Biblical Studies Cherubim
by
Raanan Eichler
  • LAST MODIFIED: 24 July 2018
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195393361-0260

Introduction

Cherubim (singular: cherub; Hebrew plural: keruvim; Hebrew singular: keruv) are marvelous, winged beings in the Hebrew Bible (see Oxford Bibliographies article in Biblical Studies “Biblical Canon”) and dependent traditions. The contexts of their ninety-one mentions in the Hebrew Bible itself can be briefly outlined as follows. First, actual, living cherubim are associated with the garden of Eden (Genesis 3:24; Ezekiel 28:14, 16) and seem to feature in theophanies (2 Samuel 22:11; Psalm 18:11; Ezekiel 8–11). Second, sculptures of cherubim are positioned above the ark of the covenant (see Oxford Bibliographies article in Biblical Studies “Ark of the Covenant”) in the wilderness tabernacle (Exodus 25:18–22; 37:7–9; Numbers 7:89) and later in Solomon’s temple in Jerusalem (1 Kings 6:23–28; 2 Chronicles 3:10–13; 1 Kings 8:6–7; 2 Chronicles 5:7–8; 1 Chronicles 28:18). Third, two-dimensional representations of cherubim are found elsewhere in various biblical temples (see Oxford Bibliographies article in Biblical Studies “Temples and Sanctuaries”), including the tabernacle (Exodus 26:1; 36:8; 26:31; 36:35), Solomon’s temple (1 Kings 6:29, 32, 35; 7:29, 36; 2 Chronicles 3:7, 14), and an envisioned future temple (Ezekiel 41:18, 20, 25). Finally, the Israelite Deity YHWH (see Oxford Bibliographies article in Biblical Studies “God, Ancient Israel”) is titled yoshev hakkeruvim, which can be translated provisionally as “the cherubim sitter/dweller” (1 Samuel 4:4; 2 Samuel 6:2; 1 Chronicles 13:6; 2 Kings 19:15; Isaiah 37:16; Psalms 80:2; 99:1). The overall impression created by all these occurrences is that cherubim were associated with YHWH and that their depictions served as the most prominent motif in Israelite temple iconography. Many studies of cherubim involve the attempt to understand their place in the rich iconographic world of the ancient Near East.

General Treatments

The definitive monograph on biblical cherubim is Wood 2008, which as a relatively recent work includes a highly useful bibliography. Entries on cherubim in biblical reference works range from the brief Meyers 1992 through the medium-length Mettinger 1999 to the detailed Freedman and O’Connor 1995. Paul and Rabinowitz 2007 and Staubli, et al. 2012 bring the focus to the post-biblical history of the cherubim. Further valuable comments on cherubim can be found in the critical commentaries on the biblical books in which they feature most prominently: Genesis (see Oxford Bibliographies article in Biblical Studies “Book of Genesis”), Exodus (see Oxford Bibliographies article in Biblical Studies “Book of Exodus”), Kings (see Oxford Bibliographies article in Biblical Studies “1 and 2 Kings”), and Ezekiel (see Oxford Bibliographies article in Biblical Studies “Ezekiel”).

  • Freedman, David N., and Michael P. O’Connor. “Kᵉrûḇ.” In Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament. Vol. 7. Edited by G. Johannes Botterweck, Helmer Ringgren, and Heinz-Josef Fabry, 307–319. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1995.

    E-mail Citation »

    Discusses the orthography and etymology of the cherubim’s name, analyzes their occurrences in the Hebrew Bible, and examines potential extrabiblical parallels, concluding that cherubim are “a class of hybrid beings associated with God” (p. 318) and cannot be identified with any single kind of creature.

  • Mettinger, Tryggve N. D. “Cherubim.” In Dictionary of Deities and Demons in the Bible. 2d ed. Edited by Karel van der Toorn, Bob Becking, and Pieter w. van der Horst, 189–192. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 1999.

    E-mail Citation »

    Discusses the roles of the biblical cherubim in their ancient Near Eastern context, mainly through the lens of the hypothesis that the cherubim functioned as bearers of YHWH’s throne.

  • Meyers, Carol. “Cherubim.” In Anchor Bible Dictionary. Vol. 1. Edited by David N. Freedman, 899–900. New York: Doubleday, 1992.

    E-mail Citation »

    Briefly discusses the biblical occurrences of cherubim in their ancient Near Eastern context.

  • Paul, Shalom M., and Louis I. Rabinowitz. “Cherub.” In Encyclopedia Judaica. 2d ed. Vol. 4. Edited by Michael Berenbaum and Fred Skolnik, 600–601. Detroit: Macmillan Reference, 2007.

    E-mail Citation »

    Paul summarizes the occurrences of cherubim in the Hebrew Bible and discusses their form and possible ancient Near Eastern prototypes along with the etymology of their name. Rabinowitz discusses the portrayal of cherubim in Talmudic literature, and a separate section surveys their portrayal in later literature and visual art.

  • Staubli, Thomas, Sidnie White Crawford, Günter Stemberger, et al. “Cherubim.” In Encyclopedia of the Bible and Its Reception Online. Vol. 5. Edited by Dale C. Allison Jr., Hans-Josef Klauck, Volker Leppin, et al. Berlin and Boston: de Gruyter, 2012.

    E-mail Citation »

    Staubli provides a survey of cherubim in the Hebrew Bible and of winged sphinxes in the ancient Near East, assuming the identity of the former with the latter. The other authors provide a detailed account of cherubim in Judaism, Christianity, Islam, literature, and visual arts. Available online by subscription.

  • Wood, Alice. Of Wings and Wheels: A Synthetic Study of the Biblical Cherubim. Beihefte zur Zeitschrift für die alttestamentliche Wissenschaft 385. Berlin: de Gruyter, 2008.

    DOI: 10.1515/9783110211214E-mail Citation »

    By far the most comprehensive published study of the biblical cherubim. Wood examines the textual, etymological, and archaeological evidence in depth, in close dialogue with other scholars. She concludes that the biblical cherubim were primarily perceived as guardians of the divine presence. The book includes indexes and pictures.

back to top

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.

How to Subscribe

Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.

Article

Up

Down