Mythological Beasts And Spirits: Cherub

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From The Fear of a Farmer (Copyright: 2017 Robert Lambert Jones III).

I must start by admitting that the above picture is inaccurate, but I will get to that later. The following painting by Raphael shows what cherubim (plural for cherub in the Old Testament) are not: fat babies with wings.

cherubs by raphael
Cherubs by Raphael

I am only familiar with these creatures from the Judeo Christian tradition. They are described as guarding the entrance to the Garden of Eden (Genesis) and as appearing to the prophet Ezekiel in a vision he had during the Babylonian captivity (Ezekiel). The latter account also refers to them as “living creatures” stationed around the throne of God. They are described as having four faces: that of a lion, that of an ox, that of an eagle, and that of a man. They also have four wings full of eyes, the hands of a man and the feet of a cow. It has been suggested that their appearance is symbolic (e.g. ox as servant, lion as ruler, etc.) and should not be taken literally.

This description may seem grotesque to some, intriguing or even cool to others. It also defies artistic representation, but this hasn’t stopped people from trying. A golden sculpture of two cherubim facing each other on the Mercy Seat ( or lid) of the Ark of the Covenant is described in the Pentateuch (first five books of the Old Testament). In the photograph of a re-creation below, each is shown as a kneeling human figure with two wings, and both are shown facing each other with their wingtips touching. The truth, however, is that we don’t really know exactly what these figures looked like.

cherubim 1

By the way, the above image might remind you of what the Ark looked like in Indiana Jones: Raiders of the Lost Ark. The movie version shows pretty good agreement with scholarly opinion, but all scriptural accuracy in the movie ends there.

Large statues of two cherubim  were stationed behind the Ark in the Holy of Holies, the inner and most sacred chamber in the temple built by Solomon. They were allegedly human figures, each with two wings, and two of their wings touched in the center between them while the other two extended to the walls. Again, we cannot be entirely sure of what they looked like.

Depicting the description from chapters 1 and 10 of the book of Ezekiel is more problematic. Here is an attempt from around 1200 (A. D. or C. E., depending on your preference of notation).

cherubim 4
From the Cathedral of Cefalu, Sicily (c. 1200).

Oops! On closer examination this looks more like a seraph with six wings instead of four, but I’ll keep it, anyway, because I like the colors.

Here is another from a different church, as nearly as I could make out the rather obscure reference I found. Well… the heads of an eagle, an ox, a lion, and a man are shown as described in the book of Ezekiel, but it appears to have six wings. Is this a cherub-seraph hybrid?

cherubim 2
From St. Stefans Romanian Orthodox Church.

The following illustration is one for which I could not obtain a credit, but it shows what I said about the difficulty and aesthetics (or lack thereof) of portrayal earlier in this post.

cherubim 3

In my drawing at the top of this post, I chose to take a simpler approach. Honestly, I just wanted to draw this concept (I like eagles, as did my mother when she was still alive), and I found a way to include it in my story in a way that added some additional meaning to the plot. I envisioned a huge, four-winged, four legged eagle and left it at that. I will conclude with the following drawing of a cherub being placated by Anni, the Valkyrie.

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From The Fear of a Farmer (Copyright: 2017 Robert Lambert Jones III).

 

6 thoughts on “Mythological Beasts And Spirits: Cherub”

  1. I think we do know how the angels on the ark looked from the descriptions in the Bible. Angels do look like men, only glorious and with wings. I have read the four faces on that special angel symbolizes attributes of God, such as strength, courage and wisdom.

    I sometimes think the Bible is just overflowing with poetry that too many people take literally. However, angels have appeared as men many times and are called the “sons of God.”

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’ll differ with you on one or two points, but not with complete confidence. I’m going off of memory here, but I don’t think angels are described anywhere in scripture as having wings. I agree that they are described as looking like men, but much more impressively so on most occasions. I’ve read the descriptions of the cherubim on the Mercy Seat of the Ark, and the drawings I’ve seen don’t noticeably contradict that. All I was saying was that their exact appearance is a matter of speculation, as various scholarly renderings will attest. Then, as I’ve written in this post, there is the appearance of the cherubim in Ezekiel, which seems quite different (possibly for symbolic reasons). Regardless of whether I’m right or wrong, these are minor points compared to the main themes of the Bible. Thank you for your comment.

      Liked by 1 person

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