Ancient Angels

Angels have been recorded in history by many different cultures throughout the world. Some scholars say that the earliest religious representation of the angels dates back to the city of Ur, in the Euphrates Valley, c. 4000–2500 b.c.e. A stele, which is a stone slab, showed a winged figure descended from one of the seven heavens to pour the water of life from an overflowing jar into the cup held by the king. Other records show that in Mesopotamia, there were giant winged creatures, part human, part animal, known as griffins. And in Egypt, Nepthys, the twin sister of the goddess Isis, is shown in paintings and reliefs enfolding the dead in her beautiful wings. Her image is found carved on the inner right-hand door of Shrine III in the tomb of Tutankhamen, c. fourteenth century b.c.e. Her angelic representation encompasses the dead pharaoh and protects him from all harm.

The ancient Egyptians believed that each person born into the world had a supernatural double, called her ka, who was born alongside the person and stayed as a part of her life ever after. The ka was, in one sense, what we now call a guardian angel.

Without doubt, based upon archeological evidence and other prehistoric information, there were angels long before Christianity appeared on the religious stage. Angels are most ancient, predating even early Judaism. Images of angels appear all over Asia Minor, in different cultures in the ancient civilized world, and westward into Greece and Italy. Iris, “the rainbow of Zeus,” and Hermes, messenger of the gods and guide of souls, both wear wings and serve angelic functions, carrying messages and bringing aid to humans. The famous Greek sculpture Winged Victory (Nike) served as a model for the Renaissance angels that proliferated into the Middle Ages, firmly establishing the concept of angels in that period.

Angels are also found in the Asian cultures represented by Buddhism and Taoism. Without question, the idea of angels appears everywhere in Asia Minor; from there it extended into the Mediterranean basin of Greece and Italy, where it would be transformed.

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