How Angels Really Look Like, According to the Bible

Heaven might be more bizarre than blissful

Ben Kageyama

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By Matthaeus (Matthäus) Merian (1593–1650), Public Domain

WWhen people think of Angels, they mostly picture a majestic human-like winged being. Cherubs, which are a type of angel also mentioned in the Bible, have been reimagined to fit the image of Cupid — cute babies with tiny wings.

However, these conceptualizations aren’t entirely accurate. Angels, according to the holy text, are a bit more bizarre.

According to the Bible, there are different types of angels which surround God. Maimonides, a Jewish scholar from the 12th century, ranked these beings in terms of importance in the hierarchy of Heaven. What arises is a description of four beings from that hierarchy that have been explained in detail in scripture, and the historical circumstances around their conceptualization.

Cherubim

By Julius Bates (1773), Public Domain

The Cherubim, later shortened to Cherub, is the lowest in rank among the four. The Bible describes these beings as animal-human hybrids, tasked with guarding the garden of Eden against humankind.

In the Book of Ezekiel, the prophet’s vision depicts them as having four faces: that of a lion, an ox, an eagle, and a human. They have straight legs, four wings, and bull hooves for feet that gleam like polished brass. One set of wings covers their body, and the other is used for flight.

This description is far from how we imagine the Cherub now. While scholars credit its modern-day image to Greek and Roman deities like Cupid, they attribute the detail in the Bible to cultural exchanges with ancient Babylonia, Syria, and Egypt. The Cherub’s function of guarding sacred places and their mixed appearance is similar to that of the Babylonian Lamassu, Egyptian Sphynx, and Hittite Griffin.

Malakim

By Guido Reni (1636), Public Domain

The term Angel comes from the Greek word Angelos, which originated from the Hebrew word for messenger, Malakh. The…

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