Reading the Shepherd the other day (actually listening to my sweet wife read it to me as we were driving to church), I encountered the following tale in Hermas’ fourth vision. Hermas sees a huge 100-foot long beast, which he compares to a whale (ὡσεὶ κῆτος, 4.1.6) and which spews fiery locusts from its mouth (echoes of Joel 2; Amos 7; Rev 9). Hermas waxes brave and confronts the beast, which lays down passively for him. After Hermas passes the beast, he meets the church in the form of a young girl. She, in the role of angelus interpres, explains that Hermas escaped the beast (a type of the great oppression to come) because:
ὁ κύριος ἀπέστειλεν τὸν ἄγγελον αὐτοῦ τὸν ἐπὶ τῶν θηρίων ὄντα οὗ τὸ ὄνομά ἐστιν Θεγρί καὶ ἐνέφραξεν τὸ στόμα αὐτοῦ ἵνα μή σε λυμάνῃ (Vis. 4.2.4)
The Lord sent his angel who is over the beasts, whose name is Thegri, and he shut its mouth so that it wouldn’t destroy you.
Now, this passage is interesting on many levels, but I want to focus on the key mystery here: the name of the angel. J. Krueger argued that the angel’s name was based off a Turko-Mongolian sky deity (Tengri), but that theory hasn’t gained much traction. Two other explanations are more likely:
First, Otto Maenchen-Helfen surveyed several possible parallels, beginning with the general backround of Jewish apocalyptic angelology, where angels were assigned dominion over spheres or elements of creation. This understanding continues well into early Christianity.
- Origen, for example, speaks of angels who are over beasts, though he does not give any names (Hom. Num. 14.2).
- Jerome seems to know a Jewish apocryphon which speaks of an angel by the name of Tyri who rules over the reptiles.
- In the magical papyri there is an angel who rules over the dragons/snakes (ἐπὶ τῶν δρακόντων; see K. Preisendanz, Papyri graecae magicae, 2:161)
- An angel named Theriel appears in a Coptic magical text (see Meyer, Ancient Christian Magic, p. 137). This name is formed from θηρίον (beast) on the model of Uriel, Sariel, etc.
- According to Dibelius, a Kabbalistc text refers to an angel name Thegrinon (written in Greek, it would be Θεγρίνων), who has a similar function to our Thegri (M. Dibelius, Der Hirt des Hermas, 488), but I have not been able to check whether Dibelius actually provides a citation.
ὁ θεός μου ἀπέστειλεν τὸν ἄγγελον αὐτοῦ καὶ ἐνέφραξεν τὰ στόματα τῶν λεόντων καὶ οὐκ ἐλυμήναντό με (Dan 6:23a)
As you can see, the text from the Shepherd appears to be taken virtually verbatim from Dan 6:23. Harris proposes that the Aramaic word for “shut” in Dan 6:23—sgr—is the source for the angel’s name, which he proposes was an alteration of Segri. This makes sense, given the Shepherd’s clear dependence on Daniel, but it does require an s to t shift in the name. A Danielic background is also supported by the fact that Daniel 10-12 also forms the subtext for much of the terms and motifs in the 4th vision, including that of the “great tribulation.”
In the end, I think the meaning and origin of the name remains a mystery, though Harris’s solution seems the best to me. Whatever the case, the Shepherd of Hermas is essential reading for anyone interested in the reception of Jewish apocalypticism in early Roman Christianity.