International Standard Bible Encyclopedia
(1) "High place" is the normal translation of בּמה ,
Archaeological research, particularly at Petra and Gezer, aided by the Old Testament notices, enables us to reconstruct these sanctuaries with tolerable fullness. The cult was not limited to the summit of the hill but took place also on the slopes, and the objects of the cult might be scattered over a considerable area. The most sacred objects were the upright stone pillars (
For the ritual, of course, there was no uniform rule. The gods of the different localities were different, and in Palestine a more or less thorough rededication of the high places to Yahweh had taken place. So the service might be anything from the orderly worship of Yahweh under so thoroughly an accredited leader as Samuel (1 Samuel 9:11-24 ) to the wildest orgiastic rites. That the worship at many high places was intensely licentious is certain (but it must be emphasized against the statements of many writers that there is no evidence for a specific phallic cult, and that the explorations have revealed no unmistakable phallic emblems). The gruesome cemetery for newly born infants at Gezer is only one of the proofs of the prevalence of child-sacrifice, and the evidence for human sacrifice in other forms is unfortunately only too clear. See GEZER , and illustration on p. 1224.
(1) The opposition to the high places had many motives. When used for the worship of other gods their objectionable character is obvious, but even the worship of Yahweh in the high places was intermixed with heathen practices (Hosea 4:14 , etc.). In Amos 5:21-24 , etc., sacrifice in the high places is denounced because it is regarded as a substitute for righteousness in exactly the same way that sacrifice in the Temple is denounced in Jeremiah 7:21-24 . Or, sacrifice in the high places may be denounced under the best of conditions, because in violation of the law of the one sanctuary (2 Chronicles 33:17 , etc.).
(2) In 1 Samuel, sacrifice outside of Jerusalem is treated as an entirely normal thing, and Samuel presides in one such case (1 Samuel 9:11-24 ). In 1 Ki the practice of using high places is treated as legitimate before the construction of the Temple (1 Kings 3:2-4 ), but after that it is condemned unequivocally. The primal sin of Northern Israel was the establishment of high places (1 Kings 12:31-33; 1 Kings 13:2 , 1 Kings 13:33 f), and their continuance was a chief cause of the evils that came to pass ( 2 Kings 17:10 f), while worship in them was a characteristic of the mongrel throng that repopulated Samaria ( 2 Kings 17:32 ). So Judah sinned in building high places (1 Kings 14:23 ), but the editor of Kings notes with obvious regret that even the pious kings (Asa, 1 Kings 15:14; Jehoshaphat, 1 Kings 22:43; Jehoash, 2 Kings 12:3; Amaziah, 2 Kings 14:4;Azariah, 2 Chronicles 15:4; Jotham, 2 Kings 15:35 ) did not put them away; i.e. the editor of Kings has about the point of view of Deuteronomy 12:8-11 , according to which sacrifice was not to be restricted to Jerusalem until the country should be at peace, but afterward the restriction should be absolute. The practice had been of such long standing that Hezekiah's destruction of the high places (2 Kings 18:4 ) could be cited by Rabshakeh as an act of apostasy from Yahweh (2 Kings 18:22; 2 Chronicles 32:12; Isaiah 36:7 ). Under Manasseh they were rebuilt, in connection with other idolatrous practices (2 Kings 21:3-9 ). This act determined the final punishment of the nation (2 Kings 21:10-15 ), and the root-and-branch reformation of Josiah (2 Ki 23) came too late. The attitude of the editor of Chronicles is still more condemnatory. He explains the sacrifice at Gibeon as justified by the presence of the Tabernacle (1 Chronicles 16:39; 1 Chronicles 21:29; 2 Chronicles 1:3 , 2 Chronicles 1:13 ), states that God-fearing northerners avoided the high places (2 Chronicles 11:16; compare 1 Kings 19:10 , 1 Kings 19:14 ), and (against Kings) credits Asa (2 Chronicles 14:3 , 2 Chronicles 14:5 ) and Jehoshaphat (2 Chronicles 17:6 ) with their removal. (This last notice is also in contradiction with 2 Chronicles 20:33 , but 1 Chronicles 16:17 is probably meant to refer to the Northern Kingdom, despite 1 Chronicles 16:17 .) On the other hand, the construction of high places is added to the sins of Jehoram (2 Chronicles 21:11 ) and of Ahaz (2 Chronicles 28:4 , 2 Chronicles 28:5 ).
(3) Among the prophets, Elijah felt the destruction of the many altars of God as a terrible grief (1 Kings 19:10 , 1 Kings 19:14 ). Amos and Hosea each mention the high places by name only once (Amos 7:9; Hosea 10:8 ), but both prophets have only denunciation for the sacrificial practices of the Northern Kingdom. That, however, these sacrifices were offered in the wrong place is not said. Isa has nothing to say about the high places, except in Isaiah 36:7 , while Micah 1:5 equates the sins of Jerusalem with those of the high places (if the text is right), but promises the exaltation of Jerusalem ( Micah 4:1 f). In the references in Jeremiah 7:31; Jeremiah 19:5; Jeremiah 32:35; Ezekiel 6:3 , Ezekiel 6:1; Ezekiel 16:16; Ezekiel 20:29; Ezekiel 43:7 , idolatry or abominable practices are in point (so probably in Jeremiah 17:3 , while Jeremiah 48:35 and Isaiah 16:12 refer to non-Israelites).
(4) The interpretation of the above data and their historical import depend on the critical position taken as to the general history of Israel's religion. See
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Orr, James, M.A., D.D. General Editor. Entry for 'High Place'. International Standard Bible Encyclopedia. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/eng/isb/h/high-place.html. 1915.