Courtesy Bethsaida Excavations

Bethsaida’s guardian. The long, crescent-shaped horns and short dagger of this bull-headed figure, found shattered in five pieces around a cultic niche at Bethsaida’s entrance, unsubtly say to enemies, “Keep out!” Rounded lines for arms and legs fill out the figure. The excavators believe the 3-foot-high stele depicts one of the city’s chief deities, symbolically protecting the city.

Only three other figures resembling this one have been discovered, all of them from Mesopotamia. Specialists in Near Eastern iconography suggest that these bull-headed figures represent the moon god because Mesopotamian texts refer to the moon god as a bull. Moon god worship was extremely popular in ancient Mesopotamia, particularly in places associated in the Bible with Abraham—indicating that this tradition may have influenced early Israelite religion. The excavators suggest that Bethsaida may have been the point of entry of this cult into ancient Israel.