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Bible Encyclopedias

The 1901 Jewish Encyclopedia

High Place

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Etymology of "Bamah."

A raised space primitively on a natural, later also on an artificial, elevation devoted to and equipped for the sacrificial cult of a deity. The term occurs also in the Assyrian ("bamati"; see Friedrich Delitzsch, "Assyrisches Handwörterb." p. 177); and in the Mesha inscription it is found (line 3) as , which leaves the grammatical number doubtful. Etymologically the long ā () indicates derivation from a non-extant root, . The meaning is assured. The only point in doubt is whether the bamah originally received its name from the circumstance that it was located on a towering elevation or from the possible fact that, independently of its location, it was itself a raised construction. The latter view seems the more reasonable.

The use in Assyrian of "bamati" in the sense of "mountains" or "hill country," as opposed to the plains, as well as similar implications in Hebrew (2 Samuel 1:19, "high places" parallel to the "mountains" in 2 Samuel 1:21; comp. Micah 3:12; Joshua 26:18; Ezekiel 36:2; Numbers 21:28), is secondary. Because the bamah was often located on a hilltop; it gave its name to the mountain. The reverse is difficult to assume in view of the fact that the bamah is often differentiated from the supporting elevation (Ezekiel 6:3; 1 Kings 11:7, 14:23), and that bamot were found in valleys (Jeremiah 7:31, 19:5, 32:35; Ezek. c.) and in cities (1 Kings 13:32; 2 Kings 17:9, 23:5) at their gates (2 Kings 23:8).

Formation and Location.

Though in many passages the term may rightly be taken to connote any shrine or sanctuary without reference to elevation or particular construction (see Amos 7:9, where "high places" = "sanctuaries"), yet there must have been peculiarities in the bamah not necessarily found in any ordinary shrine. At all events, altar and bamot are distinct in 2 Kings 23:13; Isaiah 36:7; 2 Chronicles 14:3. The distinguishing characteristic of the bamah must have been that it was a raised platform, as verbs expressing ascent (1 Kings 9:3,19; Isaiah 15:2) and descent (1 Kings 10:5) are used in connection therewith. It was, perhaps, a series of ascending terraces like the Assyro-Babylonian "zigurat" (the "tower" of Babel; Jacob's "ladder"), and this feature was probably not absent even when the high place was situated on a mountain peak. The law concerning the building of the see see ALTAR (Exodus 20:24) indicates that the base was of earth—a mound upon which the altar rested—primitively a huge rough, unhewn stone or dolmen, though Ewald's theory ("Gesch." 3:390), that the understructure at times consisted of stones piled up so as to form a cone, is not without likelihood. These high places were generally near a city (comp. 1 Samuel 9:25, 10:5). Near the bamah were often placed "maẓẓebot" and the ASHERAH (also Groves). The image of the god was to be seen at some of the high places (2 Kings 17:29). EPHOD and TERAPHIM were also among their appointments (Judges 17:5; 1 Samuel 21:9; comp. Hosea 3:4). Buildings are mentioned, the so-called "houses of high places" (1 Samuel 9:22 et seq.; 1 Kings 12:31, 13:32); and Ezekiel 16:16 suggests the probability that temporary tents made of "garments" were to be found there.

Further proof that the bamah was not the hill or mountain elevation, but a peculiar structure placed on the peak or erected elsewhere, is furnished by the verbs employed in connection with the destruction of the bamot: (Ezekiel 6:3; 2 Kings 31:3), (Leviticus 26:30), (2 Kings 23:8,15; 2 Chronicles 31:1), and (2 Kings 23:15). If "ramah" (Ezekiel 16:24,31) is an equivalent for "bamah," as it seems to be, the verbs denoting its erection ( and ) offer additional evidence. Moreover, the figurative value of the term in the idioms "tread upon high places" (e.g., in Deuteronomy 33:29), "ride on high places" (e.g., Deuteronomy 32:13), where "fortress" is held to be its meaning, supports the foregoing view. The conquest of any city, the defeat of any tribe, included in ancient days the discomfiture of the deities, and hence the destruction or the disuse of their sanctuaries. Even in Psalms 18:34 (Hebr.) the word has this implication. "To place one on one's bamot" signifies to give one success (comp. Habakkuk 3:19; Amos 4:13; Micah 1:3; Job 9:8; Isaiah 14:14, 58:14), or to recognize orassert one's superiority. Attached to these high places were priests ("kohanim": 1 Kings 12:32; 13:2,23; 2 Kings 17:32, 23:20; called also "kemarim"; 2 Kings 23:5), as well as "ḳedeshot" and "ḳedeshim" = "diviners" (Hosea 4:13, ) and "prophets" (1 Samuel 10:5,10; 11:22). There is strong probability that the term "Levite" originally denoted a person "attached" in one capacity or another to these high places ( from in nif'al, "to join oneself to"). At these bamot joyous festivals were celebrated (Hosea 2:13 [A. V. 15], 15[17]; 9:4) with libations and sacrifices (ib. 2:5 [7], 3:1); tithes were brought to them (Genesis 28:20-22; Amos 4:4); and clan, family, or individual sacrifices were offered at them (1 Samuel 9:11; Deuteronomy 12:5-8,11; the prohibition proving the prevalence of the practise). It was there that solemn covenants were ratified (Exodus 21:6, 22:8 [7]) and councils held (1 Samuel 22:6, LXX.).

Origin of the Bamah.

That the high places were primitively sepulchral sanctuaries and thus connected with ancestral worship—this connection accounting for their peculiar form and their favorite location on mountains, where the dead were by preference put away (e.g., Aaron's grave on Hor, Numbers 20:20; Miriam's in Kadesh-barnea, Numbers 20:1; Joseph's in Shechem, Joshua 24:32; Moses' on Nebo, Deuteronomy 34)—has been advanced as one theory (see Nowack, "Hebräische Archäologie," 2:14 et seq.; Benzinger, "Arch." Index, s. "Bamah"). In greater favor is another theory ascribing the origin of the bamot to the prevalent notion that the gods have their abodes "on the heights" (see Baudissin, "Studien zur Semitischen Religionsgesch." 2:232 et seq.).

Home of the Gods.

The Old Testament documents abound in evidence that this notion was held by the Canaanites and was prevalent among the Hebrews (Deuteronomy 12:2; Numbers 33:52). The Moabites worshiped Peor (Baal-peor) on the mountain of that name (Numbers 23:28; 25:3,5,18; 31:16; Deuteronomy 3:29 ["Beth-peor"], 4:3; Hosea 9:10; Psalms 106:28), and had bamot (Isaiah 15:2, 16:12; Jeremiah 48:35; comp. "Bamoth-baal," Joshua 13:17). "Baal-hermon" (1 Chronicles 5:23) points in the same direction. Carmel was certainly regarded as the dwelling-place of Baal (or Yhwh; 1 Kings 18). The Arameans are reported to have believed the God of Israel to be a mountain god (1 Kings 20:23,28). The Assyrian deities held assemblies on the mountains of the north (Isaiah 14:13). Non-Hebrew sources complete and confirm the Biblical data on this point (see Baudissin, c. p. 239). Patriarchal biography (the mention of Moriah in Genesis 22:2; of Gilead ["the mount"] in Genesis 31:54 [comp. Judges 11:29]; of Ramath-mizpeh in Joshua 13:26; of Ramath-gilead in 1 Kings 4:13), the story of Moses (see Sinai, "the mount of God," in Exodus 3:1. 4:27, 24:13; 1 Kings 19:8; the hill in connection with the victory over Amalek in Exodus 17:9; Mount Hor in Numbers 20:25; Mount Ebal in Deuteronomy 27; Joshua 8:30), and the accounts of the Earlier Prophets (see Carmel in 1 Kings 18; Micah 7:14; Tabor in Judges 4:6, 12:14; Hosea 5:1; Mount Olive in 2 Samuel 15:32; 1 Kings 11:7) illustrate most amply the currency of the same conception among the Hebrews, who must have believed that mountain peaks were especially suitable places for sacrifices and ceremonies, or—what amounts to the same thing (Schwally, "Semitische Kriegsaltertümer," , Leipsic, 1901)—for the gathering of the armed hosts. This conception, therefore, is at the bottom of both the plan of construction—in the shape of a sloping, terraced elevation—and the selection of natural heights for the locating of the bamot. W. R. Smith ("Rel. of Sem." Index), however, contends that the selection of a hill near the city was due to practical considerations, and came into vogue at the time when the burning of the sacrifice and the smoke had become the essential features of the cult. Even so, the fact that a hill above all other places was chosen points back to an anterior idea that elevations are nearer the seat of the deity.

How far the connotation of "holiness" as "unapproachableness," "aloofness" influenced the plan and location of the bamah can not be determined, though the presumption is strong that this was the factor which determined the location of graves and sanctuaries on high peaks and the erection of shrines in imitation of such towering slopes.

Of bamot the following are especially mentioned:

The bamah of Gibeon (1 Kings 3:4; 1 Chronicles 16:39, 21:29; 2 Chronicles 1:3,13); the bamah at Ramah, where Saul and Samuel met (1 Samuel 9:12,13,14,19,25); that at Gibeah, where Saul fell in with the howling dervishes or prophets (1 Samuel 10:5,13); that founded by Jeroboam at Beth-el (2 Kings 23:15); that built by Solomon in honor of CHEMOSH (1 Kings 11:7); one at a place not named (Ezekiel 20:29; comp. Jeremiah 48:35; Isaiah 16:12). The following places must have been bamot, though not always explicitly so denominated in the text: Bochim (Judges 2:5); Ophrah (ib. 6:24, 8:27); Zorah (ib. 13:16-19); Shiloh (ib. 18:31); Dan (ib. 18:30); Beth-el (see above and Judges 20:18 [R. V.], 23, 26 [R. V.], 21:2,4); Mizpah (ib. 20:1; 1 Samuel 7:9); Ramah (see above and 1 Samuel 7:17, 9:12); Gibeah (see above and 1 Samuel 14:35); Gilgal (ib. 10:8, 11:15, 13:9, 15:21); Beth-lehem (ib. 16:2; 20:6,29); Nob (ib. 21:2); Hebron (2 Samuel 15:7); Giloh (ib. 15:12); the thrashing-floor of Araunah (ib. 24:25).

Originally Legitimate.

Some of these were of ancient origin, being associated with events in patriarchal days (e.g., Hebron [Shechem and Beer-sheba] and Beth-el, Genesis 12:8, 13:4, 28:22). This list, which might easily be enlarged, shows that the theory which regards the introduction of the high places as due to the pernicious example of the Canaanites and which would regard all bamot as originally illegitimate in the cult of Yhwh is inadmissible. Yhwh had His legitimate bamot as the "Chemosh" and "ba'alim" had theirs. Only in the latter days of the Judean kingdom, and then in consequence of the prophetic preachment, were the high places put under the ban. The redactor of the books of Kings even concedes the legitimacy of the high places before the building of the Solomonic Temple (1 Kings 3:2), and the books of Samuel make no effort to conceal the fact that Samuel offered sacrifices (1 Samuel 7:9) at places that the later Deuteronomic theory would not countenance. That the kings, both the good and the evil ones (Solomon, 1 Kings 3:3,4; Rehoboam, ib. 14:23; Jeroboam, ib. 12:31,; Asa, ib. 15:14; Jehoshaphat, ib. 22:43; Jehoash, 2 Kings 12:3; Amaziah, ib. 14:4; Azariah, ib. 15:4; Jotham, ib. 15:25; Ahaz, ib. 16:4), tolerated andpatronized high places is admitted. Elijah is represented as bitterly deploring the destruction of these local shrines of Yhwh (1 Kings 19:10,14), though Manasseh (2 Kings 21:3) and even good kings are censured for having patronized them; and the catastrophe of the Northern Kingdom is attributed, in part at least, to the existence of these sanctuaries (ib.).

The cause for this change of attitude toward the bamot, of which the Deuteronomic and Levitical law was, according to the critics, the result, not the reason, was the corruption that grew out of the coexistence of Canaanitish and of Yhwh's high places, the former contaminating the latter. The foreign wives of the kings certainly had a share in augmenting both the number and the priesthood of these shrines to non-Hebrew deities. The lascivious and immoral practises connected with the Phenician cults—the worship of the baalim and their consorts, of Molech, and of similar deities—must have reacted on the forms and atmosphere of the Yhwh high places. An idea of the horrors in vogue at these shrines may be formed from the denunciations of the Earlier Prophets (e.g., AMOS and Hosea) as well as from Ezekiel (16:24, 25:31). To destroy these plague-spots had thus become the ambition of the Prophets, not because the primitive worship of Yhwh had been hostile to local sanctuaries where Yhwh could be worshiped, but because while nominally devoted to Yhwh, these high places had introduced rites repugnant to the holiness of Israel's God. This may have been more especially the case in the Northern Kingdom, where there were bamot at Dan and Beth-el—with probably a bull or a phallic idol for Yhwh (1 Kings 14:9; 2 Kings 17:16) and with bamot priests (1 Kings 12:32; 13:2,33; Hosea 10:5; see also Amos 3:14; Micah 1:5,13)—and in all cities, hamlets, and even the least populous villages (2 Kings 17:9 et seq.). Some of these bamot continued to exist after the destruction of Samaria (ib. 17:29).

Josiah is credited with demolishing all the bamot-houses in Samaria (ib. 23:19), killing the priests, and burning their bones on the altar (comp. ib. 23:15), thus fulfilling the prediction put into the mouth of the Judean prophet under Jeroboam (1 Kings 13:32) and of Amos (7:5).

Destruction of the High Places.

In Judea the high places flourished under Rehoboam (1 Kings 14:23). His grandson Asa, though abolishing the foreign cults (ib. 15:12; 2 Chronicles 15:8), did not totally exterminate the high places (1 Kings 15:14; 2 Chronicles 15:17); for his successor, Jehoshaphat, still found many of them (2 Chronicles 17:6; 1 Kings 22:47; see also 1 Kings 22:44; 2 Chronicles 20:33). Under Ahaz non-Hebrew bamot again increased (2 Chronicles 28:24; comp. Tophet in Jeremiah 7:31, 19:5). Jerusalem especially abounded in them (Micah 1:5) Hezekiah is credited with having taken the first step toward remedying the evil (HEZEKIAH, Critical View). Still under his successors, Manasseh and Amon, these high places were again in active operation. Josiah made an effort to put an end to the evil, but not with complete success (2 Kings 22:3; 2 Chronicles 34:3). There was opposition to his undertaking (see Jeremiah 11), and after his death the Prophets had again to contend with the popularity of those old sanctuaries. Even after the Exile traces are found of a revival of their cult (Isaiah 57:3, 65:1-7, 66:17). After Josiah their priests, not all of whom were killed or transported to Jerusalem (2 Kings 23:5,8), probably contrived to keep up these old local rites even at a late day, a supposition by no means irrational in view of the attachment manifested by Mohammedans to just such "maḳam" (= "meḳomot," Deuteronomy 12:2; Clermont-Ganneau, "The Survey of Western Palestine," p. 325, London, 1881; Conder, "Tent Work in Palestine," 1880, pp. 304-310).

The critical analysis of the Law gives the same result as the foregoing historical survey. The Book of the Covenant (Exodus 20:34) legitimates local altars: Deuteronomy (12:2,3,12; comp. 14:23-25; 15:20; 16:2,6,15,16; 17:8; 18:6) orders their destruction and the centralization of the cult at Jerusalem. In the Priestly Code (P) the centralization is tacitly assumed.

Rabbinic Attitude.

The later rabbis recognize the discrepancies between the Deuteronomic law and the actions reported of such saintly men as Samuel and Elijah, as well as of the Patriarchs. They solve the difficulties by assuming that up to the erection of the Tabernacle bamot were legitimate, and were forbidden only after its construction. But at Gilgal they were again permitted; at Shiloh, again prohibited. At Nob and Gibeon they were once more allowed; but after the opening of the Temple at Jerusalem they were forbidden forever (Zeb. 14:4 et seq.). The rabbinical explanations have been collected by Ugolino in his "Thesaurus" (10:559 et seq.). A distinction is made between a great ("gedolah") bamah for public use and a small one for private sacrifices (Meg. 1:10; comp. Zeb. 14:6). The bamah was called "menuḥah" (= "temporary residence of the Shekinah"); the Temple at Jerusalem, "naḥalah" (= "permanent heritage") (Meg. 10a). A description of a small bamah is found in Tosef., Zeb., at end.

E. G. H.

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Bibliography Information
Singer, Isidore, Ph.D, Projector and Managing Editor. Entry for 'High Place'. 1901 The Jewish Encyclopedia. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/eng/tje/h/high-place.html. 1901.

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