Background Bible Study

Ancient Bull Worship
Ancient Manners and Customs, Daily Life, Cultures, Bible Lands

Ancient Bull Fresco from Knossos
Ancient Bull Fresco from Knossos

In the ancient world the bull was a symbol of strength and power. Every culture in the ancient world was connected to bull worship in one way or another. Many people would seek the bull deity for divine blessings, whether for rich crops and a fertile harvest or for victory in battles. Even today in the modern world certain countries recognize the bull is a sacred animal, for example in India the bull is never killed. The ancient Egyptians worshiped the God Hapi, the powerful bull of the Nile River. The Babylonians, the Canaanites, and all the cultures of the near East worshiped bulls.
 

The Apis Bull in Ancient Egypt

The Apis bull was worshiped in ancient Egypt also, it was rare and valuable and had peculiar markings. It had a square mark on its forehead, and also a peculiar mark on its tongue like that of a beetle. The Egyptians would embalm a dead Apis and bury it in a granite coffin. Going way back into Egyptian history even as far back as the second dynasty there were certain animals that symbolized an incarnation of the actual gods. The sacred bull of Memphis, Apis, who had his temple in Egypt, was thought to be an incarnation of Osiris himself. There were certain marks as mentioned upon the body of the Apis which the Egyptians believed were the marks of the inhabitation of Osiris. In fact the very breath of an Apis bull would be considered an Oracle conferring the gift of prophecy. When an Apis bull died there was a great mourning in the land. Throughout the period of the Kings in Israel's history bull worship was prevalent.

The Golden Calf (Exodus 32:1-32:45)

After the Israelites had crossed the Red Sea they journeyed to Mount Sinai, it was here that God gave Moses the 10 Commandments and the plans for his dwelling place, the tabernacle. While Moses was at the top of Mount Sinai, the people of Israel were at the bottom of the mountain and they made a golden calf to worship. Moses had been gone for several days and we can only imagine how Moses felt when he came down the mountain after just having received the laws of God, and the fact that God had forbidden graven images.

Exodus 32:19-24 - And it came to pass, as soon as he came nigh unto the camp, that he saw the calf, and the dancing: and Moses' anger waxed hot, and he cast the tables out of his hands, and brake them beneath the mount. And he took the calf which they had made, and burnt [it] in the fire, and ground [it] to powder, and strawed [it] upon the water, and made the children of Israel drink [of it]. And Moses said unto Aaron, What did this people unto thee, that thou hast brought so great a sin upon them? And Aaron said, Let not the anger of my lord wax hot: thou knowest the people, that they [are set] on mischief.  For they said unto me, Make us gods, which shall go before us: for [as for] this Moses, the man that brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we wot not what is become of him. And I said unto them, Whosoever hath any gold, let them break [it] off. So they gave [it] me: then I cast it into the fire, and there came out this calf.

Illustration Depicting Apis, the Sacred Bull of Memphis
Apis the Sacred Bull of Memphis

Was it a Golden Calf or a Bull?

Was the golden "calf" actually the image of a young bull? The most probable answer is yes, but why did they choose a golden calf or bull? Some say that they were slaves of Egypt were familiar with the bull worship. Others say that in Egypt the people worshipped a living bull and not an image and the Israelites must have got it from the Canaanites, or the Phoenicians who worshiped Astarte who was symbolized in the form of a bull, as was the Phoenician god Baal.

Regardless the bull stands as a powerful animal that symbolizes strength, fierceness, and vital energy.

Later in the history of Israel King Jeroboam led the children of Israel into idolatry and calf (bull) worship was prevalent.

2 Kings 17
Then Jeroboam drove Israel from following the LORD, and made them commit a great sin. For the children of Israel walked in all the sins of Jeroboam which he did; they did not depart from them, until the LORD removed Israel out of His sight, as He had said by all His servants the prophets. So Israel was carried away from their own land to Assyria, as it is to this day.
 

The Raging Bull

Ancient Cistern
Bull going into a violent rage, an ancient symbol of power, strength, and rage.

Babylon and Assyria

The ancient Babylonians and Assyrians had giant winged bulls and lions guarding the entrance to the palaces with inscriptions. The inscriptions contained detailed invocations to the gods, they were written on small cylinders and placed in the temple corners. Many of these cylinders have been discovered.

Transporting the Colossal Bulls

The details in transporting a colossal stone bull was graphically portrayed in a bas-relief excavated at Koyunjik, and now in the British Museum.

Nin and Nergal

The Assyrian god Nin was sometimes called the fish-god and his emblem was the man-bull. Nergal was the winged lion of Assyria. Bel was also a favorite god but Nin and Nergal were the gods who "made sharp the weapons" of kings, and who presided over war and hunting They were most devotedly worshiped. The race of kings was traditionally derived from the god Nin, and his name was given to the mighty capital (Nineveh).

Persian Bulls

The statues found at Persia were very similar to those found at Assyria. At Persepolis the carvings reveal the King of Persia in combat with monsters, and he is also seen sitting on his throne surrounded by his attendants with long processions of royal guards. there are also carvings of many prisoners bringing tribute. Some of the most interesting carvings are the symbolic combats between bulls and lions. There are colossal winged bulls discovered at ancient Persia with human heads guarding the palaces. The mighty hall of Xerxes with all of its elegance and splendor much more elaborate than the great Hall of Karnak and far surpassed anything in ancient Assyria.

The Extinct Giant Bull

The Wild Bull

In ancient Mesopotamia, bulls were long venerated as symbols of majestic strength and potency. Savage wild bulls, called aurochs, once roamed the region, some weighing up to 3000 pounds and the size of an elephant. Julius Caesar wrote about aurochs in Gallic War Chapter 6.28, "...those animals which are called uri. These are a little below the elephant in size, and of the appearance, color, and shape of a bull. Their strength and speed are extraordinary; they spare neither man nor wild beast which they have espied. These the Germans take with much pains in pits and kill them. The young men harden themselves with this exercise, and practice themselves in this sort of hunting, and those who have slain the greatest number of them, having produced the horns in public, to serve as evidence, receive great praise. But not even when taken very young can they be rendered familiar to men and tamed. The size, shape, and appearance of their horns differ much from the horns of our oxen. These they anxiously seek after, and bind at the tips with silver, and use as cups at their most sumptuous entertainments." Read More..

Whatever it was the children of Israel were worshippers of Idols.

The Bible Mentions Idols Often

Romans 2:22 - Thou that sayest a man should not commit adultery, dost thou commit adultery? thou that abhorrest idols, dost thou commit sacrilege?

2 Kings 21:21 - And he walked in all the way that his father walked in, and served the idols that his father served, and worshipped them:

Ezekiel 22:4 - Thou art become guilty in thy blood that thou hast shed; and hast defiled thyself in thine idols which thou hast made; and thou hast caused thy days to draw near, and art come [even] unto thy years: therefore have I made thee a reproach unto the heathen, and a mocking to all countries.

Jeremiah 50:2 - Declare ye among the nations, and publish, and set up a standard; publish, [and] conceal not: say, Babylon is taken, Bel is confounded, Merodach is broken in pieces; her idols are confounded, her images are broken in pieces.

Micah 1:7 - And all the graven images thereof shall be beaten to pieces, and all the hires thereof shall be burned with the fire, and all the idols thereof will I lay desolate: for she gathered [it] of the hire of an harlot, and they shall return to the hire of an harlot.

Ezekiel 6:6 - In all your dwellingplaces the cities shall be laid waste, and the high places shall be desolate; that your altars may be laid waste and made desolate, and your idols may be broken and cease, and your images may be cut down, and your works may be abolished.

Habakkuk 2:18 - What profiteth the graven image that the maker thereof hath graven it; the molten image, and a teacher of lies, that the maker of his work trusteth therein, to make dumb idols?

2 Kings 21:11 - Because Manasseh king of Judah hath done these abominations, [and] hath done wickedly above all that the Amorites did, which [were] before him, and hath made Judah also to sin with his idols:

Ezekiel 18:12 - Hath oppressed the poor and needy, hath spoiled by violence, hath not restored the pledge, and hath lifted up his eyes to the idols, hath committed abomination,

2 Corinthians 6:16 - And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? for ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in [them]; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.

Isaiah 19:1 - The burden of Egypt. Behold, the LORD rideth upon a swift cloud, and shall come into Egypt: and the idols of Egypt shall be moved at his presence, and the heart of Egypt shall melt in the midst of it.

Ezekiel 18:6 - [And] hath not eaten upon the mountains, neither hath lifted up his eyes to the idols of the house of Israel, neither hath defiled his neighbour's wife, neither hath come near to a menstruous woman,

Ezekiel 23:37 - That they have committed adultery, and blood [is] in their hands, and with their idols have they committed adultery, and have also caused their sons, whom they bare unto me, to pass for them through [the fire], to devour [them].

Ezekiel 30:13 - Thus saith the Lord GOD; I will also destroy the idols, and I will cause [their] images to cease out of Noph; and there shall be no more a prince of the land of Egypt: and I will put a fear in the land of Egypt.

Zechariah 13:2 - And it shall come to pass in that day, saith the LORD of hosts, [that] I will cut off the names of the idols out of the land, and they shall no more be remembered: and also I will cause the prophets and the unclean spirit to pass out of the land.

2 Chronicles 15:8 - And when Asa heard these words, and the prophecy of Oded the prophet, he took courage, and put away the abominable idols out of all the land of Judah and Benjamin, and out of the cities which he had taken from mount Ephraim, and renewed the altar of the LORD, that [was] before the porch of the LORD.

Ezekiel 14:7 - For every one of the house of Israel, or of the stranger that sojourneth in Israel, which separateth himself from me, and setteth up his idols in his heart, and putteth the stumblingblock of his iniquity before his face, and cometh to a prophet to enquire of him concerning me; I the LORD will answer him by myself:

Revelation 2:14 - But I have a few things against thee, because thou hast there them that hold the doctrine of Balaam, who taught Balac to cast a stumblingblock before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed unto idols, and to commit fornication.

2 Kings 23:24 - Moreover the [workers with] familiar spirits, and the wizards, and the images, and the idols, and all the abominations that were spied in the land of Judah and in Jerusalem, did Josiah put away, that he might perform the words of the law which were written in the book that Hilkiah the priest found in the house of the LORD.

Ezekiel 18:15 - [That] hath not eaten upon the mountains, neither hath lifted up his eyes to the idols of the house of Israel, hath not defiled his neighbour's wife,

Leviticus 26:1 - Ye shall make you no idols nor graven image, neither rear you up a standing image, neither shall ye set up [any] image of stone in your land, to bow down unto it: for I [am] the LORD your God.

Psalms 106:38 - And shed innocent blood, [even] the blood of their sons and of their daughters, whom they sacrificed unto the idols of Canaan: and the land was polluted with blood.

Revelation 2:20 - Notwithstanding I have a few things against thee, because thou sufferest that woman Jezebel, which calleth herself a prophetess, to teach and to seduce my servants to commit fornication, and to eat things sacrificed unto idols.

Ezekiel 20:8 - But they rebelled against me, and would not hearken unto me: they did not every man cast away the abominations of their eyes, neither did they forsake the idols of Egypt: then I said, I will pour out my fury upon them, to accomplish my anger against them in the midst of the land of Egypt.

Ezekiel 20:31 - For when ye offer your gifts, when ye make your sons to pass through the fire, ye pollute yourselves with all your idols, even unto this day: and shall I be enquired of by you, O house of Israel? [As] I live, saith the Lord GOD, I will not be enquired of by you.

Isaiah 19:3 - And the spirit of Egypt shall fail in the midst thereof; and I will destroy the counsel thereof: and they shall seek to the idols, and to the charmers, and to them that have familiar spirits, and to the wizards.

Ezekiel 44:12 - Because they ministered unto them before their idols, and caused the house of Israel to fall into iniquity; therefore have I lifted up mine hand against them, saith the Lord GOD, and they shall bear their iniquity.

1 Corinthians 10:19 - What say I then? that the idol is any thing, or that which is offered in sacrifice to idols is any thing?

Ezekiel 6:9 - And they that escape of you shall remember me among the nations whither they shall be carried captives, because I am broken with their whorish heart, which hath departed from me, and with their eyes, which go a whoring after their idols: and they shall lothe themselves for the evils which they have committed in all their abominations.

Ezekiel 36:25 - Then will I sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean: from all your filthiness, and from all your idols, will I cleanse you. Some experts believe that Joseph, who was cast into a pit by his brothers, was actually dropped into a cistern:

Idolatry in Smith's Bible Dictionary
Objects of idolatry.--The sun and moon were early selected as outward symbols of all-pervading power, and the worship of the heavenly bodies was not only the most ancient but the most prevalent system of idolatry. Taking its rise in the plains of Chaldea, it spread through Egypt, Greece, Scythia, and even Mexico and Ceylon. Comp. De 4:19; 17:3; Job 31:20-28 In the later times of the monarchy, the planets or the zodiacal signs received, next to the sun and moon, their share of popular adoration. 2Ki 23:5 Beast-worship, as exemplified in the calves of Jeroboam, has already been alluded to of pure hero-worship among the Semitic races we find no trace. The singular reverence with which trees have been honored is not without example in the history of the Hebrew. The terebinth (oak) at Mamre, beneath which Abraham built an altar, Ge 12:7; 13:18 and the memorial grove planted by him at Beersheba, Ge 21:33 were intimately connected with patriarchal worship. Mountains and high places were chosen spots for offering sacrifice and incense to idols, 1Ki 11:7; 14:23 and the retirement of gardens and the thick shade of woods offered great attractions to their worshippers. 2Ki 16:4; Isa 1:29; Ho 4:13 The host of heaven was worshipped on the house-top. 2Ki 23:12; Jer 19:3; 32:29; Zep 1:5 (The modern objects of idolatry are less gross than the ancient, but are none the less idols. Whatever of wealth or honor or pleasure is loved and sought before God and righteousness becomes an object of idolatry.  Read Full Article

Calf Worship in the ISBE Bible Encyclopedia
Ancient Calf Worship. The origin of animal worship is hidden in obscurity, but reverence for the bull and cow is found widespread among the most ancient historic cults. Even in the prehistoric age the influence of the bull symbol was so powerful that it gave its name to one of the most important signs of the Zodiac, and from early historic times the horns of the bull were the familiar emblem of the rays of the sun, and solar gods were very commonly represented as bull-gods (Jensen, Kosmologie, 62-90; Winckler, Altorientalische Forschungen, 1901-5, passim; Jeremias, Das Alter der bah. Astronomie, 1909, passim). The Egyptians, close neighbors of the Hebrews, in all eras from that of the Exodus onward, worshipped living bulls at Memphis (not Mendes, as EB) and Hellopolls as incarnations of Ptah and Ra, while one of the most elaborate rituals was connected with the life-size image of the Hathor-cow (Naville, Deir el Bahari, Part I (1907), 163-67), while the sun was revered as the "valiant bull" and the reigning Pharaoh as "Bull of Bulls." But far more important in this connection is the fact that "calf" worship was almost if not quite universal among all the ancient Semitic peoples. If the immediate ancestors of Abraham did not revere this deity, they were certainly quite unlike their relatives, the Babylonians, among whom, according to all tradition, they lived before they migrated to Israel (Gen 11:28,30; Josephus, Ant, I, vi, 5), for the Babylonians revered the bull as the symbol of their greatest gods, Ann and Sin and Marduk--the ideograph of a young bullock forming a part of the latter's name--while Hadadrimmon, an important Amorite deity, whose attributes remarkably resemble those of Yahweh (see Ward, AJSL, XXV, 175-85; Clay, Amurru (1909), 87-89), is pictured standing on the back of a bull. In Phoenicia also the bull was a sacred animal, as well as in northern Syria where it ranked as one of the chief Hittite deities its images receiving devout worship (see further, Sayce, Encyclopedia of Rel. and Ethics, under the word "Bull"). Among all these peoples the cow goddess was given at least equal honor. In Babylonia the goddess Ishtar has the cow for her symbol on very ancient seal cylinders, and when this nude or half-nude goddess appears in Israel she often stands on a bull or cow (see William Hayes Ward, Cylinders and Other Ancient Oriental Seals), and under slightly different forms this same goddess is revered in Arabia, Moab, Phoenicia, Syria and elsewhere, while among the Semitic Canaanites the bull was the symbol of Baal, and the cow of Astarte (see particularly Barton, Hebraica, IX, 133-63; X, 1-74, and Semitic Origins, chapter vii; Driver, "Astarte" in DB). Recent excavations in Israel have shown that during all eras no heathen worship was as popular as that of Astarte in her various forms (see S. A. Cook, Rel. of Ancient Israel, 1909). That she once is found wearing ram's horns (PEFS (1903), 227) only reveals her nature more clearly as the goddess of fertility. Her relation to the sacred fish at Carnion in Gilead and to the doves of Ascalon, as well as to female prostitution and to Nature's "resurrection" and fruitage, had been previously well known, as also her relation to the moon which governs the seasons. Is there any rational motif which can account for this widespread "calf" worship? Is it conceivable that this cult could so powerfully influence such intelligent and rather spiritually-minded nations as the Egyptians and Babylonians if it were wholly irrational and contained no spiritual content? And is there no rational explanation behind this constant fusion of the deity which controls the breeding of cattle with the deity which controls vegetation? How did the bull come to represent the "corn spirit," so that the running of a bull through the corn (the most destructive act) came to presage good crops; and how did the rending of a bull, spilling his life blood on the soil, increase fertility? (See Fraser, Golden Bough, II, 291-93, 344.) The one real controlling motif of all these various representations and functions of the "calf" god may be found in the ancient awe, especially among the Semites, for the Mystery of Life. This seems to offer a sufficient reason why the bull, which is a most conspicuous example of life-giving power, should be so closely connected with the reproductive processes of the animal and vegetable kingdoms and also with the sun, which from earliest historic times was considered as preeminently the "giver of life." Bull worship was not always an exhibition of gross animalism, but, certainly in Bible times, often represented a concept which was the product of reflection upon one of the deepest mysteries of Nature. Few hymns in Egypt or Babylon express higher spiritual knowledge and aspiration than those addressed to the bull gods or to others honored with this title, e.g. this one to the god Sin of Ur, the "heifer of Anu," "Strong young bull; with strong horns, .... with beard of lapislazuli color .... self-created, full of developed fruit .... Mother-womb who has taken up his abode, begetter of all things, exalted habitation among living creatures; O merciful gracious father, in whose hand rests the life of the whole world; O Lord, thy divinity is full of awe like the far-off heaven and the broad ocean!" (Rogers, Religion of Babylonia and Assyria (1908), 164). Many modern scholars believe that the primitive Egyptians and Babylonians really thought of their earthly and heavenly gods as animals  Read Full Article

Golden Calf in Easton's Bible Dictionary
The golden calf which Aaron made (Ex. 32:4) was probably a copy of the god Moloch rather than of the god Apis, the sacred ox or calf of Egypt. The Jews showed all through their history a tendency toward the Babylonian and Canaanitish idolatry rather than toward that of Egypt. Ages after this, Jeroboam, king of Israel, set up two idol calves, one at Dan, and the other at Bethel, that he might thus prevent the ten tribes from resorting to Jerusalem for worship (1 Kings 12:28). These calves continued to be a snare to the people till the time of their captivity. The calf at Dan was carried away in the reign of Pekah by Tiglath-pileser, and that at Bethel ten years later, in the reign of Hoshea, by Shalmaneser (2 Kings 15:29; 17:33). This sin of Jeroboam is almost always mentioned along with his name (2 Kings 15:28 etc.).   Read Full Article

Calf Worship in Fausset's Bible Dictionary
The Israelites "in Egypt" had served the Egyptian idols (Joshua 24:14), including the sacred living bulls Apis, Basis, and Mnevis, and sacred cows Isis and Athor; worshipped for their utility to man, and made symbols of the sun and Osiris. In fact Nature, not the personal Creator, God, was symbolized by the calf and worshipped. But Aaron's golden calf he expressly calls, "thy Elohim which brought thee up out of Egypt"; and the feast to it "a feast to Jehovah" (Exodus 32:4-8; Exodus 32:17-19). Israel too had just seen that "upon Egypt's gods Jehovah executed judgments" (Numbers 33:4). What they yearned for therefore was not the vanquished Egyptian idols, but some visible symbol of the unseen Jehovah; the cherubic emblem, the calf or ox, furnished this. So Psalm 106:20, "they changed their glory (i.e. God) into the similitude of an ox that eateth grass"; indeed the Egyptians used to offer a bottle of hay to Apis. The rites of Mnevis' feast at Heliopolis, boisterous revelry, dancing, offerings, etc., which the Israelites were familiar with in Egypt, they transferred to Jehovah's calf image. Acts 7:40-41 marks this first stage of idolatry. The second more glaring stage surely followed: "God turned, and gave them up to worship the host of heaven" (Acts 7:42-43). Jeroboam's calves, which his exile in Egypt familiarized him with, and which he subsequently set up at Dan and Bethel similarly, were not set up to oppose Jehovah's worship, but to oppose His worship by Jeroboam's subjects at Jerusalem, lest they should thereby be alienated from him (1 Kings 12:26-29). It was notorious that it was Jehovah who delivered Israel out of Egypt; and, like Aaron, Jeroboam says of the calves, thereby identifying them with Jehovah, "Behold thy gods, O Israel, which brought thee up out of Egypt." Jehu's worship of the calves is markedly distinguished from the Baal worship of Ahab which he overthrew (2 Kings 10:18-29). Baal worship breaks the first commandment by having other gods besides Jehovah. The calf worship breaks the second by worshipping Jehovah with an image or symbol; Rome's sin in our days. Moreover, there was only one Apis, there were two calves answering to the two cherubim. Hence, this was the only idolatry into which Judah never fell. As having the original cherubim in the temple at Jerusalem, she did not need the copies at Dan and Bethel. The prophets of the calves regarded themselves as "prophets of Jehovah" (1 Kings 22:5-6). Hosea denounces the calf worship, and calls Bethel Bethaven, the house of vanity, instead of the house of God (Hosea 8:5-6; Hosea 10:5-6). Kissing them was one mode of adoration (Hosea 13:2); contrast God's command," Kiss the Son, lest He be angry and ye perish" (Psalm 2:12). Tiglath Pileser carried away the calf at Daniel Shalmaneser, 10 years later, carried away that at Bethel (2 Kings 15:29; 2 Kings 17:6). In Hosea 14:2 we read "calves of our lips": instead of calves which we can no longer offer in our exile, we present praises of our lips; so Hebrews 13:15.  Read Full Article

Calf Worship in Naves Topical Bible

-Golden, made by Aaron
Ex 32; De 9:16; Ne 9:18; Ps 106:19; Ac 7:41

-Images of, set up in Beth-el and Dan by Jeroboam
1Ki 12:28-33; 2Ki 10:29

-Worshiped by Jehu
2Ki 10:29

-Prophecies against the golden calves at Beth-el
1Ki 13:1-5,32; Jer 48:13; Ho 8:5,6; 10:5,6

-Altars of, destroyed
2Ki 23:4,15-20

-"Calves of the lips," a metaphor signifying worship
Ho 14:2

Figure of Apis
Illustration of a bronze Apis Figure


The Bible Mentions the Idolatry Often

1 Samuel 15:23 - For rebellion [is as] the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness [is as] iniquity and idolatry. Because thou hast rejected the word of the LORD, he hath also rejected thee from [being] king.

Colossians 3:5 - Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth; fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence, and covetousness, which is idolatry:

Galatians 5:20 - Idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies,

Acts 17:16 - Now while Paul waited for them at Athens, his spirit was stirred in him, when he saw the city wholly given to idolatry.

1 Corinthians 10:14 - Wherefore, my dearly beloved, flee from idolatry.

The Sacred Bull on Wikipedia

The worship of the Sacred Bull throughout the ancient world is most familiar to the Western world in the biblical episode of the idol of the Golden Calf. The Golden Calf after being made by the Hebrew people in the wilderness of Sinai, were rejected and destroyed by Moses and his tribe after his time upon the mountain peak (Book of Exodus). Marduk is the "bull of Utu". Shiva's steed is Nandi, the Bull. The sacred bull survives in the constellation Taurus. The bull, whether lunar as in Mesopotamia or solar as in India, is the subject of various other cultural and religious incarnations, as well as modern mentions in new age cultures.

Mesopotamia

The Sumerian Epic of Gilgamesh depicts the killing by Gilgamesh and Enkidu of the Bull of Heaven, Gugalana, first husband of Ereshkigal, as an act of defiance of the gods. From the earliest times, the bull was lunar in Mesopotamia (its horns representing the crescent moon).[1]

Egypt

Hathor as a cow, wearing her necklace and showing her sacred eye ? Papyrus of Ani.
In Egypt, the bull was worshiped as Apis, the embodiment of Ptah and later of Osiris. A long series of ritually perfect bulls were identified by the god's priests, housed in the temple for their lifetime, then embalmed and encased in a giant sarcophagus. A long sequence of monolithic stone sarcophagi were housed in the Serapeum, and were rediscovered by Auguste Mariette at Saqqara in 1851. The bull was also worshipped as Mnewer, the embodiment of Atum-Ra, in Heliopolis. Ka in Egyptian is both a religious concept of life-force/power and the word for bull.

Eastern Anatolia

We cannot recreate a specific context for the bull skulls with horns (bucrania) preserved in an 8th millennium BCE sanctuary at ?atalh?y?k in eastern Anatolia. The sacred bull of the Hattians, whose elaborate standards were found at Alaca H?y?k alongside those of the sacred stag, survived in the Hurrian and Hittite mythologies as Seri and Hurri (Day and Night)?the bulls who carried the weather god Teshub on their backs or in his chariot, and grazed on the ruins of cities.[2]

Crete

The Bull-Leaping Fresco: Knossos
The Bull was a central theme in the Minoan civilization, with bull heads and bull horns used as symbols in the Knossos palace. Minoan frescos and ceramics depict the bull-leaping ritual in which participants of both sexes vaulted over bulls by grasping their horns. See also "Minotaur and The Bull of Crete" for a later incarnation to the Minoan Bull.

Indus Valley

Nandi appears in the Hindu mythology as the primary vehicle and the principal gana (follower) of Shiva. Bulls also appear on the Indus Valley seals, but most scholars agree that the horned bull on these seals is not identical to Nandi.[3]

Cyprus

In Cyprus, bull masks made from real skulls were worn in rites. Bull-masked terracotta figurines[4] and Neolithic bull-horned stone altars have been found in Cyprus.

Levant

The Canaanite (and later Carthaginian) deity Moloch was often depicted as a bull.

Exodus 32:4 "He took this from their hand, and fashioned it with a graving tool and made it into a molten calf; and they said, 'This is your god, O Israel, who brought you up from the land of Egypt'."

Nehemiah 9:18 "even when they made an idol shaped like a calf and said, 'This is your god who brought you out of Egypt!' They committed terrible blasphemies."

Calf-idols are referred to later in the Tanakh, such as in the Book of Hosea,[5] which would seem accurate as they were a fixture of near-eastern cultures.

King Solomon's "bronze sea"-basin stood on twelve brazen bulls.[6][7]

Young bulls were set as frontier markers at Tel Dan and at Bethel the frontiers of the Kingdom of Israel.

Much later, in Abrahamic traditions, the bull motif became a bull demon or the 'horned devil' in contrast and conflict to earlier traditions.The bull is familiar in Judeo-Christian cultures from the Biblical episode wherein an idol of the Golden Calf is made by Aaron and worshipped by the Hebrews in the wilderness of Sinai (Exodus). The text of the Hebrew Bible can be understood to refer to the idol as representing a separate god, or as representing the God of Israel himself, perhaps through an association or syncretization with Egyptian or Levantine bull gods, rather than a new deity in itself.

Hellas

When the heroes of the new Indo-European culture arrived in the Aegean basin, they faced off with the ancient Sacred Bull on many occasions, and always overcame him, in the form of the myths that have survived.

In the Olympian cult, Hera's epithet Bo-opis is usually translated "ox-eyed" Hera, but the term could just as well apply if the goddess had the head of a cow, and thus the epithet reveals the presence of an earlier, though not necessarily more primitive, iconic view.[citation needed] Classical Greeks never otherwise referred to Hera simply as the cow, though her priestess Io was so literally a heifer that she was stung by a gadfly, and it was in the form of a heifer that Zeus coupled with her. Zeus took over the earlier roles, and, in the form of a bull that came forth from the sea, abducted the high-born Phoenician Europa and brought her, significantly, to Crete.

Dionysus was another god of resurrection who was strongly linked to the bull. In a cult hymn from Olympia, at a festival for Hera, Dionysus is also invited to come as a bull, "with bull-foot raging." "Quite frequently he is portrayed with bull horns, and in Kyzikos he has a tauromorphic image," Walter Burkert relates, and refers also to an archaic myth in which Dionysus is slaughtered as a bull calf and impiously eaten by the Titans.[8]

For the Greeks, the bull was strongly linked to the Bull of Crete: Theseus of Athens had to capture the ancient sacred bull of Marathon (the "Marathonian bull") before he faced the Bull-man, the Minotaur (Greek for "Bull of Minos"), whom the Greeks imagined as a man with the head of a bull at the center of the labyrinth. Minotaur was fabled to be born of the Queen and a bull, bringing the king to build the labyrinth to hide his family's shame. Living in solitude made the boy wild and ferocious, unable to be tamed or beaten. Yet Walter Burkert's constant warning is, "It is hazardous to project Greek tradition directly into the Bronze age";[9] only one Minoan image of a bull-headed man has been found, a tiny seal currently held in the Archaeological Museum of Chania.

In the Classical period of Greece, the bull and other animals identified with deities were separated as their agalma, a kind of heraldic show-piece that concretely signified their numinous presence.

The Roman Empire

The bull is one of the animals associated with the late Hellenistic and Roman syncretic cult of Mithras, in which the killing of the astral bull, the tauroctony, was as central in the cult as the Crucifixion was to contemporary Christians. The tauroctony was represented in every Mithraeum (compare the very similar Enkidu tauroctony seal). An often-disputed suggestion connects remnants of Mithraic ritual to the survival or rise of bullfighting in Iberia and southern France, where the legend of Saint Saturninus (or Sernin) of Toulouse and his prot?g? in Pamplona, Saint Fermin, at least, are inseparably linked to bull-sacrifices by the vivid manner of their martryrdoms, set by Christian hagiography in the 3rd century CE, which was also the century in which Mithraism was most widely practiced.

In some Christian traditions, Nativity scenes are carved or assembled at Christmas time. Many show a bull or an ox near the baby Jesus, lying in a manger. Traditional songs of Christmas often tell of the bull and the donkey warming the infant with their breath. This refers (or, at least, is referred) to the beginning of the book of the prophet Isaiah, where he says: "The ox knoweth his owner, and the ass his master's crib." (Isaiah 1:3)

Celts

A prominent zoomorphic deity type is the divine bull. Tarvos Trigaranus ("bull with three cranes") is pictured on reliefs from the cathedral at Trier, Germany, and at Notre-Dame de Paris. In Irish mythology, the Donn Cuailnge ("Brown Bull of Cooley") plays a central role in the epic T?in B? Cuailnge ("The Cattle-Raid of Cooley") which features the hero C? Chulainn, which were collected in the 7th century CE Lebor na hUidre ("Book of the Dun Cow").

Pliny the Elder, writing in the first century AD, describes a religious ceremony in Gaul in which white-clad druids climbed a sacred oak, cut down the mistletoe growing on it, sacrificed two white bulls and used the mistletoe to cure infertility:[10]

The druids ? that is what they call their magicians ? hold nothing more sacred than the mistletoe and a tree on which it is growing, provided it is Valonia oak?. Mistletoe is rare and when found it is gathered with great ceremony, and particularly on the sixth day of the moon?.Hailing the moon in a native word that means ?healing all things,? they prepare a ritual sacrifice and banquet beneath a tree and bring up two white bulls, whose horns are bound for the first time on this occasion. A priest arrayed in white vestments climbs the tree and, with a golden sickle, cuts down the mistletoe, which is caught in a white cloak. Then finally they kill the victims, praying to a god to render his gift propitious to those on whom he has bestowed it. They believe that mistletoe given in drink will impart fertility to any animal that is barren and that it is an antidote to all poisons.[11] Read More
 

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Bible Study and Faith

"The Bible is the most priceless possession of the human race." - Henry H. Halley

"This handbook is dedicated to the proposition that every Christian should be a constant and devoted reader of the Bible, and that the primary business of the church and ministry is to lead, foster, and encourage their people in the habit."

"The vigor of our spiritual life will be in exact proportion to the place held by the Bible in our life and thoughts."

"Great has been the blessing from consecutive, diligent, daily study. I look upon it as a lost day when I have not had a good time over the word of God." - George Muller

"I prayed for faith, and thought that some day faith would come down and strike me like lightning. But faith did not seem to come. One day I read in the 10th chapter of Romans, 'Now faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.' I had closed my Bible, and prayed for faith. I now opened my Bible, and began to study, and faith has been growing ever since." - D. L. Moody

-H. H. Halley "Halley's Bible Handbook" (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1960) p. 4, 6


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Archaeological Study of the Bible

"A substantial proof for the accuracy of the Old Testament text has come from archaeology. Numerous discoveries have confirmed the historical accuracy of the biblical documents, even down to the obsolete names of foreign kings... Rather than a manifestation of complete ignorance of the facts of its day, the biblical record thus reflects a great knowledge by the writer of his day, as well as precision in textual transmission."

-Norman L. Geisler, William Nix "A General Introduction to the Bible" 5th Edition (Chicago: Moody Press 1983) p. 253


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Bibliography on Ancient Images

The Art of Ancient Egypt, Revised by Robins, 272 Pages, Pub. 2008
 

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