Newman’s Nook: Biblical vs. Cultural Angels

Angels are prominent figures in our culture and others, and have been for thousands of years. They are biblical beings that are commonly used culturally to connect a story to the Christian God. In classic European and American art, angels were generally portrayed in two main ways, as fat babies or normal humans with flowing robes, wings, and halos over their heads.

But what about today? What about in anime and manga?

Eniale & Dewiela

The manga series Eniale & Dewiela introduces readers to a number of angels and demons. The basic premise of the series is that angel Eniale and demon Dewiela are friends. Kind of. As the series progresses, their friendship is fairly antagonistic, with each trying to reap souls respectively for Heaven or Hell. Their goal is to convince humans to follow their leader (i.e. God or Satan). Instead of dwelling on how that is theologically preposterous from a Christian perspective, let’s talk more about the way angels are visually presented in series.

Most angels in Eniale & Dewiela look like humans. Not just regular humans, but beautiful humans. They are glamorous with personalities that would also qualify as being very human. They get caught into whims about fashion. They become annoyed and argue. They have pretty standard conversations about their jobs and how they plan to perform them. Basic human stuff.

In volume two of the manga, the concept of transitioning into becoming an angel or demon is introduced. In this manga universe, humans who make certain life decisions can transform into angels or demons upon their demise. By being more holy or more evil, they can be aligned into one of these categories and fully transition upon death of their physical bodies. It is an interesting and fun concept.

Heaven’s Design Team

Heaven’s Design Team is an edutainment anime and manga series that is set at the beginning of time. Each anime episode starts by giving the premise that “In the beginning…” God was going to create all the animals of the world, but decided to outsource it to a group of angels instead of doing all the work Himself. As the series progresses and the angels create animals per God’s requests, a core group of angels is introduced, as well as one demon. In the English translation of the series, the majority of the angels on the “Design Team” are named for deities from the classic Roman pantheon.

These angels, once again, look human. Unlike Eniale & Dewiela, thought, there’s more variety to their appearance. There are characters who look old or young; tall or short; masculine or feminine; realistic or with full-on anime hair. The variety in character design reflects on the actual variety in all of God’s creation. It is a great way to present these different characters while teaching the reader about different animals and why they function the way they do. Like Eniale & Dewiela, these angels all have varied personalities and very human reactions. One of the angels, Saturn (Tsuchiya), also has a grandchild. So, these versions of angels are either capable of reproduction or are able to create their family members; this concept is not exactly elaborated upon as the core of the series is to be educational with fun facts about animals.

Another fascinating take on angels!

The Evangelion Franchise

I would be remiss if I did not include quite possibly the most well known angels in all of anime and manga—the angels of the Evangelion franchise.

In both Neon Genesis Evangelion and the Rebuild of Evangelion films, angels are generally referencing the “Seeds of Adam” and are these wildly varied living beings that appear to be set on world destruction. Well, mostly. The goals of the angels in this series appears to be reunification with their originator, Adam. In so doing they would initiate Third Impact and potentially destroy the world. So while their goal is reunification, the result is world destruction. Some angels appear to fully understand this goal, while others have less sentience.

The appearances of the angels vary wildly from angel to angel. Ramiel, pictured above, appears purely as an octahedron with a drill that comes out of their lower half. What other kind of angels exist? Let’s run through a few:

  • Sachiel is a roughly humanoid shaped giant with a head embedded in its chest along with a giant red core.
  • Shamshel is a giant tube with laser whips instead of arms and a sharp top that appears to be shaped like the top of a squid.
  • Armisael is a giant floating white ring that can penetrate the minds of humans.
  • Tabris (aka Kaworu) appears in the body of a teenage boy.

There are numerous other angels, but I think you get the general idea. They are not united in appearance in the Evangelion franchise. In fact, there is not a single angel that matches up with what is generally seen in western popular culture. Also, apart from Tabris, none of them really look like humans.

The Bible

But how are angels presented in the Bible? First, let’s make clear that angels and humans are clearly referred to as separate created things in scripture. People do not become angels and angels cannot become people. Blue Letter Bible has a handful of quick links that show examples from scripture that angels and humans are distinct creatures. Here are two big highlights:

  • Humans were made in God’s image, while angels were made separately before humans.
  • Angels are not inherently engendered and do not marry/procreate.

Meaning? The idea that Saturn would have grandchildren or any children for that matter is out of the question from a biblical perspective. Also, the concept in Eniale & Dewiela of humans becoming angels or demons is also thrown to the side. If you’re interested in learning more, so many Christian writers have tackled this particular topic better than I.

Turning toward appearances, what do angels look like? That is an interesting question and, frankly, depends on what angels we are talking about in the Bible.

Inhuman Angels

In Ezekiel, the prophet presents the image of divine living creatures in Ezekiel 1:4-21 that can be inferred to be angels. The first is a being with multiple animal faces and multiple sets of wings that can teleport in the blink of an eye. These creatures are later referred to in Ezekiel 10:15 as cherubim. The other creatures, referred to later as “the wheelwork,” are two sets of interconnected rings with eyes circling in opposite directions. These divine creatures are, according to Ezekiel, messengers from the Lord. So. in theory, these divine, living beings are a form of angel.

Much later, in the Book of Revelation, John of Patmos refers to a different set of living creatures that surround the throne of God. These beings have humanoid bodies and animal faces (Revelation 4:6-8). While much of John’s visions in Revelation are intentionally symbolic, from the context it has been inferred that these are images granted to John of divine beings or angels.

Returning to the Old Testament, the prophet Isaiah refers to a different set of angelic beings known as seraphim. In Isaiah 6:2-7, it is inferred that these beings have some vaguely humanoid body; however, the body is mostly covered with huge sets of wings that block Isaiah from seeing their primary form. The seraph have a set of wings covering their feet and a set of wings that covers their faces. The rest are used to fly.

Other angels have forms that are not described. In Numbers 22:22-35, Balaam’s donkey is stopped by an unknown angel. All we know of this angel is that it was frightening and had a flaming sword. Earlier, in Genesis 3:24, a cherubim is mentioned (who is later described by Ezekiel) as well as a being that has a flaming sword. Is it the same as the angel seen by Balaam and his donkey? Or is it that only the flaming sword could be seen by the people and its form is unknowable? I don’t know, and scholars have debated (and continue to debate) this question.

Humanoid Angels

 

If the angels presented above are those found in the Bible, then why do we often find the cultural assumption that angels look like humans? Well, there are many other examples throughout scripture that present angels as looking that way.

The famed angel Gabriel is first introduced in Daniel, and according to him, looks like a human. Gabriel later appears in the New Testament as a herald to Mary in the Gospel of Luke and to Joseph in a dream in the Gospel of Matthew. While Gabriel’s appearance is not described in the Gospels, as it explicitly the same named angel, it can be inferred that their appearance would be similar.

Later in the Gospel of Luke, angels are present at Christ’s tomb who have the appearance of people as well (Luke 24:1-5). They are not described as some fantastical beasts, but simply as looking like people. The author of Hebrews at one point adds that certain ones can look so much like humans that you may not even know if a person you helped was human or an angel (Hebrews 13:2).

There are various other angels in the Bible that look human too. Abraham is approached by the Angel of the Lord as well as two angels who all look like humans. These same two angels later go to Sodom to meet Lot and his family, again appearing in human form. In the Apocryphal or deuterocanical book of Tobit, an angel named Raphael who is solely described as having a human form is presented. Jacob later wrestles with the Angel of the Lord who appears in human form. The various Judges and their families occasionally saw angels that appeared as humans.

Thus there are a multitude of Biblical and extra-biblical examples of angels who appear human. However, one thing is common among all these—none are not described as having wings. In that way, these angels have more in common with the appearance of the ones Heaven’s Design Squad, who similarly lack wings.

Final Note

Pop culture likes to present angels because they are a mystical and seemingly magical connection to God. In some instances, they are used because they can act and look like humans, providing an easy means of connecting the reader or viewer with the divine. In other cases, such as with Evangelion, angels are used to monstrous effect to present divine power that is beyond human comprehension. Both presentations can line up with Biblical representations of angels.

Personality-wise, not much is known biblically about angels. They appear to generally provide information and then leave. We don’t know if they are fashion-obsessed like Eniale or really excited about birds like Venus (Kanamori). Biblically we do know they desire to be with the Lord and separation from Him is a huge punishment; however, examples aren’t given of that desire being used as a means to destroy humanity. What we do know is that they lack sex or gender, cannot procreate, are not humans, and can come in a wide variety of shapes or forms.

Maybe what we really need is to continue to increase the variety of angels we see in our anime or manga! Let have some new stories where the angels Ezekiel sees or the ones presented in Evangelion are trying to convince some humanoid angels to join them for a skeeball tournament. Or a group of wheelwork angels on a heavenly baseball team trying to compete with a team of mostly humanoid angels and maybe some deceased baseball players?

Or then again, maybe not.

What kind of angels do you think of when you think of anime or manga angels? Do you have any more examples you can think of that are far from the Bible or maybe some that are super close?


Eniale & Dewiela is published by Yen Press. Heaven’s Design Team is published by Kodansha and the anime is streaming at Crunchyroll. Neon Genesis Evangelion can be streamed at Netflix.

Featured illustration by GREY (reprinted w/permission).

mdmrn

6 thoughts on “Newman’s Nook: Biblical vs. Cultural Angels

  1. Such an interesting topic. Thank you, MDRMN! St Thomas Aquinas theorized that, as angels are spirits and do not have bodies or occupy space, they are personal beings, but as different from each other as two different species, which fits the Evangelion wild differences. Even do, they are in harmony, as different voices in choruses. Such choruses would be, for example, the Cherubim (from the Hebrew Cherub, “light”), the Seraphim (from Seraph, “fire) or the Archangels. According to the Scripture, the angels are many, as in an army or legions.

    As personal beings, they are free and rational, and think, act and enjoy things, but probably in ways we cannot understand. They are part of the Church. They can love (and love us), and can communicate among themselves and with us, even without words (by inspiration or temptation). Not having bodies, their time is also different from ours, and they manifest at will, with God’s permission, in various phenomena, bodies and visions, but are not linked to them by necessity, and they soon disappear. It is even possible for angels to posses the body of a human being and make him move or talk, though only the evil ones even do that. They are not omniscient like God, but they are wise.

    Also, they cooperate with God’s designs, obliging or Redemption and His governance of the cosmos, as in HDT. Not because He needs them somehow, but because He likes His creatures to do participate in what He does wherever that’s possible, like He does with us. In God’s creation, the greatest assists the lesser, so they serve us add custodians (thus, those words of Our Lord about the angels of the “little ones”). And, as in Eniale, they were once in a state of proof (though not as humans or on Earth), during which they freely chose God or themselves/hell forever, as is fitting for free beings.

    Lastly, their appearances are probably quite impressive, as they always seem to begin saying “fear not”. Whenever I think about that, I get a feeling of wonder. It’s a very interesting Creation.

    1. Thanks for the additional commentary and kind words on the article. While there is some we know from tradition and the Bible of angels, it is fascinating all we do not know about them as well which definitely makes them an interesting item for discussion and art!

  2. I think it’s safe to assume that angels are fairly powerful and could change their appearance if they wanted to. I admit I haven’t though much about angels and always considered them to be God’s messengers.
    For your first example, Eniale & Dewiela, you talked about angels and demons. Are demons just the angels that were cast down from heaven, or are they separate entities?

    1. A lot of the discussion above was about, well, their appearance, which is the most striking thing I find about how angels are described Biblically. Regarding angels and demons in Eniale & Dewiela, well how they came to be demons is not really discussed. While Biblically, there are references to demons being fallen angels, like angels not much else is known about them which makes them again fascinating for art and discussion!

  3. I’ve always figured they could just shapeshift and look like whatever they want. Satan’s influence can be among any number of humans at a given time across the world, so I can only assume that his power must be global and an angel’s would be as well with many angels being greater than Satan. Taking a given appearance would be child’s play to beings with powers of a uniquely divine origin.
    I take it from the article that you’re not on board with Nephilim theory that the giants were the children of angels and human women.

    1. You raise a good and interesting point. While many feel Satan’s influence can be felt all across the globe simultaneously, one has to question a few things. First, is that truly Satan or just localized evil. Second, if we assume it’s all Satan’s personal influence, I always feel we are giving too much power to Satan. From a Biblical perspective, Satan is not an “evil version of God,” they’re a created thing that is limited in power. Powerful, but still limited.

      And generally, no, I don’t believe that the Nephilim are half-human/half-angel. As Christ Himself indicated angels aren’t able to reproduce, that tends to wipe out that theory in my mind. But, I could always be wrong and I’m definitely open to learning more.

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