A seraph is a type of celestial or heavenly figure that originated in Jewish mythology. The phrase is used in later Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Seraphim are the highest rank in Christian angelology and the fifth order of 10 in the Jewish angelic hierarchy, according to tradition. Isaiah 6:1–8 is a seminal chapter in the Book of Isaiah that uses the phrase to depict six-winged beings that fly over God’s Throne chanting “Holy, holy, holy.” This throne scene, with its three invocations of holiness, had a significant impact on subsequent theology, literature, and art. Its impact can be found in artwork representing angels, heaven, and apotheosis. The non-canonical Book of Enoch and the canonical Book of Revelation both describe Seraphim as celestial beings.
In his explication of the Jewish angelic hierarchy, the 12th-century philosopher Maimonides put the seraphim in the fifth of 10 levels of angels. The seraphim are the highest angels of the World of Beriah, whose realisation of their separation from the absolute divinity of Atziluth drives them to “burn up” in self-nullification. This allows them to ascend to God and return to their original place. The Hayot angels of Ezekiel’s vision serve God with self-aware innate emotions beneath them in the World of Yetzirah (“face of a lion, ox, eagle”). Seraphim are angels in the current Orthodox Jewish angelarchy.
Seraphim are in the highest choir in the celestial hierarchy, according to medieval Christian theology. They are the stewards of God’s throne, continually repeating “holy, holy, holy.” In his Celestial Hierarchy, Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite drew on the Book of Isaiah to imbue the fiery nature of seraphim in the medieval imagination. In his opinion, Seraphim help the Deity preserve perfect order and are not limited to chanting the Trisagion. Taking his lead from Rabbinic sources, the author suggested an etymology for the Seraphim as “those who kindle or make hot.” In his mystical work The Journey of the Mind to God, Bonaventure, a Franciscan theologian who was a contemporary of Aquinas, employs the six wings of the seraph as an important analogical construct. Seraphim was conceived of in Christian theology as beings of pure light who enjoy a direct connection with God.
The Bearers of the Throne (hamlat al-arsh) are described as having six wings and four faces, similar to seraphim. These angels are ranked first in a book called Book of the Wonders of Creation and the Peculiarities of Existing Things, followed by the spirit, the archangels, and the cherubim. The Bearers of the Throne are tasked with constantly worshipping God. Unlike messenger angels, they do not enter the world and remain in the celestial realm. Seraphim (Sarufiyyun or Musharifin) are mentioned directly in a hadith from Al-Tirmidhi about a conversation between Muhammad and God during the Night Journey about what is between the Heavens and the Earth, which is often interpreted as a reference to the “Exalted assembly” disputing Adam’s creation in Surah 38:69.