Class of heavenly beings, mentioned only once in the Old Testament, in a vision of the prophet Isaiah (vi. 2 et seq.). Isaiah saw several seraphim, their exact number not being given, standing before the throne of
The passages cited furnish conclusive evidence against the idea, popular for a time, that the seraphim belong to the same category as angels. They have nothing whatever to do with the "messengers of God"; in the Jewish conception the two have always been distinguished. Dan. x. 13, the Book of Tobit, and other sources, afford information concerning a series of "chief" angels, but allusions to the seraphim are entirely lacking, and an etymological connection of the name "seraf" with the Arabic "sharif" (to be exalted or distinguished) is equally valueless.
On the other hand, there is a striking similarity between the seraphim and cherubim. Both are winged creatures, half human, half animal; both stand near the throne of God, and appear as its guardians; and, as has already been stated, they are always mentioned together in the Book of Enoch. This, however, by no means proves that the origin of the two was the same; it only shows that in later Jewish conception, as well as in the conception of the contemporaries of Isaiah, these two classes of heavenly beings were closely related.
Some authorities hold that the seraphim had their origin in the Egyptian "seref," a composite, winged creature, half lion and half eagle, which guarded graves, carried dead kings up to heaven, and transmittedprayers thither. The form and office of the seref, however, suggest rather the Jewish cherubim.Babylonian Origin.
According to other investigators, the conception was of Babylonian origin. Friedrich Delitzsch and Hommel associate the seraphim with the Assyrian "sharrapu," a name which, in Canaan, designated the Babylonian fire-god Nergal. The seraphim, then, would be the flames in which this god manifested himself. An argument against this theory is that until now no one has been able to show that the word "seraph" was ever used as a name of a god. According to a third and more probable theory, the seraphim originally were serpents, as the name implies. Among many peoples of antiquity serpents played an important part in myth and folk-lore. For instance, there were Tiamat in the Babylonian legend of the Creation, and the Uræus serpent in Egypt. Consequently, since the Jews shared the superstitious ideas of surrounding nations in other respects, it should not be a matter of wonder if they adopted this notion as well. That the serpent filled a special rôle among them as a demoniacal being may be seen from the story of Adam's fall (Gen. iii.). In this connection the names "Dragon Spring" and "Serpent Pool" (places in the vicinity of Jerusalem) are worthy of being noted. A brazen serpent brings relief from the effects of the bite of the fiery serpents (Num. xxi. 9 et seq.) which