Often when the Hebrew Bible condemns the Israelites for worshipping idols, these are representations of pagan deities, especially the Levantine rain god Baal. But Moses also takes pains to remind the Jews that at Mount Sinai they “did not see an image, but only [heard] a voice” (Deuteronomy 4:12), suggesting the possibility that they might be tempted to make graven images of the Lord Himself. Yosef Garfinkel, comparing three recently discovered 10th-century figurines with two discovered previously, believes he has found evidence of just that:
Solid and well made, the human heads have detailed facial features. They are rather square in shape with flat tops and prominent noses. The eyes were made in two stages: they were first attached to the face as a rounded blob of clay and then punctured to create the iris. The lower part of the face has a rounded bulb, probably representing the chin and a beard. A row of small punctures run from side to side on the cheek and chin, portraying a beard. Long ribbons of clay attached to the back portray hair.
Two horse figurines were found near [two of these] heads. They were hollow, like pottery vessels. The two horse figurines and the two clay male heads have been understood as four different figurines. However, I [believe there to have been] only two figurines, each representing a rider on a horse.
The concept of a male god represented as a rider first appeared in Late Bronze Age Ugarit, an ancient port city on the Mediterranean Sea in northern Syria. The Canaanite god Baal is described as rkb ‘rpt, “a rider of the clouds,” sixteen times in various Ugaritic texts. The exact same term also appears in Psalm 68:4. In the biblical tradition there are several descriptions, or metaphors, of God as a rider.
While Garfinkel is a highly regarded archaeologist, his conclusions have attracted criticism. The two scholars who led the excavation that uncovered the two aforementioned heads have labeled his conclusions “unfounded” “sensationalism.”