21. The cherubim


In Plato´s dialogue, Timaeos[1] it is told how Zeus creates the cosmos after the model of “a perfect living being”. In this being he saw four perfect forms: 1) the form of the gods, 2) the form of the birds, 3) the form of the nautic creatures, and 4) the form of the animals living on dry land.

It is obvious that Plato here has a creature like the O.T. cherub, or the Chronos of Hieronimus, in mind. The Cherub is composed of lion (beast of prey), man, bird, and oxe (cattle). As the tree of life is the ideal model of vegetation, and the well of life the paradise model of all life-giving fluids, so are the “Living Beings”(Hayyim, another word for the cherubim) the ideal model of living creatures. “You were the seal of the taknit, full of wisdom and perfect in beauty” Ez 28,12 about the King of Tyre hailed as a cherub. tkn = be straight, in pi´el = “measure out”. Taknit means “plan”,”pattern”. Acc to Philo of Alexandria the earthly world was created after a heavenly pattern:

   “We must suppose that, when God was disposed to found the great city (i.e. cosmos), he first conceived its patterns, out of which he constituted the intelligible world, and using that as a model, he completed also the visible world” (De opif.19,after the Loeb ed.). The world was made after the model of the intelligible world, which is also called “the archetypal seal”[2].

Interesting are the ten different precious stones enumerated Ez 28,13, among them the sapphire. In the Kabbalah they become the 10 sefirot, together making out the body of macr´anthropos, Adam Cadmon.

It is said about the cherub “you were a cherub of measurement - shielding. I made you. You were on the holy (cosmic) mountain of God. Among fiery stones (the stars) you were wandering about. Perfect were you on your route from the day you were created”. Ez. 28,12-15. mimshakh, the word we have translated by measurement means something like “measure”, “extension” (Vulgata: extentus). Also this Cherub from Tyre is the perfect paradigm, the ideal pattern after which all living creatures are created. The cherub is described as the highlight of artificial skill: “the handicraft of the mounting of your gems and the engravings on you, on the day you were created, they were founded”[3]. These patterns were founded, invented by God on the day the cherub was created. Also the tree of life can be described as a tree of precious stones (as we have seen in Gades and by the arrival of Gilgamesh at the garden of paradise). When crystals are formed in the most beautiful patterns, when flowers enfold to reveal a pattern of beauty they reveal an order penetrating matter trying to form it into a higher quality, although this process, due to the condition of matter, is only imperfect. But it is the heavenly plan that makes the things full of adorable gratia. We have already seen that the paradise-island for Diodor is the perfect example of beauty for both art and music. 

In Ez 1-3 four hayyim are seen, each with a rotating wheel, with another wheel inside crossing the first wheel. The world-soul is, acc. to Plato, two circles crossing each other, one for the regular circle-movements of the stars, and one for the irregular movements of the planets. This heavenly mechanism is seen as the two wheels: ”the invisible machinery of heaven revealed itself to an astonished priest”[4].

 “And the body of the Hayyim was like the look of glowing coal. They were burning - like torches to look at. She walked among the hayyim, and there was a aura like fire, and from the fire lightening shot out. And the hayyim were running to and fro, and they were like bzq to look at” Ez 1,3f. (perhaps brq “lightening”?). The sudden shift to the female gender is not incidental. The author wants to stress the androgynous character of the vision. Later this mystical vision with the sudden appearance of a female gave rise to the notion of a female holder of the Holy Grail.

El Cronos has, acc to Philo, two pairs of eyes: “two awake and two closed, resting” and “on the shoulders 4 wings, two looking as if they flew, and two looking as if they rested. This was a symbol, for Cronos  saw while he slept and slept while he was awake”. This “symbol” is typically ecstatic: the god is coincidentia oppositorum, the unity of sleep and being awake, that is, he is constantly in the borderland where trance and visions come. On his head he had two feathers or small wings symbolising Nous & Aisthêsis (visionary sight by the mind and ordinary sight by the senses). The Hayyim in the Bible also have 2 pairs of wings: 1 pair was used for flying, 1 rested and was used for covering the body. They had a human body, but hooves like a calf, see the picture of Aion[5]. Note the kundalini snakes falling from the stomach of the god and dividing into fire and fluid, the main pair of opposites in the visible world. But from the fire-altar the kundalini power is able to rise again to vision, that is, to the face of the god. With his wings, his human body, calf’s feet and lion’s face, the god, Aion, has some similarity to the biblical cherub. As a matter of fact, he is the Cronos of Tyre (and Byblos) also in Ez. described as a cherub, and more or less one with the king of Tyre.(Note that the cherubical look with a pair of double wings was constructed by Hermes as a sign of kingship, acc to Philo.) In the Bible the kundalini snakes are totally absent from the vision.

M. Avi-Jonah[6] has drawn attention to the fact that in the early Hellenistic period and before, the gods were always pictured in profile, with only a few exceptions, “imported from Syria” (Qds, Bes, “woman at the window”, Hathor). The reason for picturing Qds with her front turned towards the viewer was that she was an object of meditation. And this purpose of the idol becomes more and more important (Aion, Jupiter from Baalbek). In fact, all the gods mentioned here are symbols of the kundalini power.

An Orphic myth, probably taken from the Sabazios-cult from Inner Anatolia, tells about Zeus pursuing Rhea, who changes herself into a snake in the hope of escaping him. Immediately, he changed into a male snake and coiled around her in the so-called Heracles knot, also shown by the caduceus of Hermes. Rhea bore Persephone as his daughter, a child with 4 eyes, two faces and horns[7]. The kundalini-power is raised, pictured in the union of male and female snake, and gives birth to the goddess as the archetypal ecstatic, as is seen from her identity with the semeion-symbol dealt with above. The usual tantric motif of incest is also imbedded in the myth: Sabazios is born by Zeus having intercourse with his daughter, Persephone. The incest motif is also important in the Hellenistic novel, Apollonios, King of Tyre. The travels of Ap., sailing out from Tyre, being shipwrecked in Libya, and much later, as an old man, returning with a ship full of grain to end the hunger, show that Apollonios is Apollo identified with Melqart of Tyre sailing out and returning as Saturn Frugiferus, “giver of fruit”.

Of particular interest for our present subjects are the primordial beings called Zophasemin (“contemplators of heaven”) described by Philo I 10,2. They were lying in passive contemplation, but were woken up by thunder “and began to move around on land and in sea as male and female”. The god of thunder is the creator of active life from the passive enjoying primordial mystic (androgynous) vision. A similar idea is behind the description in Plato´s myth in Symposion of primordial man as round, with two faces and mostly androgynous. Zeus cut them in two as when a hard-boiled egg is cut. Now, the egg in Orphic theology is the holy symbol of the universe in its primordial, ideal state, and the idea of the two, man and woman, Uranos and Ge united, but then separated, is cosmogony. Characteristic of the myth of Plato is that the macrocosmic cosmogony is used also about the microcosm, man. In a strange way the primordial state of microcosm, man, is identical with macrocosmos. Ecstasy is a regression to mystical primordial totality. The egg-form attributed also by Philo to Zophasemin is the world-egg.

A sculpture found in Borcovicum in England[8] shows, not the Syrian god of thunder, but Mithras keeping the two halves of the world-egg apart with the two poles, symbols of the Heracles-pillars, but the two poles are taken from Resheph = El Cronos in Byblos. Baal´s two servants lifts the twin mountains up in their hands. They are the personified world pillars.


That the cherub is the master pattern is parallel to the Phoenician idea that the plan and order of cosmos was seen by Cronos in visions before made manifest by the younger god. Already F.Cumont touched on this motif, also important for the understanding of the mysteries of Mithras, that Aión is given the world order in his dreams, but the idea is further dealt with by A.Alföldi[9]. The motif is already found in Aristotle[10]. One important fact is that a certain iconographical type: ”Cronos on a throne, in his right hand supporting his veiled head” became most common in the North African way of picturing their god, Saturnus-Frugifer/Saeculum frugiferum, see the cult statues in M.Leglay[11].

In Aphrodisias in Caria is seen the Zoilos-monument from the period of Augustus with the god Aión pictured on the griffin throne (the Semitic throne of cherubim), dreaming, with his head leaning on his right hand and shoulder (picture in Alföldi, Aion…).

In the Orphic-Neoplatonic cosmogony, Cronos thought out the world order and transmitted it in oracles to his son, and Alföldi draws our attention to the fact that this doctrine, acc. to the version by Damascios, was of Phoenician origin[12]: ”He governs and makes straight the creation of cosmos. So most clearly by the Phoenicians these thing are attributed to him, as they make him the first demon… in this way Cronos is the head of cosmos: he is not the actual builder of cosmos, but he who cares for cosmos, a benefactor, and one who fills all life in the universe and exists before the demiurgos”.

When Anaximander writes about “the existing things paying penalty to each other for their wrongdoings acc to the order of Chronos”[13] he is obviously identifying Chronos with the Phoenician Saturn-Cronos, master of the world order. The things are constantly offending the world-order going way out of limit, and therefore periodically dissolved in the “limitless” (Apeiron). This mystical Apeiron, which, to Anaximander, is the primordial principle of the universe, is primordial unity without limits and division. Apeiron Aion (“limitless eternity”) is also, acc. to Philo of Byblos, the primordial state of the universe. It is important to understand that the key to all this is mysticism. Mystic vision is the vision of divine unity prior to all division and strife. Anaximander´s cosmology is the idea of all things periodically returning to the mystical state of limitless unity.

[1] Tim. 39E

[2] De opif. 25

[3] 28, 13

[4] M.L.West, Early Greek Philosophy and the Orient,pp.88f.,see also Aion standing on the globe

[5] SYRIA 27, Relief from Oxyrhynchos Museum in Alexandria

[6] Art in Ancient Palestine, 1981, p.189

[7] Athenagoras supplicatio pro Christianus 20, pp.22f.; 32,p.42. Schwartz, Cook, Zeus I,p.398

[8] Cook, Zeus II, p.1053

[9] Aion in Merida und Aphrodisias,1979, ch.3: "Der in Gedanken versunkene Aion von Aphrodisias und der schlummernde Kronos, der die kosmische Weltordnung ertraümt"

[10] ap. Tertullian de anima 46,10:quod prior omnibus Saturnus somniarit

[11] Saturne africain, Monuments I: t. 3,3/12,3/13,2 stelai 8,1/9,4/12,3. vol II: 6/33,4

[12] Damascios dubit. et solut. 305v-306v; 2,pp.136f. Ruelle = Orphic fragm. 155 Kern

[13] Diels-Kranz A 9