Excavating at Bethsaida, just north of the Sea of Galilee, we uncovered an extremely beautiful and rare find last summer—a small statuette of the Egyptian god Pataekos, a protective deity. Although images of Pataekos are not uncommon finds on archaeological digs, the delicate rendering of the Bethsaida statuette makes it highly unusual.

The 2.4-inch figurine depicts Pataekos as a male dwarf with a large head, protruding ears, bulbous abdomen, deep navel and fat, curved legs. He wears a tightly fitting cap and an elaborate beaded necklace and carries two knives or short swords. The figurine probably once stood on a crocodile, as Pataekos often appears, but a sharp cut removed the back of the statuette, its left arm and leg, and its original base. Sculpted of argilite, a stone composed primarily of compacted clay, the figurine was once coated with a turquoise Egyptian glaze called faience. (Traces of the glaze appear on the statue’s neck, arm and upper leg.)

The earliest reference to Pataekos appears in a description by the fifth-century B.C.E. Greek historian Herodotus. He wrote: “There is an image of Hephaestus [a Greek deity identified with the Egyptian god Ptah] very like the Phoenician Pataeki, which the Phoenicians carry round on the prow of their ships. I will describe this, for those who have not seen it, as the likeness of a dwarf” (Herodotus III.37, translated by David Grene). Based on this passage and our knowledge of Egyptian deities, we have identified our figurine as a dwarf-like image related to Ptah. (In Egypt too, such images are called Pataeki.) The newly discovered figurine even wears the necklace and tight cap typical of Ptah, the Egyptian patron god of artists and craftsmen.

We discovered the statuette in a back room of a public building at Bethsaida, thought to be a ninth-century B.C.E. palace, which has been the source of several outstanding finds, including a stamped handle depicting a dancer and a Phoenician bulla (a lump of clay into which a seal was pressed), indicating that someone on the Phoenician coast once sent a letter to a palace resident. Next summer we will continue to investigate these Iron Age buildings.

The palace sits on a mound facing a contemporaneous plaza, city wall and temple erected, apparently, by Geshurites, the people from the land of Geshur. The kingdom of Geshur extended east and northeast of the Sea of Galilee. Bethsaida appears to have been the largest city, and perhaps the capital, of the land. Perhaps our figurine was once brought from Egypt to a Geshurite royal family as a protective amulet.

Bethsaida became an important town in Jesus’ time. Home of his disciples Philip, Andrew and Peter, Bethsaida was where Jesus healed a blind man (Mark 8:22–26) and was near the deserted area where Jesus fed 5,000 men with five loaves and two fish (Luke 9:12–17).