Raphael is one of the few angels mentioned by name in biblical lore.
The name Raphael, meaning “God has healed” or “the shining one who
heals,” is of Chaldean origin. He was originally called Labbiel; the
Hebrew term rapha means “healer,” “doctor,” or “surgeon.” He is ruler of
the angels of healing. He is often associated with the image of a serpent.
Raphael first appears in the Book of Tobit, where he travels with
Tobit’s son in disguise until the journey’s end. He shows Tobias, who has
caught a huge fish, how to use each part of the creature, “the heart, the
gall and the liver . . . these are necessary for useful medicines . . . and the
gall is good for anointing the eyes, in which there is a white speck, and
they shall be cured.” At the end of the journey Raphael reveals himself
as “one of the seven holy angels” that attend the throne of God.
He is “one of the four presences set over all the diseases and all the
wounds of the children of men” (1 Enoch), as well as one of the watchers.
In 1 Enoch, chapter 22, Raphael is a guide in the underworld.
According to Cabalists, Raphael is, along with Gabriel and Michael,
one of the three angels who visited Abraham. He is also credited with
healing Abraham of the pain of circumcision, the patriarch having
neglected to observe this rite earlier in life. In addition, Raphael is
claimed to be the angel sent by God to cure Jacob of the injury to his
thigh he received when he wrestled with his dark adversary at Peniel.
According to another legend, it was Raphael who, after the Flood,
handed Noah a “medical book,” which might have been the famous
Sefer Raziel, the Book of the Angel Raziel. Besides being ruler of the
angels of healing, Raphael is considered the regent of the Sun, chief of
the order of virtues, governor of the south, guardian of the west, ruling
prince of the second heaven, overseer of the evening winds, guardian
of the Tree of Life in the Garden of Eden, one of the six angels of
repentance, and an angel of prayer, love, joy, and light. He is also an
angel of science and knowledge and the preceptor angel of Isaac.
Although Raphael is officially considered a virtue, he is said to
have the six wings of a seraph; at the same time, he belongs to the
cherubim, the dominions, and the powers. He
is said to be the chummiest and funniest of all
angels and is often pictured chatting merrily
with mortal beings. According to the fifteenthcentury
German abbot, historian, and occultist
Trithemius of Sponheim, Raphael is one of the
seven angels of the Apocalypse, and is also
numbered among the ten holy sefiroth. He is
generally credited to be the angel who troubled
the waters at the pool in ancient Bethesda.
According to the legend contained in Frederick
Conybeare’s “The Testament of Solomon,”
when Solomon prayed to God for help in building
the temple, God answered with the gift of a
magic ring delivered to the Hebrew king personally
by Raphael. The ring had the power to subdue
all demons, and Solomon was able to complete
the temple with the “slave labor” of
demons. An Ophite (Gnostic sect) diagram
depicts Raphael as a terrestrial daemon with a
beastlike form in the company of three other
angels: Michael, Suriel, and Gabriel.
Raphael is often pictured with Tobias, the
central character of the book of Tobit. He is especially solicitous of
pilgrims and other wayfarers and so is often depicted as such himself,
carrying a pilgrim’s staff and shod with sandals. Sometimes he
is shown with a water gourd or wallet slung from a strap over his
shoulder. His demeanor is generally mild and kindly, that of a
friendly man rather than a magnificent angel. Such masters as Botticini,
Lorrain, Pollajuolo, Ghirlandaio, Titian, and Rembrandt
have portayed Raphael variously as a winged saint supping with
Adam and Eve, as the “sociable archangel,” as a “six-winged seraph,”
and as one of the seven angels of the presence, to whom
Blake made reference in his “Milton.”