Hebrew In Israel | Keruv-Cherub – Learn Torah

Hebrew In Israel | Keruv-Cherub – Learn Torah

Yoel Halevi No Comments

What Are They?

Much debate exists about the shape and nature of the Cherubs mentioned in the Bible.  They were featured on the ark, the tabernacle and the temple.  However, commentators and scholars have debated what they were, and with the findings made in time, we have a better picture of what they might have looked like.  The Talmud Sukkah 5b describes the cherubs as children, stating “What is the derivation of cherub?- R. Abbahu said, ‘Like a child’, for in Babylon they call a child Rabia.”  This interpretation has led to many artistic depictions of childlike cherubs.  However, this depiction is misleading and does not belong to the artistic world of the Bible and the ancient near east.  To find the correct meaning of the word we must look at the linguistic possibilities which exist. 

 

The Possibilities

 There have been several possible linguistic ideas about this word, which all have been rejected:

  1. The letters ר and כ have switched places and it actually is the word רכב Rakahv– to ride.  This idea fits the very common depiction of gods riding on winged creatures.
  2. Aramaic for “to plough” which relates the word to the ploughing of the ox.  This relates to some images of ox-like cherubs found in the ancient world.
  3. Arabic- to be generous and kind.
  4. The כ should be replaced by a ק to create the word קרב Qarav– to draw near, meaning those who are close to God.

However, all of these opinions have been rejected by scholars.

The prevailing opinion nowadays is that the word is related to the Akkadian noun Karabu--knee, and the verb Karibu–to serve–meaning these are servants of God who stand between man and God and present the prayers of man before Him (B.E, 1962, 240).  This principle of standing between man and God seems to be a common feature in Mesopotamian and Aegean temples where we find winged beings in the entrances of temples. However, in the case of the Ark, the Cherubs stand guard over the tablets and not the entrance. The guarding of the temple was placed in the hands of the Kohanim and Levites, while the Cherubs were standing between man and the word of God. 

Shapes of Cherub Like Creatures 

There are several versions of the Cherub in the ancient world.  In some artistic depictions we find many kinds of winged beings.  It is possible that being winged was part of the divine court, making the different depictions different types of beings, much like the classes of angels we find in latter literature.

a. In Egypt very commonly we find winged snakes with their wings stretched out to one another.  This artistic depiction resembles the idea of the Cherubs wings stretched over the lid of the Ark.  However, in the Egyptian concept the winged snakes are depicted on the side of the boxes, and are not statues on the lid.  Also, the Hebrew for winged snakes is שרפים-Serafim and not כרובים-Keruvim (Knhol, 2007, 64-65).  The Serafim seem to surround God, while the Keruvim function as a footstool or a chariot (Kedarri, 2007, 532).

b. Winged oxen- this feature is found in the north east and is common with Babylonian and Persian art.  This version resembles the idea of the Aramaic “to plough” explanation.

c. In Phoenician art we find a winged lion, or a winged face.

Sources:

אינציקלופדיה מקראית, כרך ד, ערך ״כרוב״, ירושלים, 1962, עמ׳ 238-244

קדרי, מנחם צבי, מילון העברית המקראית, רמת גן, 2007, עמ׳ 532

קנוהל ישראל, אמונות המקרא- גבולות המהפכה המקראית, ירושלים, 2007, עמ׳ 64-65 

תלמוד בבלי, סוכה ה ע״א

Originally published: 6 March, 2016

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