Guardians of the Ark of the Covenant

The latest issue of Minerva magazine features new research by archaeologist and explorer Dr Sean Kingsley, claiming to have solved the age-old mystery of the fate of the pair of Cherubim statues, that once flanked and protected the Ten Commandments in Solomon's Temple. Like the rest of the Temple treasure of Jerusalem, the Cherubim are believed to have been destroyed by King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon in 586 BC. Their memory was thought to have died with them, however Dr Kingsley believes he has found evidence not only for the survival of replicas of the cherubim in Jerusalem in the Roman period, but also what they originally looked like...

According to Dr Kingsley, in the sixth century AD the ancient historian John Malalas was sifting through the municipal archives in the city of Antioch in southern Turkey for material for his book, the Chronicle, when he chanced upon a centuries-old wrinkled report about the fate of Jerusalem’s Cherubim. Malalas tells us that after pulling down a local synagogue in AD 70 and replacing it with a new theatre inscribed Ex Praeda Iudaea, ‘From the Spoils of Judaea’, the emperor Vespasian “built in Antioch the Great, outside the city gate, what are known as the Cherubim, for he fixed there the bronze Cherubim, which Titus his son had found fixed to the temple of Solomon. When he destroyed the temple, he removed them from there and brought them to Antioch with the Seraphim, celebrating a triumph for the victory of the Jews that had taken place during his reign.”

“This was no tall story invented by John Malalas to spice up his Chronicle”, confirms Dr Kingsley. “In fact, the area where the Cherubim were set up over the gates became so famous that the Temple statues lent their name to the entire city district. And there they stayed for over five hundred years. So the Life of St Simeon Stylites, who died in AD 597, describes how the saint saw a vision of Jesus Christ ‘at the old wall called that of the Cherubim’ and during a later visitation by the devil ‘there arose from the so-called Cherubim… a great cry, and weeping and much lamentation’. The co-existence of references to the Cherubim district in different sources proves John Malalas was reporting fact not fiction.”

Based on the prophet Ezekiel’s biblical description of the ‘divine presence’, accompanied by hybrid guardians incorporating calf’s feet, wings, and composite faces of a human, lion, ox and eagle, Dr Kingsley visualises the cherubim as sphinx-like winged creatures with a human head: “Sculpted ivories of the First Temple period excavated at Samaria in Palestine and Arslan Tash in Syria capture the exact confused form described by the prophet Ezekiel. The lion’s body is inspired by the sphinx and the human head also wears an Egyptian headdress. However, the graceful wings are purely Near Eastern in inspiration, drawing on the tradition of winged animals like the demon Pazuzu and the Akkadian lion-demoness Lamashtu, which were so popular from Iraq to Palestine in the second and first millennium BC.”

...Dr Kingsley has identified two images which most closely resemble the physical form of the Temple Cherubim in the first century AD: a statue of a rearing woman with outstretched wings and sphinx-like lion body excavated in a bath-house at Ephesus in Turkey in 1896, and a sphinx-like cherub sculpted on to a basalt disc dug up in a house at Antioch itself and now in the Hatay Archaeological Museum.

I've been talking to Dr Kingsley over the past week, as part of an interview for TDG about his book God's Gold: One Man's Quest for the Lost Temple Treasures of Jerusalem (Amazon US and UK), so this is interesting and topical news. Quite the real-life Indiana Jones story, so definitely Daily Grail fare...I think most readers will find the topic fascinating.

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Rick MG's picture
Member since:
2 May 2004
Last activity:
2 days 5 hours

Excellent find, Greg, I'm looking forward to the interview.