CHERUB (; plural, Cherubim).

—Biblical Data:

The name of a winged being mentioned frequently in the Bible. The prophet Ezekiel describes the cherubim as a tetrad of living creatures, each having four faces—of a lion, an ox, an eagle, and a man—the stature and hands of a man, the feet of a calf, and four wings. Two of the wings extended upward, meeting above and sustaining the throne of God; while the other two stretched downward and covered the creatures themselves. They never turned, but went "straight forward" as the wheels of the cherubic chariot, and they were full of eyes "like burning coals of fire" (Ezek. i. 5-28, ix. 3, x., xi. 22). Ezek. xxviii. 13-16 is manifestly a true account of a popular tradition, distinct from that in Gen. ii., iii.

In the Temple.

Ezek. xli. 18-25 and other passages show that the number and form of the cherubim vary in different representations. The books of Kings and Chronicles contain, in the main, a description of the cherubim of Solomon's Temple. The Ark was placed between the two colossal figures of cherubim, carved in olivewood and plated with gold, ten cubits high, standing in the adytum () and facing the door. The distance between the points of their outstretched wings was ten cubits; the right wing of the one touching the point of the left wing of the other, while the outer wings extended to the walls (I Kings vi. 23-28; viii. 6, 7; II Chron. iii. 10-13, v. 7-8). II Chron. iii. 14 states that they were woven in the veil of the adytum; and in Ex. xxvi. 1, 31 and xxxvi. 8, 35 they are also referred to as wrought into the curtains and veil of the Temple. In Ex. xxv. 18-22, xxxvii. 7-9; Num. vii. 89 mention is made by the priestly writer of two cherubim of solid gold, upon the golden slab of the , facing each other. Their outstretched wings came together above, constituting a throne on which the glory of Yhwh appeared, and from whence He spoke.

In the early days of Israel's history the cherubim became the divine chariot, the bearer of the throne of Yhwh in its progress through the worlds (I Sam. iv. 4; II Sam. vi. 2; I Chron. xiii. 6). The cherubim of the Ark of the Covenant seem to be meant here, and this is probably also the case in II Kings xix. 15; Isa. xxxvii. 16; Ps. lxxx. 1, xcix. 1 (see Rahlfs,  und  in den Psalmen," 1892, pp. 36 et seq.). At an earlier period the cherubim were the living chariot of the theophanic God, possibly identical with the storm-winds (Ps. xviii. 11; II Sam. xxii. 11: "And he rode upon a cherub and did fly: and he was seen upon the wings of the wind "). Here is a conception similar to that of the Babylonians, where the cherubim originally symbolized the winds.

—In Rabbinical and Apocryphal Literature:

The cherubim placed by God at the entrance of paradise (Gen. iii. 24) were angels created on the third day, and therefore they had no definite shape; appearing either as men or women, or as spirits or angelic beings (Gen. R. xxi., end). According to another authority, the cherubim were the first objects created in the universe (Tanna debe Eliyahu R., i. beginning); while in the Slavonic Book of Enoch they are said to dwell in both the sixth and seventh heavens. The passage referring to the sixth heaven is as follows (xix. 6): "In the midst of them [the archangels] are seven phenixes, and seven cherubim, and seven six-winged creatures [seraphim], being as one voice and singing with one voice. It is not possible to describe their singing; and they rejoice before the Lord at His footstool." Enoch then (xx. 1) describes how he saw in the seventh heaven "cherubim and seraphim and the watchfulness of many eyes" (= ofannim). The Ethiopian Book of Enoch also mentions these three classes of angels as those that never sleep, but always watch the throne of God (lxx. 7; compare also lxi. 10). In another passage of this book Gabriel is designatedas the archangel who is set over the serpents, the garden (= paradise), and the cherubim (xx. 7).

In the passages of the Talmud that describe the heavens and their inhabitants, the seraphim, ofannim, and ḥayyot are mentioned, but not the cherubim (Ḥag. 12b); and the ancient liturgy also mentions only these three classes.

The following sentence of the Midrash is characteristic: "When a man sleeps, the body tells to the neshamah ["the soul"] what it has done during the day; the neshamah then reports it to the nefesh ["the spirit"], the nefesh to the angel, the angel to the cherub, and the cherub to the seraph, who then brings it before God [Lev. R. xxii.; Eccl. R. x. 20]. When Pharaoh pursued Israel at the Red Sea, God took a cherub from the wheels of His throne and flew to the spot—for He inspects the heavenly worlds while sitting on a cherub. The cherub, however, is ["something not material"], and is carried by God, not vice versa (Midr. Teh. xviii. 15; Cant. R. i. 9). Maimonides ("Yad," Yesode ha-Torah, ii. 7) enumerates ten classes of angels, the cherubim being the ninth; while the cabalistic "Masseket Aẓilut" designates the cherubim as the third class of angels, with a leader named Kerubiel (; Jellinek, "Auswahl Kabbalistischer Mystik," p. 3). In the Zohar, where also ten classes of angels are enumerated, the cherubim are not mentioned as a special class (compare Zohar, Ex. Bo, 43a).

The Cherubim of the Temple.

As regards the representations of the cherubim in the Temple, Josephus holds that no one knows or can even guess what form they had ("Ant." viii. 3, § 3); Philo thinks they represented the two supreme attributes of God, goodness and authority ("De Cherubim," x.; "De Vita Moysis," iii. 8; ed. Mangey, ii. 150); he says, however, that some authorities took the cherubim to represent the two hemispheres ("De Cherubim," vii.). The rabbinical sources evince an archeological rather than a theological interest in the cherubim. Onkelos, the proselyte (beginning of the second century C.E.), says that "the cherubim had their heads bent backward, like a pupil who is going away from his master" (B. B. 99a); this is intended to explain the somewhat ambiguous verse referring to the cherubim in the Tabernacle (Ex. xxv. 20), meaning that the faces of the cherubim were bent downward toward the cover () of the Ark, but still with their eyes turned toward each other. Onkelos' view is also given in the Targ. O. on the passage, while the Targ. Yer. thinks that the faces of both the opposite cherubim were turned downward toward the cover (compare Friedmann, "Onkelos und Akylas," pp. 98-99).

Concerning the form of these cherubim, an authority of the end of the third century says that they had the form of youths, (, derived from כ ="like," and  ="youth"; Suk. 5b; Ḥag. 13b). The last-named passage says that the cherubim which Ezekiel saw in his vision (Ezek. x. 1) also had this form, adding that the four creatures at the throne of God were originally man, lion, bull, and eagle, but that Ezekiel implored God to take a cherub instead of a bull; Ezekiel desiring that God should not always look upon a bull, which would continually remind Him of Israel's worship of that animal. It seems that the Talmud had noticed that Ezekiel's conception of the heavenly creatures differed from the traditional one.

Communion of Israel with God.

It is recorded as a miracle that when Israel was worshiping the Lord, the cherubim lovingly turned their faces toward each other (B. B. l.c.), and even embraced like a loving couple. On these occasions the curtain was raised so that the Jews who had come on pilgrimage might convince themselves how much God loved them (Yoma 54a). At the (destruction of the Temple the heathen found the cherubim in this posture; and they mocked the Jews because of their obscene worship, thinking the cherubim to be the objects of it (Yoma 54b). This conception of the cherubim, as representing the union of Israel with God, has been further developed by the Cabala, the cherubim being taken to represent the mysterious union of the earthly with the heavenly (see Baḥya b. Asher to Ex. xxv. 20; Zohar, Terumah, ii. 176a). The symbolical interpretation of the Alexandrians, mentioned above, is also found in rabbinical sources. Midr. Tadshe (ed. Epstein, p. 15), like Philo, takes the cherubim to symbolize the two names of God, Yhwh and Elohim, by which rabbinical theology (see, for example, Sifre, Deut. 26) designates the two attributes ("goodness") and  ("justice"). Another Midrash (Num. R. iv.) compares the cherubim with heaven and earth, as do the Alexandrians mentioned by Philo("De Cherubim," vii.). Maimonides says ("Moreh Nebukim," iii. 45) that the figures of the cherubim were placed in the sanctuary only to preserve among the people the belief in angels, there being two in order that the people might not be led to believe that they were the image of God. There were no cherubim in the Temple of Herod; but according to some authorities, its walls were painted with figures of cherubim (Yoma 54a).

—Critical View:

Primitive Hebrew tradition must have conceived of the cherubim as guardians of the Garden of Eden (Gen. iii. 34; see also Ezek. xxviii. 14). Back of this lies the primitive Semitic belief in beings of superhuman power and devoid of human feelings, whose duty it was to represent the gods, and as guardians of their sanctuaries to repel intruders. Compare the account in the Nimrod-Epos, Tablet IX.; and see Kosters, in "Theolog. Tijdschrift," 1874, pp. 445 et seq.

Forms of Cherubim.

From the brief and meager Biblical descriptions of the statues representing the cherubim, it is impossible to judge of their real form. They were hardly sphinx-shaped; for all the representations of the winged sphinx have the wings bent backward rather than extended toward the sides. Whether the cherub was a union of man and some animal form, such as the hawk-headed man so frequently found on Egyptian monuments and also at Nineveh, or only a winged man, as the representation of the palace guardian at Khorsabad, is not certain. Such figures, however, are very common in Babylonian decorations; and winged men and animals are found in ancient sculptures throughout Syria. Cheyne considers the cherubim of Hittite origin, the originality of the Hittites in the use of animal forms being well known.

Probable Source.

The Hittite griffin appears almost always not as a fierce beast of prey, but seated in calm dignity, like an irresistible guardian of holy things. The Phenicians, and probably the Canaanites, and through them the Israelites, attached greater importance to the cherub. The origin of the cherub myth antedates history, and points to the time when primitive man began to shape his ideas of supernatural powers by mystic forms, especially by the combination of parts of the two strongest animals of land and air—the lion and the eagle. Many are the grotesque figures found thus far, survivals of ancient Oriental sculpture.

Thus, in Babylonia there is the winged sphinx having a king's head, a lion's body, and an eagle's wings (see B. Teloni, "Zeitschrift für Assyriologie," vi. 124-140; text published by Bezold, ib. ix. 114-119; and Puchstein's comment, ib.410-421). This was adopted largely in Phenicia. The wings, because of their artistic beauty, soon became the most prominent part, and animals of various kinds were adorned with wings; consequently, wings were bestowed also upon man. The next step, from cherubim to the angels of the Old Testament as well as of the New, was inevitable.


Following Lenormant's suggestions, Friedrich Delitzsch connected the Hebrew  with the Assyrian "kirubu" = "shedu" (the name of the winged bull). Against this combination see Feuchtwang, in "Zeitschrift für Assyriologie," etc., i. 68 et seq.; Teloni, ib. vi. 124 et seq.; Budge, in "The Expositor," April and May, 1885. Later on, Delitzsch ("Assyrisches Handwörterbuch," p. 352) connected it with the Assyrian "karubu" (great, mighty); so, also, Karppe, in "Journal Asiatique," July-Aug., 1897, pp. 91-93. Haupt, in Toy, "Ezekiel" ("S. B. O. T."), Hebrew text, p. 56, line 11, says: "The name  may be Babylonian; it does not mean 'powerful,' however, but 'propitious' (synonym 'damḳu')." For the original conception of the Babylonian cherubim see Haupt's notes on the English translation of Ezekiel, pp. 181-184 ("S. B. O. T."), and the abstract of Haupt's paper on "Cherubim and Seraphim," in the "Bulletins of the Twelfth International Congress of Orientalists," No. 18, p. 9, Rome, 1899. See also Haupt, in Paterson, "Numbers" ("S. B. O. T."), p. 46: "The stem of  is the Assyrian 'karâbu' (= be propitious, bless), which is nothing but a transposition of the Hebrew ." Dillmann, Duff, and others still favor the connection with γρύψ ("gryphus" = the Hindu "Garuda.")

  • Winer, B. R.;
  • Schenkel, Bibel-Lexikon, 1869, i. 509-515;
  • Lichtenberger, Encyclopédie des Sciences Religieuses, s.v.;
  • Riehm, Handwörterbuch des Biblischen Altertums, 2d ed., Baethgen, 1893-94;
  • Hastings, Dict. Bible;
  • Cheyne and Black, Encyc. Bibl.;
  • Herzog-Hauck, Real-Encyc. v. 364-372;
  • W. Nowack, Lehrbuch der Hebräischen Archäologie, 1894 pp. 38, 39, 60, 61;
  • Benzinger, Arch. pp. 233, 257, 267, 268, 368, 386-87, 397;
  • R. Smend, Lehrbuch der Alttestamentlichen Religionsgeschichte, 1899. pp. 21 et seq., 467 et seq.,
  • H. Schultz, Old Testament Theology;
  • A. Dillmann, Handbuch der Alttestamentlichen Theologie, pp. 50, 92, 119, 228, 246, 327-328, Leipsic, 1895.