Israel Museum/N. Slapak

The Taanach cult stand. Four tiers of cryptic scenes ornament this tenth-century B.C.E. cult stand, one of the most iconographically elaborate stands ever discovered in Israel. Excavated at Taanach in 1968, the clay stand measures about 1.75 feet high and was probably used for offerings or libations, although its exact function remains unknown.

Two pillars frame the stand’s top tier (tier 1), which depicts a horse (often thought to be a bull) with a sun disk above its back. On tier 2, growling lions flank two ibex that reach into a stylized tree. Two cherubim stand on the edges of tier 3, with an empty space between them. Tier 4 depicts a naked woman standing between two lions similar to those on tier 2. The lions visually link these two scenes, suggesting that tiers 2 and 4 are tied iconographically as well. The sides of tiers 2, 3 and 4 depict the flanks of the cherubim and lions that gaze out from the front of the stand. On the side of tier 1 are two griffins. The back of the stand is undecorated, except for two holes.

The images on the Taanach cult stand have recently been identified as representations of two Canaanite divinities: the god Baal and the mother goddess commonly known as Asherah. Baal is thus represented by a bull on tier 1, and Asherah is depicted as a nude woman on tier 4 and is symbolized by the tree of life on tier 2. But author J. Glen Taylor argues that Yahweh—not Baal—and Asherah are the true subjects, making tiers 1 (a horse with a sundisk) and 3 (an “invisible” deity between two cherubim) the earliest known iconographic representations of Yahweh. In this interpretation, Asherah is understood to be Yahweh’s consort.