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I understand that the Golden Calves set up by king Jeroboam at Dan and Bethel were images of Yahweh-Elohim, also called "EL" in the Hebrew Bible. In Iron Age Samaria was found an ostraca or potsherd inscribed egel-yah, "bull-calf Yah," which suggests for me that Yahweh was worshipped as a Golden Calf by Israel.
Scholars have noted that EL, the supreme god of the Canaanite pantheon, and father of all the gods and goddesses, is frequently addressed as "Bull" or "Bull-EL" in various religious compositions found at ancient Late Bronze Age Ugarit, modern Ras Shamras, in coastal northern Syria. Israel has preserved traditions that her ancestors were of northern Syria (Haran), so as a God of northern Syria, he may have been portrayed originally in Late Bronze Age times in a "bovine" form.
Also of interest is that other traditions have Israel honoring Yahweh-Elohim in the southern Sinai at Mount Horeb/Sinai.
The biblical text makes an amazing statement about the Golden Calf, it is apparently identified with Yahweh by Aaron, who proclaims after fashioning it that, the morrow or following day is to be a feast day in the Calf's honor. The surprise? He declares that the morrow is to be a feast day for "THE LORD," which, in Hebrew is rendered "YAHWEH" (Ex 32:5)! For further details, cf. my article titled The Egyptian Origins of Israel's Golden Calf Worship.
Other biblical verses in metaphorical language speak of Israel being led in safety through the Sinai wilderness by their God, who is likened to a "powerful horned Ox" (Nu 24:8). In fact, the English word "LORD" at times in Hebrew is "EL," which in ancient Proto-Sinaitic alphabetic inscriptions is rendered by two pictographic signs, the head of a long-horned OX (elpeh, Alph) and a curved shepherd's crook stick, called an Ox-goad (lamd). The Hebrew God that led Israel through the southern Sinai has his very name, "EL" preserved on the mountainsides in Proto-Sinatic as a long-horned Ox. So, although no statue of God exists in the southern Sinai, we do have an "image" of him as a "Bovine" creature in his very name, "EL"!
At a caravansari in the southern Negev of the Iron Age II, grafitti drawings were found on a shattered pithos of "Yahweh of Samaria" whose crooked arm is interlocked by "His Asherah." What is amazing is that Yahweh and his Asherah appear to possess "bovine" features according to some scholars (others argue the features are not bovine). I suspect that the features are "bovine." For further details cf. my article titled "Kuntillet Ajrud and Yahweh and his Asherah."
Other scholars have suggested that the Hebrew God, Yahweh-Elohim evolved over time, absorbing the epithets, feats and persona of earlier gods and goddesses (cf. the works of Professor Frank Moore Cross and Mark S. Smith), a position I am in agreement (cf. my bibliography page for their works).
I understand that the Primary History, Genesis-Kings was written ca. 560 B.C. in the Exile, but I allow that it has preserved traditions going back to Late Bronze Age times and perhaps even earlier, to Hyksos times.
While the Hebrews may not have been allowed to make a picture of Yahweh to worship, as this was condemned at Mount Sinai in the 10 Commandments or Decalogue, they were allowed to metaphorically "describe" their God using the imagery that applied to gods and goddesses of their contemporaries. It is from the iconographic representations of their contemporaries that we can draw together the various images of Yahweh.
The below illustrations show various gods with "bovine" features. Throughout the Ancient Near East, it was commonplace to speak of the gods in metaphorical language as "strong bulls," and the female gods as "wild cows." Why? The strength of the wild bull was greatly admired and the kings and princes of the Ancient Near East who wished to ascribe this strength to their deities, kings and princes.
I understand that Yahweh is an amalgum of earlier gods and goddesses, EL, Baal, Reshep, Seth, Pharaoh, Horus, En-Ki, Ea, En-Lil, Marduk, etc.
The following illustrations show gods and goddesses in "bovine forms"
The below Phoenician seals are from the Post-Exilic Persian Era (cf. the following url for all the details on these images including additional seals not appearing below):
Beazley Archive: Gems: Classical Phoenician Scarab Corpus
A bull-headed god (Baal? Reshep? Pharaoh?) wearing the white crown of Pharaoh (?) with tassel, smites an Asiatic enemy. The Phoenicians, Syrians and Canaanites came under Egyptian domination by the Egyptian New Kingdom, 1560-1200 B.C. Their art developed into a syncretic form, that is, at times they show their native gods and goddesses with Egyptian regal paraphernalia (crowns, winged sun disks, flying scarab beetles). This iconographic tradition extended down to Hellenistic times in these areas. Israel in Iron II times also adopted similar Phoenician forms. In Late Bronze Age myths, Baal was a war-god and storm-god, the thunder was his "bellowing bull-voice." The Egyptians assimilated him with their god, Seth, and he also appears to have been assimilated to Reshep, the Syrian war and plague god. In the Bible Reshep accompanies the Hebrew God in the Sinai as a minor deity.
Bull-headed god, raises hand in a benediction/blessing, and holds a staff in the other. Before him is an incense stand, with smoke rising from an incense ball. The throne he sits upon appears to me, have a bull's tail.
A Goddess (?) with bull's horns and human face, raises a hand in benediction/blessing. Holding a staff in the other. Her crown may be the Egyptian white crown with a tassel. She sits upon a winged Sphinx throne. Such thrones appear in Phoenician art forms from Iron Age times. Some scholars suggest that Yahweh's "Cherubim-throne" atop the Ark of the Covenant is modeled after similar Phoenician-Canaanite thrones of the Late Bronze and Iron Age eras. In the Canaanite Late Bronze Age myths, Baal the storm god could assume the form of a bull and mate with his sister Anat, who asumed the form of heifer, their child being a bull-calf. At times, Anat is shown with a helmet having bull's horns, brandishing a warrior's weapons (she being a war-goddess).
Bull-headed god seated on a Winged Sphinx throne (understood by some scholars to be a Cherubbim throne), with raised hand for a benediction/blessing, staff in other hand. Incense burned before him. He wears the White crown of Pharaoh with a tassel, rather like the crown worn by the Late Bronze Age god Reshep (a Syrian war-god, whose names may mean "burning," as in fever, a god of plague).
Kuntillet`Ajrud, Sinai Caravansarai, ca. first half of 8th centry BCE. Drawing of Yahweh of Samaria and his Asherah on a pottery shard (Pithos A). Inscription in Hebrew reads "Thus says...Say to Yehalle[lel], Yo`asa and...I bless you (herewith- or: have blessed you) to/before Yahweh of Samaria and his asherah." Note the portion of bridled horse to the left of the figures (pp.225-6, "Baal, El, Yahweh, and 'His Asherah'," Othmar Keel and Christoph Uehlinger. Gods, Goddesses, and Images of God in Ancient Israel. Minneapolis. Fortress Press. 1998).
Baal-Adad, god of the Storm Cloud, storm clouds being called "Adad's Calves" (Yahweh manifested himself at Mt. Sinai as a storm cloud, shortly after a "Golden Calf" was made). From a stela found at Bethsaida, Samaria. Note the f"ull-frontal view" reminescent of "Yahweh of Samaria and his Asherah" found at Kuntillet`Ajrud. This maybe the genetic prototype behind the Kuntillet rendering? Baal-Hadad transformed himself into a Bull in order to mate with his lover-sister, Anat who transformed herself into a Heifer. A potsherd found in Samaria was inscribed egeliah, "bull-calf of yah" suggesting Israel understood the calf was associated with the worship of Yah or Yahweh, not some Egyptian god like the Apis bull. As Yahweh was also called Baal (cf. Hosea 2:16), perhaps Yah/Yahweh, like Baal, could assume the form bull or bull calf (Anat's search for her dead lover, Baal was portrayed as "like a cow seeking after its calf" suggesting Baal in death could be likened to a calf? In other words, I am suggesting that the Golden Calf was Yah/Yahweh and he was a type of Baal, and assimilated bull-calf aspects of Baal (p. 55, figure1.28, Ephraim Stern. Archaeology of the Land of the Bible, The Assyrian, Babylonian, and Persian Periods, 732-332 BCE. New York. Doubleday. 2001).
One of the Hebrew words for "God" is EL. Below is the word EL in Proto-Sinatic pictographic form. The letter E (Hebrew: eleph) is the drawing of a long-horned ox's head; the letter L (Hebrew lambdeh) in Proto-Sinatic is an ox-goad to the right of the ox's head. To the left of the ox-head is an Egyptian inscription of Pharaoh Amenemhat III (ca. 1929-1895 B.C., 12th Dynasty). This phenomenon led Sir Alan H. Gardiner to suggest that the Proto-Sinatic inscriptions were of the time period of Amenemhet III (cf. photo on p. 142. Raphael Giveon. The Stones of Sinai Speak. Tokyo. Gakuseisha. 1978). So, God's name (EL) does appear in the southern Sinai where Israel is understood to have worshipped him.
Nu 24:8 RSV,
"God [EL] brings him out of Egypt; he has as it were the horns of the wild ox..."
Silver-plated bronze figurine group (Late Bronze Age). Figure in center appears to possess the muzzle or head of horned bull or calf with a human body. IF A BULL, is this Baal-Adad or Bull-El? Flanking him are perhaps priests or minor attending deities?
(p.185, fig. 603-604, from Ras Schamra, ancient Ugarit. H. Th. Bossert. AltSyrien Kunst und Handwerk In Cypern, Syrien, Palastina, Transjordanien und Arabien Von den Anfangen bis zum Volligen Aufgehen in der Griechisch-Romischen Kultur. Verlag Ernst Wasmuth. Tubingen. 1951)
Youthful Baal Adad (?) with horned helmet, standing, hurling a missing thunderbolt (?), and seated on a throne. Baal-Adad was a Storm-cloud god, who took the form of a Bull to mate with his sister Anat as a Cow. She gives birth to a bull-calf. Storm clouds were called "Adad's Calves." At Sinai God manifests himself as a Storm-cloud, shorty after, Israel makes a Golden Calf, declaring this is "the god" that brought them up out of Egypt.
Note: Dever identifies these figures as El (Bull-El, father of Baal-Adad), but the Ugaritic texts mention Anat threatening to smite El's pate, blood will cover his "GRAY BEARD." I thus understand this youthful, BEARDLESS god to be Baal. After Baal's death, Anath "seeks after him as Cow would seek after its calf," perhaps suggesting Baal could take the form of a bull-calf in a resurrection from death as Storm-cloud. (p.131, William G. Dever. Recent Archaeological Discoveries and Biblical Research. Seattle & London. University of Washington Press. 1990)
The below Sun-boat/bark with Horus seated with hawk head, and sun disk. Before him is a star, a bull calf, and two scyamore trees. (cf. Vol.12, p.36, figure 22. Louis Herbert Gray. The Mythology of All Races, Egyptian and Indo-Chinese. Boston. Marshall Jones Company. 1918)
According to Old Kingdom Pyramid Texts, Pharaoh is called "THE GOLDEN CALF" and a Star that rides the solar bark or boat which carries the Sun across the heavens each day. Perhaps Yahweh's dawning forth at day break over Paran, Sinai and Edom in the Bible recalls him as the Golden Calf?
In some Egyptian myths the Sun rose each day from between two sycamore trees (Hathor being identified as a Sycamore tree) of Turquoise at Heliopolis (Biblical On). The sun was likened to a bull-calf as it arose at dawn, being born of Hathor the cow-goddess (and goddess of Turquoise miners in the Sinai) who personified the sky giving birth to the sun. The sun at times appears in Egyptian art with the wings of Horus the hawk, who was assimilated to the sun. The sun was frequently portrayed as being ferried by a solar bark or boat across the heavenly Nile.
Could the biblical injunctions against Calf worship and the planting of an asherah tree near Yahweh's altar be a clue that in the Late Bronze Age, the Canaanites assimilated Egyptian solar beliefs and motifs to the worship of the Canaanite high god, El and later to Yahweh?
In the below scene we have an adoration of the rising sun between two sycamore trees, which is also represented as a white bull-calf between the trees. In Egyptian myths from Heliopolis (Greek: "City of the Sun"), biblical ON, the sun was said to rise each day between two scyamore trees. Other myths portrayed the sun as being born each morning as a BULL-CALF, from his mother, the "Heavenly Cow," who personified the Sky, called either Nut or in other myths, HATHOR, who was also represented as being a Sycamore Tree (in some myths the sun is born of a Tree, in others of a giant Lotus blossom). In still other myths, a Cow was impregnated by a beam of light from the sun, and a white bull-calf was born which became the sacred Apis Bull. I suspect that the rising sun between the trees and the white Bull-Calf are allusions to the sun as the Calf born each day of Hathor/Nut.
"The sycamore itself was a tree of particular mythical significance. According to Chapter 109 of the Book of the Dead, twin 'Sycamores of Turquoise' were believed to stand at the eastern gate of heaven from which the sun god Re emerged each day, and these same two trees sometimes appear in New Kingdom tomb paintings with a young bull calf emerging between them as a symbol of the sun. While the cosmic tree could thus take on a male aspect as a form of the solar god Re-Herakhty, the Sycamore was especially regarded as a manifestation of the goddesses Nut, Isis and Hathor- who was given the epithet "Lady of the Sycamore." (p.117, "Tree." Richard H. Wilkinson. Reading Egyptian Art, A Hieroglyphic Guide to Ancient Egyptian Painting and Sculpture. London. Thames & Hudson. 1992)
Hathor/Nut was at times portrayed in myths not only as the sky giving birth to the Sun, but also in tomb paintings as a Sycamore tree, providing food and drink in the Afterworld to the Righteous Dead. So the rising Sun and Bull-Calf associated with the Sycamore trees in this mural may be alluding to Hathor giving birth to the rising sun and bull-calf. Hathor was also the "Goddess of Turquoise" and honored with shrines at the Copper Mines in the Sinai (the mining camps of Serabit el Khadim and Timna in the Arabah).
(cf. p.28, Tomb of Arinefer, Thebes, 20th Dynasty. Robert Boulanger. Egyptian and Near Eastern Painting. New York. Funk & Wagnalls. 1965 [Note: Wilkinson dates this mural to the 19th Dynasty, cf. p.116, Reading Egyptian Art)
Yahweh-Elohim as the "Golden Calf"
(the rising Sun at dawn, honored by the Egyptians) :
Below, a Bronze Bull covered in Gold Leaf, from a Phoenician Temple at Byblos, Phoenicia. The Bull was associated with the Syrian (Ugaritic) gods El, called Bull-El, and Baal, also called Baal-Hadad. Thunderclouds which brought rain, lighting and thunder, were called "Hadad's CALVES". Yahweh- Elohim's manifestation at Mt. Sinai was as a Thundercloud, shortly thereafter Aaron makes a Golden Calf for Israel to adore.
(cf. for the photo, p. 80. Reader's Digest. The Great People of the Bible and How They Lived. Pleasantville, New York. 1974).
Below, a Silver plated over bronze, bull-calf from Ashkelon, Canaan.Literary sources reveal that the bull and calf were attributes of El and Baal, the chief gods of the Ugaritic pantheons (p.59. "Chalcolithic and Canaanite Periods." Irene Lewitt, et al. Editors. The Israel Museum, Jerusalem. New York. The Vendome Press. 1995).
Note: Ashkelon WAS NOT a Philistine city ca. 2000-1500 B.C. The Philistines arrived ca. 1174 B.C. and destroyed Ashkelon (later rebuilding it), dispossessing the native Canaanites of their lands. I have argued that the Golden Calf is not an Egyptian phenomena so much as a Canaanite god, it being a form of Baal-Hadad and of Yahweh (Hebrew: Egel-yah, "bull-calf Yah"). Yahweh was also called Baal according to Hosea 2:16. I suspect, along with other scholars, that Yahweh absorbed the epithets and characteristics of the Canaanite gods Bull-El and Baal-Hadad. In erecting a Golden Calf in Yahweh's temples at Dan and Bethel, Jeroboam was merely honoring Yahweh as Egeliah, "the bull-calf iah" (as in Hezekiah).
Syrian and Canaanite Bull Gods:
Illustrations of Genesis 1-9 (Creation to Flood)
Yahweh-Elohim's Prototype, the Sumerian god Enki or Ea
I understand that Genesis' God, Yahweh-Elohim, is to some degree, a reformatting and transformation of the Sumerian god called Enki, "Lord-Earth," later called by the Babylonians Ea, "House of Water," according to some scholars.
Enki/Ea shares several attributes with Yahweh-Elohim:
1) Both are credited with creating man.
2) Both make man naked and leave him in that state for an undetermined period of time.
"Of him whom thy hand has fashioned, I have decreed the fate,
Have given him bread to eat;
Do thou decree the fate of him whom my hand has fashioned,
Do thou give him bread to eat."
(p. 71. "The Creation of Man." Samuel Noah Kramer. Sumerian Mythology, A Study of Spiritual and Literary Achievement in the Third Millennium B. C. Philadelphia. University of Pennsylvania Press. 1944, 1961, 1972)
Aaron declared at Mount Sinai, after making the Golden Calf, that the morrow would be a celebration to the Lord, which in Hebrew is rendered Yahweh, NOT "the Lord," suggesting he is associated with the calf (Ex 32:4-6). In Mesopotamian hymns the god Enki declares he the first-born of a wild Ox, the supreme god, An or Anu. This suggests to me that Enki may have been envisioned at times as a bull-calf in his being the "first-born" of An the wild ox. Mesopotamian art forms show Enki wearing a crown composed of several layers of bull's horns stacked atop each other. On one seal his foot rests on the back of a recumbant bull. Enki also in some hymns declares himself a mighty bull. So, to the degree that Enki was likened to a bull-calf and a bull, and shares a number of attributes with Genesis' Yahweh-Elohim, I believe the Aaronic association of the Golden Calf with Yahweh is probably correct.
Enki, magnifying himself (emphasis mine):
"I am the true seed engendered by the GREAT WILD OX, the eldest son of An..." (p. 94. "Enki and the World Order." Samuel Noah Kramer. History Begins At Sumer: Twenty-seven "Firsts" in Man's Recorded History. Garden City, New York. Doubleday Anchor Books. 1959 reprint of 1956 History Begins at Sumer by The Falcon's Wing Press)
Kramer later in 1989 re-translated the above verse (emphasis mine):
"Lord who walks nobly on heaven and earth, self-reliant,
father Enki, engendered by A BULL,
begotten by a WILD BULL,
prized by Enlil, the Great Kur,
Loved by holy An."
(p. 39. "Enki and Inanna: The Organization of the Earth and Its Cultural Processes." Samuel Noah Kramer & John Maier. Myths of Enki,The Crafty God. New York. Oxford University Press. 1989)
Kramer's explanation, below, of how the ancient Sumerians sought to explain the creation of the world and man, _for me_ applies just as well to Genesis' fanciful explanation of the creation of the earth and man:
"...modern thinking man is usually prepared to admit the relative character of his conclusions and is skeptical of all absolute answers. Not so the Sumerian thinker; he was convinced that his thoughts on the matter were absolutely correct and that he knew exactly how the universe was created and operated."
(p. 82. "Man's First Cosmogony and Cosmology." Samuel Noah Kramer. History Begins At Sumer: Twenty-seven "Firsts" in Man's Recorded History. Garden City, New York. Doubleday Anchor Books. 1959 reprint of 1956 History Begins at Sumer by The Falcon's Wing Press)
"The mythographers were scribes and poets whose main concern was the glorification and exhaltation of the gods and their deeds...The aim of the myth-makers was to compose a narrative poem that would explain one or another of these notions and practices in a manner that would be appealing, insipring, and entertaining. They were not concerned with proofs and arguments directed to the intellect. Their first interest was in telling a story that would appeal to the emotions. Their main literary tools, therefore, were not logic and reason, but imagination and fantasy. In telling their story, these poets did not hesitate to invent motives and incidents patterned on human action which could not possibly have any basis in reasonable and speculative thought. Nor did they hesitate to adopt legendary and folkloristic motifs that had nothing to do with rational cosmological inquiry and inference...The mature and reflective Sumerian thinker had the mental capacity of thinking logically and coherently on any problems, including those concerned with the origin and operation of the universe. His stumbling block was the lack of scientific data at his disposal. Furthermore, he lacked such fundamental intellectual tools as definition and generalization, and had practically no insight into the the processes of growth and development, since the principle of evolution, which seems so obvious now, was entirely unknown to him." (pp. 80-81. "Man's first Cosmogony and Cosmology." Samuel Noah Kramer. History Begins At Sumer: Twenty-seven "Firsts" in Man's Recorded History. Garden City, New York. Doubleday Anchor Books. 1959 reprint of 1956 History Begins at Sumer by The Falcon's Wing Press)
Below, a cylinder sea impression showing Enki seated on a throne. a king approaches to request on behalf of his people, freshwaters for the irrigation-fed gardens of Lower Mesopotamia. Enki as the god of freshwaters, presents him a pot with a stream of waters and fish . At Enki's feet is a goat-fish, one of his symbols. Enki in myths lived beneath the earth in the abyss called the Abzu or Apsu and sent up via springs and fountains, freshwaters for rivers, which in turn were accessed via canals and irrigation networks for the "gardens of the gods" maintained by man on the gods' behalf, near Sumerian cities. Enki had made man to tend and till the gardens of gods, including his own garden at Eridu in edin-the-floodplain. Enki wears a crown of layered bulls' horns. Behind him, lions guard his portals or doors to his mythical Apsu abode at the city of Eridu (for the photo. cf. p.123. "The Enthroned Enki." Samuel Noah Kramer & John Maier. Myths of Enki,The Crafty God. New York. Oxford University Press. 1989)
Below, another cylinder sealing showing Enki with two streams gushing from his shoulders (perhaps symbolizing the Tigris and Euphrates?). In Hymns he is credited as filling these rivers with his sperm which is portrayed as crystal clear water; the hymn likens him in this act as a rampant bull and the Tigris and Euphrates as wild cows eager to be impregnated by him. Other gods are Utu the sun god arising from the mountain of the east with his sword-saw (perhaps the Zagros range), and the goddess Inanna greets him. The two faced god is Isimud, Enki's vizier. The god with bow and arrow might be Ninurta. Note the bull beneath Enki's raised foot. (for the below photo cf. p. 122. "The Cylinder of Adda." Samuel Noah Kramer & John Maier. Myths of Enki,The Crafty God. New York. Oxford University Press. 1989)
The peoples of the Ancient Near East (Mesopotamia, Syria, Phoenicia, Canaan, Egypt) greatly admired the strength and power of mighty wild bulls and thus in metaphorical language likened their gods and goddesses to these animals. They also likened their kings, queens, princes and princesses to these animals as well. Hence the reason all the gods in the above seal are shown with crowns or helmets consisting of multiple layers of bulls' horns. The goddess Inanna, whose name means "Queen of Heaven" was likened to a "wild cow," (she was associated with the Venus star and called the "fiery torch" of heaven) the sun, called Utu or Shamash, was at times likened to a bull-calf, so too, the moon, called Nanna or Sin.