The Hebrew בָּמוֹת (bāmôt) means “high places” appeared, as a cultic context, 97 times in the Hebrew Bible. But what’s basic meaning of bāmôt? They were local sanctuaries. In the Hebrew Bible, the local sanctuaries were once legitimate cultic sites. They are often perceived as the site of Canaanite rituals, but they are local sanctuaries for the worship of YHWH before the centralization of Jerusalem Temple (1 Sam 9:12). The Moabite Stone (Mesha Inscription) contains the reference to the term bāmôt. The following map shows bāmôt sites. These sites contain religious sanctuaries that reflect a variety meanings of bāmôt, including platform for rituals, an altar, and a temple (Nakhai 1994, 21).
These sites were “torn down” (2 Kgs 23:8; 2 Chr 33:3), “burned” (2 Kgs 23:15), and “removed” (1 Kgs 15:14; 2 Kgs 17:29; 2 Kgs 23:19) mostly by the reforms of Hezekiah and Josiah. Beside the issue of centralization of the DrtH, it is interesting to compare bāmôt of the books of Kings with those of the books of Chronicles during the time of the United Monarchy:
- 1 Kgs 3:2-4: people sacrificed at high places since temple was not yet built. Solomon walked in the statues of David though he sacrificed at high places. Solomon sacrificed 1,000 animals at high places at Gibeon.
- 1 Kgs 11:7: Solomon built a high place for Chemosh.
- 1 Chr 16:39: David stationed Zadok before the tabernacle of YHWH in high place of Gibeon.
- 1 Chr 21:29: The Tabernacle Moses had made and the altar of burn offering were at the high place of Gibeon.
- 2 Chr 1:3: Solomon went to the high place at Gibeon for there was the tent of meeting that Moses had made.
There is no doubt that both Kings and Chronicles see bāmôt as legitimate cultic sites during the time of the United Monarchy, but the ways how both books describe are different.
In the books of Kings, the ancient people of Israel continued to offer sacrifices at bāmôt before Solomon built the Jerusalem Temple (1 Kgs 3:2). For example, Solomon also offered sacrifices at the bāmôt of Gibeon (1 Kgs 3:3).
In the books of Chronicles, the Chronicler mentions that the tabernacle was located at Gibeon (1 Chr 16:39). Solomon visited the cult site at Gibeon in 2 Chr 1:3-13 and sacrificed a thousand burnt offerings on its bronze altar. After Solomon had completed the building of the temple, the priests and Levites brought up the ark, the tent of meeting, and all the holy vessels that were in “the tent” to the new building. The ark was already in the city of David; the tabernacle was brought from Gibeon. Why does the Chronicles mention the tabernacle at Gibeon? Ralph W. Klein states that “locating the tabernacle at Gibeon may be an attempt to justify Solomon’s pilgrimage to the high place at Gibeon” (Klein 2006, 368). The Chronicler depicts Solomon as the ideal king so that the tabernacle should be there at the bāmôt in Gibeon.
Fried, Lisbeth. S. “The High Places (bāmôt) and and the Reforms of Hezekiah and Josiah: An Archaeological Investigation.” JAOS 122/3 (2002): 437-65.
Klein, Ralph W. 1 Chronicles: A Commentary. Hermeneia. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2006.
Nakhai, Beth A. “What’s a Bamah? How Sacred Space Functioned in Ancient Israel.” BAR 20/3 (1994): 18-29.
Filed under: Prophets |