Cher'ub (Hebrews kerub´, כּרוּב, in the sing. only in Ex 25:19; 2Sa 22:11; 1Ki 6:24-25,27; 2Ch 3:11-12; Ps 18:10; Eze 10:2,7,9,14; Eze 28:14,16; Sept. χερούβ), plur. CHER´UBIM (Hebrews kerubim', כּרוּבַים; sometimes כּרֻבַים; Sept. χερουβίμ v. r. χερουβείμ, and so in Ecclesiastes 49:8, and Heb 9:5; Engl.Vers. invariably "cherubims"), the appellation of certain symbolical figures frequently mentioned in Scripture. SEE SERAPH.
I. Import of the Name. — The origin and signification of the word it is impossible to determine with any certainty. Those who seek it in a Shemitic root are still divided in opinion, some deriving it from the Chald. כּרִב, kerab´, to plough, so that cherub ="plougher," i.e. ox, urging the parallel between Eze 10:14; Eze 1:10; others (as Gussetius, L. de Dieu, and Rodiger) take it by a transposition of letters for רבוּב, rekub´, q. d. divine "beast" (Ps 23:6), comp. the Arabic karib, a ship of transport; others (see Hyde, De relig. vet. Pers. p. 263) make it i.e. קָרוֹב, karob´, "near" to God, i.e. admitted to his presence; with others (see Maurer, Comment. in Vet. Test. at Isa 6:2) it is equivalent to כָּרִם, karam´ (Arabic the same), "to be noble," i.e. chief (comp. seraphim); finally, to pass over other less probable conjectures (e.g. Rosenmüller, Alterthumsk. I, 1:181; and Paulus ap. Zullig, p. 31), the Talmudists regard it as the Chald. כּרוּבַיָּא, ke-rubya´, boylike (see Buxtorf, jun., Exercitatt. p. 100; Otho, Lex. Rabb. s.v.). Gesenius at first proposed a derivation from the Syriac kerub, strong, but afterwards, convinced that he was misled by an error of Castell (see his Anecdot. Orient. 1:66), he proposed a new etymology, as = חָרִם, charam´ (Arabic the same), "to prohibit from a common use," to consecrate (Thesaur. p. 711), compare the Ethiopic kindred word for sanctuary; so that the signification would be keeper, or guard, sc. of the Deity against all profane approach. Others (e.g. Eichhorn, Einleit. ins A. T. 3:80; Vatke, Bibl. Theologie, 1:325) think the cherubim were the same with the γρύτες, griffins, of the Oriental imagination, guardians of the golden mountains; and seek the root in the Persic karub, to grasp (Tychsen in Heeren's Ideen, 1:386). Forster even seeks an Egyptian derivation of the name (De bysso, p. 116). Hivernick (Zu Ezekiel p. 5) suggests a derivation from a Syriac root, meaning to cut or carve (Keil on 1Ki 5:9); so Aben Ezra says that "cherub" is the same as עורה, and means any artistic figure (Schultens, Proverbs Sol. p. 472). An early etymology makes it from כּרִב, ke-rab´, great-as-it-were, q. d. like Cabeiri = θεοί δυνατοί (see Ps 103:20; δυνάμεις, 1Pe 3:22; ἀρχαί, Eph 1:21; so Procopius on Genesis 3; Theodorus in Genesis 46 The oldest derivation is from רב and נכר, as though it meant "abundance of knowledge," a meaning once universally adopted (rhilo, Vit. Mos. p. 688; Clem. Alex. Strom. 5:40, ed. Sylb.; Origen, Frag. Hex. p. 114; Jerome on Isa 6:2; Dionys. De Cael. Hier. 7:96; Spencer, De Legg. III, 3:1, etc.). Hence the remark of Aquinas, "The name Seraphim is given from their fervor, as belonging to love; but the name Cherubim is given from their knowledge" (I, 1, b. 1087, ch. 7). Fürst (Concord. p. 571), followed by Delitzsch (Genesis 2:208), regards the root as properly Shemitic, allied to the above sense of grasping (Sanscr. gribh, Engl. grip).
II. History and Classification. —
1. The first occasion on which they are mentioned is on the expulsion of our first parents from Eden (Ge 3:24), where the office of preventing man's access to the tree of life is assigned to "the cherubim (הִכּרֻבַים, not as in A.V. 'cherubims') with the flame of the waving sword." They are thus abruptly introduced, without any intimation of their shape and nature, as though they were too well understood to require comment. That some angelic beengs are intended is obvious, and the attempts to refer the passage to volcanic agency (Sickler, Ideen zu einem Vulkan, p. 6), or to the inflammable bituminous region near Babylon (Plin. 2:109, etc.), is a specimen of that valueless rationalism which unwisely turns the attention from the inner spirit of the narrative to its mere external form. We might perhaps conjecture, from the use of the article, that there were supposed to be a definite number of cherubim, and it seems that four is the mystic number usually attached to the conception of them. As the number four has special significance in Hebrew symbolism — being the number to express the world and divine revelation (Bähr's Symbolik. 1:119 sq.) — this consideration must not be lost sight of.
The word מַקֶּרֶם, there translated "on the east," may signify as well "before or on the edge of." Besides, יָשִׁב, rendered by our translators "placed," signifies properly "to place in a tabernacle," an expression which, viewed in connection with some incidents in the after history of the primeval family (Ge 4:14-16), seems a conclusive establishment of the opinion that this was a local tabernacle, in which the symbols of the Divine presence were manifested, suitably to the altered circumstances in which man, after the Fall, came before God, and to the acceptable mode of worship he was taught to observe. That consecrated place, with its striking symbols, called "the presence of the Lord," there is reason to believe, continued till the time of the Deluge, otherwise there would have been nothing to guard the way to the tree of life; and thus the knowledge of their form, from the longevity of the antediluvians, could have been easily transmitted to the time of Abraham (Faber, Horae Mosaico, bk. 2, ch. 6). Moreover, it is an approved opinion that, when those emblems were removed at the close of the patriarchal dispensation from the place of public worship, the ancestors of that patriarch formed small models of them for domestic use, under the name of Seraphim or Teraphim, according to the Chaldee dialect (Faber, Origin of Pag. Idol. 1:256).
In like manner were lion-shaped and eagle-formed griffins supposed by the aborigines of Northern Europe (Herod. 3:102, 116) and India (Ctesias, Ind. p. 12) as guardians of the gold-bearing hills (comp. Ge 2:11); and in Greek mythology (see Creuzer, Symbolik, 2:647) they were sacred to the deities (e.g. Apollo, Minerva, Bacchus). But the cherub was anointed as a divine emblem (Eze 28:14; where some, however, take מַמשִׁח for מַמשָׁה, in the sense merely of "extended"), presiding over sacred mountains blazing with precious ores (Eze 28:16); at least the king of Tyre is there compared to such a being, unless, with others, we refer that whole description to the cherubic forms of the Jewish sanctuary (see Henderson, Comment. in loc.).
2. The next occasion on which the cherubim are noticed is when Moses was commanded to provide the furniture of the tabernacle; and, although he received instructions to make all things according to the pattern shown him in the Mount, and although it is natural to suppose that he saw a figure of the cherubim, yet we find no minute and special description of them, as is given of everything else, for the direction of the artificers (Ex 26:31). The simple mention which the sacred historian makes, in both these passages, of the cherubim conveys the impression that the symbolic figures which had been introduced into the Levitical tabernacle were substantially the same with those established in the primeval place of worship on the outskirts of Eden, and that by traditional information, or some other means, their form was so well known, both to Bezaleel and the whole congregation of Israel, as to render superfluous all further description of them.
Similar figures were to be enwoven on the ten blue, red, and crimson curtains of the tabernacle (Ex 26:1). The promise that God would "meet and commune with Moses from between the two cherubim" (Ex 25:22) originates the constant occurrence of that expression as a description of the divine abode and presence (Nu 7:89; 1Sa 4:4; Isa 37:16; Ps 80:1; Ps 91:1, etc.).
3. Cherubim after this appear likewise in the theophantic descriptions of the prophets and inspired poets (2Sa 22:11), especially in the remarkable visions of Ezekiel by the river Chebar (Ezekiel 10). Yet there was no mystery as to those remarkable figures, for Ezekiel knew at once (10:20) the living creatures which appeared in his vision supporting the throne of God, and bearing it in majesty from place to place, to be cherubim, from having frequently seen them, in common with all other worshippers, in the carved work of the outer sanctuary. Moreover, as is the opinion of many eminent divines, the visionary scene, with which this prophet was favored, exhibited a transcript of the Temple, which was shown in pattern to David, and afterwards erected by his son and successor; and, as the chief design of that later vision was to inspire the Hebrew exiles in Babyloa with the hope of seeing, on their return to Judaea, another temple, more glorious than the one then in ruins, it is reasonable to believe that, as the whole style and apparatus of this mystic temple bore an exact resemblance (1Ki 6:20) to that of Solomon's magnificent edifice, so the cherubs also that appeared to his fancy portrayed on the walls would be facsimiles of those that belonged to its ancient prototype. SEE TEMPLE.
Still the question arises, Was the shape already familiar, or kept designedly mysterious? From the fact that cherubim were blazoned on the doors, walls, curtains, etc., of the house, and from the detailed description of shapes by Ezekiel, the latter idea might seem out of place. But if the text of Ezekiel, and the carvings, etc., of the Temple had made them popular, Josephus could not possibly have said (Ant. 8:3, 3), "No one can say or conjecture what the cherubim (χερουβεῖς) actually were." It is also remarkable that Ezekiel (Ezekiel 1) speaks of them as "living creatures" (חִיּוֹת, ζῶα) under mere animal forms. Into this description in Eze 10:14, the remarkable expression, "the face of a cherub," is introduced, and the prophet concludes by a reference to his former vision, and an identification of those creatures with the cherubim (Eze 5:17). On the whole, it seems likely that the word "cherub" meant not only the composite creature-form, of which the man, lion, ox, and eagle were the elements, but, further, some peculiar and mystical form, which Ezekiel, being a priest, would know and recognize as " the face of a CHERUB," but which was kept secret from all others; and such probably were those on the ark, which, when it was moved, was always covered, SEE ARK OF COVENANT, though those on the hangings and panels might be of the popular device. What this peculiar cherubic form was is a mystery perhaps impenetrable. It was probably believed popularly to be something of the bovine type (though in Ps 16:11, the notion appears to be marked as degraded); so Spencer (de leg. Hebr. rit. 3, diss. 5, 4, 2) thinks that the ox was the forma precipua, and quotes Grotius on Ex 25:18 (Bochart, Hierozoic. p. 87, edit. 1690). Hence the "golden calf." The symbolism of the visions of Ezekiel is more complex than that of the earlier Scriptures, and he certainly means that each composite creature-form had four faces, so as to look four ways at once; was four-sided and four- winged, so as to move with instant rapidity in every direction without turning, whereas the Mosaic idea was probably single-faced, and with but one pair of wings. Ezekiel adds also the imagery of the wheels-a mechanical to the previous animal forms. This might typify inanimate nature revolving in a fixed course, informed by the spiritual power of God. The additional symbol of being " full of eyes" is one of obvious meaning. SEE CREATURE (LIVING).
III. Their Form and Character. — If we may trust the unanimous testimony of Jewish tradition, we must suppose that they had the faces of human beings, according to the positive assertion of Maimonides, Abarbanel, Aben Ezra, etc. (Otho, Lex. Rab. s.v. Cherubim; Buxtorf, Hist. Arc. Fod. p. 100). But, taking Ezekiel's description of them to be the proper appearance that belonged in common to all his cherubic creatures (Eze 1; Eze 10; Eze 41), we are led to conclude that they were compound figures, unlike any living animals or real object in nature, but rather a combination, in one nondescript artificial image, of the distinguishing features and properties of several. The ox, as chief among the tame and useful animals, the lion among the wild ones, the eagle among the feathery tribes, and man, as head over all, were the animals which, or rather parts of which, composed the symbolical figures. Each cherub had four distinct faces on one neck — that of a man in front, that of a lion on the right side, and of an ox on the left, while behind was the face of an eagle. Each had four wings, the two under ones covering the lower extremities, or rather the center of the person (Hebrews the feet), in token of decency and humility, while the upper ones, spread out on a level with the head and shoulders, were so joined together, to the edge of his neighbors', as to form a canopy; and in this manner they soared rather than flew, without any; vibratory motion with their wings, through the air. Each had straight feet (Hebrews "their feet [were] a straight foot," Eze 1:7), and the probability is that the legs were destitute of any flexible joint at the knee, and so joined together that its locomotions must have been performed in some other way than by the ordinary process of walking, or lifting one foot after another. Bahr (whose entire remarks on this subject are valuable and often profound) inclines to think that the precise form varied within certain limits; e.g. the cherubic figure might have one, two, or four faces, two or four feet, one or two pair of wings, and might have the bovine or leonine type as its basis, the imagery being modified to' suit the prominently intended attribute, and the highest forms of creature-being expressing best the highest attributes of the Creator (Symbolik, 1:313 sq.). Thus, he thinks, the human form might indicate spirituality (p. 340).
(Comp. Grotius on Ex 25:18, and Heb 9:5.) Some useful hints as to the connection of cherubic with other mythological forms may be found in Creuzer (Symbol. 1:441, 540).
It has been sometimes disputed whether the colossal cherubim of olive wood, overlaid with gold, with outspread wings, touching in the center of the oracle and reaching to either wall, placed by Solomon in the Holy of Holies, were substitutes for or additions to the original golden pair. The latter is probably the truth, for had the Mosaic cherubim been lost we should have been informed of the fact. All that we learn about these figures is that they each had a body ten cubits high (1Ki 5:18), and stood on their feet (2Ch 3:13), so that the monstrous conception of winged child-faces is an error which should long ago have been banished from Christian iconography (De Saulcy, Hist. de liArt Judaique, p. 25). The expression "cherubims of image work," in 2Ch 3:10 (מִעֲשֵׂה צִעֲצֻעַים, Sept. ἔργον ἐκ ξύλων, Vulg. opere statuario, Marg., of movable work), is very obscure, but would probably give us no farther insight into the subject (Dorjen, De opere Zaazyim in Ugolini Thes. 8, No. 6); but in 1Ch 28:18-19, we learn that David had given to Solomon a model for these figures, which are there called "the chariot of the cherubim" (Vulg. quadriga cherubim). We are not to suppose from this that any wheels supported the figures, but we must take "cherubim" in apposition to "chariots" (Bertheau, ad loc.). The same phrase is found in Ecclus. 49:8, and is in both cases an allusion to the poetical expression, "He rode upon a cherub, and did fly" (2Sa 22:11; Ps 18:10), an image magnificently expanded in the subsequent vision of Ezekiel, which for that reason has received from the Rabbis the title of מרכבה "the chariot." Although the mere word "cherub" is used in these passages, yet the simple human figure is so totally unadapted to perform the function of a chariot, that we are almost driven to the conclusion arrived at by De Saulcy on this ground alone, that the normal type of the cherub involved the body of an ox, as well as spreading wings and a human face (Hist. de l'Art Judaique, p. 29). If this conjecture be correct, we shall have in these symbols a counterpart, exact in the minutest particulars, to the human-headed oxen, touching both walls with their wings, which have been discovered in the chambers of Nimrûd and Khorsabad. We shall find, further on, the strongest confirmations of this remarkable inference. We may here mention the suspicion of its truth, which we cannot but derive from the strange reticence of Josephus on the subject (Ant. 3:6, 5). Now it is hardly conceivable that an emblem seen daily by multitudes of priests, and known to the Jews from the earliest ages, could be so completely secret and forgotten as this. If the cherubim were simply: winged genii there would have been no possible reason why Josephus should have been ashamed to mention the fact, and, in that case, he would hardly have used the ambiguous word Ζῶον. If, on the other hand, they were semi-bovine in shape, Josephus, who was of course familiar with the revolting idolatry of which his nation was accused (Tacit. Hist. 5:4; Josephus, Apion, 2:7), had the best reason to conceal their real form (Spencer, De leg. Hebr. rit. III, 4:2 ad fin.), and to avert, as far as possible, all further inquiry about them. SEE ASS, WORSHIP OF.
Arks, surmounted by mysterious winged guardians, were used in the religious service of most ancient nations, and especially in Egypt (Plutarch, de Isid. 39; Wilkinson's Anc. Egypt. 5:271; SEE ARK ), but none of them involved the sublime and spiritual symbolism of the cherubim on the mercy- seat — at once guardians of the divine oracles and types of God's presence for the expiation of sin. But a question here arises, how the profuse introduction of these figures into the Tabernacle was reconcilable with obedience to the second commandment. It is certain that the rigid observance of this commandment was as serious a hinderance to the plastic arts among the Jews as the similar injunctions of the Koran are to the Mohammedans; and yet no word of condemnation was breathed against the cherubim, though Josephus even ventures to charge Solomon with distinct disobedience to the Law for placing oxen under the brazen sea (Ant. 8:7, 5). The cherubim, indeed, were made in obedience to a distinct command; but how was it that they did not offend the consciences or seduce the allegiance of the theocratic Hebrews? The answer seems to be, that the second commandment only forbids the plastic arts when prostituted to the direct object of idolatry, and Tertullian is right in defending the introduction of cherubim, on the ground that they were a simplex ornamentum (c. Marcion, 2:22); even the Talmudists allowed the use of images for purely decorative purposes (Kalisch. on Exod. p. 346). Besides, they represented created beings as created beings, and also as themselves in the attitude of humility and adoration (Ex 25:20; 1Pe 1:12), so that instead of violating the commandment they expressed its highest spirit, in thus vividly symbolizing God's supremacy over the creatures which stood on the highest step of life, and were, in fact, the ideal of absolute and perfect created existence (Bähr, Symbol. 1:340
sq.). We may add that the danger was less, because, in all probability, they were seen by none but the priests (Cornel. a Lapide on Exodus 25:8); and when, in the desert, the ark was moved from place to place, it was covered over with a triple veil (Nu 4:5-6), before which even the Levites were not suffered to approach it (Bochart, Hieroz. II, 34, ad fin.). It may even be the case that the shape of the cherubim was designedly considered as indefinite and variable, that the tendency to worship them might still further be obviated. This wavering and indistinct conception of them was due to their symbolical character, a fact so thoroughly understood among all Oriental nations as at once to save the Jews from any strong temptation; and to raise them above the breath of suspicion.
Whether the golden calf constructed by Aaron might be, not the Apis of Egypt, but a representation of the antediluvian Cherubim, as some suppose, from its being made on "a feast to the Lord," and called "the gods of Israel" (Ex 32:5), and whether Jeroboam, in the erection of his two calves, intended a schismatic imitation of the sacred symbols in the Temple of Jerusalem rather than the introduction of a new species of idolatry (1Ki 12:28), we shall not stop to inquire. SEE CALF. But as paganism is a corruption of patriarchal worship, each nation having added something according to its own taste and fancy, perhaps we may find a confirmation of the views given above of the compound form of the cherubim, in the strange figures that are grouped together in the heathen deities. The numerous ox-heads, for instance, in the statue of the ancient Diana, and particularly the Asiatic idols, almost all of which exhibit several heads and arms attached to one person, or the heads of different animals combined, afford a collateral proof, similar to the universal prevalence of sacrifice, that the form of the primitive cherubim has been traditionally preserved and extended over a large portion of the world. This may indeed be shown by the above actual figures copied from ancient monuments, all of which illustrate some one or more of the notions which we attach to the cherubic forms; and while they afford material assistance to our ideas on the subject, they show that figures of this kind: as sacred symbols, were not peculiar to the Hebrews, and that their presence in the sanctuary was not calculated to excite any surprise among the neighboring nations, or to lead to the notion that the Jews also were worshippers of idols, for even in the pagan monument they never appear as idols, but as symbols; and it was very possibly this fact — that the cherubic figures were not liable to be misunderstood — which induced the Divine wisdom to permit their introduction into the most holy place.
Mr. Layard traces many striking points of analogy 'between the form and position of the above figures, especially between the last ones of the Assyrian group and the cherubim of the Temple: "Within the sacred oracle itself were the two cherubim of olive-wood, ten cubits high, with wings each five cubits long; and Solomon carved all the house around with carved figures of cherubim, and palm-trees, and open flowers, within and without. The cherubim have been described by Biblical commentators as mythic figures, uniting the human head with the body of a lion or an ox, and the wings of an eagle. If for the palm-trees we substitute the sacred tree of the Ninevite sculptures, and for the open flowers the Assyrian tulip- shaped ornament — objects most probably very nearly resembling each other — we find the oracle of the Temple was almost identical, in general form and in its ornaments, with some of the characters of Nimroud and Khorsabad. In the Assyrian halls, too, the winged human-headed bulls were on the side of the wall, and their wings, like those of the cherubim, 'touched one another in the midst of the house.' The dimensions of these figures were in some cases nearly the same, namely, fifteen feet square. The doors were also carved with cherubim, and palm-trees, and open flowers, and thus, with the other parts of the building, corresponded with those of the Assyrian palaces" (Nineveh and Babylon, 2d series, p. 643).
It appears, therefore, that the symbolic figure which the Hebrew generically designates as a cherub, was a composite creature-form, that finds a parallel in the religious insignia of Assyria, Egypt, and Persia, e.g. the sphinx, the winged bulls and lions of Nineveh, etc., a general prevalence which prevents the necessity of our regarding it as a mere adoption from the Egyptian ritual. In such forms (comp. the Chimaera of Greek and the Griffin of north-eastern fables) every imaginative people has sought to embody its notions either of the attributes of Divine essence, or of the vast powers of Nature which transcend that of man. Among the Greeks the dragon (Photius, Cod. 190, p. 250), and among the Indians the griffin (Pliny, 7:2), were especially such creatures of mythological imagination. SEE DRAGON. In the various legends of Hercules the bull and the lion constantly appear as forms of hostile and evil power; and some of the Persian sculptures apparently represent evil genii under similar quasicherubic forms. The Hebrew idea seems to limit the number of the cherubim. A pair (Ex 25:18, etc.) were placed on the mercy-seat of the ark; a pair of colossal size overshadowed it in Solomon's Temple with the canopy of their contiguously extended wings. Ezekiel, 1:4-14, speaks of four, and similarly the apocalyptic living creatures, ζῶα (Re 4:6), are four. So at the front or east of Eden were posted "the cherubim," as though the whole of some recognized number. They utter no voice, though one is "heard from above them," nor have dealings with men save to awe and repel. A "man clothed in linen" is introduced as a medium of communication between them and the prophet, whereas for a similar office one of the seraphim personally officiates; and these latter also "cry one to another." The cherubim are placed beneath the actual presence of Jehovah, whose moving throne they appear to draw (Ge 3:24; Eze 1:5,25-26; Eze 10:1-2,6-7; Isa 6:2-3,6). The expression, however, "the chariot (מֶרכָּבָה) of the cherubim" (1Ch 28:18) does not imply wheels, but the whole apparatus of ark and cherubim is probably so called in reference to its being carried on staves, and the words "chariot" and "cherubim" are in apposition. So a sedan might be called a "carriage," and the masc. form מֶרכָּב is used for the body of a litter. See, however, Dorjen, De cherub. Sanct. (ap. Ugolini, vol. 8), where the opposite opinion is ably supported. The glory symbolizing that presence which eye cannot see rests or rides on them, or one of them, thence dismounts to the temple threshold, and then departs and mounts again (Eze 10:4,18; comp. 9:3; Ps 18:10). There is in them an entire absence of human sympathy, and even on the mercy-seat they probably appeared not merely as admiring and wondering (1Pe 1:12), but as guardians of the covenant and avengers of its breach. A single figure there would have suggested an idol, which two, especially when represented as regarding something greater than themselves, could not do. They thus became subordinate, like the supporters to a shield, and are repeated, as it were the distinctive bearings of divine heraldry — the mark, carved or wrought, everywhere on the house and furniture of God (Ex 25:20; 1Ki 6:29,35; 1Ki 7:29,36). Those on the ark were to be placed with wings stretched forth, one at each end of the mercy-seat, and to be made "of the mercy-seat," which Abarbenel (Spencer, De leg. Heb. ritual. 3, diss. 5) and others interpret of the same mass of gold with it, viz. wrought by hammering, not cast and then joined on. This seems doubtful; but from the word employed (מַקָּשֶׁה) the solidity of the metal may perhaps be inferred. They are called "cherubim of glory" (Heb 9:5), as on them the glory, when visible, rested; but; whether thus visibly symbolized or not, a perpetual presence of God is attributed to the Holy of Holies. They were anointed with the holy oil, like the ark itself and the other sacred furniture. Their wings were to be stretched upwards, and their faces "towards each other and towards the mercy-seat." It is remarkable that with such precise directions as to their position, attitude, and material, nothing, save that they were winged, is said concerning their shape. SEE TABERNACLE.
IV. Their Meaning. — All, whether ancients or moderns, have agreed that the cherubim were symbolical, but they have greatly differed as to their figurative design; many regarding them as having a twofold significance, both physical and metaphysical. They were clearly intended, in a general sense, to represent divine existences in immediate contact with Jehovah. This was the view of Chrysostom, Ambrose, Augustine, and 'the fathers generally (Sixt. Senensis, Bibl. Sanct. p. 348), and the Pseudo Dionysius places them second (between seraphim and thrones) in the nine orders of the celestial hierarchy (Dionys. Areop. de Caelest. Hier. p. 5-9). The Cabalists, on the other hand, placed them ninth in their ten choirs of spirits (Buddaeus, Philos. Hebr. p. 415). In a special sense, Philo regarded them as signifying the two hemispheres, and the flaming sword the motion of the planets, in which opinion he is joined by some moderns, who consider them to have been nothing more than astronomical emblems — the Lion and the Man being equivalent to Leo and Aquarius — the signs of the zodiac (Landseer, Sab. Resear. p. 315). Irenaeus views them as emblematic of several things, such as the four elements, the four quarters of the globe, the four Gospels, the four universal covenants (adv. Haeres. 3:11). Tertullian supposed that the cherubic figures, particularly the flaming sword, denoted the torrid zone (Apol. cap. 47). Justin Martyr imagined that the living creatures of Ezekiel were symbolical of Nebuchadnezzar, the Assyrian monarch, in his distress; when he ate grass like an ox, his hair was like a lion's, and his nails like a bird's claws (Quaest. 44). Athanasius supposed that they were significant of the visible heavens (Quaest. ad Antiocl. 135). The nature of the passages in which cherubim occur — passages poetical and highly wrought — the existence of exactly similar images among other nations, and the purely symbolic character of their form, has led not only Jewish allegorists like Philo, and Christian philosophers like Clemens of Alexandria, but even such writers as Hengstenberg, Keil, Neumann, etc., to deny them any personal reality; and in this way we may explain Zullich's definition of them as "mythical servants of Jehovah" (Die Cherubim- Wagen, Heidelberg, 1832). Thus, in the vision of Ezekiel, it is obvious that their animal shape and position implies subjection to the Almighty; that the four heads, uniting what were, according to the Jewish proverb, the four highest things in the world (Schöttgen's Hor. Hebr. ad Revelation 4.), viz. the lion among beasts, the ox among cattle, the eagle among birds, and man among all, while God is the highest of all — constitute them the representative and quintessence of creation, placed in subordination to the great Creator (Leyrer, in Zeller's Wörterb. s.v.). The heads, too, represent not only creatures, perfect after their kind, but also perfect qualities, as love, constancy, magnanimity, sublimity, the free consciousness of man, the strong courage of the lion, the enduring strength of the ox, the rapid flight of the eagle (Hoffman); and possibly the number four may indicate the universe as composed of four elements or four quarters. The four traditional (?) standards of the quadrilateral Israelite encampment
(Numbers 2), the lion of Judah, the man of Reuben, the eagle of Dan, the ox of Ephraim, are far too uncertain to be relied upon. Their eyes represent universal knowledge and insight (comp. Ovid, Metamor. 1:624, and the similar symbol of the Phoenician god Taut, mentioned by Sanchoniatho, ap. Euseb. Praep. Evang. 10:39), for they are the eyes of the Lord, which run to and fro through the whole earth (Zec 4:10). The wings imply speed and ubiquity; the wheels are necessary for the throne-chariot, itself a perfect and royal emblem, and so used by other nations (Chrysost. Orat. 35:1); and the straight feet imply the fiery gliding and lightning-like flash of their khivine motion (νέποδες). We purposely avoid the error of pressing the minor particulars, such as those suggested by Clemens Alexandrinus, when he supposes that the twelve wings hint at the twelve signs of the zodiac (Stromata, V, cap. 6, sec. 37, p. 240, ed. Sylb.). Thus explained, they become a striking hieroglyphic of the dazzling, consummate beauty of universal creation, emanating from and subjected to the divine Creator, whose attributes are reflected in his works.
The leading opinions of moderns may be reduced to three systems.
(1.) Hutchinson and his followers consider the cherubim as emblems of the Trinity, with human incorporated into the divine essence: in proof of which they remark that the words rendered "a flaming sword" (Ge 3:24) signify either a flaming fiery sword, as the words are rendered by the Sept., or, rather, a flame of fire and a sword or knife; so that, in this figure, there was exhibited in visible form, to the minds of our first parents, fire — the emblem of divine wrath, as well as an instrument for sacrifice — which, as it enfolded or revolved round itself, can mean nothing else than a picture of the satisfaction to be made by deity itself. — But the grand objection to this theory, where it is at all intelligible, is, that not only are the cherubim, in all the places of Scripture where they are introduced, described as distinct from God, and no more than his attendants, but that it represents the divine Being, who is a pure spirit, without parts, passions, or anything material, making a visible picture of himself, when in all ages, from the beginning of time, he has expressly prohibited "the likeness of anything in heaven above" (see Parkhurst, Hebrews Lexicon, s.v.).
(2.) Another system regards the cherubim as symbolical of the chief ruling powers by which God carries on the operations of nature, As the heaven of heavens was typified by the holy of holies in the Levitical tabernacle (Heb 9:3-12,24-28). this system considers that the visible heavens may be typified by the holy place or the outer sanctuary, and accordingly finding, as its supporters imagine they do, the cherubim identified with the aerial firmament and its elements in such passages as the following: "He rode upon a cherub, and did fly, yea, he did fly upon the wings of the wind," where the last hemistich is exegetical of the former (Ps 18:10); "Who rideth upon the heavens in thy help, and in his excellency upon the sky" (De 33:26; Ps 68:4); "He maketh the clouds his chariot:" he is said to descend in fire (Ex 19:18), and between them he dwelt in light (1Ti 6:16); and it was in this very manner he manifested his divine glory in the tabernacle and temple — they interpret the cherubim, on which the Lord is described as riding, to be symbolical of the wind, the clouds, the fire, the light; in short, the heavens, the atmosphere, the great physical powers by which the Creator and preserver of the universe carries on the operations of nature. — This view, however, although doubtless truly representing the origin of the cherubic symbol, fails, by reason of its vague and extensive character, to explain the peculiar form of representation adopted.
(3.) A third system considers the cherubim, from their being instituted immediately after the Fall, as having particular reference to the redemption of man, and as symbolical of the great and active rulers or ministers of the Church. Those who adopt this theory are accustomed to refer to the living creatures, or cherubim, mentioned in the Apocalyptic vision (Re 4:6), improperly rendered in our English translation "beasts" (ζῶα), and which, it is clear, were not angels, but redeemed men connected with the Church, and deeply interested in the blessings and glory procured by the Lamb. The same character may be ascribed to the living creatures in Ezekiel's visions, and to the cherubim, which stood over and looked into the mercy-seat, sprinkled with the blood of the atonement, and on the Shechinah, or divine glory arising from it, as well as the cherubic figures which were placed on the edge of Eden; and thus the cherubim, which are prominently introduced in all the three successive dispensations of the covenant of grace, appear to be symbols of those who, in every age, should officially study and proclaim the glory and manifold wisdom of God. — Of this view, likewise, it may be said that, while it assigns an adequate and plausible reason for the institution of some symbol having a moral import, it does not show why the special form in question should have been selected.
It is evident that the interpretation of the symbol must be as variable as the symbol itself, and we shall accordingly find that no single explanation of the cherubim can be accepted as adequate, but that the best of the various explanations contain elements of truth which melt and fade into each other, and are each true under one aspect. Unsatisfactory and vague as is the treatise of Philo "on the Cherubim and Flaming Sword," it has at least the merit of seizing this truth. Thus, discarding his astronomical vagaries which are alien to the spirit of Mosaism (Kalisch on Exodus p. 496), we may safely follow him in regarding the cherubim as emblems at once of divine perfection — personifications, in fact, of natural power employed in God's service, as De Wette holds; and emblems also of the divine attributes, his - slowness to anger, his speed to love (Grotius on Ex 25:18; Bochart, Hieroz. 2:18; Rosenmüller, Scholia in Ezekiel 1; Philo, περὶ τῶν Χερουβ. καὶ τὴς φλογ. ῥομφ. § 7-9; De Vita Mos. p. 688). Both of these views are admissible; the cherubim represent at once the subordination of the universe to God (Pirke, R. Elieza, 100:3; Shemoth Rabba, § 23, ap Schoettgen, Hor. Hebr. ad Apoc. 9:6, τῆς βασιλείας αὐτοῦ σύμβολον; Isidor. lib. 4, ep. 70; Alford on Re 4:8), and the glory of him whose servants they are (Χερουβὶμ δοξῆς, Heb 9:5); "as standing on the highest step of created life, and uniting in themselves the most perfect created life, they are the most perfect revelation of God and the divine life." This is the conclusion of Bahr, whose whole treatment of the subject, though over-ingenious, is the most valuable contribution to a right understanding of this important and interesting question (Symbolik, 1:340).
As the other suggestions of their meaning are, for the most part, mere adaptations, they may simply be mentioned and passed over; as that the cherubim represent the four archangels; the four major prophets; the Church (Cocceius); the two uncreated angels, i.e. the Son and the Holy Spirit (Hulse); the two natures of Christ (Lightfoot); the four ages of the world (Kaiser, De Cherubis humani generis mundique cetatum symbolis, Erl. 1827); or God's fourfold covenant with man in Christ, as man, as sacrificed, as risen, and ascended (Arndt, Wahres Christenthum, 4:1, 6). We may compare also the absurd explanation of Clermont, that they are the northern army of Chaldaeans; and of Vatke, that they symbolize the destructive powers of the heathen gods. The very wide-spread and early fancy which attached the cherubic figures to the four evangelists is equally untenable, though it first appears in the Pastor Hermas, and was adopted by the school of .St. John (Iren. adv.: Haer. 3:2, 8; Athanas. Opp. 5:2, p. 155; August. de consens. Evang. 1:6; Jerome, Prol. ad Evv.; ep. 50, ad Paulin.; Greg. Hon. 4 in Ezek.; Adam de St. Vict. Hymn. de Ss. Evang. etc.). The four, in their union, were regarded as a symbol of the Redeemer (see Trench's Sacred Latin Poetry, p. 61; Mrs. Jamieson, Sacred and Leg. Art. p. 135). The last to maintain this view is Dr. Wordsworth (on Revelation 4), who is rightly answered by Dean Alford (ad loc.).
V. The office ascribed to these symbolic beings is mainly twofold — 1, a protective vengeful function in guarding from man's too close intrusion the physical and moral splendors of a lost paradise and a sacred revelation; and, 2, to form the throne and chariot of the divine being in his earthly manifestations, and to guard the outskirts of his unapproachable glory (Eichhorn, Einleit. 3, § 80). The cherubim engraved and woven in the Temple decorations, while they symbolize this function, serve also as "a seal of similitude," i.e. as heraldic insignia of the divine attributes to mark Jehovah's presence by their guardian ministries (Isidor. 4, ep. 73). At the same time, from another point of view, they were no less significant of the fullness of life subordinated to him who created it. A reference to the Apocalypse enables us to combine these conceptions with a far sublimer truth, and to explain the connection of the cherubim with the mercy-seat as a type not only of vengeance, but of expiation and forgiveness. For in the vision of John these immortalities appear in the same choir with the redeemed innumerable multitude of the universal church (Joh 4:7; Joh 5:13); no longer armed with flaming swords, with wrathful aspect and repellant silence, but mingling with the elders and joining in the new song.
And here, too, we find the recovered Eden, the water of life flowing freely, and the tree of life with no flame to hedge it round. Thus it is in the Apocalypse that the fullest and divinest significance is attached to this profound emblem. In the cherubim of the last book of the Bible we find the highest explanation of the cherubim in the first. The apparent wrath which excluded man from the forfeited paradise was but the mercy in disguise which secured for him its final fruition in a nobler form of life. Thus, to give the last touch of meaning to this changeful symbol, we catch in it a gleam, dim at first, but growing into steady brightness, of that redeemed created perfection, that exalted spiritual body, for which is reserved hereafter the paradise of God. Beyond this we cannot go; but we have said enough to show the many-sided applicability of this inspired conception — a many-sidedness which is the strongest proof of its value and greatness.
VI. It is important to observe the extraordinary resemblance of the cherubim, as described in Scripture, to the symbolical religious fancies of heathen nations. It is not true, in any sense, to say, with Kurz, that the animal character is far more predominant in the emblems of heathen pantheism. Even if we concede (which is more than doubtful) that the simplest conception of cherubim was represented by winged men, we find four-winged and six-winged human figures in the sculptures of Nineveh (Layard, 1:125). In fact, there is no single cherubic combination, whether of bull, eagle, and man (Layard, Nineveh, 1:127); man, lion, and eagle (Ibid. pp. 70, 349); man and eagle (Ibid. 1:64); man and lion (Ibid. 2:463); or, to take the most prevalent (both in Scripture and in the Assyrian sculptures), man and bull (Ibid. 1), which may not be profusely paralleled. In fact, these wood-cuts might stand for direct illustrations of Eze 41:19; Re 4:6 sq.; 1Ki 7:29, etc.; and when we also find "wheels within wheels" represented in the same sculptures (Ibid. 2:448), it is Mr. Layard's natural inference that Ezekiel, "seeking to typify certain divine attributes, chose forms familiar not only to himself, but to the people whom he addressed" (Id. Ibid.; see, too, Nineveh and Babylon, 2:643); or, as we should greatly prefer to see it expressed, the familiar decorations of the Assyrian temples moulded the forms of his imagination even at its most exalted moments. But, as we have already seen, Ezekiel was far more likely to have been supplied with this imagery by the sacerdotal sympathies which impressed his memory with the minutest details of the temple at Jerusalem; and the same symbols were not exclusively Assyrian, but were no less familiar to the Egyptians (Porphyr. de Abstinent. 4:9; Ritter, Erdkunde,
8:947; Witsius, Egypt. 2:13), the Persians (Hdt. 3, 116; Ctes. Jnd. 12; Plin. 7:22; Wilkinson's Anc. Egypt, passim; Chardin's and Niebuhr's Travels), the Greeks (Pausan. 1:24, 6), the Arabians (D'Herbelot, Bibliotheque Orient. s.v. Simorg), and many other nations (Plin. 10:49, 69; Parkhurst's Lexicon, s.v.). On this subject, generally, see Creuzer, Symbol. 1:495; Rhode, Heil. Sage, p. 217; and Rödiger in Ersch and Gruber's Encyclopädie, s.v. Cherub. The similarity to the sphinx is such as to have led, even in early times, to a very strong belief that the idea of the Mosaic cherubim was in some way derived from them (Clem. Alex. Strom. V, cap. 6, § 57, ed. Sylb. p. 240; Orig. c. Cels. 3, p. 121; Euseb. Praap. Evang. 3:12). For a number of weighty arguments to this effect, see Bochart, Hieroz. II, 18, 34, and 41; Spencer, ut sup. bk. 3, chap. 4; and especially Hengstenberg, Die BB. Mos. u. Egypt. p. 157 sq. Besides these external coincidences, still more striking, perhaps, are the cherubic functions ascribed in Greek mythology to the fiery-breathing bulls which guarded the golden fleece (Ovid, Met. 7:104), to the winged dragon of the Hesperides, to the resuscitated Phoenix, to the Gryphons (lion-eagles) who kept the Arimaspians from their guarded gold (AEsch. Prom. 5:843; Meld. 2:1; comp. Milton, Par. Lost, 2:943), and to the thundering-horses that draw the chariot of Jupiter (Horace, Od. 1:34, 7). Influenced by too exclusive an attention to these single resemblances, Herder identifies the cherubim with the mythic gold-guarding monsters of antiquity (Geist. der Hebr. Poes. 1:163), and J. D. Michaelis with the Equi Tonantes (De Cherubis; compare Velthuysen, Von den Cherub.; Schleusner, Lex. N. Test. s.v. Χερούβ). Similarly, Justin Martyr considers that Plato borrowed from the Scriptures his πτηνὸν ἃρμα, or "winged chariot" of Zeus (πρὁς ῞Ελληνας, p. 30). From these conclusions we dissent. It seems far more likely that the Hebrews were, in the most ancient times, acquainted with a symbol familiar to so many nations, than to suppose either that they borrowed it from the Egyptians, or that any other nations adopted it from them. In fact, the conception belongs to the common cycle of Oriental traditions, fragments of which were freely adopted by the Hebrew writers, who always infused into them a nobler meaning and an unwonted truth.
VII. For further information on the subject, see (in addition to works and monographs cited above) Hufnagel, Der Cherubhim im Paradiese (Francfurt a. M. 1821 [fanciful]); Gabler in Eichhorn's Urgeschichte, II, 1:246 sq.; Meyer, Bibeldeut. p. 171 sq. Carpzov, Appar. p. 268 sq.; Bemer, Gottesd. 2:36 sq.; Grüneisen, in the Stutt. Kunstblatt, 1834, No. 1-
6; Jour. Sacred Lit. Oct. 1856, p. 154 sq.; Critici Sacri, 1:120; Leone, De Cherubinis (Amst. 1647; also Helmst. 1665, and in Spanish, Amsterd. 1654); Wepler, De Cherubis (Marb. 1777); Geissler, De Cherubim (Vitemb. 1661); Hende. werk, De Cherub. et Seraph. (Regiom. 1837); Jac. Ode, Comment. de Angelis, I, 5:73 sq.; Deyling, Obs. Sacr. 2:442; Michaelis, in the Comment. Soc. Reg. Gott. 1:157 sq.; Velthuysen, Von den Cherubinen (Braunschw. 1764); Hutchinson, Expos. of Cherubim (in his Works, Lond. 1749); Amel, Erörterung, pt. 2, p. 467-500; Bochart, Hieroz. pt. 1, bk. 3, ch. 5; Labrun, Entretien., pt. 2, p. 63 sq. (Amst. 1733); Fairbairn, Theology, 1:242 sq.; G. Smith, Doct. of the Cherubim (Lond. 1850); M'Leod, Cherubim and the Apocalypse (London, 1856); Anon. Angels, Cherubim, etc. (Lond. 1861). SEE SERAPHIM.