The invariable variability of the Cherubim
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The subject of this dissertation is the biblical Cherubim. The Cherubim are mentioned in a fairly small number of texts in the Hebrew Bible; nevertheless, they are described in quite diverse ways. For instance, one distinctive feature is their outward appearance, which is portrayed in radically different ways in several books of the Bible. Do these distinctions merely reflect the varied views of the biblical authors, or, from the perspective of the entire biblical canon, does this variety and mutability reveal an essential feature of their nature? My hypothesis is that there is, in fact, a certain nucleus of biblical notions about the Cherubim. I demonstrate that, although various biblical writers represent the specific characteristics of the outward appearances of the Cherubim in their own ways, these differences testify, essentially, to the dynamic, changeable nature of the Cherubim. By employing the canon of texts collected in the Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia, this dissertation argues that changeability is, in fact, the central biblical image of the Cherubim. The critical method employed in this work is canonical criticism developed by Brevard Childs. To illustrate a canonical approach in action, I look at the different biblical appearances of the Cherubim, drawing both positive and negative inferences about the function, role, and nature of these creatures as understood by individual biblical writers in conversation with their larger cultural, religious, and literary contexts. At the same time, I compare and contrast these specific instances against the background of the entirety and variety of biblical appearances. If one connects these depictions of the Cherubim with other biblical accounts, the following conclusions can be reached. First of all, the Cherubim appear as agents and therefore are real creatures. Second, the apparent changeability of their countenance indicates that they are spiritual creatures. Third, they possess a great degree of perfection; they are in direct proximity to God's glory and, consequently, are somehow involved in it. On the basis of these traits, the Hebrew Bible views the Cherubim as a special class, as angels sui generis.