HIGH PLACE (Hebrew, "bamah"; plural, "bamot"):
By: Emil G. Hirsch
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 (II Sam. i. 19, "high places" parallel to the "mountains" in II Sam. i. 21; comp. Micah iii. 12; Josh. xxvi. 18; Ezek. xxxvi. 2; Num. xxi. 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 (Ezek. vi. 3; I Kings xi. 7, xiv. 23), and that bamot were found in valleys (Jer. vii. 31, xix. 5, xxxii. 35; Ezek. l.c.) and in cities (I Kings xiii. 32; II Kings xvii. 9, xxiii. 5) at their gates (II Kings xxiii. 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 vii. 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 II Kings xxiii. 13; Isa. xxxvi. 7; II Chron. xiv. 3. The distinguishing characteristic of the bamah must have been that it was a raised platform, as verbs expressing ascent (I Kings ix. 3, 19; Isa. xv. 2) and descent (I Kings x. 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 Altar (Ex. xx. 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." iii. 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. I Sam. ix. 25, x. 5). Near the bamah were often placed "maẓẓebot" and the Asherah (see also Groves). The image of the god was to be seen at some of the high places (II Kings xvii. 29). Ephod and Teraphim were also among their appointments (Judges xvii. 5; I Sam. xxi. 9; comp. Hosea iii. 4). Buildings are mentioned, the so-called "houses of high places" (I Sam. ix. 22 et seq.; I Kings xii. 31, xiii. 32); and Ezek. xvi. 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: (Ezek. vi. 3; II Kings xxxi. 3), (Lev. xxvi. 30), (II Kings xxiii. 8, 15; II Chron. xxxi. 1), and (II Kings xxiii. 15). If "ramah" (Ezek. xvi. 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 Deut. xxxiii. 29), "ride on high places" (e.g., Deut. xxxii. 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 Ps. xviii. 34 (Hebr.) the word has this implication. "To place one on one's bamot" signifies to give one success (comp. Hab. iii. 19; Amos iv. 13; Micah i. 3; Job ix. 8; Isa. xiv. 14, lviii. 14), or to recognize orassert one's superiority. Attached to these high places were priests ("kohanim": I Kings xii. 32; xiii. 2, 23; II Kings xvii. 32, xxiii. 20; called also "kemarim"; II Kings xxiii. 5), as well as "ḳedeshot" and "ḳedeshim" = "diviners" (Hosea iv. 13, xi.) and "prophets" (I Sam. x. 5, 10; xi. 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 ii. 13 [A. V. 15], 15; ix. 4) with libations and sacrifices (ib. ii. 5 , iii. 1); tithes were brought to them (Gen. xxviii. 20-22; Amos iv. 4); and clan, family, or individual sacrifices were offered at them (I Sam. ix. 11; Deut. xii. 5-8, 11; the prohibition proving the prevalence of the practise). It was there that solemn covenants were ratified (Ex. xxi. 6, xxii. 8 ) and councils held (I Sam. xxii. 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, Num. xx. 20; Miriam's in Kadesh-barnea, Num. xx. 1; Joseph's in Shechem, Josh. xxiv. 32; Moses' on Nebo, Deut. xxxiv.)—has been advanced as one theory (see Nowack, "Hebräische Archäologie," ii. 14 et seq.; Benzinger, "Arch." Index, s.v. "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." ii. 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 (Deut. xii. 2; Num. xxxiii. 52). The Moabites worshiped Peor (Baal-peor) on the mountain of that name (Num. xxiii. 28; xxv. 3, 5, 18; xxxi. 16; Deut. iii. 29 ["Beth-peor"], iv. 3; Hosea ix. 10; Ps. cvi. 28), and had bamot (Isa. xv. 2, xvi. 12; Jer. xlviii. 35; comp. "Bamoth-baal," Josh. xiii. 17). "Baal-hermon" (I Chron. v. 23) points in the same direction. Carmel was certainly regarded as the dwelling-place of Baal (or
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 (I Kings iii. 4; I Chron. xvi. 39, xxi. 29; II Chron. i. 3, 13); the bamah at Ramah, where Saul and Samuel met (I Sam. ix. 12, 13, 14, 19, 25); that at Gibeah, where Saul fell in with the howling dervishes or prophets (I Sam. x. 5, 13); that founded by Jeroboam at Beth-el (II Kings xxiii. 15); that built by Solomon in honor of Chemosh (I Kings xi. 7); one at a place not named (Ezek. xx. 29; comp. Jer. xlviii. 35; Isa. xvi. 12). The following places must have been bamot, though not always explicitly so denominated in the text: Bochim (Judges ii. 5); Ophrah (ib. vi. 24, viii. 27); Zorah (ib. xiii. 16-19); Shiloh (ib. xviii. 31); Dan (ib. xviii. 30); Beth-el (see above and Judges xx. 18 [R. V.], 23, 26 [R. V.], xxi. 2, 4); Mizpah (ib. xx. 1; I Sam. vii. 9); Ramah (see above and I Sam. vii. 17, ix. 12); Gibeah (see above and I Sam. xiv. 35); Gilgal (ib. x. 8, xi. 15, xiii. 9, xv. 21); Beth-lehem (ib. xvi. 2; xx. 6, 29); Nob (ib. xxi. 2); Hebron (II Sam. xv. 7); Giloh (ib. xv. 12); the thrashing-floor of Araunah (ib. xxiv. 25).
Some of these were of ancient origin, being associated with events in patriarchal days (e.g., Hebron [Shechem and Beer-sheba] and Beth-el, Gen. xii. 8, xiii. 4, xxviii. 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
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
Josiah is credited with demolishing all the bamot-houses in Samaria (ib. xxiii. 19), killing the priests, and burning their bones on the altar (comp. ib. xxiii. 15), thus fulfilling the prediction put into the mouth of the Judean prophet under Jeroboam (I Kings xiii. 32) and of Amos (vii. 5).Destruction of the High Places.
In Judea the high places flourished under Rehoboam (I Kings xiv. 23). His grandson Asa, though abolishing the foreign cults (ib. xv. 12; II Chron. xv. 8), did not totally exterminate the high places (I Kings xv. 14; II Chron. xv. 17); for his successor, Jehoshaphat, still found many of them (II Chron. xvii. 6; I Kings xxii. 47; see also I Kings xxii. 44; II Chron. xx. 33). Under Ahaz non-Hebrew bamot again increased (II Chron. xxviii. 24; comp. Tophet in Jer. vii. 31, xix. 5). Jerusalem especially abounded in them (Micah i. 5) Hezekiah is credited with having taken the first step toward remedying the evil (see Hezekiah,
The critical analysis of the Law gives the same result as the foregoing historical survey. The Book of the Covenant (Ex. xx. 34) legitimates local altars: Deuteronomy (xii. 2, 3, 12; comp. xiv. 23-25; xv. 20; xvi. 2, 6, 15, 16; xvii. 8; xviii. 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. xiv. 4 et seq.). The rabbinical explanations have been collected by Ugolino in his "Thesaurus" (x. 559 et seq.). A distinction is made between a great ("gedolah") bamah for public use and a small one for private sacrifices (Meg. i. 10; comp. Zeb. xiv. 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.