The name “Ariel” appears several times in the Bible, but there is some debate among scholars and theologians as to whether it refers to an angel or has some other meaning. Let’s take a look at the biblical evidence.
References to Ariel in the Old Testament
The Hebrew word “Ariel” shows up three times in the Old Testament:
- Isaiah 29:1 – “Ariel, the city where David settled.” This refers to Jerusalem.
- Isaiah 29:2 – “Yet I will besiege Ariel.” Again referring to Jerusalem.
- Isaiah 29:7 – “All who fight against Ariel…will be as a dream, a vision of the night.” Once more about Jerusalem.
From the context in Isaiah, it is clear that “Ariel” is being used as another name for Jerusalem, perhaps signifying the city’s strength and fortification. There is no indication here that it refers to an angel.
Ezekiel’s references to Ariel
The prophet Ezekiel also uses the word “Ariel” when delivering prophecies against Jerusalem:
- Ezekiel 43:15 – “The altar hearth is four cubits high, and four horns project upward from the hearth. The altar hearth is square, twelve cubits long and twelve cubits wide.
- Ezekiel 43:16 – The altar hearth is square at its four corners, the length being equal to the width. The altar hearth is twelve cubits long and twelve cubits wide.
As with Isaiah’s use of the term, the Ariel references here are commonly understood to refer to Jerusalem and its altar. Some Bible versions even translate Ariel as “altar hearth.” Again, no clear angel connection.
One potential angel reference
There is one verse in the Old Testament that some scholars believe could be a veiled reference to the angel Ariel:
Ezra 8:16 – Then I summoned Eliezer, Ariel, Shemaiah, Elnathan, Jarib, Elnathan, Nathan, Zechariah and Meshullam, who were leaders, and Joiarib and Elnathan, who were men of learning.
In this passage, Ariel is listed among a group of men Ezra summoned to help him. Some think this could plausibly refer to an angel assisting Ezra, while others think it is simply a man’s name. There is no consensus among scholars on this verse.
References to Ariel in non-canonical sources
The name Ariel is used several times in non-biblical Jewish and mystical literature to refer to an angel. For example:
- The Book of Enoch mentions an angel called Uriel which may be a version of Ariel.
- The Apocryphal book 2 Esdras refers to Uriel bringing a message from God.
- In Kabbalistic mystical texts, Ariel is one of the seven archangels.
- The Sumerian texts mention gods called Ariili whose name bears similarity.
However, because these are external sources beyond the Old Testament canon, they do not provide definitive proof that Ariel was accepted as an angel within the biblical tradition. But they do offer clues about how some ancient Jewish sects may have viewed spiritual beings like Ariel.
Ariel in the New Testament
The New Testament never uses the name Ariel. There are references to angelic beings like Michael and Gabriel, but Ariel is not specifically mentioned. So there is no clear New Testament evidence directly supporting the idea of an angel by that name.
Interpretations and debate
Given the sparse and somewhat ambiguous biblical references, interpretations differ on what to make of Ariel:
- Symbolic name only: Some scholars argue Ariel is never used for an angel, only symbolically for Jerusalem and its altar.
- Veiled angel reference: Some think the Ezra 8:16 mention could indicate a concealed angelic helper.
- Folklore angel: Non-biblical Jewish tradition used Ariel as an angel name, but this folklore doesn’t necessarily establish it as biblical.
- Lesser known angel: Others argue angels like Ariel did exist but were not mentioned often in the preserved biblical texts.
There is also debate around the meaning of the name Ariel itself:
- Some tie it to “altar, hearth of God” based on the altar references.
- Others connect it to “lion of God” as a symbol of strength.
- Still others link it to an idea of “messenger of God’s wisdom” based on possible ties to the root word “Ari
So in summary, there is no universal consensus on whether Ariel definitely represents an angel in the biblical tradition. The evidence for this is scant and somewhat speculative. But the interpretative debate continues between those who reject it as a folkloric invention and those open to the possibility of a veiled divine messenger. The few biblical mentions remain too vague and symbolic to provide a definitive answer one way or the other.
5 Relevant Bible Passages
Here are 5 key Bible passages related to this topic:
- Isaiah 29:1-2 – Isaiah prophesies against “Ariel,” referring to Jerusalem.
- Ezekiel 43:15-16 – Ezekiel describes the altar “hearth of Ariel,” understood as Jerusalem’s altar.
- Ezra 8:16 – Ezra assembles a group including the ambiguous “Ariel,” possibly meaning an angel.
- Daniel 8:15-17 – Daniel has a vision of the angel Gabriel explaining another vision.
- Luke 1:11-20 – The angel Gabriel appears to Zechariah to announce John the Baptist’s coming birth.
These verses provide some of the limited potential biblical connections to an angel named Ariel as well as give examples of clearer angelic encounters, such as Gabriel appearing to Daniel and Zechariah.
Potential explanations if Ariel is not an angel
If Ariel does not represent an actual angel in the Bible, here are some potential explanations:
- It is simply a symbolic name for Jerusalem derived from “altar” or “lion.”
- Later Jewish mystical literature invented Ariel as an angel, but this tradition was not biblical.
- Scribes misspelled or misinterpreted an unknown Hebrew word as the name Ariel.
- Early manuscripts were damaged and the original name was lost.
- Ariel was the name of a human, not an angel, mentioned in Ezra.
- Ariel was an epithet for God, not a separate heavenly being.
- The early Israelites conceptualized angels differently from later traditions about beings like Ariel, Michael, and Gabriel.
There are various possibilities, but no scholarly consensus. The paucity of information on Ariel in the Old Testament makes it difficult to draw firm conclusions about the figure’s origin and nature.
Timing of development of belief in Ariel as an angel
There are a few potential time periods when belief in the angel Ariel may have developed:
- Babylonian exile (6th century BCE): This period saw growth in Jewish mystical thought, perhaps including spiritual beings like Ariel.
- Second Temple era (515 BCE – 70 CE): In later Old Testament books like Ezekiel, there are more references to angelic figures.
- Post-exilic period (after 538 BCE): During this time, stories emerged of prophets like Ezekiel having visionary experiences of spiritual entities.
- Intertestamental period (200 BCE – 100 CE): During these centuries between Old and New Testaments, Jewish literature expanded greatly, including extensive writing on angels.
- Early Christian era (1st – 3rd centuries CE): As Christianity spread, angelology developed further, possibly influencing views on beings like Ariel.
So the period between around 500 BCE and 100 CE seems to be the most plausible timeframe for the concept of Ariel as an angel to arise, given the expansion of Jewish and then Christian angelologies during those centuries.
Significance and meaning of Ariel as an angel
If Ariel does represent an angel, what might be the significance and meaning behind this figure?
- As with angels like Michael and Gabriel, the name may signify attributes of God, such as “lion-like strength” or “altar of divine wisdom.”
- Ariel could have special significance related to Hebrew altars and sacrifice, as a sort of patron angel of sacred ritual.
- The angel may be symbolic of Jerusalem and its spiritual status as the “hearth” of divine presence.
- Ariel may have had importance within Jewish mystical thought and practices like the Kabbalah.
- Like other archangels, Ariel may have been viewed as a caretaker for humanity and link between heaven and earth.
Of course, this symbolic meaning relies on the assumption that Ariel represents a genuine angelic being. More conservative biblical scholars would argue these sorts of explanations read too much into a scant name reference.
But if Ariel was in fact an angelic figure, perhaps involved in the visions of prophets like Ezekiel and Ezra, this opens up interpretive possibilities related to angelic roles as messengers, guardians, heavenly warriors, ritual facilitators, and bearers of God’s glory and presence.
Modern interpretations and views of Ariel as an angel
Among contemporary Jews and Christians, perspectives on Ariel fall into a few general categories:
- Traditionalists: Tend to reject Ariel as unbiblical “folklore” and not authoritative Jewish/Christian teaching.
- Mystics: Kabbalists and occultists incorporate Ariel as a powerful archangel, based on mystical traditions.
- Literalists: Fundamentalists try to interpret any possible angel reference literally, including Ariel.
- Progressives: Modernist scholars dismiss supernatural aspects of angels like Ariel as cultural myths.
- Ecumenicals: See merit in cross-cultural study of angels while questioning exact details.
Views vary widely, from traditionalists rejecting any extra-biblical ideas of angels to mystics embracing obscure angelic lore. But across this spectrum, most evidence suggests Ariel remains a questionable subject without definitive biblical authority for Jews and Christians.
Other alleged angels in the Bible that lack strong attestation
Here are some other angelic names that lack solid biblical support:
- Uriel – Name means “God is my light,” prominent in non-canonical texts.
- Raguel – Also called Rufael, means “Friend of God.”
- Ramiel – Variously translated as “thunder of God” or “mercy of God.”
- Azrael – Identified as angel of death in extra-biblical lore.
- Phanuel – Reported as an angel of penance and hope.
- Haniel – Sometimes equated with Aniel and known as the “grace of God.”
- Metatron – Associated with the highest celestial hierarchy in mystical texts.
These examples, like Ariel, originate more from Jewish and Christian folklore, mystical interpretations, and apocryphal writings outside the biblical canon. While believed by some groups, the canonical scriptures do not provide clear attestation for these angelic names.
Summary and conclusions
In summary, the evidence for Ariel as a biblical angel remains ambiguous:
- The few Old Testament mentions of Ariel refer symbolically to Jerusalem and its altar.
- Non-canonical Jewish writings expanded angelic lore, including Ariel as an angel.
- There is only one potential Old Testament reference presenting Ariel as a divine messenger.
- The name’s meaning – “lion of God” or “altar of God” – carries symbolic import.
- But overall there is insufficient canonical evidence to confirm Ariel definitively as an angelic figure.
So while an intriguing subject, the angelic status of Ariel remains speculative. The interpreting of a scant name reference as an angel follows the trajectory of broader Jewish angelological development in the intertestamental and early Christian eras more than early biblical tradition. In the end, the question of this alleged angel’s biblical attestation has no definitive answer, only suggestive possibilities.