The Nursing Animal Mother was a widespread artistic motif throughout the Mediterranean from the third millennium to approximately the ninth century B.C. It had at least two variations. One, found in the art of Syria-Palestine, depicts two animals of the same species, either a cow suckling her calf or a she-goat nursing her kid. The other variation, known from Babylonia, Ugarit (in northern Syria) and Egypt, depicts the suckled creature as human, in which case the nursing animal mother probably represents a goddess. These scenes recur in different media, from crude designs on pottery to elegant ivories. A number of examples show the nursing mother turning her head sharply backward to observe or groom her suckling young; the earliest examples of this pose, dating from the 17th century B.C., were discovered in Crete.

Swiss scholar Othmar Keel believes that the suckling animal image from Syria-Palestine was an influential symbol in early Israel; he suggests that the life-sustaining relationship of milk and infant may have inspired the biblical prohibition against “boiling a kid in its mother’s milk.” Jacob Milgrom agrees that the mother/kid iconography celebrates the life-sustaining quality of the mother’s milk; however, he observes that the specific artistic elements in the many examples of this motif do not correspond precisely enough to the biblical injunction to explain the biblical passage.

Following are several examples of nursing animal mothers.