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Bible Encyclopedias

Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblial Literature

Altars Forms of

In the preceding article the reader is furnished with all the positive information which we possess respecting the altars mentioned in Scripture; but as, with regard to material objects so frequently named as altars, we feel a desire to have distinct images in the mind, some further remarks respecting the forms which they probably bore, may not be unacceptable.

The direction to the Israelites, at the time of their leaving Egypt, to construct their altars of unhewn stones or of earth, is doubtless to be understood as an injunction to follow the usage of their patriarchal ancestors; and not to adopt the customs, full of idolatrous associations, which they had seen in Egypt, or might see in the land of Canaan. As they were also strictly enjoined to destroy the altars of the Canaanites, it is more than probable that the direction was leveled against such usages as those into which that people had fallen. The conclusion deducible from this, that the patriarchal altars were of unhewn stones or of earth, is confirmed by the circumstances under which they were erected, and by the fact that they are always described as being 'built.' The provision that they might be made of earth, applies doubtless to situations in which stones could not be easily obtained, as in the open plains and wildernesses. Familiar analogies lead to the inference that the largest stones that could be found in the neighborhood would be employed to form the altar; but where no large stones could be had, that heaps of smaller ones might be made to serve.

As these altars were erected in the open air, and were very carefully preserved, there is at least a strong probability that some of those ancient monuments of unhewn stone, usually called Druidical remains, which are found in all parts of the world, were derived from the altars of primitive times. These are diversified in their forms; and their peculiar uses have been very much disputed, it is admitted, however, that some of them must have been altars; but the difficulty is, to determine whether these altars are to be sought in the Cromlechs or the Kistvaens. It seems to us that the arguments preponderate in favor of the opinion that the Cromlechs are the representatives of the primitive altars, and that the Kistvaens (stones disposed in a chest-like form) are analogous to the arks of the Jewish ritual and of some of the pagan religions [ARK].

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Bibliography Information
Kitto, John, ed. Entry for 'Altars Forms of'. "Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblial Literature".

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