The identification of the animal on tier 1 of the Taanach stand is important to understanding the cultic significance of tier 1 (above) and tier 3, as well as of the whole stand. Although the animal has often been identified as a bull, and thus could be a symbol of Baal or Yahweh, two zoological experts have recently confirmed the view that the frolicking animal is actually a horse—an animal associated with Yahweh, but not with Baal. The animal’s full tail, erect ears, long muzzle and large hooves all support this conclusion. The absence of a mane does not alter this identification; rather, the discovery of numerous Iron Age horse figurines without manes, including a seventh-century B.C.E. horse (below) from Jerusalem, suggests that this was a customary way to depict horses.

The two freestanding pillars depicted on the edge of tier 1 resemble the pillars that frequently marked temple entrances in Syria-Palestine. They provide a temple setting for the tier 1 scene and bring to mind the monumental pillars Jachin and Boaz, which stood at the entrance to Solomon’s Temple in Jerusalem (1 Kings 7:21).

Above the back of the Taanach horse rests a blazing sun disk—embellished with either wings or rays. The juxtaposition of horse, sun and pillars recalls an incident in the Bible involving Josiah, the reform-minded king of Judah who sought to purge the Temple of pagan practices: “He [Josiah] removed the horses that the kings of Judahhad dedicated to the sun, at the entrance to the house of the Lord [the Jerusalem Temple] … ; and he burned the chariots of the sun with fire” (2 Kings 23:11).

Glaring cherubim protect the vacant space in the center of tier 3 of the Taanach stand, just as two cherubim guarded the seemingly empty shrine, or Holy of Holies, of Solomon’s Temple, where the invisible god Yahweh dwelled (1 Kings 6:23–28). Measuring about 15 feet tall, the Biblical cherubim formed Yahweh’s throne (2 Kings 19:15), and their wings “shielded the Ark” (1 Kings 8:7).

Just as tiers 2 and 4 depict Asherah’s symbol, the tree of life, and herself, respectively, so tiers 1 and 3 appear to represent Yahweh’s symbols—the horse and the sun—and the god himself: an abstract, invisible deity illustrated by empty space.