Tag Archives: Raphael

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).


Magic And Miracles (1)

Moses Delivering the Ten Commandments by William Hawkins
The Temptation of Christ by Ary Schefer, 1854

As an educator and as a casual observer of popular culture, I believe that our society is overly dependent on passive entertainment. We view more than we read. We assume more than analyze. Don’t get me wrong. If you’ve read very many of my posts in the past, you know that I love some of the entertainment that’s out there. My concern is the degree to which we are dependent on it.

In the biology courses which I teach, I emphasize the scientific method of thinking, its limits, and how this relates to our perception of reality. We currently have a problem with scientific literacy in America, but arguments which merely appear more scientific are given more widespread credibility.  I call this faux intellectualism the “culture of the scientific.” It’s more a statement of style than of content.

Additionally, our emotions influence our perception of reality. We believe in things we want to be true. Conversely, we disbelieve things we don’t want to be true. From this perspective, truth is often perceived as inconvenient, but consider the alternative. Ignorance can hurt or even kill us, and denying the existence of something doesn’t prevent it from affecting us if it’s real.

Finally, there is what sociologists term the “social construction of reality.” We tend to believe what those whom we identify with believe or what the majority of people believe, and that can sometimes get us into trouble. Metaphorically, the blind can lead the blind. Truth is not established by majority vote, and history is replete with cases involving individuals who went against the status quo and were later vindicated.

I have described a cultural mash in which our shared perception of reality is affected by at least four factors: our desire for and orientation toward entertainment, a “culture of the scientific” among the scientifically illiterate, emotional preference, and the social construction of reality. Within this context, society has grown increasingly incredulous about the existence of spiritual beings and the occurrence of miracles. This has been accompanied by a general drift away from the tenets of Judaism and Christianity. Historically, the two most prominent lines of thought in the development of western civilization have been the Greco Roman and Judeo Christian traditions.

Gods of Olympus, 1534-35 Giulion Romano
Gods of Olympus (1534-1535) by Giulio Romano
The Ascension by Benjamin West, 1801
School of Athens by Raphael
The last supper
The Last Supper by Leonardo da Vinci

Ironically, western culture has shown an increased sympathy for Islam (with notable exceptions) and an increased interest in magic, paganism, and witchcraft even as it discards Judaism and Christianity as being irrelevant, superstitious, or worse. Please note what I am not saying. These are trends among diverse individuals who happen to exist in significant numbers. They are not the product of widespread, monolithic group think.


Okay. This is my teaser. I’m not entirely sure where I’m going with this, but I’ll pick it up again next week.