Origins and etymology
A pair of shedu
protecting a doorway (the bodies of the creatures extend into the distance)
The origin of the symbolic cherub predates history, and points to the time when humanity began to shape its ideas of supernatural powers by mystic forms, especially the combination of parts of the strongest animals of land and air (the lion and the eagle), which resulted in numerous hybrid figures in Middle Eastern lore and architecture. One of these is the Babylonian lamassu, a protective spirit with a sphinx-like form, possessing the wings of an eagle, the body of a lion, and the head of a king. This was adopted largely in Phoenicia. The wings, because of their artistic beauty, soon became the most prominent part, and animals of various kinds were adorned with wings; consequently, wings were bestowed also upon man, thus forming the stereotypical image of an angel. Another probable source is the human-bodied Hittite griffin, which, unlike other griffins, appear almost always not as a fierce bird of prey, but seated in calm dignity, like an irresistible guardian of holy things; some have proposed that the Hittite word for "griffin" may be cognate with cherubim.
The traditional Hebrew conception of cherubim as guardians of the Garden of Eden is backed by the Semitic belief of beings of superhuman power and devoid of human feelings, whose duty it was to represent the gods, and as guardians of their sanctuaries to repel intruders; these conceptions in turn are similar to an account found on Tablet 9 of the inscriptions found at Nimrud. It has been suggested that the image of cherubim as storm winds explains why they are described as being the chariot of Yahweh in Ezekiel's visions, the Books of Samuel, the parallel passages in the later Books of Chronicles, and passages in the early Psalms: for example "and he rode upon a cherub and did fly: and he was seen upon the wings of the wind."
Dhorme argued in 1926 that cognates of the Hebrew noun could be found in the Akkadian words kāribu and the diminutive kurību; these terms are used to refer to intercessory beings (and statues of such beings) that plead with the gods on behalf of humanity. He thus concludes that cherubim had an intercessory role. This conclusion, based on extra-biblical sources, is still drawn upon in relatively recent commentaries and articles. Friedrich Delitzch connected the Hebrew word cherubim with the Assyrian terms kirubu (shedu- a being who is very similar to the lamassu in both appearance and role, but has the body of a bull) and karabu ('great, mighty'). Karppe states that the name Cherubim is Babylonian, and that it does not mean 'powerful', but, however, 'propitious'. However, while the shedu were popular in Mesopotamia, archaeological remains from the Levant suggest that they were quite rare in the immediate vicinity of the Israelites. In particular, in a scene reminiscent of Ezekiel's dream, the Megiddo Ivories depict an unknown king being carried on his throne by hybrid winged-creatures.