Monday, April 30, 2012


Well, here we are at the end of April 2012's A-Z blogging challenge.  Last year's final post, Z is for Zoomorphic Angels, is my second most popular post of all time, so, I'm revisiting the subject this year.  If you missed it, I recommend going back and reading that one first (linked above) and then coming back for this year's.

Unlike the anthropomorphic ("human-shaped") angels that dominate the occasions of hierophanies or angelic visitations to humans in the Old Testament/Hebrew Bible, there are two species or classes of angels that are definitely zoomorphic.  These monstrous angels are the cherubim and seraphim (note the plural forms in Hebrew end in -im).  While we do not have Hebrew images of these creatures, we know do have the Phoenician images that were made for Egyptian and Assyrian markets, and the images made with a visual imagination dominated by Egyptian and Assyrian conceptions seem to have been the same images that were sold in Israel by Phoenicians. 

The cherubim get a lot more references than the seraphim, which I believe are only clearly and explicitly referenced in Isaiah.  The image at the bottom of the page, found in nearby Syria, has the requisite six wings and holds a serpent in each hand (check biblical references below).  In addition to the images in the archaeological record and the rather idiosyncratic descriptions in Ezekiel,  we can tell that the cherub is like a winged bull, sphinx, or griffin because YHWH is pictured as using one as a mount in the book of Psalms.  Celestial creatures of this type were popular in Mesopotamia and called karibu/kuribu, "intercessor."  King Hiram of Byblos had cherubim flanking his throne and incense altars have been found in Taanach and Meggido flanked by them.  It is not surprising them that they are said to have flanked God's throne and the Ark of the Covenant.  The parallelism of Psalm 18 may suggest that they were associated with the winds.  It is clear that both cherubim and seraphim were "angels of the presence," but they do not seem to have the messenger function of anthropomorphic angels.  I can't help but feel that the Bible does not make full use of the potential of these monstrous angels.  Why don't we ever seem them tearing into the enemies of God's people?  Maybe the God of Israel really does not have as bloody tastes as others of us do.  Certainly, in mythopoesis that was inspired by scripture, that's how I see myself using zoomorphic angels.  Maybe their occurrences in liturgical and mystical contexts instead of smiting contexts should be telling us something that I have yet to pick up on.

Scripture References
Genesis 3:24
Exodus 25:18-20; 37:6-9
Numbers 7:89
I Samuel 4:4
II Samuel 22:11
I Kings 6:23-28; 8:6-7
Psalms 18:10; 80:1
Isaiah 6:2-6; 30:6 (cf. Num. 21:6-8; Deut. 8:15)
Ezekiel 1:4-28; 10:3-22; 28:14,16

Syrian Figure from Tell Halaf


  1. In a book I read on the subject of angels, I remember that it was mentioned that the Seraphim had no form since they were not in contact with humans, but rather stayed in heaven. This is new information for me. It's nice to read novel topics such as this.
    Hope to read more interesting posts. Great job on finishing the A to Z challenge.

  2. Huh. I'd be curious to know the book. Seraphim appeared to Isaiah and St. Francis, and according to some medieval schoolmen (my memory says including Thomas Aquinas), they were especially associated with the virtue of caritas (=love).

    Thanks, Jeremy for the compliment and the follow!