The first archaeological evidence of the existence of life-size divine statues in the Levant has been identified by Hebrew University archaeologist Yosef Garfinkel, offering new insights on the cult-like practices of ancient Canaanites.According to a renowned midrash, a rabbinic interpretation of the biblical text, the Jewish patriarch Abraham began the journey that would lead him to become the first monotheist in the world by smashing the idols that his father Terach manufactured and sold in his workshop. As it appears evident not only from the Bible, but also from historical texts produced by different nations, as well as in archaeological findings, statues played a central role in the ancient spiritual life in the New East and beyond.Canaan, the land that according to the Bible God destined to Abraham and the people who would descend from him, represented no exception. When the people of Israel received the Ten Commandments during their wanderings in the desert that would lead them from the slavery in Egypt to entering the promised land, the prohibition of creating any image of the divine was second only to the one affirming the unity of God.“You shall not make for yourself a sculptured image, or any likeness of what is in the heavens above, or on the earth below, or in the waters under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them,” reads the Decalogue in Exodus (20, 4-5 translation from Sefaria.org).If many figurines and smaller sculptures have been uncovered in the region over the decades, no intact life-size statue has ever been found in the Levant, in spite of the investigation of over one hundred temples, Garfinkel explained in a paper published in the June issue of the journal Antiquity.The researcher is the co-director of the excavations at Tel Lachish, a prominent Canaanite site, which is also mentioned in the Bible. The excavations are co-sponsored by the Institute of Archaeology at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the Institute of Archaeology at the Southern Adventist University.After recently uncovering a spatula-like object, the scholar noticed some parallels with a similar item previously unearthed in Hazor in the Upper Galilee, a different Canaanite site.“The two scepters from Lachish and Hazor date to the end of Canaanite occupation at these sites (twelfth and thirteenth centuries BC, respectively). Both come from cult-like contexts, are of similar size and are made of bronze coated with silver,” he wrote in the paper.In addition, the two findings – each of them a few centimeters long – present a striking resemblance with a third artifact: the scepter held by a 27-centimeter-high figurine found at Megiddo almost a century ago.“Megiddo was an important Canaanite city in northern Israel, located on the major route from Mesopotamia to Egypt,” Garfinkel explained. “Its location meant that most large-scale military invasions of the Levant passed near the site, explaining its association with the concept of an ‘Armageddon’, the battle at the end of time.”The figurine, made of bronze but completely coated in gold, depicts a seated god holding a spatula-like scepter and it is exhibited in the museum of the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago, which conducted extensive excavations in Megiddo in the 1920s and 1930s.“The form of this scepter is a miniature version of the objects discovered at Lachish and Hazor,” he pointed out, highlighting that the figure has been identified as the Canaanite god El.By comparing the three items, Garfinkel was able to suggest that the bigger artifacts were likely part of sculptures proportionate to their size.“The archaeological context of the object from Lachish and its iconography strongly suggest that it belonged to a life-sized statue of the Canaanite god El. An increased awareness and understanding of these discoveries may help to identify other such remnants of life-sized statues in the Near East and beyond, and stimulate discussion of the power embodied by these figures,” he concluded in the paper.