We must first understand that angels and angelic type divinities and
divine messengers are creatures common to many ancient and current
religions other than Judaism and Christianity. Angels announced the
birth of Mithras to shepherds just as they announced the birth of
Jesus. Angels are a feature in Zoroastrianism. Angel type winged
divinities were part of the ancient world from the winged godesses of
Egypt to Sumeria to Babylon and beyond. And many concepts of angels
have no wings at all.
Even the appearance of angels has changed with time. The Sumerian
original version of them was that they were entities that were
relatively fierce looking beings that had the body of an ox or horse
and the face of a man with a long beard and wings. They were supposed
to have been sent to guard the Tree of Life in the Garden of Creation
Angels or angelic type beings have in most all ancient religions
divine messengers sent to humans to instruct, inform, or command them.
An angel can function also as a protective guardian, as a heavenly
warrior, and even as a cosmic power. Moreover, the line between a good
angel and a bad angel, or demon, is sometimes unclear. Hence, angels
can be broadly described as personified powers mediating between the
divine and the human.
In Islam, the Koran says: "He [God] sends forth guardians who watch
over you and carry away your souls without fail when death overtakes
you." Guardian angels are angels assigned by God for protection.
There are guardian angels for almost everything including people,
nations, planets, plants, animals and governments. In the Book of
Enoch, where he speaks of being taken to the First and Sixth Heavens
by the angels, you will see that they are watching the stars and the
heavens - counting and measuring the motions of said stars and planets
and cycles of time.
In Zoroastrianism there are the Fravashi, spirits of ancestors who are
also guardian angels. Zoroastrianism has exercised an influence on
the doctrines of other religions disproportionate to its size. It was
founded in ancient Persia in about 1000 BC (some sources say much
earlier) by the prophet Zoroaster. Due to this influence and the
process of religious syncretism, this belief passed into western
culture and has been accepted even without the authority of western
scriptures to support it. Such syncretism may also have altered the
story into one in which all the 'blessed' dead become angels.
This syncretism took place during the Babylonian Exile, The Jews had a
different cultural environment in Babylon. They no longer had their
Temple for it was destroyed, and some Jews proclaimed Yahweh's defeat
at the hands of Marduk Bel, the supreme deity of Babylon. However,
after the Exile was over, and some of the Jews returned to Israel and
the Jewish religion acquired a stronger identity. For example,
Yahweh's status as the One and Only God, for the first time started to
appear in Biblical literature after the Exile, as well as the
conceptualization of the hierarchy of angels, dualism, creation, life
after death, laws, the Messiah, and the last judgement.
How did this happen?
The answer to this is that it was the influence of Zoroastrianism, the
first monotheistic religion in written history. Through its
interaction with Zoroastrianism during the Exile and the two hundred
years after, The Jewish religion adopted, assimilated, and
appropriated the main tenets of Zoroastrian religious thought.
Zoroastrianism had a tremendous effect on the development of
post-Exilic Judaism and had defined the main tenets of Judeo-Christian
thought. Though the concept of the dead becoming angels did not
formally enter scriptures (according to some interpretations - more on
that later), just as in other faiths, popular devotion as opposed to
official teaching is often too strong to overcome.
The pre-Christian cult known as Essenes also had a concept of the dead
becoming angels (or beings with perfected bodys). The Essenes were
preparing for the introduction of Heaven on earth by trying to be as
holy as they could, perfection if they could achieve it. They
expected, if successful, to be resurrected as angels, and so eschewed
sex and lived a life of chastity?practising to be angels. For this
reason too they identified the Messiah with the leader of the Heavenly
Host, the archangel Michael, whose arrival would sweep evil to
destruction. Many of the first Christians believed Jesus would be the
archangel Michael when He returned. Once again syncrestic tendencies
may be found between the Essenes and early - even later - Christianity
This next source some might consider modern and others state point
blank that it has an ancient origin depending on one's own personal
religious views. Here I am speaking of the Church of Jesus Christ of
Latter Day Saints (Mormons).
According to Mormon teachings: - "There are two kinds of beings in
heaven who are called angels: those who are spirits and those who have
bodies of flesh and bone. Angels who are spirits have not yet obtained
a body of flesh and bone, or they are spirits who have once had a
mortal body and are awaiting resurrection. Angels who have bodies of
flesh and bone have either been resurrected from the dead or
Another part of the same definition states, "The word angel is used in
various ways. A person who is a divine messenger is called an angel.
Thus Moroni, John the Baptist, Peter, James, John, Moses, Elijah, and
Elias all ministered to Joseph Smith as angels. These all shall be
exalted and inherit celestial glory. The scriptures also speak of
another class of persons who, because of failure to obey the gospel,
will not be exalted and will become angels in eternity.... This latter
designation should not be confused with the use of the term angels
having reference to the heavenly messengers sent forth to minister to
the inhabitants of the earth." Thus when the term angel is used it
usually means the person is a resurrect being, such as the Angel
So according to this religious teaching, the dead can and do become
angels. Not necessarily all of them but the process is real and does
take place according to LDS teachings. As I say, whether you consider
the source modern or as a new revealing of ancient truth is
subjective. However, I feel it has merit as a "rock-solid" modern
source of the belief. Once again syncretism may also be at work as
LDS influence in the modern religious world is strong.
And of course there are other Christian denominations who state people
become angels and provide Biblical backing for the claim in just as
strong terms as those who claim the Bible provides no such backing.
Such as: - "Many people take it as a matter of course that when we
die, if we are good, we will become angels in heaven. There are many
Christians, on the other hand, who believe that angels are members of
a superior race of spiritual beings, who were created before the world
began. Some even picture angels, as having wings and living among the
clouds. This concept of angels, however, is not solidly based on the
Bible. In fact, the Bible gives us quite a few reasons for believing
that angels are simply people who have died and gone to heaven." -
While we get away from the wings here, you will learn just why some
believe this way:
So as you can see, the concept of the dead becoming angels has its
believers from the remote past and into the modern with the modern
sources claiming ancient origin. The earliest source for which there
is ample evidence is to be found in Zoroastrianism.
It would be impossible to point to a single source and say "this is
THE point of origin for the idea."
We also need to remember that every single faith practiced in ancient
and modern times alike is in reality 'two' faiths. There is the
"church" as understood by the leadership who are versed and trained
into what the "church" actually teaches - and there is the church of
the 'pew potatoes' who have a "popular" view of what the church or
faith teaches and often the two views are very far apart.
It is very easy for a religious body to officially teach that the
"deceased become AS angels" and the pew potato to interpret it as
"when we die, we become angels."
The ultimate source for the idea would be an amalgamation of ancient
teachings, syncretism (especially in 'popular devotion'),
misinterpretation of official doctrine, wishfull thinking and some
poetic license. The belief has been around for many thousands of
Search - Google
Terms - angels, death and angels, history of angels, concepts of angels
Other sources used for the answer than the one found within the answer:
http://www.pantheon.org/articles/f/fravashis.html - "Fravashis by
Micha F. Lindemans" from pantheon.org and Encyclopedia Mythica - a
brief description of Fravahis
- This is the HTML version of a downloadable "doc" file - the doc file
http://essenes.net/m5.htm - Angels. Jewish Mythology. AskWhy! Publications
Essene and Christian Parallels and Commonalties
http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/05546a.htm - Catholic Encyclopedia - Essenes
http://lds.about.com/cs/basicbeliefs/f/angels.htm - Angels and
Resurrected Beings - LDS - About.com
Plus personal knowledge as an archaeologist, anthropologist, historian
If I may clarify anything before you rate the answer, please ask.
Request for Answer Clarification by
12 Jun 2004 00:07 PDT
Thanks for writing so much, but your answer doesn't meet specs. For
starters, I was not asking for general info on angels, so much of your
answer is off-topic. The Zoroastrian connection, for example, was both
known to me and underwhelming. Zoroastrian conceptions of the angelic
were *more* abstract than Christian and Jewish ones, and certainly did
not include the concept of dead-as-angels. Islam is no better. The
Essene material?hardly to spec anyway?may claim antiquity, but can't
claim to *influence*. The Dead Sea Scrolls were lost until modern
times and the sum total of information on them could be found in a few
lines of Pliny. As for your "other Christian denominations" you
offered what I specifically requested you omit: Swedenborgians!
As I see it, the one piece of meat was the bit about Mormonism.
Unfortunately, I fall into the camp of those who don't credit
Mormonism with antiquity. So, this proves that conceptions of the
dead-as-angels was knocking around Protestant circles in early 19th
century America. But that's hardly surprising, is it? It was clearly
current in 18th century Sweden too.
Your comments about popular belief and syncretism certainly have
merit. Angels are certainly an interesting case. Like magic or
astrology, angels crossed the pagan-monotheist divide, and found a
home in Jewish, Christian, Muslim and Zoroastrian faiths. As with
magic, popular sentiment is no doubt crucial. But even popular belief
has an origin in time and finds tangigle expression. I don't recall
the early chuch fathers or heresy-writers condemning the belief in
dead-as-angels, as they certainly would if it were known to them.
(Angelolatry, which was condemned, is of an entirely different
character.) There are certainly such voices today, but how far back
can we push it? I'm betting past Luther.
So, some Mormon meat, but no answer per se.
Clarification of Answer by
12 Jun 2004 05:42 PDT
Yes, much of the answer was for the purpose of providing a general
background on the subject. It does become a guessing game as to just
what a question asker actually knows about a particular subject and
what they don't. Some complain if general background is not provided
before a specific answer is given and others complain that such
information is not necessary, as in this case. There is no way of
knowing short of being a mind reader and that perhaps is only within
the provenence of the angels. I now simply provide it as a matter of
course as part of an answer and the "thanks for the extra" usually
outweigh the complaints.
There is a writing sometimes called the "manifesto" of the Italian
Renaissance, Pico della Mirandola's "Oration on the Dignity of Man."
And it does address the subject of man becoming angels in a direct
manner. But until your clarification request came in, I didn't think
it fell under the criteria. Now I see that it possibly does.
"If these seeds are intellectual, he will be an angel and the son of
God. And if, satisfied with no created thing, he removes himself to
the center of his own unity, his spiritual soul, united with God,
alone in the darkness of God, who is above all things, he will surpass
every created thing. "
- From Washington state University
"But on man, the Father conferred, at the moment of birth, the seeds
and germ of every form of life. Those which he cultivates will grow in
him and bear fruit. If they are the plant seeds, he will vegetate; if
he follows the senses, he will become an animal; if he cultivates the
power of reason within him, he will become a celestial creature; if he
follows intelligence, he will become an angel and a son of God.'"
http://www.shef.ac.uk/~psysc/psa-public-sphere/msg00401.html - A
discussion list from Sheffield University
My Latin is extremely hazy, but this looks like the right bit:
28. Nascenti homini omnifaria semina et omnigenae vitae germina indidit Pater.
29. Quae quisque excoluerit illa adolescent, et fructus suos ferent in illo.
30. Si vegetalia planta fiet, si sensualia obrutescet, si rationalia
caeleste evadet animal, si intellectualia angelus erit et Dei filius.
From Brown University
As for the early chuch fathers or heresy-writers condemning the belief in
dead-as-angels, as they certainly would if it were known to them, - -
there is also much they missed and much they misunderstood. As I
mentioned in another post found in comments for another question, St.
Augustine even stated the God worshipped by the Mithran priests was
the same God he worshipped and Augustine was one of the great pillars
of Christian doctrine. And that is certainly a subject that should
have met with condemnation rather than with simple misunderstanding
And while it is true that the Dead Sea scrolls were lost till modern
times, that does not negate the influence of their teachings on the
early church and the passing on of such beliefs through oral popular
So Pico will perhaps provide some of the "meat" and his influence from
the Renaissance forward cannot be denied.
You will also find additional material about Pico as well as other
information in Gordon Fisher's book, *The Marriage of Astronomy and
Astrology: History of Astral Prediction from Antiquity to Newton
It may be that a continued exchange of clarifications will be needed
in order to pin down just what you are looking for. If so, please
continue to ask for them or make suggestions. I don't like cutting
things off before the asker is happy.