The Book of Genesis depicts them as doing strange things, mating with the daughters of men to spawn giants, for example, and wrestling with Jacob for no apparent reason. In Its a Wonderful Life, Frank Capra spun a tale of one as a bumbling helper of humans; in Wings of Desire, Wim Wenders told of one who wished to be human. They are angels, of course, and they have fascinated us since recorded history began.
In Angels, David Albert Jones provides a crisp, broad-ranging survey of angels in theology, philosophy, and popular culture. Focusing on Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, he examines how angels have been imagined and explained, and why they continue to captivate us. Jones explores the classical discussion, what they are made of, when they came to be, how many there are, and whether anyone ever did ask how many could dance on the head of a pin. He names the archangels, surveys the different hierarchies, and examines how they have changed over time. Jones explains, for example, how cherubim became cherubs, and why angels in the Hebrew Bible are typically male, but in later art became androgynous, or even female by the twentieth century. The book explores the idea that Satan was a fallen angel (a belief not shared by Islam), and looks at demons and exorcism. But Jones concentrates on good angels, in their roles as messengers, guardians, or helpers. He looks at why the idea of angels remains so attractive, and so potent in modern culture, even among nonbelievers.
From scripture to cinema, Jones offers a sweeping, accessible introduction to this remarkable phenomenon. Whether we believe in angels or not, he argues, the study of their role in cultures past andpresent can teach us much about humanity.
David Albert Jones
Prof David Albert Jones is the Director of the Anscombe Centre , Oxford; Research Fellow in Bioethics at Blackfriars Hall, Oxford; and a Visiting Professor of Bioethics at the Centre for Bioethics and Emerging Technologies.
Over the last few years the bookshops have been flooded with books on angels, though many might have found what they read in them hard to reconcile with what they could remember from their schoolday teaching.
Prof. Jones is the Academic Director in the School of Theology, Philosophy and History at St Marys University College in Twickenham. He is well placed to write this short, but well informed and authoritative account of the more traditional ideas about in Catholic belief.
Having briefly described their history, he deals in turn with their representation in art (an important matter in many ways) before going on to talk about doctrinal definitions and beliefs about their true functions. In a very few pages he moves from the Bible to Its a Wonderful Life and Hollywoods angelic ideas, with easy authority.
As a short introduction to a complex subject, and one which touches many people intimately, this book can be highly recommended.
- The Irish Catholic, 18th March 2010