Etymology can be quite entertaining:
cherub
c.1367, as an order of angels, from L.L. cherub, from Gk. cheroub, from Heb. kerubh (pl. kerubhim), perhaps related to Akkadian karubu "gracious, one who blesses," an epithet of the bull-colossus.
The bull-colossus they refer to is the shedu, by the way. Human-faced towering winged bull guardian, with one of those typical Akkadian beards. A little more spadework reveals this convoluted entry from the Jewish Encyclopedia, which helps explain the odd evolution of pre-Hebrew representations of the divine into their angelic forms.

In brief, while the etymology is contested, the most probable origin is the Hittite love of animal forms. They used them frequently as metaphors to depict supernatural beings and guardians, remixing them to evoke the right attributes. Eagle's wings were considered especially beautiful, so all manner of animals recieved those, including mankind. The Phoenicians adopted the practice as well, and they were especially fond of the winged human form. They passed this proclivity on to the Canaanites, from whom the Israelites probably adapted them into the divine messengers, attendants and guardians to YHVH.

The plump little babies are a distinctly Victorian invention, though.

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Julianna Lacroix

July 2010

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