Cherub (in Scripture more frequently in the Hebrew plural form, cherubim), a symbolical figure of a composite form, which finds a parallel in the composite mythological figures of Assyria, Egypt, Persia, and Greece, of which traces remain in the winged bulls and lions of Nineveh and the sphinxes of Egypt. The most famous cherubim of Scripture were those of gold placed upon the cover of the ark in the tabernacle, facing each other, and apparently adoring an unseen divinity. In the temple of Solomon a pair of colossal size overshadowed the ark with the canopy of their contiguously extended wings. Cherubim were also blazoned on the doors, walls, and curtains of the building. As to the form of the cherubim in the temple there has been much discussion, with no definite result, except a general conclusion that the images were in shape and arrangement very similar to the Assyrian and Egyptian remains referred to above, some of which show a remarkable agreement with the expressions of Scripture. In the sacred boats or arks of the Egyptians represented on the monuments, there are sometimes two figures with extended wings which remind us of the description of the cherubim "covering the mercy seat with their wings, and their faces one to another." Whether the symbolical images were merely symbolical, or were meant to represent beings of actual existence, is uncertain; although a common opinion is that they are ideal representations of the power and wisdom of the Deity. The word cherub (Heb. kerub) has been variously explained as meaning strong, great, near, boylike, carven, and grasping or laying hold on, The last meaning, which seems preferable to the others, is chiefly supported by Furst, who compares the root of the Hebrew kerub with similar words in the same language, and with the Sanskrit gribh and Persian giriften, to seize, Greek griffin, and the Teutonic grip, greifen, and Greif. The cherubim were always made in pairs, as if to preclude the supposition of an idol which a single figure might have suggested, and in an attitude of subordination to a higher power and glory, setting the example of worship rather than receiving it themselves. They stood like the supporters of a shield, and were repeated in many places about the sacred building like a heraldic device. Yet, perhaps because the priests only entered the holy place, and the ark was covered when moved, their form seems to have been generally unknown. There is mention of cherubim guarding the gates of Eden after the expulsion of Adam, and they also appear in the prophetic visions of Eze-kiel and John. In the prophetic visions there seems in them an entire absence of human sympathy, and even on the mercy seat they appear not merely as admiring and wondering, but as guardians of the covenant and avengers of its breach.
In painting and sculpture, the name cherub is given to the winged heads of children which represent angels.