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Throughout the bible, angels typically appear as men or a masculin form. They're often described as warriors, engaging in battle.

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However, in modern, generally Western (or at least American) culture, angels are thought of as feminine figures, often portrayed by women (or Victoria Secret models).

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When (about) did this change occur?


I realize this may not be a very well-developed question (please, feel free to modify/enhance it), but I think I'm on to something here - even if it is merely a curiosity.

I get the feeling that one of the reasons for angels being thought as feminine has something to do with the New Age movement and their concept (and often worship of) Guardian Angels, but it's just a gut feeling or sorts.

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  • I was going to comment that 'angelus' in Latin and 'ἄγγελος' in Greek are unequivocally masculine words (i.e, by ending in -us/-ος) and so the change you're asking about would have to have been after those ancient languages were common and the gender of the word wasn't so strongly indicated. After checking the facts, though, I remember that Greek is less strict about the ending and I found that apparently the Greek ἄγγελος can be masculine or feminine—according to Liddell and Scott's Greek-English dictionary, one of the epithets of the goddess Artemis was 'Artemis Angelos' (Artemis Messenger).
    – Muke Tever
    Feb 27, 2012 at 13:53
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    The Hebrew (מלאך) is also masculine, if I recall correctly. Feb 27, 2012 at 14:51
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    I suspect it's part of the general feminization of Christianity. Jesus said, "From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has been forcefully advancing, and forceful men lay hold of it." (Matt 11:12, NIV) But today our philosophy seems to be "The kingdom of heaven has been meakly retreating, and we beg weak little girls to join it". :-)
    – Jay
    Feb 28, 2012 at 7:12
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    note: in language, the gender of the word is not necessarily the same as saying that the thing it refers to has that gender. The issue of the word being masculine in Greek/Latin, while interesting, does not strictly say much about the target. Feb 28, 2012 at 9:12

2 Answers 2

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According to this websitesite, the change occurred gradually over time, as the representation of the human form in art changed. In the middle ages, artists rarely painted distinctly masculine characteristics on their subjects:

…what modern viewers and artists perceive as “feminine” angels in many famous medieval European paintings were not intended by the artists to be females at all. Particularly during the Medieval period, the overt “sexuality” of much classic Greek and Roman art was almost totally repressed. Bodies were totally covered, both male and female, in long robes.

But artists of the time seldom painted overtly “chiseled,” square-jawed, masculine features on the faces of men. So unless a male was bearded, and particularly if he was represented as a young man, it wasn’t all that easy to sort out the vaguely uni-sex heads in pictures by gender.

In the 1800s, a move toward more realistic depiction of the human form in art coincided with a growing interest in angels apart from their original biblical context:

They may have a “spiritual aura” connected to them, which makes them look otherworldly, but without any special link to a Heaven where God’s throne is. They are viewed by many as being benevolent supernatural beings whose primary interest is helping out people—not necessarily because they have been sent by God to do so, but because it is just “their nature.”

And as this “new” kind of angel has taken shape in the past century or two, the emphasis has shifted more and more to a sort of gentle, nurturing, “motherly” (or “big sisterly”) role for angels—hence the trend toward almost entirely representing them as female.

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The feminine form of Angels probably begin with Hellenization and mixing the Hebrew and Greek cultures, particularly later within the Roman Empire when Christianity began to emerge and Gnostic Christianity was a powerful element. However, Gnostic Christianity fell into decline and was eventually persecuted by other sects of Christianity as well as, starting in 180AD with Irenaeus the early Christian Bishop, who wrote the book titled, "On the Detection and Overthrow of the So-Called Gnosis" which was later translated to Latin and called "Against Heresies". This remains the major source of knowledge about early Gnostic Christianity. Some take his writings to a more factually based description of Gnostic Christianity while others take it to be a more political description of Christianity, as one would expect of one describing an adversary, for example like Hitler's descriptions of the Jews, perhaps unfairly.

Apart of the early Christian Bishop Irenaeus, the primary source of knowledge is the Nag Hammadi Library of Gnostic Scriptures, which were hidden in the Egyptian desert and just discovered in the twentieth century. There were thirteen codices containing a complete collection of books considered sacred or worthy of saving by the gnostics. Many believe the books were buried to save them from burning during the periods of persecution. The most published work from this "Bible" (Greek for collection of books) is the Gospel of Thomas. However, there were many other books in collection, including Plato's Republic. What is known is that the Gnostics were preserving Greek Knowledge. The word "gnosis" is Greek for knowledge.

While other Christian sects were busy eradicating Greek history, Greek lore, and the Greek language, the Gnostics appear to have been preserving this "gnosis" hence their label "Gnostics". One word of warning: consensus driven wikipedia and other "scholarly" sources ususually talk of gnostics as a form of mysticism, a more "magical thinking" version of Christianity, and they argue that their "magic thinking" for them was "knowledge", however, I strongly disagree, based on my knowledge and in-depth research and analysis, the opposite was true.

I believe the Gnostics kept alive the Greek Goddesses within Christianity, for example the Greek Goddess Nike which became conflated with the Roman Goddess Victory and with "Guardian Angels". There are no descriptions of guardian angels in the Bible. They were male messangers and special mighty warrior messangers for the LORD. But the Greek Goddess Nike flew overhead providing protection. And the Roman Goddess Victoria did so especially for the Roman Legions, providing them with Victory. It seems to me that at an early date in Christian history, the Gnostics began conflating Greek Goddesses with Hebrew Angles, as they carried on the lores and traditions and languages of the Greek, as well as the Hebrew. The other Christians, however, were busy eradicating the language, lore and history of the Greeks where the Greek language predominated. Only the Byzantine preserved the language.

Later on, art work of angles and goddesses would be painted or sculpted. They would be labeled as both. This is part of the process of conflation.

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  • Do you have any sources to back up your claims?
    – Ken Graham
    Aug 14, 2021 at 20:32
  • 1) Nag Hammadi Codex VI: Plato's Republic, Coptic version believed to be translated from Greek by Gnostic Christians, (academia implies Gnostics weren't "mystical" thinkers while the Orthodox were "rational" minded). 2) Josephus -- several Histories of the Jews. The Biblical Apocrypha (Maccabees books). New Testament -- mixing of Jewish and Christianity. 3) Homer -- view the culture of Goddesses as guardians. 4) "Against Heresies" by Irenaeus, observe academia largely accepting his critiques of Gnostic Christianity as-is, as if they valued magical thinking over facts and evidence (Gnosis).
    – user12711
    Aug 15, 2021 at 18:21
  • In other words, it seems that Irenaeus was writing rhetoric to condemn his oposition. Knowledge (gnosis) was very popular in the 2nd Century, when Philosophy still reigned among the rational minded: this was the era of Gnosticism's peak. Irenaeus was Blame Shifting (guilty party blaming another for his own sects, in a struggle for popularity). He used this now common political tactic to proclaim the Gnostics to be baddies, while in fact his sect was more guilty of the same faults he condemned the Gnostics of. It would be another 2 centuries before Philosophy was eradicated from the land.
    – user12711
    Aug 15, 2021 at 18:37
  • And given that Philosophy was still popular during Gnosticism's zenith in the 2nd Century, we can imagine that Christianity had a more philosophical and rational wing, and another more mystical and dogmatic wing, a Left and a Right wing. It doesn't seem likely that the more rational wing of Christianity wins out of the more mystical wing ...and then we have the dark ages of the Medieval Period with the Greek Language, Lore and Literature disappearing. The Gnostics seem to actually be the more rational wing of Christianity, contrary to Irenaeus critique of them, which I am discrediting.
    – user12711
    Aug 15, 2021 at 18:44
  • Angels are not goddesses. You are serious overlapping things that should not be done according to Christianity. Idolatry has no place here. For simply trying to discrediting Ireaneanus, does not make a good posting.
    – Ken Graham
    Aug 15, 2021 at 23:42

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