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Angels Kept Busy Announcing Artificial Inseminations

Samson's Fight with the Lion, painting by Lucas Cranach the Elder, circa 1520.
Samson’s Fight with the Lion, painting by Lucas Cranach the Elder, circa 1520.

In Bible stories, angels were put to work announcing supernatural conceptions. We’ll look at three instances: Samson, John the Baptist, and Jesus.

If you can make it through the repetition in the verses describing the announcement of the conception of the famous strong man Samson — the angel keeps saying, “you’re pregnant, so no wine, liquor, or unclean food” — “and don’t cut his hair” — you’ll see humans having conversations with an angel, pissing him off, trying to make it up to him with a goat sacrifice, watching awestruck as the angel ascends in the “flame of the altar”, and freaking out afterwards.

Judges 13:2 And there was a certain man of Zorah, of the family of the Danites, whose name was Manoah; and his wife was barren, and bare not.
3 And the angel of the Lord appeared unto the woman, and said unto her, Behold now, thou art barren, and bearest not: but thou shalt conceive, and bear a son.
4 Now therefore beware, I pray thee, and drink not wine nor strong drink, and eat not any unclean thing:
5 For, lo, thou shalt conceive, and bear a son; and no razor shall come on his head: for the child shall be a Nazarite unto God from the womb: and he shall begin to deliver Israel out of the hand of the Philistines.
6 Then the woman came and told her husband, saying, A man of God came unto me, and his countenance was like the countenance of an angel of God, very terrible: but I asked him not whence he was, neither told he me his name:
7 But he said unto me, Behold, thou shalt conceive, and bear a son; and now drink no wine nor strong drink, neither eat any unclean thing: for the child shall be a Nazarite to God from the womb to the day of his death.
8 Then Manoah intreated the Lord, and said, O my Lord, let the man of God which thou didst send come again unto us, and teach us what we shall do unto the child that shall be born.
9 And God hearkened to the voice of Manoah; and the angel of God came again unto the woman as she sat in the field: but Manoah her husband was not with her.
10 And the woman made haste, and ran, and shewed her husband, and said unto him, Behold, the man hath appeared unto me, that came unto me the other day.
11 And Manoah arose, and went after his wife, and came to the man, and said unto him, Art thou the man that spakest unto the woman? And he said, I am.
12 And Manoah said, Now let thy words come to pass. How shall we order the child, and how shall we do unto him?
13 And the angel of the Lord said unto Manoah, Of all that I said unto the woman let her beware.
14 She may not eat of any thing that cometh of the vine, neither let her drink wine or strong drink, nor eat any unclean thing: all that I commanded her let her observe.
15 …Manoah said unto the angel of the LORD, I pray thee, let us detain thee, until we shall have made ready a kid [young goat] for thee.
16 And the angel of the LORD said unto Manoah, Though thou detain me, I will not eat of thy bread: and if thou wilt offer a burnt offering, thou must offer it unto the LORD. For Manoah knew not that he was an angel of the LORD.
17 And Manoah said unto the angel of the LORD, What is thy name, that when thy sayings come to pass we may do thee honour?
18 And the angel of the LORD said unto him, Why askest thou thus after my name, seeing it is secret?
19 So Manoah took a kid with a meat offering, and offered it upon a rock unto the LORD: and the angel did wonderously; and Manoah and his wife looked on.
20 For it came to pass, when the flame went up toward heaven from off the altar, that the angel of the LORD ascended in the flame of the altar. And Manoah and his wife looked on it, and fell on their faces to the ground.
21 But the angel of the LORD did no more appear to Manoah and to his wife. Then Manoah knew that he was an angel of the LORD.
22 And Manoah said unto his wife, We shall surely die, because we have seen God.
23 But his wife said unto him, If the LORD were pleased to kill us, he would not have received a burnt offering and a meat offering at our hands, neither would he have showed us all these things, nor would as at this time have told us such things as these.
24 And the woman bare a son, and called his name Samson: and the child grew, and the LORD blessed him.

Saint John the Baptist in the Wilderness, by Hieronymus Bosch, circa 1489.
Saint John the Baptist in the Wilderness, by Hieronymus Bosch, circa 1489.

Saint John the Baptist’s conception was foretold by the angel of the Lord, leaving the dad-to-be literally speechless:

Luke 1:9 According to the custom of the priest’s office, his [Zacharias’s] lot was to burn incense when he went into the temple of the Lord.
10 And the whole multitude of the people were praying without at the time of incense.
11 And there appeared unto him an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of the altar of incense.
12 And when Zacharias saw him, he was troubled, and fear fell upon him.
13 But the angel said unto him, Fear not, Zacharias: for thy prayer is heard; and thy wife Elisabeth shall bear thee a son, and thou shalt call his name John.
14 And thou shalt have joy and gladness; and many shall rejoice at his birth.

18 And Zacharias said unto the angel, Whereby shall I know this? for I am an old man, and my wife well stricken in years.
19 And the angel answering said unto him, I am Gabriel, that stand in the presence of God; and am sent to speak unto thee, and to show thee these glad tidings.
20 And, behold, thou shalt be dumb, and not able to speak, until the day that these things shall be performed, because thou believest not my words, which shall be fulfilled in their season.
21 And the people waited for Zacharias, and marvelled that he tarried so long in the temple.
22 And when he came out, he could not speak unto them: and they perceived that he had seen a vision in the temple: for he beckoned unto them, and remained speechless.

Then, Mary got her visit:

Luke 1:26 And in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God unto a city of Galilee, named Nazareth,
27 To a virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary.
28 And the angel came in unto her, and said, Hail, thou that art highly favoured, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women.
29 And when she saw him, she was troubled at his saying, and cast in her mind what manner of salutation this should be.
30 And the angel said unto her, Fear not, Mary: for thou hast found favour with God.
31 And, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name JESUS.
32 He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David….

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Not surprisingly, the angel of the Lord finds it necessary to also pay a visit to Mary’s fiancé, Joseph:

Matthew 1:18 Now the birth of Jesus Christ was on this wise: When as his mother Mary was espoused to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Ghost.
19 Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not willing to make her a public example, was minded to put her away privily.
20 But while he thought on these things, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a dream, saying, Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost.

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The Authentic Experience of Ancient Gods

Ahura Mazda is the highest god in Zoroastrianism, creating and upholding truth.
Ahura Mazda is the highest god in Zoroastrianism, creating and upholding truth.
Religion has been part of all societies,1 but why? A lot of intellectual discourse has tackled the subject, much of it reaching the conclusion that people just need to have gods and so they make them up. But even a quick scan of ancient religious history will show that authentic experience of something awesome—perhaps not “God” or “gods,” perhaps beings with technology so advanced it seems like magic—inspired the creation and growth of religions around the world.

It was easy for religion to take root, both because authentic experience makes for enthusiastic converts and proselytizers, and because religion indeed fills some human needs. Ancient people expected to deal with the normal troubles of life on their own, but, as Rodney Stark writes in Discovering God, they hoped that the gods would help them with the forces beyond human control:

[P]rimitive peoples … call upon the supernatural for rain, for help in finding game, and for safe voyages. In doing so, they acknowledge the fundamental principle that the supernatural is the only plausible source of many things that human beings greatly desire. Therein lies one key to the universality of religion—its capacity to overcome the generic limitations of human power by invoking entities or forces that transcend nature. Whether it is a Bantu priest in Nigeria chanting that Awwaw grant a good harvest, or a Baptist congregation in Georgia singing, “What a friend we have in Jesus, all our sins and griefs to bear,” religion offers an alternative means to achieve greatly desired ends, when direct methods fail or do not exist.

The earliest religions—lost in prehistory and based, perhaps, on real experiences—were more sophisticated than most of the religions they later spawned, and they were more morality-based than later versions. Most stories about gods show them as wrapped up in their own lives, giving little or no thought to the welfare of humanity or individual humans, or to humans' morality or lack of it. Exceptions are the “bringers of civilization,” divine teachers, deities or demigods whose role is to help, such as Oannes.

The failure of humans to pay proper tribute to the gods—such as neglecting to make sacrifices—gets attention, but instead of striking deficient humans dead, the gods tend to destroy the whole city (much as a few annoying ants might encourage us to take out a whole anthill).

Gods and goddesses around the world have usually been thought of as a lot like humans, except with superpowers and immortality. They have humanlike needs and desires, and display the whole range of emotions and behaviors, for better and worse. Often, the gods are depicted as human or humanoid forms, with perhaps a pair of wings and eagle head and talons to show they can fly.

Since creation stories of many societies state that humans were made from divine matter—often the blood, spit, or semen of a god or gods — deities that look more or less like us are not necessarily reflecting a lack of imagination on the part of those depicting them; it would be reasonable for ancient gods to look a lot like humans, and in ancient stories, including Bible stories, they are able to pass as human when visiting Earth. Homer writes, “The gods, likening themselves to all kinds of strangers, go in various disguises from city to city, observing the wrongdoing and the righteousness of men.”

Kamadhenu is a Hindu bovine goddess, the source of all prosperity.
Kamadhenu is a Hindu bovine goddess, the source of all prosperity.
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But it's obvious when looking at depictions of gods that the ancients sometimes had a hard time figuring out what they were seeing, or hearing described. “It's a bird, it's a plane….” Of course, planes were beyond the understanding of ancient people, as were machines generally. If it moves, it's a human or other animal. If it flies, it has to be a bird, but, wait, it's long like a snake, and omigosh it's breathing fire! If it's operating a weapon, it must have hands. If it makes loud noise, it must have a mouth.

Descriptions of the gods are often at least partly descriptions of the vehicles in which the gods travel (see Divine Chariots) —leading to some odd-looking gods, and perhaps leading to the invention of gods with multiple aspects, avatars—magically transforming from fiery serpent to human form as they step out of or slide off of their fiery serpent, or thunderbird, or silver eagle, or flying elephant.

In another realm from most gods and goddesses is the high god, or creator god, a feature of many ancient religions. The high god creates the universe and/or Earth. In many cases, he or she or they afterwards withdraw into remotest heaven, leaving “down-to-Earth” gods to take on the day-to-day work of running the worldly creation.

Jupiter Ammon, shown on this terracotta slab from the first century CE, was one of the many versions of Jupiter, who was equated  with the Egyptian high god Amun after Rome conquered Egypt.
Jupiter Ammon, shown on this terracotta slab from the first century CE, was one of the many versions of Jupiter, who was equated with the Egyptian high god Amun after Rome conquered Egypt.
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Almost without exception, societies that emphasize high-god beliefs feature many gods, who are all subordinate to the high deity. Adherents seemed to find the lesser gods more real, more relevant and accessible compared to the abstract and omnipotent high gods. The monotheist religion of high god Yahweh required that the various gods who were originally in his pantheon be downgraded to divine beings, such as angels and demons, since there could only be one god (see Yahweh’s Roots in Polytheism).

Many scholars believe that the prevalence of high god beliefs is the result not of ancient people around the world making up similar stories, but of essentially the same, authentic, ancient revelations (encounters with “God” or “gods”) being experienced by many primitive cultures globally.

High gods usually are sky deities or sky fathers, ruling over the other gods from the heavens. But many, many other gods are also able to fly, and they put in a lot of time in the sky.



1. Rodney Stark, Discovering God: The Origins of the Great Religions and the Evolution of Belief (USA: HarperCollins Publishers, 2008), 38.

The Nile god pouring water over the soul of Osiris.
The Nile god pouring water over the soul of Osiris.
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Ravana is a king (or “demon king”) of ancient Lanka, whose main claim to fame is kidnapping Sita, Rama’s wife. Rama is an avatar of Vishnu and king of the Indian city of Ayodhya, and the story of how he gets Sita back is told in the ancient Hindu epic, the Ramayana (Rama’s Journey).
Ravana is a king (or “demon king”) of ancient Lanka, whose main claim to fame is kidnapping Sita, Rama’s wife. Rama is an avatar of Vishnu and king of the Indian city of Ayodhya, and the story of how he gets Sita back is told in the ancient Hindu epic, the Ramayana (Rama’s Journey).
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The Hindu Lord Vishnu is portrayed here in his universal form, Vishnu Vishvarupa. Source
The Hindu Lord Vishnu is portrayed here in his universal form, Vishnu Vishvarupa.
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The Aztec god Ehecatl-Quetzalcoatl combines the deities Ehecatl, the wind god, and Quetzalcoatl, the feathered serpent god. Ehecatl is usually considered an aspect (similar to a Hindu avatar) of Quetzalcoatl. This illustration is from the Codex Borgia, a graphics-filled pre-Columbian divinatory and ritual manuscript painted on animal skins, 35 feet long, folded into 39 sheets. Source
The Aztec god Ehecatl-Quetzalcoatl combines the deities Ehecatl, the wind god, and Quetzalcoatl, the feathered serpent god. Ehecatl is usually considered an aspect (similar to a Hindu avatar) of Quetzalcoatl. This illustration is from the Codex Borgia, a graphics-filled pre-Columbian divinatory and ritual manuscript painted on animal skins, 35 feet long, folded into 39 sheets.
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Amun, the Egyptian creator god, later merged with the sun god Ra to become Amun-Ra.
Amun, the Egyptian creator god, later merged with the sun god Ra to become Amun-Ra.
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Possible representation of Quetzalcoatl wearing a conical cap with a skull in front and long earflaps, characteristic elements of the Huasteca culture, from Naranjo, Veracruz.
Possible representation of Quetzalcoatl wearing a conical cap with a skull in front and long earflaps, characteristic elements of the Huasteca culture, from Naranjo, Veracruz.
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