Friday, April 27, 2012

Cherubim as Winged Protectors

Raanan Eichler, a Ph.D. researcher and occasional instructor in the Department of Bible at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, has written an illustrated article on the biblical cherubim in Tarbiz, the leading Jewish studies journal in the world.  In it he compares the descriptions of the cherubim on the Ark of the Covenant and Temple with similar beings in Egyptian-Canaanite iconography, as well as Egyptian parallels to the Ark itself.

He writes:

The Bible says that two statues of cherubim stood at the heart of the Israelite Temple. It's not obvious what cherubim are or what the statues were there for. 
Most scholars think they were something like these creatures, supporting God's throne.

I say, no, they were like these creatures, providing symbolic protection for the divine presence; and I can prove it.

He indicates in the abstract for the article that "the Temple cherubim and Ark are thus considered together as an instance of the sphinx-throne, a known motif in Phoenician and Canaanite visual art from the biblical period... It is shown [in the article] that the cherubim as described in the Bible correspond to a separate motif in Egyptian-Canaanite iconography, that of the winged protectors."

Ok, so the problem is... the actual article is written in Hebrew, not English!  ARRRGH!!  I hope that an English version will eventually become available, but in the meantime you might check out my post on the cherubim as part of my series on Visual Arts Contextualization in the Bible.

Btw, here is an ark replica that can be ordered online, which I guess is a pretty good representation of the image at the beginning of this post, as well as Eichler's second black and white illustration above.  It is very Egyptian in style, and a larger version is also available (I'm not sure if the image I've placed at the beginning of the article is a legitimate ancient Egyptian illustration or a modern example).

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