Gabriel can mean “man of God” or “strength of God” or “God reveals himself in strength.” In a Coptic exorcism text it is interpreted as “man of God” (cf. Kropp, 1930-1931, Vol. 2, p. 165). In the Old Testament book of Daniel, Gabriel appears to the prophet in the semblance of a man (Dn. 8:15-16) and is imagined as having the power to fly, a symbol of spirituality (Dn.9:21). His mission is to interpret for Daniel the apocalyptic vision of the ram and the he-goat and to clarify the messianic meaning of the prophecy of the seventy weeks.
In the New Testament, he is given the title of “angel” (Lk. 1:11,26). He appears to Zechariah in the Temple to announce the birth of the forerunner of the Messiah, John the Baptist, and he identifies himself as “Gabriel, who stands in the presence of God” (Lk. 1:19). Six months later he appears to the Virgin Mary in Nazareth and announces that she is to be the mother of the Messiah (Lk. 1:26-38). Although his name is not mentioned, he is supposed to be the angel who appears in Revelation 10:1-11, since he brings a message of good tidings.
In Jewish extrabiblical literature, Gabriel is given the title of “archangel” (2 Enoch 21:3) and is considered to be one of the four main angelic princes together with Michael, Uriel (Sariel), and Raphael or one of the seven archangels (1 Enoch 20:7; cf. Zec. 4:10b).
It is said that Gabriel is seated at the left hand of God—with Michael at the right—and that he has Enoch for an acolyte (1 Enoch 24:1). As his name indicates, Gabriel has authority over all the powers (1 Enoch 40:9). He has several missions, such as to watch over Paradise, the serpents, and the cherubim (1 Enoch 20:7), to intercede for the just (1 Enoch 40:9), to be present at the hour of death (4 Esd. 6:1f.; Apocalyse of Moses 40), to take part in the Last Judgment (1 Enoch 54:5), and to punish the impious (1 Enoch 20:9f.).
In postbiblical Jewish literature these same characteristics are maintained, and he is also considered to be the angel of the harvest. This literature stresses the interventions of Gabriel with the patriarchs. With Michael and Raphael, he visits Abraham (Gn. 18:2), and with Michael he destroys Sodom and Gomorrah. He instructs Joseph in Egypt; on the death of Moses he helps Michael to protect his soul, which Sama’el wishes to snatch away. He saves the three young men in the fiery furnace.
In Gnostic literature Gabriel is shown as the angel of justice, armed with a sword and bow, and he is invoked against the demons. He is identified with Christ talking to Mary and taking flesh in her womb.
In Christian literature many of the characteristics mentioned are included, others are developed, and yet others are introduced for the first time. Gabriel is still considered one of the archangels, and it is also said that he was created before the other angels, together with Satanael, who was later transformed into the devil, and with Michael, and that he leads the heavenly hosts. He is said to have special power over Satan, whom he torments constantly with the help of other angels. Since he is the angel of powers, he has authority over wars (Origen De principiis 1. 8. 1). At the end of time Gabriel will blow the heavenly trumpet, at the sound of which the dead will rise. Gabriel is also credited with saving Daniel from the den of lions (Dn. 6:23), and it is thought that he is the angel in Daniel 10 (Theodoretus 10.20). Since Gabriel was sent to Mary to announce the forthcoming birth of Christ, he is thought also to have been sent to announce the death of Mary (Tischendorf, 1866, pp. 95-112).
In Coptic literature Gabriel frequently appears in works dedicated directly to him but also in those dealing with the birth of Jesus and in others of a different nature. He always takes second place behind Michael. There are several encomia dedicated to the archangel Gabriel. One is attributed to ATHANASIUS, patriarch of Alexandria, in honor of Saint Michael and Saint Gabriel, and is included in a codex in the Pierpont Morgan Library (Hyvernat, 1922, Vol. 25). The Encomium in Gabrielem Archangelum of Archelaus of Neapolis is also preserved in the Morgan Library (Hyvernat, 1922, Vol. 41), and in a codex of DAYR ANBA SHINUDAH (the White Monastery), which is in the process of being reconstructed. This same encomium is also found in Bohairic in two codices from DAYR ANBA MAQAR (Saint Macarius) (Vis, 1922, pp. 246-91).
It was composed for the feast of 22 Kiyahk, and it tells of the appearance of the archangel to Bishop Abba Nikolaus, who was initially reluctant to build a church in his honor, and of other apparitions while the church was being built. Gabriel appears as an eighteen-year-old youth, an old doctor, and a royal soldier. In this encomium he is also considered to be the guarantor of contracts, demanding that they be adhered to.
There is also the Encomium in Gabrielem Archangelum attributed to Celestine I of Rome and preserved in a Sahidic codex shared between the British Museum and the Freer Collection (Worrel, 1923 pt. 2, sec. 1). Here Gabriel appears as the defender of the just in their struggle in this world against the devil and is held to be the angel of peace.
The Installatio of the Archangel Gabriel, preserved in the Morgan Library (Hyvernat, 1922, Vol. 23; Müller, 1962), is secondary to an Installatio of Michael and is a poor imitation of it. But it adds data concerning Gabriel. He is called the bringer of good tidings of the eons of the light. The Installatio includes legends: with Michael Gabriel appeared to Adam in the waters of the Jordan to preach the good news of repentance and forgiveness of sins; he appeared to Abraham to announce the birth of a son (Müller, 1962, n. 7); and he appeared to the Virgin Sibylla, sister of Enoch, to save her from the attacks of the devil (Müller, 1962, n. 8). It is Gabriel who consoles the martyrs in their trials (Müller, 1962, n. 8). His authority in heaven is shown by his having being placed by God at the head of 240,000 angels (Müller, 1962, n. 4).
Gabriel also plays an important role in the homilies on the birth of Christ as, for example, in the Sermon of Damianus preserved in Sahidic (Crum, 1913). Some fragments in Paris and London appear to belong to a homily of this kind (Lucchesi, 1979). The editor attributes it to SEVERIAN OF GABALA. There is also a Bohairic homily attributed to Saint JOHN CHRYSOSTOM dealing with the annunciation by the angel Gabriel to Mary (Vatican Library, Coptic 57; cf. Hebbelynck and Lantschoot, 1937). Some dozen homilies in Arabic on the subject of Gabriel have also been preserved. They recall his appearances and miracles. The most important is one attributed to John Chrysostom (Graf, 1944-1953, Vol. 1, p. 544).
We find references to Gabriel in other Coptic works, especially in those in which Michael appears. Thus in the Installatio Michaelis Archangeli (Müller, 1962, n.3) it is stated that Gabriel was the third archangel to be created after Saklataboth and Michael. He appears with Michael in the Martyrium of the Apostle Simon (Zoëga, 1810, p. 137), accompanying Christ, who leads Simon to the Mount of Olives. With Michael he is responsible for receiving the souls of the just at the moment of death, according to Apophthegmata Patrum (Zoëga, 1810, no. 169). In this role he appears in the History of Joseph the Carpenter (Lagarde, 1883).
In this Coptic apocryphal work, Gabriel is the “archangel of joy,” who appears to Joseph to announce the Incarnation of the Word. With Michael he also protects souls against the terrifying powers that attack them after death, and in particular he accompanies the soul of Saint Joseph until it has passed the seventh aeon of darkness. In the Latin version of this work the two archangels wrap the soul of Joseph in a cloak of light; in the Coptic text they place it in a delicate silk tissue.
In the Martyrium of Paese and Thecla, Gabriel attends the two martyrs before their death and leads them safely to heaven (Till, 1935-1936, p. 99). In a Sahidic Encomium to the Archangel Raphael (Budge, 1915, pp. 526-35), the name of Gabriel is given the meaning of “God and man,” and it is stated that this is why he is the messenger of the Incarnation. As in all Coptic literature and especially in the Coptic Gospel of Bartholomew, Gabriel is the bringer of good tidings. It is thought that Gabriel is also the angel who revealed to Enoch the mysteries of the judgment, according to the “Coptic Fragments of Enoch” (Pearson, 1976, p. 223).
In the Coptic Apokalypse des Elias (Steindorf, 1899), Gabriel appears leading the just to the Holy Land (to Paradise) at the head of the angels. In the Testament of Jacob, it is stated that he comes with Michael and many angels to bear the soul of Jacob to the tabernacles of light. Gabriel also plays a part in the magic Coptic texts, in which he is invoked to awake the love of a certain person, to deliver people from serpents, and to cure fevers. He is closer and more approachable than Michael, and his name frequently appears on amulets.
In the Coptic liturgy, the archangel Gabriel is celebrated on 30 Baramudah, feast of the Annunciation; 22 Kiyahk, day of the consecration of the church of Gabriel in Caesarea; and 26 Ba’unah, feast of the dedication of the church. More than twenty doxologies and hymns in honor of Gabriel are known. They recall that he is the bearer of good tidings and the protector. He is credited with revealing the dream of Nebuchadnezzar to the prophet Daniel (Dn. 2:19). Particularly celebrated is his appearance to the Virgin Mary, and the care he took not to trouble her. As with the other angels, he is represented with a sword of fire in his hand.
The churches dedicated to Gabriel were few in number, particularly when compared to those dedicated to Michael. There is a shrine on the mountain of al-Naqlun south of the Fayyum, and a church in the city of Isna. Coptic tradition preserves several appearances of Gabriel to certain saints—for example, to encourage Apa Hamoi (Kahle, 1954, pp. 433-35), to Diocorus and Aesculapius, to Hezechiel of Armant, et cetera. The case of Poebarumon (27 Tubah) is unique: he had a vision of Christ with the Holy Virgin, Saint Michael, and Gabriel.
- Budge, E. A. W., ed. Miscellaneous Coptic Texts in the Dialect of Upper Egypt. London, 1915.
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GONZALO ARANDA PÉREZ