Aurochs are depicted in many Paleolithic European cave paintings such as those found at Lascaux and Livernon in France. Their life force may have been thought to have magical qualities, for early carvings of the aurochs have also been found.
There is a distinct association of ancient J2 civilisations with bull worship. The oldest evidence of a cult of the bull can be traced back to Neolithic central Anatolia, notably at the sites of Çatal Höyük and Alaca Höyük situated in Alaca, Çorum Province, northeast of Boğazkale (formerly and more familiarly Boğazköy), where the ancient capital city Hattusa of the Hittite Empire was situated.
Minoan Crete, Hittite Anatolia, the Levant, Bactria and the Indus Valley also shared a tradition of bull leaping, the ritual of dodging the charge of a bull. It survives today in the traditional bullfighting of Andalusia in Spain and Provence in France, two regions with a high percentage of J2 lineages.
Quite a few ancient Mediterranean and Middle Eastern civilisations flourished in territories where J2 lineages were preponderant. This is the case of the Hattians, the Hurrians, the Etruscans, the Minoans, the Greeks, the Phoenicians (and their Carthaginian offshoot), the Israelites, and to a lower extent also the Romans, the Assyrians and the Persians. All the great seafaring civilisations from the middle Bronze Age to the Iron Age were dominated by J2 men.
The impressive and dangerous aurochs survived into the Iron Age in Anatolia and the Near East and was worshipped throughout that area as a sacred animal; the earliest survivals of a bull cult are in an 8th millennium BCE sanctuary at neolithic Çatalhöyük in eastern Anatolia.
The sacred bull of the Hattians, whose elaborate standards were found at Alaca Höyük 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.
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. Marduk is the “bull of Utu”.
Nandi the Bull appears in the Hindu mythology as the primary vehicle and the principal gana (follower) of Shiva. Bulls also appear on the Indus Valley seals from Pakistan as well, but most scholars agree that the horned bull on these seals is not identical to Nandi.
The sacred bull survives in the constellation Taurus. The bull was seen in the constellation Taurus by the Chalcolithic and had marked the new year at springtide by the Bronze Age, for 4000–1700 BCE.
In Mesopotamian mythology, Gugalanna (lit. “The Great Bull of Heaven” < Sumerian gu “bull”, gal “great”, an “heaven”, -a “of”) was a Sumerian deity as well as a constellation known today as Taurus, one of the twelve signs of the Zodiac.
The Bull of Heaven appears in the Epic of Gilgamesh.
Gugalanna was the first husband of the Goddess Ereshkigal, the Goddess of the Realm of the Dead, a gloomy place devoid of light, who was dispatched by Inanna to punish Gilgamesh for his sins. Gugalanna was sent by the gods to take retribution upon Gilgamesh for rejecting the sexual advances of the goddess Inanna.
After Gilgamesh upsets the goddess Ishtar, she convinces her father Anu to send the Bull of Heaven to earth to destroy the crops and kill people. However, Gilgamesh and Enkidu kill the Bull of Heaven.
Gugalanna, whose feet made the earth shake, was slain and dismembered by Gilgamesh and Enkidu. Inanna, from the heights of the city walls looked down, and Enkidu took the haunches of the bull shaking them at the goddess, threatening he would do the same to her if he could catch her too.
The gods are angry that the Bull of Heaven has been killed. As punishment for killing the bull Enkidu falls ill and dies.
It was to share the sorrow with her sister that Inanna later descends to the Underworld.
Taurus was the constellation of the Northern Hemisphere Spring Equinox from about 3,200 BCE. It marked the start of the agricultural year with the New Year Akitu festival (from á-ki-ti-še-gur-ku, = sowing of the barley), an important date in Mespotamian religion.
The “death” of Gugalanna, represents the obscuring disappearance of this constellation as a result of the light of the sun, with whom Gilgamesh was identified.
In the time in which this myth was composed, the New Year Festival, or Akitu, at the Spring Equinox, due to the Precession of the Equinoxes did not occur in Aries, but in Taurus. At this time of the year, Taurus would have disappeared as it was obscured by the sun.
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 the Hebrew people after Moses’ time upon Mount Sinai (Book of Exodus).
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 protégé 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)