Tag Archives: Old Testament

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).

 

Mythological Beasts And Spirits: Chimera

The original Chimera is a creature from Greco Roman mythology which has the head of a lion, the head (or body) of a goat, and the tail of a serpent (often represented with a serpent’s head). The earliest reference we have is from the Iliad by Homer. Shown below is an intriguing Etruscan bronze, the Chimera of Arezzo, from the 4th Century, A. D.

chimera-1

Going back even further, there is this Greco Roman mosaic from Palmyra, 3rd Century, A. D. It depicts the battle in which Bellerophon slays the Chimera while riding on Pegasus, the winged horse which he tamed with the help of the goddess, Athena.

chimera-2

As is often the case in mythology, it all started with a woman. Bellerophon resists the efforts of Sthenoboea, the wife of King Proteus, to seduce him. Angry at being jilted, she levels accusations against him. This is reminiscent of the tale of Joseph resisting the efforts of Potiphar’s wife to seduce him. The latter is found in the book of Genesis from the Old Testament and is, incidentally, the older account.

Joseph and Potiphar's Wife by Miklos Mihalovits.
Joseph and Potiphar’s Wife by Miklos Mihalovits.

Anyway,  King Iobates of Lycia, the father of Sthenoboea, assigns Bellerophon a number of heroic tasks, including the slaying of the Chimera. Athena gives our hero a golden bridle which will enable him to mount and ride Pegasus. In this next painting, Athena can be seen standing in the background.

Bellerophon by Alexander Ivanov.
Bellerophon by Alexander Ivanov.

I will end this post with another depiction of the ensuing battle.

Bellerophon and the Chimera by Samuel Moore-Sobel
Bellerophon and the Chimera by Samuel Moore-Sobel

 

Ancient To Modern: The Strong Man (2)

I originally intended to cover this subject in one post, but I discovered some images and a story line from the comics which incited me to mount my high horse. In the interest of relative brevity, I had to cut myself off. So here goes, and let’s see if I can honestly get the rest done this week. As you may remember, I wrote about Heracles last week.

Samson

Contrary to popular belief, the strength of this Old Testament character from the book of Judges was not in his hair. His birth was the result of a promise made by God to a man named Manoah and his barren wife. Included were instructions for raising the boy. He was to be a Nazirite, and part of his vow included not cutting his hair.

Samson’s strength is described as coming from God, whose Spirit would come over him in time of need as a result of his Nazirite vow. Notice the similarity of this painting of one of his feats with a painting of Heracles from last week’s post.

Samson's youth (1891) by Leon Bonnat.
Samson’s youth (1891) by Leon Bonnat.

So Samson’s weakness was his love of pagan women. His love of one named Delilah ultimately led to a betrayal of his vow (manifested in the cutting of his hair). He was captured by Phillistine soldiers, blinded, and sentenced to slave labor.

Samson and Delilah by Anthony van Dyck.
Samson and Delilah by Anthony van Dyck.

Samson and Delilah (1630) by Anthony van Dyck.
Samson and Delilah (1630) by Anthony van Dyck.

The Blinded Samson (1912) by Lovis Corinth.
The Blinded Samson (1912) by Lovis Corinth.

Samson in the Treadmill by Carl Heinrich Bloch.
Samson in the Treadmill by Carl Heinrich Bloch.

After a due period of penance and the growth of his hair, he was brought forth for the sport of his captors in the temple of their god, Dagon, and, of course, he brought the house down.

The Death of Samson (possibly 17th Century) by an unknown artist; J. Paul Getty Museum.
The Death of Samson (possibly 17th Century) by an unknown artist; J. Paul Getty Museum.

This is a great character in a great story.

Okay, I give up. I promise I’ll cover three modern characters next week.