Stela Decorated with a Bulls head

Stela decorated with a bull's head
Bethsaida, northwest of the Sea of Galilee, Israel
9th-8th centuries BCE
H: 115 cm
Israel Antiquities Authority
Accession number: IAA 97-3451
Photo © IMJ, by Ilan Sztulman

The relief appearing on this stela is somewhat deceptive. At first glance, it appears to depict a pole surmounted by a bull's head. Closer examination, however, reveals a pair of arms and legs, suggesting a human figure. This impression is strengthened by the sword suspended diagonally across the figure's torso. The ambiguity of the image has led to difficulty in identifying the deity it represents. In the ancient Near East, the bull's head - the one indisputable feature of the relief - was a symbol of both the storm god, Hadad, and the moon god. The moon god was responsible for the swelling of the rivers and the herds of cattle, and was therefore also a god of fertility and abundance. He shared the latter role with Hadad, responsible for rainfall, the fecundity of all living things, and the fruitfulness of the soil (which accounts for Hadad's association with the bull, a beast that played a vital role in agriculture). Since both deities were symbolized by the bull, it is difficult to determine which one is represented by the relief; the image may have stood for both of these great gods. Excavations at Bethsaida have revealed a strong, fortified city. Next to the city gate stood a courtyard, in which this stela was found in scattered pieces, along with other ritual objects, suggesting that the courtyard was used for cultic purposes.

The Israel Museum, Publisher: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 2005

Digital presentation of this object was made possible by: The Pidem Fund, London