Biblical Archaeology Review 21:4, July/August 1995

Of Cherubim and Gospel Symbols

By Robin M. Jensen

The lion, eagle, ox and man of Ezekiel’s vision re-emerge in early Christian art as the standard symbols of the authors of the four New Testament Gospels. In his famous vision, the prophet Ezekiel describes four cherubim, each with four faces—of a human being, a lion, an ox and an eagle; each with four wings with human hands underneath; and each with eyes all around (Ezekiel 1:5–10).

In western Christian iconography, however, Ezekiel’s composite creatures are usually conflated with the apocalyptic vision of four living creatures surrounding the divine throne in the Apocalypse of John, or Revelation (4:6). Unlike the beasts of Ezekiel’s vision, the four creatures of John’s heavenly vision have only one face each: “Around the throne, and on each side of the throne, are four living creatures, full of eyes in front and behind: the first living creature like a lion, the second living creature like an ox, the third living creature with a face like a human face, and the fourth living creature like a flying eagle” (Revelation 4:6–7).

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