(Times of Israel) It's easy to walk past the gray-brown slab of basalt in the Israel Museum’s archaeology wing and pay it no heed. (I confess to have done so numerous times; the silver amulets bearing ancient renditions of the priestly blessing garner far more attention.) But etched into the monumental stele’s pocked surface is a mysterious figure central to understanding the significance of the lunar god in ancient Canaan and the origins of the Jewish veneration of the new moon.
The nearly four-foot-tall volcanic stone is marked with a striking bull-headed figure whose powerful gaze bores through the viewer. Its horns bend inward like the sliver of a day-old moon. Beneath its massive skull stands a vertical line transected by two downward facing curves which appear to be limbs. Girt at its midsection is a sword of a style typical of the period (examples of which are found in display cases just feet away). At its right hip sits a tiny rosette believed to represent the four phases of the moon.
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What deity it represents, or in fact what the figure is at all, remains the subject of scholarly debate.