How did the Sages know the names of particular angels?

There have been special individuals in history who reached a level of righteousness to the extent that it is possible for a human to be perfect. Rambam explained in Mishneh Torah that when a person reaches a certain high level of spiritual perfection, he or she is rewarded by G-d with a spirit of prophecy, so that his or her awareness is no longer limited to the physical world. [1] The heavenly realms and/or heavenly beings are also revealed to the person. This may be with open sight, prophetic vision or intellectual insight.

We see from the Hebrew Bible and Midrash and  that many of the Biblical prophets personally encountered or interacted with angels (Jacob, Moses, Aaron, Joshua, Isaiah, Ezekiel, Zechariah, Daniel, etc.). Ultimately, the knowledge that the Sages had of angelology was based on the personal prophetic experiences and insights of special individuals.

So there are numerous examples in the Torah and the Books of the Prophets, and among select Sages over the course of history. There were also Gentiles who merited to be visited by angels. For example, we see in Genesis that when Hagar ran away, she was met by several angels. (Gen. 16:7-13) Why was she not afraid? Because she was accustomed to seeing angels in the home of Abraham and Sarah. Likewise, Lot and his daughters were saved from the destruction of Sodom by the angels Gabriel and Rafael.


[1] See Seven Gates of Righteous Knowledge, the Second Gate: “The Gate of Prophecy from G-d,” by Rabbi Moshe Weiner.