Cherubim (cherub in the singular) are winged creatures that appear as attendants to God in the Jewish, Christian, and Islamic traditions. Their main duties are to praise God and to support his throne, though their roles vary from culture to culture. Scholars disagree about the origin of the word cherubim. It may have come from karabu, an ancient Near Eastern word meaning "to pray" or "to bless," or perhaps from mu-karribim, the guardians of the shrine of the ancient Sheban moon goddess.

Whatever the origin of the name, the cherub itself can be traced to mythologies of the Babylonians, Assyrians, and other peoples of the ancient Near East. In these cultures, cherubim were usually pictured as creatures with parts of four animals: the head of a bull, the wings of an eagle, the feet of a lion, and the tail of a serpent. The four animals represented the four seasons, the four cardinal directions (north, south, east, and west), and the four ancient elements (earth, air, fire, and water). These original cherubim guarded the entrances to temples and palaces.

Cherubim were probably introduced into ancient Hebrew culture by the Canaanites*. The Hebrews expanded the role of the cherubim somewhat. For example, in the book of Genesis in the Old Testament, cherubim guard the entrance to the Garden of Eden after Adam and Eve are driven out of Paradise. Cherubim also protect the Ark of the Covenant, and God is described as riding on the back of a cherub. In general, cherubim represent the power and glory of the Hebrew god, Yahweh.

In Christian mythology, the cherubim are the second highest of the nine orders of angels, second only to the seraphim. The cherubim excel in wisdom and continually praise God. In Islamic mythology, the cherubim (or karibiyun ) play much the same role, dwelling in heaven and constantly praising Allah.

Cherubim are often portrayed as human figures having four wings, and they are usually painted blue, which signifies knowledge. In Jewish folklore of the Middle Ages, the cherubim were described as handsome young men. In Christian art, however, cherubim usually appear as children, most often as chubby, winged babies.

See also Angels ; Semitic Mythology .

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