Angels in the Qur’ān: An Examination of Their Portrayal in the Light of Late Antique, Jewish and Christian Beliefs about Heavenly Beings

Authors
Dryden, Rachel 

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Type
Thesis
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Abstract

This thesis aims to outline how angels are portrayed in the Qur’ān, and to examine the extent to which their portrayal remains the same as, or differs from, late antique, Jewish and Christian beliefs about them. The central role angels appear to play in the Qur’ān suggests their presence there is neither incidental, nor accidental. Although angels are undoubtedly pre-qur’ānic figures, their portrayal in the Qur’ān does not suggest the unconscious borrowing of established models of such heavenly beings. Having undergone a significant amount of development prior to the Qur’ān’s reinterpretation of them, they continued to develop further within that text. The qur’ānic portrayal of angels thus reflects beliefs about them leading up to the qur’ānic period, as well as continuing discussions about their natures and roles throughout it. Later Islamic beliefs about angels, such as the interpretation of the rūḥ, “spirit,” in Q al-Shuʿarā 26:193, as the angel Jibrīl (Gabriel), who brought the revelation of the Qur’ān (on the basis of Q al-Baqara 2:97), have, until now, remained largely unquestioned by scholars. As a consequence, post-qur’ānic exegesis is often still the background against which the qur’ānic data on angels continues to be read, to a certain extent obscuring what the text itself has to say about them. By examining the terms the Qur’ān uses to refer to angels, the activities with which they are most frequently associated, and the details of the roles they play, this thesis examines the qur’ānic data both on its own merit, as well as in its broader late antique context. Further analysis of qur’ānic narratives in which angels feature, as well as other figures intimately connected to them, such as shayāṭīn, “devils,” jinn, and the rūḥ al-qudus, “Holy Spirit,” establishes their place within the qur’ānic worldview more clearly. This approach allows, not only for a reevaluation of how the qur’ānic Urgemeinde understood angels, but also how this understanding related to wider debates concerning them, and thus how the Qur’ān interacted with other confessional groups, who may have interpreted monotheism, and thus the nature of various intermediary beings, in different ways. It therefore contributes to a view of the Qur’ān as an active participant in religious dialogues, rather than merely as a passive receptacle, and thus as constituting a valuable source for understanding late antiquity more generally.

Date
2021-11-21
Advisors
Zellentin, Holger
Weiss, Daniel
Keywords
Angels, Qur’ān
Qualification
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Awarding Institution
University of Cambridge
Sponsorship
AHRC (via University of Nottingham) (unknown)
AHRC (1928610)
Arts and Humanities Research Council (1928610)
AHRC/Faculty of Divinity