The legends retold in Louis Ginzberg's classic work Legends of the Bible are a variation of the stories in the Scriptures as told and retold in the ancient east since the days of Abraham — in synagogues and churches and the in homes of a hundred generations of people. Prof. Ginzberg culled them from a vast literature, scattered over many countries and centuries (from the Babylonian and Palestinian Talmuds, to compendia of legends compiled from the third century late into the Middle Ages, to the new harvest of folk tales and legends of the Bible which grew up in the eighteenth century during the period of religious revival in Eastern Europe). [*]

The legends of the Bible love to dwell on the opposition of the angels to man; in fact, the hosts of heaven are said time and again to have objected or even sought to prevent the creation of man. This point is stressed with particular emphasis, perhaps hiding a clue why the myths of the insurgent angels were not rebuffed altogether.

These legends are clustered around a solitary verse, or rather a strange plural, in Genesis 1:26. “And God said, Let us make a man.” Audacious heresies are reported in ancient records to have been read out of or read into these biblical words. For example, the gnostics, in the early Christian centuries, saw here scriptural proof for their repudiation of the body, and of matter in general. Only the soul was created by the Most High, but the body with its ills and lusts was the work of the malignant demiurge, or of incompetent angels. These notions crudely echo subtler doctrines of Plato and Philo, for the differentiation between mind and matter seemed to the Greek philosophers and their disciples to suggest at last an answer to the problem of physical and moral evil in the world.

To Jews and Christians alike such views were anathema. They implied a streak of malice, or an innate blemish in original creation itself, as though from the outset, or in his very makeup, man were vitiated and cheated of all likelihood of redemption. Hence the different exegesis of Genesis 1:26 in the legends of the bible. In this exegesis, as we shall see in the following legend, the angels, envious of a potential competitor for their Lord’s affection, strongly object to the creation of man.

The Angels and the Creation of Man

When God in His wisdom resolved to create man, He asked counsel of all around him before he proceeded to execute His purpose – an example to man, be he ever so great and distinguished, not to scorn the advice of the humble and lowly. First God called upon heaven and earth, then upon all other things He had created, and last upon the angels.

The angels were not all of one opinion. The Angel of Love favored the creation of man, because he would be affectionate and loving; but the Angel of Truth opposed it, because he would be full of lies. And while the Angel of Justice favored it, because he would practice justice, the Angel of Peace opposed it, because he would be quarrelsome.

To invalidate his protest, God cast the Angel of Truth down from heaven to earth, and when the others cried out against such contemptuous treatment of their companion, He said, “Truth will spring back out of the earth.”

The objections of the angels would have been much stronger, had they known the whole truth about man. God had told them only about the pious, and had concealed from them that there would be reprobates among mankind, too. And yet, though they knew but half the truth, the angels were nevertheless prompted to cry out: “What is man, that You are mindful of him? And the son of man, that you visit him?” God replied: “The fowl of the air and the fish of the sea, what were they created for? Of what avail a larder full of appetizing dainties, and no guest to enjoy them?” And the angels could not but exclaim, “O Lord, our Lord, how excellent is Your name in all the earth. Do as is pleasing in Your sight.”

For not a few of the angels their opposition bore fatal consequences. When God summoned the band of angels under the archangel Michael, and asked their opinion on the creation of man, they answered scornfully: “What is man, that You are mindful of him? And the son of man, that You visit him?” God thereupon stretched forth His little finger, and all were consumed by fire except their chief Michael. And the same fate befell the band under the leadership of the archangel Gabriel; he alone of all was saved from destruction.

The third band of angels consulted was commanded by the archangel Labbiel. Taught by the horrible fate of his predecessors, he warned his troop: “You have seen what misfortune overtook the angels who said, “What is man that You are mindful of him?’ Let us take care not to do likewise, lest we suffer the same dire punishment. For God will not refrain from doing in the end what He has planned. Therefore it is advisable for us to yield to His wishes.” Thus warned, the angels spoke: “Lord of the world, it is well that You have thought of creating man. Do You create him according to Your will. And as for us, we will be his attendants and his ministers, and reveal unto him all out secrets.”

Thereupon God changed Labbiel’s name to Raphael, the Rescuer, because his host of angels had been rescued by his sage advice. He was appointed the Angel of Healing, who has in his safekeeping all the celestial remedies, the types of the medical remedies used on earth.

[*] When Louis Ginzberg died in 1953, he was recognized as the world's outstanding scholar in the field of Talmudic learning. His studies were carried on at the universities of Berlin, Strassburg and Heidelberg, and from 1902 at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York, where he served with distinction as Professor of Talmud for more than half a century. The Legend of the Jews, a massive seven-volume work with notes, written in German, and translated into some forty languages, was originally published for scholars (the first volume was published in 1909). [back]
From: a shorter and simpler edition, published by Jewish Publication Society in 1975.



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