As a young man I was led to believe that the villains of the bible were mainly disloyal friends and roman functionaries. The text was dry enough that I checked out once I absorbed the Christmas pageant/Easter sections, and assumed that I had missed nothing of note. In retrospect, bailing on the bible before reading revelations is like turning off a porno because you assumed that broke housewife will never be able to afford that pizza. Once the rapture kicks in the bible’s closing act is a grind house monster thriller with abominations that would make H.R. Geiger blush.
It’s from this blood-soaked, apocalyptic soil that we will cultivate our next batch of Terrible Monsters. First up: The Cherubim.
The Cherubim were the guardians of the gates of Eden, set there by God to ensure we could not return to our early place of grace and immortality, lost to us in a moment of careless fruit consumption. It seems harsh, but snatching apples is the biblical equivalent of taking someone else’s clearly labeled lunch from the work fridge. There are a few cursory descriptions of the Cherubim early in the bible, but it wasn’t until Revelations that the mad Prophet Ezekiel laid out the Cherubim’s convoluted physiology in a compelling, if confusing, freestyle verse.
Ez 10- 8 The cherubim appeared to have the form of a man’s hand under their wings… As for the form of their faces, each had the face of a man; all four had the face of a lion on the right and the face of a bull on the left, and all four had the face of an eagle. … Their whole body, their backs, their hands, their wings and the wheels were full of eyes all around, the wheels belonging to all four of them. The wheels were called in my hearing, the whirling wheels. And each one had four faces. The first face was the face of a cherub, the second face was the face of a man, the third the face of a lion, and the fourth the face of an eagle… Each one had four faces and each one four wings, and beneath their wings was the form of human hands.
Note that he had to loop back around and describe the same thing twice, to confirm that the first description wasn’t just sloppy prose, but an accurately stated recollection of an incomprehensible thing. In the interest of clarity I’m going to give that description a third pass: picture four standard bipeds with a regular neck; now attach a head to that neck and apply four faces to the head as such- Man/Lion/Bull/Eagle-, then give each guy four wings and hands (possibly with arms) under the wings, cover that whole mess with eyes, and then attach a set of four wheels that roll in varied directions. Occasionally there is a platform in the mix. If you are having trouble visualizing this be grateful and return to the happy life you knew, and think no further thoughts on the matter.
I’m not sure exactly how the Cherubim barred entry to the Garden; I suppose the Angels just rolled back and forth, a cluster of rheumy eyes staring angrily, while a dozen mouths shouted threats that it’s twisted form could not possibly back up. Eventually the potential intruder would become sickened and leave of their own volition. Although, the Cherubim were known to carry at least one flaming sword, and bore an understandable grudge against humanity, so I wouldn’t test their resolve.
Country of origin: Israel
Is it scary:
If a psychologist asked a child to draw an angel and they produced this, the parents would be arrested and the child would forced onto a heavy dose of Thorazine and weekly life-drawing classes.
Psychologist: Four heads and four faces on each head? Is this one angel or…like, a few angels and their pets?
Billy: No, it’s the one who is four who is twelve who is one…always rolling, rolling towards the future.
Psychologist: Why so many eyes?
Billy: So it can see all your tricks and sins, no hiding… but the feathers make its eyes itchy so their looking is angry and it knows you are bad and will never let you return to the good locked behind the gates.
Psychologist: Jesus…I….what…what about the wheels?
Billy: That’s how father drove away.
What does this say about Israel:
The Cherubim’s purpose was not to punish but deny. They didn’t prey on mankind, they just stood vigilant between the dread and horror of daily existence and the idyllic paradise we long for, like a mean kid that sits on your chest and eats fudgsicles on a hot summer day. They are totems of perpetual guilt and reminders of perfection that exists only in the mind of an uncompromising creator. Don’t be so hard on yourself, Israel, you don’t have to be perfect, you just have to keep trying.
What is the lesson:
I understand the desire to build consensus on important matters, but you don’t have to consult the craziest guy in the room just to say everyone was on board. If I am ordering pizza and some people want pepperoni, a few want Hawaiian, and one guy wants feta cheese and the shredded pages of an orphan’s diary…maybe we just order the first two and let that one guy find his own supper.