This bronze bull is a special find from a fairly remote open air cult site on the summit of a ridge in the northern part of the Samaria hills. The site is at least 6.5km away from the closest major city, though there were a number of small Iron Age settlements in the surrounding area. The site was only used for a short period of time in the twelfth century BCE before being abandoned, leaving little evidence of activity.
The bull is bronze and would have had eyes made of a different material, pressed into the depressions in the face. The head is somewhat triangular and the legs have been made by looping the metal up over the back, creating a ridge. The tail is coiled on the right thigh, which is unusual; bulls were often depicted with the tail hanging between the back legs. The size of the object—quite large for a bronze figurine from Israel—suggests that it was itself a cult object, rather than a votive item brought as an offering.
Bulls held an important position in ancient Levantine cult. They were associated with storm-gods, especially Hadad and Baal, but they could also symbolise other deities, including Yhwh. They represented the god's power and strength. Bulls are also sometimes used as pedestals for deities who stand on their backs; a bull figurine could thus represent the deity itself, or symbolise the presence of the deity. The golden calves in the biblical tradition provide a textual parallel to figurines such as this one; the golden calves may have been thought to represent Yhwh directly, or to symbolise his presence by serving as a pedestal for his invisible manifestation. The Megiddo Kernos in this collection may also attest to the cultic importance of the bull in early Iron Age society.
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