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Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Angel of Death I: Malach ha-Mavet, Severe Agent of God

Angel of Death: (Malakh ha-Mavet, Mar Mavet, Malach Ahzari). God’s agent of death in the world and the most dreaded of all numinous beings.

["The end of man is to die" - Microscript illustration found at www.isidore-of-seville.com/]

First mentioned in Biblical literature simply as Mavet (personified Death), ha-Mashchit (the Destroyer), Malach-Adonai (Angel of the Lord),
And the Angel of the Lord went out and attacked the Assyrian camp; One hundred eighty-five thousand.And when they arose in the morning, they were all dead bodies. (Isaiah 37:36)
in later literature the title “Angel of Death” becomes conventional. God created the Angel on the first day, along with light.
The notion of an angel bringing death probably arose out of the widespread belief in the Bible that those who look upon God would die. In Judges 13:22-23, this logic was also applied to seeing the Malach Adonai.

The various legends about the Angel are so diverse it is hard to reconcile them all. Some traditions fuse the Angel with God's other severe agents, ha-Satan and the Yetzer ha-Ra (See earlier entries A Necessary Evil: The Yetzer ha-Ra and Did Satan Fall?: The Devil is in the Details ). Others identify the Angel with Samael [“The Gall of God”](See Samael: Demon Prince, Consort of Lilith) (LOTJ III:475), Suriel (LOTJ VI:162), or Leviathan (LOTJ V:26) (See Leviathan II: Demon of the Sea, Messianic Meal). Another strand of tradition teaches that the same angel that brings a soul into the world is also the one who will bring it back. There are also traditions concerning Domah, the angel of the grave, who pronounces the initial judgment against the soul while it still clings to the body. In some texts, he functions exactly as the Angel of Death does. Perhaps in an attempt to pull all the strands together, according to a late tradition there are actually six angels of death: Gabriel over kings; Kazfiel over youths; Mashbir over wild animals; Mashchit (the angel responsible for the tenth plague) over children; Af and Chemah over man and [domestic] beast (Beit ha-Midrash, 2:98). Plant life, evidently, does not require such direct supervision.

According to the Talmud, death is the slowest of all the angels, except in times of epidemic, when he is the fastest. The Malach ha-Mavet is monstrous in appearance: full of eyes that see all creatures (Ber. 4b), and can appear with seven dragon heads (Testament of Abraham). He is robed in a mantle that allows him to change appearance. Death can command hosts of demons (Gen. R. 26). Some traditions hold the Angel was created on the first day, along with darkness, while others say he arose after the first sin (PdRE 13; A.Z. 22b; Zohar I: 35b).

I will follow with accounts of the Angel's interactions with humanity.

Zal G'mor: To learn more, consult the Encyclopedia of Jewish Myth, Magic, and Mysticism: http://www.amazon.com/Encyclopedia-Jewish-Myth-Magic-Mysticism/dp/0738709050
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4 Comments:

Anonymous Abdur Rahman said...

Salaams and Shalom Rabbi Geoffrey,

A fascinating post on a much feared angel. We know the Angel of Death as Malik al-Maut in Islam. But, at the end of the day, death is a necessary part of life - so why worry?

Thank you for an interesting blog too.

Abdur Rahman

9:41 AM  
Blogger Sara said...

You need to follow this one up with the Shechinah kiss version.

3:29 AM  
Blogger Skippy said...

There is an entry now on the kiss as a spiritual gesture and symbol. Use the search engine.

9:36 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I beleive the reaper takes the weak as it has not got the power to destroy the strong

4:12 AM  

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