Probably the names Harut and Marut are of Zoroastrian origin and derived from two Amesha Spentas called Haurvatat and Ameretat. Although the Quran gave these fallen angels Iranian names, mufassirs recognized them as from the Book of Watchers. In accordance with 3 Enoch, al-Kalbi (737 AD – 819 AD) named three angels, who descended to earth and even gave them their Enochian names. He explained that one of them returned to heaven and the other two changed their names to Harut and Marut. However, like in the story of Iblis, the story of Harut and Marut does not contain any trace of angelic revolt. Rather the stories about fallen angels are related to a rivary between humans and angels. As the Quran affirms, Harut and Marut are sent by God and, unlike the Watchers, they only instruct humans to witchcraft by God’s permission, just as Iblis can just tempt humans by God’s permission.
- Lester L. Grabbe calls the story of the sexual intercourse between angels and women “an old myth in Judaism”. Further, he states: “the question of whether the myth is an interpretation of Genesis or whether Genesis represents a brief reflection of the myth is debated.”
- In classical Islamic traditions, the jinn are often thought of as a race of Pre-Adamites, who dwelled on earth. However, their ethereal body, they share with the Christian notion of fallen angels, would allow them to climb up to heaven to steel its news, thus passing secret information to soothsayers, a concept corresponding with the GreekDaimon. The Quran also refers to the belief of jinn, trying to climb up to heaven. As Patricia Crone points out, one of the characteristics of fallen angels is, that they fell from heaven, not that they try to get back up to it.
- Nevertheless, a narrative attributed to Ibn Hazm states that the angel Sandalphon blamed the Jews for venerating Metatron as “son of God” “10 days each year”.
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