Peter Paul Rubens' Death of Semele, caused by the Theophany of Zeus without a mortal disguise

Theophany (Ancient Greek: (ἡ) θεοφάνεια, romanizedtheophaneia, lit.'appearance of a deity'[1]) is an encounter with a deity that manifests in an observable and tangible form.[2][3][4] It is often confused with other types of encounters with a deity, but these interactions are not considered theophanies unless the deity reveals itself in a visible form. Traditionally, the term "theophany" was used to refer to appearances of the gods in ancient Greek and Near Eastern religions. While the Iliad is the earliest source for descriptions of theophanies in classical antiquity, the first description appears in the Epic of Gilgamesh.[5]

Ancient Greek religion

See also: Epiphany (Ancient Greece)

In Greek mythology, there are a few instances of theophany. In historic times, theophanies were rare, but divine or heroic epiphanies were experienced either through dreams or waking visions. Theophanies were reenacted at a number of Greek sites and festivals. At Delphi, the Theophania (Θεοφάνια) was an annual festival in spring celebrating the return of Apollo from his winter quarters in Hyperborea. The culmination of the festival was a display of an image of the gods, usually hidden in the sanctuary, to worshippers.


The most well-known Theophany is in the Bhagavad-Gita, one chapter of the larger epic of Mahabharata. On the battlefield of Kurukshetra, the god Krishna gives the famed warrior Arjuna a series of teachings. Arjuna begs for Krishna to reveal his "universal form." Krishna complies and gives Arjuna the spiritual vision, enabling him to see Krishna in the universal form.

A number of other theophanies are described in the Mahabharata.[6] First, the god Indra's appearance to Kunti, with the subsequent birth of the hero Arjuna.[7][8] Near the end of the epic, the god Yama takes the form of a dog to test the compassion of Yudhishthira. Even though Yudhishthira is told he may not enter paradise with such an animal, he refuses to abandon his companion, earning him praise from Dharma.[9]


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The Torah contains many instances of theophany between Yahweh, or God, and the human characters in the stories. Some examples of this are seen in the stories of the burning bush, in Genesis 18, the pillars of clouds and fire, Mount Sinai, Isaiah and Ezekiel, and David.  


See also: Christophany

Christians generally recognize the same Old Testament theophanies as the Jews.[10][11] In addition, there are at least two theophanies mentioned in the New Testament.[12][13] While some usages[14] refer to the baptisms of Jesus and John the Baptist as "theophanies", scholars discourage such usage.[3]

Traditional analysis of the Biblical passages led Christian scholars to understand Theophany as an unambiguous Manifestation of God to man.[15] Otherwise, the more general term hierophany is used.[16]

Evangelical Christianity

Some modern evangelical Christian Bible commentators, such as Ron Rhodes, interpret "the angel of the Lord", who appears in several places throughout the Old Testament, to be the pre-incarnate Christ, which is Jesus before his manifestation into human form, as described in the New Testament. Adaptions to his hypothesis in current evangelical research and intercollegiate debate describe these manifestations as the post-incarnate Christ (yet to be published), as though in being a divine human capable of time travel He could foretell his later incarnation as having already lived it. [17] The term Christophany has also been coined to identify post-incarnate appearances of Christ in both the Old and New Testaments. 1 St. Peter 4 (v.6) allows for the interpretation that on the Son's Father-Spirit (as the third member of the trinity fulfilling the unity of various persons as Christ is crowned King of Kings) and being conferred from the cross with the words, "Eloi, Eloi! Lama Sabachtani", was thereby born or separated as the timeless Word (or angel) of God (John 1 and 5) with the character and memory of Christ, even giving permission for creation "Let there be.." (Genesis 1) . This also has been the traditional interpretation of the earliest Church Fathers as well as the apostle Paul himself, who identifies the rock that was with Moses in the desert, and the speaking burning bush, as being Christ. For a more thorough list of "God Sightings", or Theophanies, see the examples above under "Judaism, Hebrew Bible."

Latter Day Saint movement

Main article: First Vision

Joseph Smith, the prophet and founder of the Latter Day Saint movement, said that when he was 14 years old he was visited by God the Father and Jesus Christ in a grove of trees near his house, a Theophany in answer to his spoken prayer. [citation needed] This "First Vision" is considered to be the founding event of the Latter Day Saint movement.[18] The Book of Mormon describes other hierophanies and Theophanies that occurred in the new world.[19]

For example, Blake Ostler analysed the Throne-Theophany of Lehi in the First Book of Nephi and concluded that the Theophanies in the Bible and the Book of Mormon have much in common.[20]

And being thus overcome with the Spirit, he was carried away in a Vision, even that he saw the Heavens open, and he thought he saw God sitting upon his Throne, surrounded with numberless concourses of angels in the attitude of singing and praising their God. And it came to pass that he saw One descending out of the midst of Heaven, and he beheld that his luster was above that of the sun at noon-day. And he also saw twelve others following him, and their brightness did exceed that of the stars in the firmament. And they came down and went forth upon the face of the earth; and the first came and stood before my father, and gave unto him a book, and bade him that he should read.[21]


The most important theophany in Islam is the Mi'raj, the Prophet's ascent into Heaven. He speaks to the Holy Spirit (Gabriel), sometimes called "a night journey from Mecca through Jerusalem."[22][23]

Baháʼí Faith

Main article: Manifestation of God (Baháʼí Faith)

The Baháʼí Faith believes that God is manifest in the prophets. The "Manifestation of God" is a concept that refers to prophets like Zoroaster, Krishna, Gautama Buddha, Abraham, Moses, Jesus, Muhammad, the Báb, and Baháʼu'lláh.[24] The Manifestations of God are a series of personages who reflect the attributes of the divine in the human world, for the progress and advancement of human morals and civilization.[25]

In the 1914 publication titled The Reconciliation of Races and Religions, Thomas Kelly Cheyne, FBA (1841–1915), an ordained minister in the Church of England and Oxford University scholar, described Theophany within the context of the Baháʼí Faith.[26][27] Cheyne wrote, " feels that a Theology without a Theophany is both dry and difficult to defend. We want an avatar, i.e. a 'descent' of God in human form".[27]

A 1991 article in the Journal of Bahá’í Studies (JBS), described "Bahá’í theophanology" as "acceptance of the Prophet, or 'Manifestation of God,' who speaks on behalf of God."[28] The author explained that Bahá’u’lláh wrote a series of epistles in the 1860s to kings and rulers, including, Pope Pius IX, Napoleon III, Tsar Alexander II of Russia, Queen Victoria, and Naser al-Din Shah Qajar, in a "forceful, theophanic voice" calling them to undertake reforms.[28] These letters were published in a compilation entitled Summons of the Lord of Hosts in 2002.[29] The JBS article described Bahá’u’lláh's "Theophanology" as "progressivist". He claimed "spiritual Authority" in these letters in which he warned western leaders of the dangers facing humanity should they choose to not act on His Guidance.[28]

Divine appearances to animals

Human religious lore includes ancient literary recordings of deities appearing to animals. Usually, the animals relay the experience to humans using human speech:


Teofanía ("Theophany") by Mexican artist Antonio García Vega

More recently, science fiction author Philip K. Dick reportedly had a Theophany on 3 February 1974,[33] which would become basis for his semi-biographic works VALIS (1981) and Radio Free Albemuth (1985).[34][35]

In 1977, Michel Potay testified he witnessed five Theophanies. He published the text he says he received from God in "The Book", the second part of The Revelation of Ares.[citation needed]

There are a large number of modern cases which have been rendered into print, film, and otherwise conveyed to broad publics. Some cases have become popular books and media, including:

These instances are distinguished from cases in which divine encounters are explicitly considered fictional by the author, a frequent motif in speculative fiction such as in Julian May's Galactic Milieu Series.[38]

See also


  1. ^ Not to be confused with the festivity at DelphiAncient Greek: (τὰ) Θεοφάνια, romanizedTheophania.
  2. ^ Harvey, Van Austin (1964). "Theophany". A Handbook of Theological Terms. New York: Macmillan. p. 241. OCLC 963417958.
  3. ^ a b "Theophany". Encyclopædia Britannica. Archived from the original on 6 June 2012.
  4. ^ Burtchaell, J. T. (2002). "Theophany". New Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 13: Seq-The (second ed.). Detroit, Michigan: The Catholic University of America by Thomson/Gale. p. 929. ISBN 978-0-7876-4017-0.
  5. ^ Bulkley, Kelly (1993). "The Evil Dreams of Gilgamesh: An Interdisciplinary Approach to Dreams in Mythological Texts". In Rupprecht, Carol Schreier (ed.). The Dream and the Text: Essays on Literature and Language. Albany, New York: SUNY Press. pp. 159–177, page 163. ISBN 978-0-7914-1361-6.
  6. ^ Laine, James W. (2007). Visions of God: narratives of Theophany in the Mahābhdāhata. Publications of the De Nobili Research Library, Volume 16. Vienna: Gerold & Company. ISBN 978-3-900271-19-0.
  7. ^ Coulter, Charles Russell; Turner, Patricia (2013). "Arjuna". Encyclopedia of Ancient Deities. Routledge. p. 69. ISBN 978-1-13596-390-3.
  8. ^ Johnson, W. J. (2009). "Kunti". A Dictionary of Hinduism. Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/acref/9780198610250.001.0001. ISBN 978-0-19861-025-0.
  9. ^ "The Mahabharata, Book 17: Mahaprasthanika Parva: Section 3". Internet Sacrd Texts Archive.
  10. ^ Kominiak, Benedict (1948). The Theophanies of the Old Testament in the Writings of St. Justin. Studies in Sacred Theology, 2nd series, number 14. Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press. pp. throughout. OCLC 878155779.
  11. ^ Bucur, Bogdan Gabriel (2018). Scripture Re-envisioned: Christophanic Exegesis and the Making of a Christian Bible. Leiden: Boston Brill. pp. passim. ISBN 978-90-04-38610-5.
  12. ^ Mark 1:9–11 and Luke 9:28–36
  13. ^ Cook, Chris (2019). "Hearing voices in Christian scripture: the New Testament". Hearing Voices, Demonic and Divine: Scientific and Theological Perspectives. New York: Routledge. p. 82. ISBN 978-0-367-58243-2.
  14. ^ "The Season of Epiphany". The Voice. Christian Research Institute.
  15. ^ Ivakhiv, Adrian J. (2001). Claiming Sacred Ground: Pilgrims and Politics at Glastonbury and Sedona. Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana University Press. p. 253, note 2 and the authors there cited. ISBN 978-0-253-33899-0.
  16. ^ Sharma, Arvind (2006). "The Concept of Revelation and the Primal Religious Tradition". A Primal Perspective on the Philosophy of Religion. Dordrecht, the Netherlands: Springer Verlag. p. 109. ISBN 978-1-4020-5014-5.
  17. ^ Ron Rhodes Angels Among Us: Separating Fact from Fiction – Page 117, (2008): "As we examine Scripture together, I think you too will come to see that this was no ordinary angel but was in fact the pre-incarnate Christ. Theologians call the appearances of Christ in the Old Testament Theophanies."
  18. ^ "God Restored Christ's Church through Joseph Smith". Our Faith: The Restoration of the Gospel. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Archived from the original on 13 October 2010.
  19. ^ Wright, Mark Alan (2011). ""According to Their Language, unto Their Understanding": The Cultural Context of Hierophanies and Theophanies in Latter-day Saint Canon". Studies in the Bible and Antiquity. 3. Maxwell Institute for Regilious Scholarship, Brigham Young University: 51–65. Archived from the original on 25 January 2013.
  20. ^ Ostler, Blake T. (2019). "The Throne-Theophany and Prophetic Commission in 1 Nephi: A Form-Critical Analysis". BYU Studies Quarterly. 26 (4): 67–95. Archived (PDF) from the original on 24 October 2021.
  21. ^ The Throne-Theophany of Lehi in the First Book of Nephi in 1 Nephi 1:8–11
  22. ^ Bradlow, Khadija (18 August 2007). "A night journey through Jerusalem". Times Online. Retrieved 27 March 2011.
  23. ^ Vuckovic, Brooke Olson (2004). Heavenly Journeys, Earthly Concerns: The Legacy of the Mi'raj in the Formation of Islam. Religion in History, Society and Culture, volume 5. New York: Routledge. ISBN 978-0-415-96785-3.
  24. ^ Smith, Peter (2000). "Manifestations of God". A Concise Encyclopedia of the Baháʼí Faith. Oxford: Oneworld Publications. p. 231. ISBN 1-85168-184-1.
  25. ^ Cole, Juan (1982). "The Concept of Manifestation in the Baháʼí Writings". Baháʼí Studies. monograph 9: 1–38.
  26. ^ "Worldwide Adherents of All Religions by Six Continental Areas, Mid-2010". Encyclopædia Britannica. 2010. Retrieved 4 June 2017.
  27. ^ a b Cheyne, Thomas Kelly (1914). The reconciliation of races and religions. London: A. and C. Black. ISBN 978-0-7905-0976-1. OCLC 2779254. Retrieved 24 July 2020.
  28. ^ a b c Buck, Christopher (1991). "Bahá'u'lláh as "World Reformer"". Journal of Bahá'í Studies. 3 (4). Association for Bahá’í Studies.
  29. ^ Baháʼu'lláh (2002) [1868]. The Summons of the Lord of Hosts. Haifa Israel: Baháʼí World Centre. p. 137. ISBN 0-85398-976-1.
  30. ^ Leeming, David Adams, Creation myths of the world: an encyclopedia (2010)
  31. ^ Valmiki, Ramayana
  32. ^ Hsuan-tsang, Journey to the West
  33. ^ Mckee, Gabriel (2004) Pink beams of Light from the God in the gutter: the science-fictional religion of Philip K. Dick University Press of America, Lanham, Maryland, pages 1–2, and following, ISBN 0-7618-2673-4
  34. ^ Mckee, Gabriel (2004) Pink beams of Light from the God in the gutter: the science-fictional religion of Philip K. Dick University Press of America, Lanham, Maryland, page 10, ISBN 0-7618-2673-4
  35. ^ Umland, Samuel J. (1995) Philip K. Dick: contemporary critical interpretations Greenwood Press, Westport, Connecticut, page 82, ISBN 0-313-29295-7
  36. ^ Shucman, Helen, A Course in Miracles
  37. ^ Kaza, Stephanie, The Attentive Heart: Conversations with Trees
  38. ^ May, Julian, Intervention: A Root Tale to the Galactic Milieu and a Vinculum between it and The Saga of Pliocene Exile (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1987).