Raphael is an archangel first mentioned in the Book of Tobit and in 1 Enoch, both dating from the last few centuries before Christ. In later Jewish tradition, he became identified as one of the three heavenly visitors entertained by Abraham at the Oak of Mamre. He is not named in either the New Testament or the Quran, but later Christian tradition identified him with healing and as the angel who stirred waters in the Pool of Bethesda in John 5:2-4,. and in Islam, where his name is Israfil, he is understood to be the unnamed angel of Quran 6:73, standing eternally with a trumpet to his lips, ready to announce the Day of Resurrection. In Gnostic tradition, Raphael is represented on the Ophite Diagram.
In the Hebrew Bible (the Old Testament) the word ‘מַלְאָךְ’ (‘mal’āk̠’) means a messenger, human or supernatural, and when used in the latter sense it is translated as “angel”. The original mal’akh lacked both individuality and hierarchy, but after the Babylonian exile they were graded into a Babylonian-style hierarchy and the word archangelos, archangel, first appears in the Greek text of 1 Enoch. At the same time the angels and archangels began to be given names, as attested in the Talmudic statement that “the names of the angels were brought by the Jews from Babylonia”.
Raphael first appears in two works of this period, 1 Enoch, a collection of originally independent texts from the 3rd century BCE, and the Book of Tobit, from the early 2nd century BCE. In the oldest stratum of 1 Enoch (1 Enoch 9:1) he is one of the four named archangels, and in Tobit 12:11-15 he is one of seven.
His name derives from a Hebrew root meaning “to heal” and can be translated as “God healed”. In Tobit he acts as a physician and expels demons, using an extraordinary fish to bind the demon Asmodeus and to heal Tobit’s eyes, while in 1 Enoch he is “set over all disease and every wound of the children of the people”, and binds the armies of Azazel and throws them into the valley of fire.
According to the Babylonian Talmud, Raphael (Hebrew: רְפָאֵל, Rəfāʾēl, Tiberian: Răp̄āʾēl) was one of the three angels who appeared to Abraham in the oak grove of Mamre in the region of Hebron. (Genesis 18; Bava Metzia 86b); Michael, as the greatest, walked in the middle, with Gabriel to his right and Raphael to his left (Yoma 37a). Each was commanded to carry out a specific mission, Gabriel to destroy Sodom, Michael to inform Sarah that she would give birth to Isaac, Raphael to heal Abraham from his recent circumcision and save Lot. Rashi writes, “Although Raphael’s mission included two tasks, they were considered a single mission since they were both acts that saved people. “The Life of Adam and Eve lists him with the archangels Michael, Gabriel, Uriel and Joel, and the medieval Jewish philosopher Maimonides included his name in his Jewish angelic hierarchy.
In the Midrash Tanhuma, Satan becomes envious of the righteous R. Matthew bar Heresh after seeing him sitting occupied in Torah study, without looking at anyone’s wife or any other woman. Believing it to be impossible for a righteous man to exist in the world without sin, Satan asks God how He views Rabbi Matthew; He sees him as completely righteous. Satan then asks for permission to test R. Matthew, which is granted to him. Satan then takes the form of a beautiful woman upon finding the Rabbi studying Torah.
After seeing that Satan would continue to try and tempt him from all sides; he used hot pins to blind himself lest his evil inclination prevail. Satan then trembled in dismay and reported back to God. Immediately upon hearing this, God called Raphael, Prince of the Healing Arts; commanding him to heal the eyes of R. Matthew bar Heresh. When Raphael goes to R. Matthew and reveals his identity and mission; the Rabbi states that he does not wish to be healed. Raphael then returns to God informing Him of this. Upon hearing this God commands Raphael to tell the Rabbi not to fear, for his evil inclination will not prevail. When he heard this from the mouth of the angel, he accepted his healing and was not afraid.
In Rabbeinu Bahya, a commentary on the Torah written by Rabbi Bahya ben Asher (1255-1340), the Camp of Ephraim, situated to the west of the Tabernacle (Numbers 2:18) corresponded to the celestial camp headed by the archangel Raphael supported by the angels Zavdiel and Achziel. It is also said that this was the camp that Moses alluded to when he prayed that Miriam be healed from her tzaraath by saying “please God heal her,” (Numbers 12,13). He appealed to the attribute represented by Raphael.
It is said in Kav HaYashar by Rabbi Tzvi Hirsch Kaidanover (1648–1712), that when the angels appointed to bring infirmity and sickness upon people behold the angel Raphael, they take fright and flee. Then Raphael extends healing to the invalid. In the Beginning of Wisdom, an introduction to kabbalistic thought composed by Rabbi Aharon Meir Altshuler (1835-1905) in Warsaw between 1887-1893; Raphael is said to correspond to the Sephirah of Tiphereth (Beauty). He is said to act as an intermediate conduct between Chesed (Kindness) corresponding to Michael, and Din (Judgement) corresponding to Gabriel.
It is also customary in Judaism to invoke Raphael as one of the Four Archangels after one recites the Shema before going to bed: with Michael by your right side, Gabriel by your left side, Uriel before you, and Raphael behind you. This practice is also referred to in Rebbe Nachman of Breslov’s (1772-1810) Likutei Etzot. In this work he refers to the invocation of the Four Archangels as “binding the chariot”.
The New Testament names only two archangels or angels, Michael and Gabriel (Luke 1:9–26; Jude 1:9; Revelation 12:7), but Raphael, because of his association with healing, became identified with the unnamed angel of John 5:1–4 who periodically stirred the pool of Bethesda “and he that went down first into the pond after the motion of the water was made whole of whatsoever infirmity he lay under”. The Catholic Church accordingly links Raphael with Michael and Gabriel as saints whose intercession can be sought through prayer.
The feast day of Raphael was included for the first time in the General Roman Calendar in 1921, for celebration on October 24. With the 1969 revision of the General Roman Calendar, the feast was transferred to September 29 for celebration together with archangels Saints Michael and Gabriel. Due to Pope Benedict XVI’s Summorum Pontificum, the Catholic Church permits, within certain limits for public use, the General Roman Calendar of 1960, which has October 24 as Raphael’s feast day.
The Archangel Raphael is said to have appeared in Cordova, Spain, during the 16th century; in response to the city’s appeal, Pope Innocent X allowed the local celebration of a feast in the Archangel’s honour on May 7, the date of the principal apparition. Saint John of God, founder of the Hospital order that bears his name, is also said to have received visitations from Saint Raphael, who encouraged and instructed him. In tribute to this, many of the Brothers Hospitallers of St. John of God’s facilities are called “Raphael Canters” to this day. The 18th century Neapolitan nun, Saint Maria Francesca of the Five Wounds is also said to have seen apparitions of Raphael.