Erich Lessing

Enigmatic serpents coil around this cylindrical stand from Beth-Shean, and one seems poised to strike at the bird in the window.

Serpent Stand: Birds perch on the two handles and in other windows not pictured. Acting as a kind of cultic flower pot for agricultural fertility rituals, such cylinders received water libations that led to the sprouting of seeds planted within them. These stands may have been used in other types of rituals also.

Images of serpents and birds (believed to be doves) are common on the cult objects of Beth Shean. The dove, regarded as a harbinger of spring, perhaps represented the fertility goddess Ashtoreth, often described as the “divine courtesan,” while the serpent was sometimes associated with chthonic deities and may symbolize the season of death, winter.