The world’s large religious traditions tend to have many different “layers”
of religious literature, each composed at a different period. Within
Judaism, there is an extensive body of literature composed around the
time of the Roman occupation—the Apocrypha and the Pseudepigrapha—
that did not become part of either the biblical canon or the
larger body of authoritative writings. Part of the reason the Apocrypha
and the Pseudepigrapha failed to become authoritative was that later
rabbis believed the authors of these texts overemphasized the role and
importance of angels so much that Judaism was on the verge of falling
into the apostasy of polytheism.
This reaction was codified in the next important body of Jewish
religious literature to emerge, the Talmud. The Talmud was composed
and edited during the first five centuries of the Christian era. While
attempting to tone down what they viewed as an unhealthy overemphasis
on angels in the Apocrypha and the Pseudepigraha, the talmudic
rabbis simultaneously recognized such postbiblical revelations as
the division between angels of peace and evil angels and the names of
important angels other than Michael and Gabriel, such as Uriel,
Raphael, and Metatron. The talmudic literature also adds much
detailed speculation on the nature of angels without changing the fundamental
notions that had been developed earlier.
As part of the effort to de-emphasize the importance of angels,
some of the talmudic scholars asserted that God created a batch of
angels every day who praised him during that day, destroyed the whole
lot of them overnight, and then created a new batch the next day.
Others proposed that there were both temporal and eternal angels.
Despite this move to downplay angels, much significant angel lore was
codified in the Talmud, for example, the following ideas:
Angels walk upright, speak Hebrew, and are endowed with
understanding; they can fly in the air, move from one end of
the world to another, and foretell the future. . . . They have
the shape of man, but consist half of fire and half of water.
(Encyclopaedia Judaica, p. 968)
The Talmud also asserts that the angels are numberless and are
divided into higher and lower orders. It recognizes four archangels
familiar to Christianity—Gabriel, Michael, Raphael, and Uriel—and
includes innumerable angels who rule specific functions, everything
from prayers and anger to pregnancy and hail.