Wednesday 15 December 2010

Angles from the Realms of Glory

Young Keith, who has an interest in these things, has pointed out to me that someone arrived on this website yesterday having searched for "an angle of peace and goodwill".

Now I assume, dear readers, that this was a typographical inexactitude. But it did leave me wondering - what actually was the angel of elevation when they appeared to the shepherds? In other words - what was the angle from the realms of glory?

We can take a certain amount from the Biblical text1:
"An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified."

I have assumed that "the glory of the Lord"  was focussed from the angel before them. For it to shine around them, then the angel must therefore have been at a sufficient height that the glory could be directed both behind and before them. The diagram below may help.

Now the angel had to be close enough to them to be able to talk to them - and in such a way that he gave quite a lot of detailed information. So on a windy hillside in a bleak midwinter, with the frosty wind moaning, I will assume that the long diagonal shown in the diagram cannot have been more than about 20 feet. To shine the glory over the head of the tallest shepherd (we'll say 5 feet, because though they won't have been short of protein it makes the sums easier and it was the 1st Century BC) the angel would have to have been at a height therefore of at least 12 feet. Which gives us a minimum angle from the realm of glory of about 36o. Clearly the angle cannot be as high as 90o, for reasons of face-to-face communication and the modesty of the angel. I would say that for effective eye contact (and some angels have a lot of eyes) the shepherds would not want to be looking up at more than a 45o angel.

So my conclusion is that the angle from the realm of glory is somewhere between 36 and 45 degrees. And possibly this would cover the complete range of the angel choir when they all appeared together. This may not sound very important just at the moment, dear readers, but it does mean that next time you're on a darkened hillside you'll know where to look.

[1] Luke 2:8-14 New International Version  Hodder & Stoughton 1986 (the formerly nice blue leather one with the now terribly battered cover). Drayton tells me I should reference the author as "God" but I think he's probably wrong there. If you see what I mean.
[2] Angel supplied by Gospel Gifs


  1. Are we assuming an unusually flat hillside? Or do we have scriptural authority for them standing on exactly the same level thereof?

  2. Your mathematics are impressive!
    Not too sure about the theology but would love to see more of your 'illuminated' (whether by Glory or candlelight) depictions of Christmas stories.

  3. I guess, given the average nativity play, it needs to be a cute angle....
    (sorry) so your geometry seems good to me.

  4. Who says science and religion don't mix?


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