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Michael (archangel)

's archangel Michael (in the Capuchin church of Sta. Maria della Concezione, Rome) tramples a Satan with the vividly recognizable features of .
Guido Reni's archangel Michael (in the Capuchin church of Sta. Maria della Concezione, Rome) tramples a Satan with the vividly recognizable features of Pope Innocent X.

Michael (Hebrew מיכאל Micha'el or Mîkhā’ēl) is an archangel, who is only mentioned by name in the Persian context of the post-Exilic Book of Daniel. Only there in Daniel does Michael appear— as "one of the chief princes" who in Daniel's vision comes to the angel Gabriel's aid in his contest with the angel of Persia, and is also described there as the advocate of Israel (10:21, 12:1). The Talmud tradition rendered his name as meaning "who is like El (God)? (but literally "El's Likeness")" (compare the late prophet Micah), but according to the rabbi Simeon ben Lakish (230-270 CE), however, all the specific names for the angels were brought back by the Jews from Babylon, and many modern commentators would assent.

Much of the late Midrash detail about Michael was transmitted to Christian mythology through the Book of Enoch whence it was taken up and further elaborated.

Catholic and Orthodox Christians refer to him as St. Michael the Archangel and also simply as Saint Michael.


Michael in the Book of Daniel

The prophet Daniel experiences a vision after having undergone a period of fasting. In the vision, an angel identifies Michael as the protector of Israel (10:13, 21). Later in the vision (12:1), Daniel is informed that Michael will stand for Israel during the tribulation to come. There is no further mention of Michael in the Hebrew Bible.

Michael in the Book of Enoch

Michael is designated in the Book of Enoch, as "the prince of Israel." He is the angel of forbearance and mercy (Enoch, xl:3) who taught Enoch the mysteries of clemency and justice (lxxi:2). In the book of Jubilees (i:27 and ii:1), the angel who is said to have instructed Moses on Mount Sinai and to have delivered to him the tables of the Law is most probably Michael.

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Michael in the canonical New Testament

In the Epistle of Jude, Michael disputes with Satan over the body of Moses. John's Book of Revelation also shows Michael fighting the seven-headed dragon, representative of Satan, in a battle in heaven.

Michael in the Book of Joshua

Some Bible scholars believe that the personage mentioned as meeting up with Joshua in the early days of his campaigns in the Promised Land (Joshua 5: 13-15) should as well be viewed as Michael the Archangel, as the un-named person refers to himself as "the Captain of the host of the LORD" (KJ) a position seemingly in keeping with Michael's position as "head" or "arch" angel, the leader of the heavenly host. It is obvious from the context of the passage that Joshua is depicted as meeting up with a person of supernatural and holy origin, likely sent by God.

Joshua Chapter 5: 13-15 (King James Version)

13: And it came to pass, when Joshua was by Jericho, that he lifted up his eyes and looked, and, behold, there stood a man over against him with his sword drawn in his hand: and Joshua went unto him, and said unto him, Art thou for us, or for our adversaries? 14: And he said, Nay; but as captain of the host of the LORD am I now come. And Joshua fell on his face to the earth, and did worship, and said unto him, What saith my lord unto his servant? 15: And the captain of the LORD's host said unto Joshua, Loose thy shoe from off thy foot; for the place whereon thou standest is holy. And Joshua did so.

Michael in the Christian Apocrypha

In the Apocalypse of Moses (book 1) it is stated that Moses received the two tablets through the mediation of Michael.

Michael in the Rabbinic traditions

According to rabbinic Jewish tradition, Michael acted as the advocate of Israel, and sometimes had to fight with the princes of the other nations (comp. Dan. x. 13) and particularly with the angel Samael, Israel's accuser.

According to rabbinic Jewish tradition, Michael's enmity with Samael dates from the time when the latter was thrown down from heaven. Samael took hold of the wings of Michael, whom he wished to bring down with him in his fall; but Michael was saved by God (Midrash Pirke R. El. xxvi.).

The rabbis declare that Michael entered upon his role of defender at the time of the biblical patriarchs. Thus, according to Rabbi Eliezer ben Jacob, it was Michael who rescued Abraham from the furnace into which he had been thrown by Nimrod (Midrash Genesis Rabbah xliv. 16). It was Michael, the "one that had escaped" (Genesis xiv. 13), who told Abraham that Lot had been taken captive (Midrash Pirke R. El.), and who protected Sarah from being defiled by Abimelech. He announced to Sarah that she would bear a son and he rescued Lot at the destruction of Sodom (Talmud B. M. 86b).

It is said that Michael prevented Isaac from being sacrificed by his father by substituting a ram in his place, and saved Jacob, while yet in his mother's womb, from being killed by Samael (Midr. Abkir, in Yalḳ., Gen. 110). Later Michael prevented Laban from harming Jacob (Pirke R. El. xxxvi.). According to one source, it was Michael who wrestled with Jacob and who afterward blessed him (Targum pseudo-Jonathan to Genesis xxxii. 25; Pirke R. El. xxxvii.).

The midrash Exodus Rabbah holds that Michael exercised his function of advocate of Israel at the time of the Exodus also, when Satan accused the Israelites of idolatry and declared that they were consequently deserving of death by drowning in the Red Sea (Ex. R. xviii. 5). But according to Midr. Abkir, when Uzza, the tutelar angel of Egypt, summoned Michael to plead before God, Michael remained silent, and it was God Himself who defended Israel.

Legend makes Michael the teacher of Moses; so that the Israelites are indebted to their advocate for the supreme good of the Torah. This idea is alluded to in Midrash Deuteronomy Rabbah xi. 6 in the statement that Michael declined to bring Moses' soul to God on the ground that he had been Moses' teacher.

Michael is said to have destroyed the army of Sennacherib (Midrash Exodus Rabbah xviii. 5). He is said to have tried to prevent Israel from being led into captivity by Nebuchadnezzar and to save the Temple from destruction; but the sins of the people were so great that he was powerless to carry his purposes into effect.

There is a legend which seems to be of Jewish origin, and which was adopted by the Copts, to the effect that Michael was first sent by God to bring Nebuchadnezzar against Jerusalem, and that Michael was afterward very active in freeing his nation from Babylonian captivity (Amélineau, "Contes et Romans de l'Egypte Chrétienne," ii. 142 et seq.). According to a midrash, Michael saved Hananiah and his companions from the furnace (Midrash Genesis Rabbah xliv. 16). Michael was active in the time of Esther: "The more Haman accused Israel on earth, the more Michael defended Israel in heaven" (Midrash Esther Rabbah iii. 8). It was Michael who reminded Ahasuerus that he was Mordecai's debtor (Targum to Esther vi. 1); and there is a legend that Michael appeared to the high priest Hyrcanus, promising him assistance (comp. Josephus, "Ant." xiii. 10, § 3).

It was Michael's fight with Samael (with the devil in Assumptio Mosis, x.) which gave rise to the well-known legend of Michael and the dragon. This legend is not found in Jewish sources except in so far as Samael or Satan is called in the Cabala "the primitive serpent".

The idea that Michael was the advocate of the Jews became so prevalent that in spite of the rabbinical prohibition against appealing to angels as intermediaries between God and His people, Michael came to occupy a certain place in the Jewish liturgy. There were two prayers written beseeching him as the prince of mercy to intercede in favor of Israel: one composed by Eliezer ha-Kalir, and the other by Judah b. Samuel he-Hasid. But appeal to Michael seems to have been more common in ancient times. Thus Jeremiah is said (Baruch Apoc. Ethiopic, ix. 5) to have addressed a prayer to him. "When a man is in need he must pray directly to God, and neither to Michael nor to Gabriel" (Yer. Ber. ix. 13a).

With regard to the nature of the offerings which Michael brings to the altar, one opinion is that they are the souls of the just, while according to another they are fiery sheep. The former opinion, which has become prevalent in Jewish mystical writings, explains the important position occupied by Michael in Jewish eschatology. The idea that Michael is the Charon of individual souls, which is common among Christians, is not found in Jewish sources, but that he is in charge of the souls of the just appears in many Jewish writings.

Michael is said to have had a discussion with Samael over the soul of Moses (Midrash Deut. Rabbah xi. 6.) According to the Zohar, Michael accompanies the souls of the pious and helps them to enter the gates of the heavenly Jerusalem. It is said that Michael and his host are stationed at the gates of the heavenly Jerusalem and give admittance to the souls of the just. Michael's function is to open the gates also of justice to the just. It is also said that at the resurrection Michael will sound the trumpet, at which the graves will open and the dead will rise.

Michael in the Kabbalistic traditions

In later Jewish writings, particularly in Kabbalistic works, he is viewed as "the advocate of the Jews."

Judao-Christian and modern occultists associate Michael with the color Red, the direction South and the element Fire.

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Michael in Christian legend

Catholic and Orthodox Christians often refer to the angel Michael as "Saint Michael", an honorific title that does not indicate canonisation. He is generally referred to in Christian litanies as "Saint Michael the Archangel".

Michael was usually honored on mountain tops and high places, and many famous shrines to him survive on those places, often replacing shrines of pre-Christian gods concerned with weather, like Wotan. He was also seen as replacing Hermes or Mercury in the role of weigher of souls on Judgment Day. He was usually depicted in Medieval and Renaissance art carrying a flaming sword.

In the Roman Calendar of the Saints, the feast, once widely known as Michaelmas, is celebrated September 29 and was one of the four Irish Quarter days on which accounts were settled and the third of the English quarter days when university terms began.

Medieval Christians considered St. Michael as the symbol or emblem of the Church Militant and as the patron saint of soldiers. Today, however, he is more usually associated with police officers, paramedics, EMTs and other emergency workers. He is also the patron of Ukraine and its capital Kyiv and of the archdiocese of Seattle.

In LDS belief, Michael lived a mortal life as the patriarch Adam. Michael and Adam are regarded as the same person, but Michael alone is regarded as the immortal resurrected being (angel).

Jehovah's Witnesses believe that Jesus and the Archangel Michael are the same being. They believe that Jesus/Michael was the first being that God created, and assisted with the creation of the universe, the angels, and mankind. In this prehuman existence he was known as the Word of God. He later took human form as Jesus and led a life without sin. After his crucifixion, Jesus was resurrected in his previous spiritual form.

Shrines of St. Michael

Michael in Islam

In Arabic literature, Michael is called "Mika'il" or (in the Qur'an) "Mikal." He is one of the four archangels, and, according to Arabic tradition following upon early rabbinic traditions, he occupies a similar position among the Jews to that occupied by Gabriel among the Arabs; that is to say, he is their peculiar guardian.

In the Qur'an Michael is mentioned once only, in Sura 2:92. In his commentary on verse 91 of that sura, Baiḍawi relates that on one occasion Omar went into a Jewish school and inquired concerning Gabriel. The pupils said he was their enemy, but that Michael was a good angel, bringing peace and plenty. In answer to Omar's question as to the respective positions of Michael and Gabriel in God's presence, they said that Gabriel was on His right hand and Michael on His left. Omar exclaimed at their untruthfulness, and declared that whoever was an enemy to God and His angels, to him God would be an enemy. Upon returning to Mohammed, Omar found that Gabriel had forestalled him by revealing the same message, which is contained in verse 92. Muslim commentators state with reference to Sura 11 :72 that Michael was one of the three angels who visited Abraham.

In Arabic tradition Michael always appears as second to Gabriel. When God is creating Adam, he sends first Gabriel and then Michael to fetch the clay out of which man is to be formed. Both are restrained by the earth's protests; only Israfil pays no heed to them. When Adam and Eve are expelled from paradise, Gabriel is sent to the former, and Michael to the latter, to impart comfort. On his death-bed Mohammed stated that Gabriel would be the first and Michael the second to pray over him.

Michael in Paradise Lost

In the English epic by John Milton, Michael commands the army of angels loyal to God against the rebel forces of Satan. Armed with a sword from God's armory, he bests Satan in personal combat, wounding his side.

The movie Michael

The Archangel Michael was the title character, played by John Travolta, in the 1996 movie Michael. The film was a comedy about an unconventional angel found living on Earth.

See also

External links

Last updated: 05-16-2005 15:01:37