Monday, June 21, 2010

In Store Now - Angels: A History

I don't read a lot of books on angels but I get a lot of requests for them.  A couple of my favorites are Peter Kreeft's Angels and Demons: What Do We Really Know About Them and Mortimer Adler's The Angels and Us.  I've also recommended C. Fred Dickason's book Angels: Elect and Evil.   Dickason's book is a good resource for a more traditional evangelical audience though many will disagree with his position that a Christian can be demon possessed.  Billy Graham's book Angels: God's Secret Agents has never interested me so I've never read it.  It might actually be quite good.  I simply don't know. 

But, I really am enjoying a new book we received today by David Albert Jones.  It is simply called Angels: A History and it comes from Oxford University Press.  One of the things I'm enjoying is how the book is informed from all three of the Abrahamic faiths: Judaism, Christianity and Islam. For example, I never knew that in Islam Satan is not viewed as a fallen angel but rather as a "'djinn', a third kind of creature that is neither angel nor a human being."  (11)  And from Judaism I learned that the Talmud identified the three angels who visited Abraham as Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael.  (8)  I've finished the first two chapters which cover a brief history (chapter one) and picturing angels (chapter two).  In the second chapter Jones gives the history of the development of "wings and halos" and angels playing harps which is a fairly recent development.  My biggest surprise so far (and I'm not really this far in the book but found it with my initial skim) was the notion of "Jesus as the Great Angel."  Jones explains:
"In the early Church, one of the ways this was expressed was to say that Jesus was an angel, or rather the angel, the 'great angel.'  They called him an angel because, in the book of Isaiah, the savior was described as an angel. . . When this passage [Isaiah 9:6] was translated in the Septuagint, the Jewish translator was perhaps embarrassed about calling the savior 'mighty God' and instead he wrote: 'For to us a child is born . . . and his name shall be called 'Angel of Great Counsel.'"  (63)
Good thing for Handel the LXX translation didn't become more popular.  And, why haven't the Jehovah's Witnesses camped out on this since they believe Jesus was an angel?  Jones explains that the title lost its popularity since it was potentially misleading given the doctrine of the incarnation. (65) 

Here's the table of contents:

Chapter 1 - Preface
Chapter 2 - A brief history of angels
Chapter 3 - Picturing angels
Chapter 4 - What is an angel?
Chapter 5 - Divine messengers
Chapter 6 - Ministering spirits
Chapter 7 - Heavenly hosts
Chapter 8 - Fallen angels
Chapter 9 - Wrestling with angels

The book also includes sources for further reading and an "index of locorum" which includes both passages from the Bible and the Quran.  A subject index makes this short book (only 140 pages of text) even more accessible. It is a hardcover and sells for $19.95.  I'll keep you updated on the rest of the book.  So far--I love it! 

David Albert Jones is the Academic Director in the School of Theology, Philosophy, and History at St. Mary's University College, Twickenham, Great Britain.

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