Cherubim in the Bible – Part 1

With Valentine’s Day just around the corner, it seems fitting to spend some time discussing cherubim. However, I am not referring to the little winged babies that appear in many Renaissance painting, such as Raphael’s Sistine Madonna (see picture), or on the cards you may give and receive this Valentine’s Day. Instead, I want to talk about the cherubim of the Bible and ancient Near East. What exactly are these figures?

Raffaels_Angels

Beginning with the word itself, many scholars claim the Hebrew word cherub (כרב) comes from the Akkadian word karibu or karābu and thus reflects Mesopotamian influences. However, biblical scholar Andrew Steinmann thinks this is a very unlikely etymology. According to Steinmann, karibu or karābu means bless or praise and one does not find cherubim praising God in the Bible.[1] While this claim may be accurate regarding the OT narratives, it does not hold true for the NT. If one understands the four living creatures in Revelation 4 to be cherubim in light of their close association with the imagery of Ezekiel 1 and 10, then this would indeed provide a solid biblical example of cherubim praising God (see Rev 4:8). Therefore, I think one can proceed to view cherubim in light of their Mesopotamian counterparts with less skepticism than Steinmann.

So if we are not talking about winged babies, what do cherubim look like? (continue reading…)