Uriel, whose name means “fire of God,” is one of the leading angels in noncanonical lore. He is identified variously as a seraph, cherub, regent of the sun, flame of God, angel of the presence, presider over Tartarus (hell), archangel of salvation, and, in later Scriptures, as Phanuel, “face of God.” The name Uriel may be derived from Uriah the prophet. In apocryphal and occult works Uriel has been equated with Nuriel, Uryan, Jeremiel, Vretil, Sariel, Puruel, Phanuel, Jehoel, and Israfil.
He is often identified as the cherub who “stands at the Gate of Eden with a fiery sword,” or as the angel who “watches over thunder and terror” (1 Enoch). In the Apocalypse of St. Peter he appears as the Angel of Repentance, who is graphically represented as being as pitiless as any demon. In the Book of Adam and Eve Uriel is regarded as the spirit (i.e., one of the cherubs) of the third chapter of Genesis. He has also been identified as one of the angels who helped bury Adam and Abel in Paradise, as well as the dark angel who wrestled with Jacob at Peniel. Other sources depict him as the destroyer of the hosts of Sennacherib, as well as the messenger sent by God to Noah to warn him of the impending Deluge.
According to Louis Ginzberg, Uriel represents “the prince of lights.” In addition, Uriel is said to have disclosed the mysteries of the heavenly arcana to Ezra, interpreted prophecies, and led Abraham out of Ur. He is considered one of the four angels of the presence in later Judaism. He is also the angel of September and may be invoked ritually by those born in that month.
It is asserted that the divine discipline of alchemy was brought down to earth by Uriel, and that Uriel gave the Cabala to man, although this key to the mystical interpretation of Scripture is also said to have been the gift of Metatron. Uriel is described by Milton as “regent of the sun” and the “sharpest sighted spirit of all in Heaven,” and Dryden, in The State of Innocence, depicts Uriel as descending from heaven in a chariot drawn by white horses. Uriel was reprobated at a church council in Rome in A.D. 745, but now he is St. Uriel, and his symbol is an open hand holding a flame.
He is identified with the “benign angel” who attacked Moses for neglecting to observe the covenantal rite of circumcision with regard to his son Gershom, although the same role is identified with Gabriel in the Zohar I, 93b, which reports that Gabriel “came down in a flame of fire, having the appearance of a burning serpent,” with the express purpose of destroying Moses “because of his sin.”
Uriel is also alleged to be the Angel of Vengeance pictured by Prud’hon in Divine Vengeance and Justice, located in the Louvre. Among the archangels, however, the least widely represented in art is Uriel. As the interpreter of prophecies, he is usually depicted carrying a book or a papyrus scroll.
In Milton’s Ontology, Cosmogony and Physics (1957), Walter Curry writes that Uriel “seems to be largely a pious but not too perceptive physicist with inclinations towards atomistic philosophy.” Uriel is described in the second book of the Sibylline Oracles as one of the “immortal angels of the Undying God,” who on the Day of judgment:
will break the monstrous bars framed of unyielding and unbroken adamant of the brazen gates of Hades, and cast them down straightway, and bring forth to judgement all the sorrowful forms, yea, of the ghosts of the ancient Titans and of the giants, an all whom the flood overtook … and all these shall he bring to the judgement seat … and set before God’s seat.
During the incident when Jacob wrestles with a dark angel there is a mysterious merging of the two beings, and Uriel says, “I have come down to earth to make my dwelling among men, and I am called Jacob by name.” A number of the patriarchs supposedly became angels, such as Enoch, who was transformed into Metatron. Uriel’s transformation, however, is the first recorded instance of an angel becoming a man.