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Angels

Duration:
45 minutes
First broadcast:
Thursday 24 March 2005

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the heavenly host of Angels. George Bernard Shaw made the observation that "in heaven an angel is nobody in particular", but there is nothing commonplace about this description of angels from the Bible's book of Ezekiel:
"They had the likeness of a man. And every one had four faces, and every one had four wings. And their feet were straight feet; and the sole of their feet was like the sole of a calf's foot: and they sparkled like the colour of burnished brass.... As for the likeness of their faces, they four had the face of a man, and the face of a lion, on the right side: and they four had the face of an ox on the left side; they four also had the face of an eagle."

With angels like that, it is easy to see why they have caused so much controversy over the centuries.

What part have angels played in western religion? How did they get their halos and their wings? And what are they really: Gods or men?

With Martin Palmer, theologian and Director of the International Consultancy on Religion, Education and Culture; Valery Rees, Renaissance Scholar at the School of Economic Science; John Haldane, Professor of Philosophy, University of St Andrews.

  • Further Reading

    The Bible:
    Genesis chapter 1 for the Cherubim, 16 for Hagar's angel, 18-19 for Abraham's angels, 22 for the binding of Isaac, 28 for Jacob's ladder; Exodus 3 for the burning bush; Numbers 22 for the story of Balaam, Joshua 5; Judges 6;
    The two great visionary passages of angels are Isaiah 6 and Ezekiel 1.
    For New Testament angels see especially St Matthew, chs 1-2; St Mark 1, St Luke 1-2, and Revelation.

    The Koran, A. J. Arberry (transl.) (Oxford World's Classics)

    The Koran, N. J. Dawood (transl.) (Penguin Classics) (both versions have a helpful index)

    Book of Enoch, tr. R. Charles (SPCK, 1994)

    The Celestial Hierarchy printed in Pseudo-Dionysius the Complete Works, translated by Colm Luibheid (Paulist Press, 1987)

    David Keck, Angels and Angelology in the Middle Ages (Oxford University Press 1998)

    Glenn Peers, Subtle Bodies: Representing Angels in Byzantium (University of California Press, 2001)

    Deborah Harkness, John Dee's Conversations with Angels: Cabala, Alchemy and the End of Nature (Cambridge University Press, 2000)

    Soheil Muhsin Afnan, Avicenna: his Life and Works (Greenwood Press, 1980)

    H. C. Moolenburgh, A Handbook of Angels, ( C.W. Daniel, 1984)

    James R. Lewis, Angels A-Z (Gale, 1995)

    Martin Israel, Angels: Messengers of Grace (SPCK, 1995)

    Mortimer Adler, The Angels and Us, (Macmillan, 1982)

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