The Bull from the Sea: Geshur’s Chief Deity?
A bull-headed figure stares belligerently from this basalt stela, challenging archaeologists with an apparently unprecedented find. Stelae are rarely found in Israel, though they have been discovered throughout the rest of the ancient Near East. Unearthed during the 1997 season at Bethsaida, the bull stela faces front and is armed with long horns and a short dagger. A strap wraps around the bull’s body and the stela’s frame, and four small circular projections protrude from a spot next to the bull’s chest. The stela had been smashed; it was found in pieces, with its upper portion lying at the foot of a high place beside a massive city gate on Bethsaida’s east side. The extensive architecture by the gate suggests the site, which once was on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, was the capital of the Geshurites, the inhabitants of a district between Philistia and Sinai (Joshua 13:2). The bull depicts the city’s chief deity, who symbolically embraces and protects the city. Likely destroyed during the Assyrian conquest of Tiglath-pileser III (732 B.C.E.), the stela recalls Lamentations 4:1: “The sacred stones lie scattered at the head of every courtyard.”