calf and model shrine

Statuette of a calf and model shrine
Tel Ashkelon, Israel
Middle Canaanite period, first half of 2nd millennium BCE
Statuette: Bronze with silver plate Model shrine: Pottery
Statuette: H: 10.5 cm; L: 11 cm Model shrine: H: 25 cm; W: 12 cm
Israel Antiquities Authority
Accession number: IAA 1990-1119; 1990-1120
Photo © IMJ, by Avraham Hay

During the Middle Canaanite period Ashkelon was a preeminent port city on the eastern Mediterranean coast. Recent excavations of a temple at Tel Ashkelon uncovered a pottery model shrine in which a silver-plated bronze statuette of a calf had been placed. This is the only instance known in which the statue of an animal was discovered within its shrine. Literary sources reveal that the bull and calf were attributes of El and Baal, the chief gods of the Canaanite pantheon. Syrian cylinder-seals of this period show Baal Hadad, the storm god, riding on the back of a bull. It would be natural for the storm god to be worshiped at the temple in Ashkelon since his blessing would be especially important to a city situated so close to the sea, with its economy greatly dependent on the climate. The bull and calf are later mentioned in the Bible in the stories of the golden calf made during the Israelites' exodus from Egypt (Exodus 32), and Jeroboam's commissioning of two golden calves to be placed in the temples of Dan and Bethel (I Kings 12), which the prophets vehemently condemned as a symbol of idolatry.

The Israel Museum, Publisher: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 2005
Zalmona, Yigal, ed., The Israel Museum at 40: Masterworks of Beauty and Sanctity, The Israel Museum, Jerusalem, 2005