(מִזבֵּחִ, mizbe'ach, from זָבִח, to slay in sacrifice; βωμός), a structure on which sacrifices of any kind are offered. In ancient times this was always done by slaughter or by fire. The term is borrowed in modern times to signify a table or other erection in a church on which the sacraments are administered, or near which prayer is offered and other religious exercises performed (comp. Heb 13:10). They were originally of earth (Ex 20:24; comp. Lucan. 9:988; Horace, Odes, 3, 8, 4; Ovid, Metam. 4, 752; Trist. 5, 5, 9; Pliny, 4, 4) or unwrought stone (Ex 20:25), erected on such spots as had been early held sacred (Ge 12:7 sq.; 13:18; 26:25; 35:1; Ex 17:15; Ex 24:4 sq.), especially hill- tops and eminences (Ge 22:9; Eze 18:6; comp. Herodotus 1:131; Homer, Iliad, 22, 171; Apollon. Rhod. 524; Livy, 21:38; Philostr. Apol. 1, 2), also house-tops (2Ki 23:12), as being nearer the sky (Tacit. Anal. 13, 57; Philostr. Apol. 2, 5); occasionally under remarkable trees (2Ki 16:4). See Smith's Dict. of Class. Antiq. s.v. Ara; Selden, Synedr. 3, 260 sq.; Jahn, Archaol. pt. 3, c. 2, 5; Bahr, Symbolik, 1, 157, 233; Lakemacher, Antiq. Graec. sacr. p. 221 sq. The stone altars erected to the true God (Jos 8:31; 1Ki 18:31; 1Sa 6:14) were imitated by the Gentiles, as appears from Pausanias (6, 382), where he mentions "an altar of white stone," and Apollonius Rhodius, in speaking of the temple of Mars (Argon. 2). Altars were generally erected at the gates of the city (2Ki 23:8). We may refer to this Ac 14:13, where the priest of Jupiter is said to have brought filleted oxen to the gates to perform sacrifice. An altar, both among the Jews and the heathen, was an asylum, a sanctuary, for such persons as fled to it for refuge (Ex 21:14; 1Ki 1:50; 1Ki 2:28, etc.). As to the practice of the heathen in this respect, all the Greek writers are more or less copious. SEE HORNS.
Heb 13:10, "We have an altar," etc., Macknight explains thus: "Here, by a usual metonymy, the altar is put for the sacrifice, as is plain from the apostle's adding 'of which they have no right to eat.' This is the sacrifice which Christ offered for the sins of the world;: and the eating of it does not mean corporeal eating, but the partaking of the pardon which Christ, by that sacrifice, had procured for sinners" (comp. Olshau. sen, Comment. in loc.). SEE LORD'S SUPPER.
One wooden table was wont to be placed in the midst of every meeting- place of the primitive Christians, upon which each of them laid what he bestowed for the use of the poor, as we are informed by Theodoret (5, 18; see Heb 12:16); and because alms are noted with the name of sacrifice, that table upon which they were laid was called by the ancient Christians an altar. SEE SACRIFICE.
I. Pagan. — There is 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. SEE STONE. These are various in their forms, and their peculiar uses have been very much disputed. (See Penny Cyclopoedia, s.v. Avebury, Carnac, Stonehenge.) Dr. Kitto has elaborately examined the subject (Pict. Hist. of Palest. append. to bk. 3, ch. 3 and 4), and comes to the conclusion that the cromlechs are representatives of ancient altars, while the kistvaens, or stones disposed in a chest-like form, are analogous to the arks of Jewish and Egyptian worship, SEE ARK, and are remnants of the so-called arkite traditions. SEE FLOOD. Cromlechs are somewhat in the form of a table, one large stone being supported in a horizontal or slightly inclined position upon three or more, but usually three stones, set upright. That they were used as altars is almost instinctively suggested to every one that views them; and this conclusion is strengthened when, as is often the case, we observe a small circular hole through which probably the rope was run by which the victims, when slaughtered, were bound to the altar, as they were to the angular projections or "horns" of the Jewish altar (Ps 123:4). It was natural that when a sufficiency of large stones could not be found, heaps of smaller ones should be employed, and that, when practicable, a large flat stone would be placed on the top, to give a proper level for the fire and the sacrifice. Such are the cairns of altar-like form, many of which still remain; but as they are sometimes found in places where stones of large size might have been obtained, it seems that in later times such altars had a special appropriation; and Toland shows (Hist. of Brit. Druids, p. 101) that the sacred fires were burned on them, and sacrifices offered to Bel, Baal, the Sun. In many instances, as at Stonehenge, a circle of stones is ranged around a central one in an amphitheatrical manner, an arrangement which has been found to take place likewise even in Persia, as at Darab (Ouseley's Travels, 2, 124). Caesar refers to such consecrated circles for national deliberation among the Gauls (Bell. Gall. 6), and Homer alludes to Grecian councils held within circles of stones (Il. 18, 585; comp. Od. 8, 5). The following, figured from Ouseley (Travels in Persia, 2, 80-83), was called by the natives "Stone of the Fire Temple," and is surrounded by a low wall. It is ten or eleven feet high, and about three square. Two sides contain an inscription, in Pehlvi, within a sunken circle. There is a small cavity on the top, as if to contain fire. The pyramids (q.v.) of Egypt may likewise have been originally sites of worship.
Passing by the early and rude forms of altars still extant of the Mexican worship, since too little is known of the history and application of these to illustrate our subject in any definite manner, we notice those of Egypt as being first both in point of aptness and antiquity. The first of the accompanying specimens is of a purely Egyptian character, and is taken from the representations of sacrifice upon the monuments.
Among the ancient Egyptian pictures that have been discovered at Herculaneum are two of a very curious description, representing sacred ceremonies of the Egyptians, probably in honor of His. In one the scene is in the area before a temple (as usual); the congregation is numerous, the music various, and the priests engaged are at least nine persons. The temple is raised, and an ascent of eleven steps leads up to it. In the entire painting, of the. birds or ibises one is lying down at ease, another is standing up without fear or apprehension; a third, perched-on some paling, is looking over the heads of the people; and a fourth is standing on the back of a Sphinx, nearly adjacent to the temple, in the front of it. It deserves notice that this altar (and the other also) has at each of its four corners a rising, which continues square to about half its height, but from thence is gradually sloped off to an edge or a point. These are no doubt the horns of the altar, and probably this is their true figure (see Ex 27:2, etc.; 29:12; Eze 43:15). The priest is blowing up the fire, apparently with a fan, so as to avoid the pollution of the breath. The other figure, which we give more in full, shows the horns of the altar, formed on the same principle as the foregoing; but this is seen on its angle, and its general form is more elevated. It has no garlands, and perfumes appear to be burning on it. In this picture the assembly is not so numerous as in the other; but almost all, to the number of ten or a dozen persons, are playing on musical instruments.
The idolaters in the first ages of the world, who generally worshipped the sun, appear to have thought it improper to confine the supposed infinity of this imaginary deity within walls, and therefore they generally made choice of woods and mountains, as the most convenient places for their idolatry; and when, in later times, they had brought in the use of temples, yet for a long time they kept them open-roofed. With such a form of worship notions of gloomy sublimity were associated, and so prevalent was the custom, that the phrase "worshipping on high places," is frequently used to signify idolatry in the Old Testament. The worshipping on high-places was strictly forbidden to the Jews; not merely because the custom had a tendency to produce idolatry, but also because the customary form of that idolatry was the worst, the most cruel, and the most debasing. SEE HIGH- PLACE. It was before these altars, in groves and mountains, that human sacrifices were most frequently offered, that parents whose natural affections were blighted and destroyed by dark superstitions made their children pass through the fire to Moloch; and it was in such places that licentiousness and depravity were systematically made a part of public worship. SEE IDOLATRY. It does not appear from the monuments that altars on high-places were common in Egypt, though there are some traces of worship in groves. SEE ASHERAH.
The heathens at first made their altars only of turf, afterward of stone, marble, wood, and other materials. They differed in form as well as material, some being round, some square, and others triangular. All their altars turned toward the east, and stood lower than the statue of the god, and were adorned with sculptures representing the deity to whom erected, or the appropriate symbols. These altars were of two kinds, the higher and the lower; the higher were intended for the celestial gods, and were called by the Romans altaria; the lower were for the terrestrial and infernal gods, and were called aroe. Those dedicated to the heavenly gods were raised a great height above the ground; those of the terrestrial gods were almost even with the surface, and those for the infernal deities were only holes dug in the ground, called scrobiculi. Most of the ancient Greek altars were of a cubical form; and hence, when the oracle of Apollo at Delphi commanded that a new altar should be prepared exactly double the size of that which already stood in the temple, a problem was given surpassing the powers of science in those days, which is well known to mathematicians under the name of the duplication of the cube. The great temples of Rome generally contained three altars; the first, in the sanctuary at the foot of the statue, for incense and libations; the second, before the gate of the temple, for the sacrifice of victims; and the third, like the table of shewbread, was a portable one for the offerings and vessels to lie upon.
The ALTAR AT ATHENS, inscribed "to the unknown God." — Paul, discoursing in that city on the resurrection of the dead, was carried by some of the philosophers before the judges of the Areopagus, where he uses this expression (Ac 17:22-23): "Ye men of Athens, I perceive that in all things ye are too superstitious" (over-fond of gods); "for as I passed by, and beheld your sacred instruments, I found an altar with this inscription, 'To the unknown god;' him, therefore, whom ye worship as 'unknown,' him declare" (represent, announce) "I unto you." The question is, What was this altar thus consecrated to the "unknown god?" Jerome says that it was inscribed "to the gods of Asia, Europe, and Africa — to the unknown and strange gods;" and that the apostle uses the singular form because his design was only to demonstrate to the Athenians that they adored an unknown god (Comment. ad Tit. 1, 12). Some, as Grotius, Vossius, Beza, believe that Paul speaks of altars extant in several places of Attica, without any inscription, erected after a solemn expiation for the country, by the philosopher Epimenides (Diog. Laert. Vit. Epim. 1, 29). Others conceive that this altar was the one mentioned by Pausanias (1, 1) and Philostratus (Vit. Ap. 6, 3), who speak of altars at Athens consecrated "to the unknown gods." Lucian (Philopatr. § 9) swears "by the unknown god at Athens." He adds, "Being come to Athens, and finding there the unknown god, we worshipped him, and gave thanks to him, with hands lifted up to heaven" (but see Niemeyer, Interp. Orat. Pauli in Areop. hab.). Peter Comestor relates that Dionysius the Areopagite, observing while he was at Alexandria the eclipse which, contrary to nature, happened at the death of our Savior, from thence concluded that some unknown god suffered; and not being then in a situation to learn more of the matter, he erected at his return to Athens this altar "to the unknown god," which gave occasion to Paul's discourse at the Areopagus. Theophylact, OEcumenius, and others, give a different account of its origin and design, but each of their opinions, as also those we have noticed, has its difficulties. Augustine had no doubt that the Athenians, under the appellation of the unknown God, really worshipped the true one (comp. Hales, Analysis, 3, 519-531). SEE ATHENS. The most probable appears to be the conjecture of Eichhorn (Allgem. Biblioth. 3, 414), to which Niemeyer subscribes, that there were standing at Athens several very ancient altars, which had originally no inscription, and which were afterward not destroyed, for fear of provoking the anger of the gods to whom they had been dedicated, although it was no longer known who these gods were. He supposes, therefore, that the inscription ἀγνώστῳ Θεῷ, to an [some] unknown God, was placed upon them; and that one of these altars was seen by the apostle, who, not knowing that there were others, spoke accordingly. To this we may add the notion of Kuinol (Comment. in loc.), who considers it proved that there were several altars at Athens on which the inscription was written in the plural number, and believes that there was also one altar with the inscription in the singular, although the fact has been recorded by no other writer; for no argument can be drawn from this silence to the discredit of a writer, like Paul, of unimpeached integrity. The altar in question, he thinks, had probably been dedicated ἀγνώστῳ Θεῷ on account of some remarkable benefit received, which seemed attributable to some God, although it was uncertain to whom. SEE UNKNOWN GOD.
So much at least is certain, both from Paul's assertion and the testimony of Greek profane writers, that altars to an unknown god or gods existed at Athens. But the attempt to ascertain definitely whom the Athenians worshipped under this appellation must ever remain fruitless for want of sufficient data. The inscription afforded to Paul a happy occasion of proclaiming the Gospel; and those who embraced it found indeed that the Being whom they had thus "ignorantly worshipped" was the one only living and true God (Lardner's Works, 7, 319-321). SEE PAUL.
II. Jewish. — Cain and Abel appear to have worshipped at some primitive form of altar (Ge 4:3-4); but the first altar we read of in the Bible was that erected by Noah on leaving the ark. According to a rabbinical legend, it was partly formed from the remains of one built by Adam on his expulsion from Paradise, and afterward used by Cain and Abel, on the identical spot where Abraham prepared to offer up Isaac (Zohar, Genesis 51:3, 4; Jonathan's Targum, Ge 9:20; Ge 22:24). Mention is made of altars erected by Abraham (Ge 12:7; Ge 13:4; Ge 22:9); by Isaac (26:25); by Jacob (33:20; 35:1, 3); by Moses (Ex 17:15). After the giving of the law, the Israelites were commanded to make an altar of earth; they were also permitted to employ stones, but no iron tool was to be applied to them. This has been generally understood as an interdiction of sculpture, in order to guard against a violation of the second commandment. Altars were frequently built on high places (q.v.), the word being used not only for the elevated spots, but for the sacrificial structures upon them (Creuzer, Symbol. 1, 159; Gesenius, Comment. zu Jesa. 2, 282). Thus Solomon built a high-place for Chemosh (1Ki 11:7), and Josiah broke down and burnt the high-place, and stamped it small to powder (2Ki 23:15). Such structures, however, were forbidden by the Mosaic law (De 12:13; De 16:5), except in particular instances, such as those of Gideon (Jg 6:26) and David (2Sa 24:18). It is said of Solomon that he "loved the Lord, walking in the statutes of David, his father, only he sacrificed and burnt incense on the high-places" (1Ki 3:3). Altars were sometimes built on the roofs of houses: in 2Ki 23:12, we read of the altars that were on the top of the upper chamber of Ahaz. In the tabernacle, and afterward in the temple, two altars were erected, one for sacrifices, the other for incense; the table for the shew-bread is also sometimes called an altar.
1. The ALTAR OF BURNT-OFFERING (מִזבִּח הָעוֹלָה), Ex 30:28, or brazen altar (מִזבִּח הִנּחשֶׁת), Ex 39:39, called in Mal 1:7,12, "the table of the Lord," perhaps also in Eze 44:16. This differed in construction at different times.
(a.) In the tabernacle (Ex 27; Ex 38) this was a hollow square, five cubits in length and breadth, and three cubits in height; it was made of shittimwood, SEE SHITTIM, and overlaid with plates of brass. In the middle there was a ledge or projection (כִּרכֹּב, karkob', Rosenmuller, deambulacrum), on which the priest stood while officiating; immediately below this a brass grating was let down into the altar to support the fire, with four rings attached, through which poles were passed when the altar was removed. Some critics have supposed that this grating was placed perpendicularly, and fastened to the outward edge of this projection, thus making the lower part of the altar larger than the upper. Others have imagined that it extended horizontally beyond the projection, in order to intercept the coals or portions of the sacrifice which might accidentally fall off the altar. To this effect is a statement by the Targumist Jonathan. But for such a purpose (as Bahr remarks, Symbol. 1, 480) a grating seems very unsuitable (comp. Josephus, Ant. 3, 6, 8). As the priests were forbidden to go up by steps to the altar (Ex 20:26; comp. Ge 10; Ge 15; Servius, ad AEn. 4, 646), a slope of earth was probably made rising to a level with the projection. According to the Jewish tradition, this was on the south side, which is not improbable; for on the east was "the place of the ashes" (Le 1:16), and the laver of brass was probably near the western side, so that only the north and south sides were left (Eze 8:5). Those critics who suppose the grating to have been perpendicular or on the outside consider the injunction in Ex 20:24, as applicable to this altar, and that the inside was filled with earth; so that the boards of shittim-wood formed merely a case for the real altar. So Jarchi, on Ex 27:5. Its corners were ornamented with "horns" (Ex 29:12; Le 4:18 sq.). SEE HORN.
In Ex 27:3, the following utensils are mentioned as belonging to the altar, all of which were to be made of brass.
1. סִירִוֹת, siroth', pans or dishes to receive the ashes (q.v.) that fell through the grating.
2. יִעִים, yaim', shovels (Vulg. forcipes), for cleaning the altar.
3. מִזרָקוֹת, mizrakoth' (Auth. Vers. basins; Sept. φιάλαι; Gesenius, patera sacrifica), vessels for receiving the blood and sprinkling it on the altar.
4. מִזלָגוֹת, mizlagoth' (Auth. Vers. "flesh-hooks;" Sept. κρεάγραι; Vulg. fuscinulke), large forks to turn the pieces of flesh, or to take them off the fire (see 1Sa 2:13).
5. מִחתּוֹת, machtoth' (Auth. Vers. "firepans;" Sept. τὸ πυρεῖον); the same word is elsewhere translated censers (Nu 16:17); but in Ex 25:38, "snuff-dishes;" Sept. ὑποθέματα. (Comp. Lamy, De Tabern. p. 439 sq.; Meyer, Bibeldeut. p. 201 sq.; Van Til, De Tabernac. p. 57.)
(b.) The altar of burnt-offerings in Solomon's temple was of much larger dimensions, "twenty cubits in length and breadth, and ten in height" (2Ch 4:1; comp. 1Ki 8:22,64; 1Ki 9:25), and was made entirely of brass, i.e. bronze plates covering a structure of earth or stone (Cramer, De Ara exter. p. 29 sq.). It is said of Asa that he renewed (חִדֵּשׁ), that is, either repaired (in which sense the word is evidently used in 2Ch 24:4) or reconstructed (Sept. ἐνεκαίνισε) the altar of the Lord that was before the porch of the Lord (2Ch 15:8). This altar was removed by King Ahaz (2Ki 16:14); it was "cleansed" by Hezekiah; and in the latter part of Manasseh's reign was rebuilt. It is not certain whether this was one of the sacred utensils which the Babylonians broke up and removed their materials (Jer 52:17 sq.).
(c.) Of the altar of burnt-offering in the second temple the canonical scriptures give us no information, excepting that it was erected before the foundations of the temple were laid (Ezr 3:3,6), on the same place where it had formerly been built (Josephus, Ant. 11, 4, 1). From the Apocrypha, however, we may infer that it was made, not of brass, but of unhewn stone (comp. Spencer, Leg. rit. p. 418 sq.; Bahr, Symbol. 1, 489; Cramer, p. 32 sq.), for in the account of the restoration of the temple service by Judas Maccabeus, it is said, "They took whole stones, according to the law, and built a new altar according to the former" (1 Maccabees 4:47). When Antiochus Epiphanes pillaged Jerusalem, Josephus informs us that he left the temple bare, and took away the golden candlesticks, and the golden altar (of incense), and table (of shew-bread), and the altar of burnt- offering (Ant. 12, 5, 4).
(d.) The altar of burnt-offering erected by Herod is thus described by Josephus (Wars, v. 5, 6): "Before this temple stood the altar, fifteen cubits high, and equal both in length and breadth, each of which dimensions was fifty cubits. The figure it was built in was a square, and it had corners like horns, and the passage up to it was by an insensible acclivity from the south. It was formed without any iron tool, nor did any iron tool so much as touch it at any time." The dimensions of this altar are differently stated in the Mishna (Middoth, 3, 1). It is there described as a square 32 cubits at the base; at the height of a cubit it is reduced 1 cubit each way, making it 30 cubits square; at 5 cubits higher it is similarly contracted, becoming 28 cubits square, and at the base of the horns 26 cubits; and, allowing a cubit each way for the deambulacrum, a square of 24 cubits is left for the fire on the altar. Other Jewish writers place the deambulacrum 2 feet below the surface of the altar, which would certainly be a more suitable construction. The Mishna states, in accordance with Josephus, that the stones of the altar were unhewn, agreeably to the command in Ex 20:25; and that they were whitewashed every year at the Passover and the feast of tabernacles. On the south side was an inclined plane, 32 cubits long and 16 cubits broad, made likewise of unhewn stones. A pipe was connected with the south-west horn, through which the blood of the victims was discharged by a subterraneous passage into the brook Kedron. Under the altar was a cavity to receive the drink-offerings, which was covered with a marble slab, and cleansed from time to time. On the north side of the altar several iron rings were fixed to fasten the victims. Lastly, a red line was drawn round the middle of the altar to distinguish between the blood that was to be sprinkled above and below it (Reland, Antiq. Sacr. p. 97 sq.; Lamy, De Tabernac. table 16; L'Empereur, in the Mishna, in loc.; Cramer, De Ara exteriore Templi secundi, Lugd. Bat. 1697, and in Ugolini Thesaur. 10; Ugolini Altare exter. in his Thesaur. 10; Otho, Lex. Rabb. p. 32 sq.).
According to Le 6:6, the fire on the altar of burnt-offerings was not permitted to go out (Buxtorf, Historia ignis sacri, in his Exercit. p. 288 sq.; and in Ugolini Thesaur. 10; Horeb, De igne Sacro, in Ugolini Thesaur. 32; Bohn, De igne Gentilium sacro in Israel. sacra injurio, in Ugolini Thesaur. 10; comp. Deyling, Observ. 2, 164 sq.; 5, 47 sq.; Carpzov, Appar. p. 286; Schacht, Animadv. ad Iken. p. 293; Rosenmuller,
Morgenl. 2, 156 sq.; Spanheim, De Vesta et Prytaneis Groec. in Graevii Thesaur. 5, 660 sq.; Hyde, Relig. vet. Pers. 8), as having originally fallen from heaven (Le 9:24; πῦρ οὐρανοπετές, comp. Curt. 3, 3; Ammian. Marcel. 23:6; Pausan. 5, 15, 5; 8:9, 1; Plutarch, Numa, 9; Solin. 5; Serv. ad AEn. 12, 200; Val. Max. 1:1, 7; Zendavesta, 3, 237), and, according to the rabbinical traditions, renewed in like manner on several occasions (Gemara, Yoma, 21; Zebach, 61,2; 2 Maccabees 1:19 sq.; comp. Van Dale, De Idolatr. c. 8, p. 149 sq.). SEE BURNT-OFFERING.
2. The second altar belonging to the Jewish Cultus was the ALTAR OF INCENSE (מִזבִּח הִקּטֹרֶת and מִקטִר קטֹרֶת, Ex 30:1; Sept. θυσιαστήριον θυμιάματος), called also the golden altar (מִזבִּח הִזָּהָב, 29:38; Nu 4:11) to distinguish it from the altar of burnt-offering, which was of less costly materials (Ex 38:30). Probably this is meant by the "altar of wood" spoken of in Eze 41:22, which is further described as the "table that is before the Lord," an expression precisely suitable to the altar of incense (see Delitzsch, Brief an die Hebr. p. 678). The name מִזבֵּחִ, "altar," was not strictly appropriate, as no sacrifices were offered upon it; but once in the year, on the great day of atonement, the high-priest sprinkled upon the horns of it the blood of the sin-offering (Ex 30:10). It was placed between the table of shew- bread and the golden candlestick (Le 16:18), i.e. in the holy place, "before the vail that is by the ark of the testimony" (Ex 30:6; Ex 40:5). Philo, too, speaks of it as "within the first vail," and as standing between the candlestick and the table of shew-bread. In apparent contradiction to this, the author of the Epistle to the Hebrew enumerates it among the objects which were within the second vail, i.e. in the Holy of Holies. It is true that by θυμιατήριον in this passage may be meant "a censer," in accordance with the usage of the Sept., but it is better understood of the altar of incense, which by Philo and other Hellenists is called θυμιατήριον. It is remarkable also that in 1Ki 6:22, this same altar is said to belong to "the oracle" (הִמִּזבֵּחִ אֲשֶׁר לִדּבִיר), or most holy place. This may perhaps be accounted for by the great typical and symbolical importance attached to this altar, so that it might be considered to belong to the "second tabernacle." (See Bleek on Heb 9:4, and Delitzsch, in loc.)
(a.) This altar in the tabernacle was made of shittim-wood overlaid with gold plates, and was one cubit in length and breadth, and two cubits in height. It had horns (Le 4:7) of the same materials; and round the flat surface (גָּג, gag, "top") was a border (זֵר, zer, Auth. Vers. "crown;" Sept. στρεπτὴν στεφάνην) of gold, underneath which were the rings to receive "the staves (בִּדִּים, baddim', parts; Sept. σκυτάλαι) made of shittim-wood overlaid with gold, to bear it withal" (Ex 30:1-5; Josephus, Ant. 3, 6, 8).
(b.) The altar in Solomon's temple was similar, but made of cedar (1Ki 6:20; 1Ki 7:48; 1Ch 29:18) overlaid with gold (comp. Isa 6:6).
(c.) The altar in the second temple was taken away by Antiochus Epiphanes (1 Maccabees 1:23), and restored by Judas Maccabaeus (1 Maccabees 4:49). On the arch of Titus there appears no altar of incense; it is not mentioned in Hebrews 9, nor by Joseph. Ant. 14, 4, 4. According to the Mishna (Chagigah, 3, 8; Tamid, 6, 2), it was overlaid with metal. From the circumstance that the sweet incense was burnt upon it every day, morning and evening (Ex 30:7-8), as well as that the blood of atonement was sprinkled upon it (5, 10), this altar had a special importance attached to it. It is the only altar which appears in the Heavenly Temple (Isa 6:6; Re 8:3-4). It was doubtless this altar at which Zacharias was ministering when the angel appeared to him (Lu 1:11).
See generally Hamm, De Ara sufitus (Herborn, 1715); Cremer, Antiq. Sacr. 1, 297 sq.; Schlichter, in the Symbol. Lit. Brem. 2, 401 sq.; Ugolini Altare Interius, in his Thesaur. 11; Bahr, Symbol. 1, 419 sq., 470 sq. SEE INCENSE.
3. Of other Jewish altars, we read only of
(1.) Altars of brick. There seems to be an allusion to such in Isa 65:3. The words are, מקִטּרִים עִל הִלּבֵנַים, "offering incense on the bricks," generally explained as referring to altars made of this material, and probably situated in the "gardens" mentioned just before. Rosenmuller suggests, however, that the allusion is to some Babylonish custom of burning incense on bricks covered over with magic formulae or cuneiform inscriptions. This is also the view of Gesenius and Maurer.
(2.) The Assyro-Damascene altar erected by Ahaz for his own use (2Ki 16:10-13). SEE AHAZ. It probably resembled one of those in the annexed cut, modified for the occasion.
III. Christian. —
1. Significance. — The word altar is used, figuratively, to denote the Lord's table, not, however, in a sacrificial sense. As there is but the one sacrificing priest, the Lord Jesus, and the one propitiatory sacrifice, namely, the sacrifice of himself, so there is but the one altar, that upon which he gave himself a ransom for all. The apostles in no instance call the bread and wine a sacrifice, or the Lord's table an altar, or the Christian minister a priest. And this is the more remarkable in this case; for they do speak of priests, and sacrifices, and altars under the Christian dispensation, but never in reference to the Lord's Supper. There cannot but have been design in this omission. In the earliest age of Christianity the table was not called altar (Lardner, Works, 4, 212); at a later period both altar and table were used indifferently, the former word, however, not in a Jewish or pagan sense. When the ancient apologists were reproached with having no temples, no altars, no shrines, they simply replied, "Shrines and altars we have not." The more common word employed was table, with the addition of some epithet implying the peculiar use of it in a Christian church. In Chrysostom it is termed the mystical and tremendous table; sometimes the spiritual, divine, royal, immortal, heavenly table. Wherever the word altar was used, it was carefully distinguished from the Jewish altar on which bloody sacrifices were laid, and from heathen altars, connected with absurd idolatries.
The Church of England never uses the word "altar" for communion-table in her rubrics, and she carefully excludes, the notion of a literal sacrifice, which altar would imply, by expressly referring in her communion- service to the sacrifice of Christ ("who, by his one oblation of himself once offered, made a full, perfect, and sufficient sacrifice for the sins of the whole world"); and by studiously introducing into the same service the word "sacrifice" in the several figurative senses (warranted by Scripture) which it. will bear; applying the word to our alms, to our offering of: praise and thanksgiving, to the offering of ourselves, souls and bodies, but never applying it to the elements, That the English reformers wished to discountenance the notion of altars, and sacrifices thereon, appears from the fact that at the Reformation altars were ordered henceforth, to be called tables, in consequence of a sermon preached by Bishop Hooper, who said, "that it would do well, that it might please the magistrate to turn 'altars' into 'tables,' according to, the first institution of Christ; to take away the false persuasion of the people, which they have of sacrifice to be done upon the altars for as long as altars remain, both the ignorant people and the ignorant and evil-persuaded priest will always dream of sacrifice" (Hooper's Writings, Parker Society, p. 488; Burnet, Hist. of Reformation, 2, 252, 253). Other Protestant Churches, in particular the Lutheran, have retained the use of an altar, at which the Liturgy is read, the Lord's Supper celebrated, and other ecclesiastical actions performed.
2. Material and Form. — In the time of Augustine it appears that the altars in the churches of Africa were of wood, and it is commonly thought that stone altars began to be used about the time of Constantine. In the time of Gregory Nyssen altars began to be made generally of stone.; and the twenty-sixth canon of the council of Epaone, A.D. 517, forbids to consecrate any but a stone altar; from which and other evidence (see- Martene, lib. 1, cap. 3, art. 6, No. 5) it appears that wooden altars were in use in France till that, and a much later period. In England wooden altars were originally in common use (William of Malmesbury, 3, 14, De Vita Wulstani, Ep. Wigorn.: "Erant tunc temporis altaria lignea, jam inde a priscis diebus in Anglia, ea ille per dioecesin demolitus, ex lapidibus compaginavit alia"). At the English Reformation stone altars were removed and wooden tables substituted. The eighty-second canon of the synod of London, 1603, orders that a convenient and decent table shall be provided for the celebration of the holy communion, covered with a carpet of silk, or other decent stuff, and with a fair linen cloth at the time of communion. As to its position, the rubric before the communion service states that it may stand in the body of the church; or in the chancel.
Altars in the Romish Church are built of stone, to represent Christ, the foundation-stone of the spiritual building, the Church. Every altar has three steps going up to it, covered with a carpet. It is decked with natural and artificial flowers, according to the season of the year, and no cost is spared in adorning it with gold, silver, and jewels. The tabernacle of the Holy Sacrament is placed on the holy altar, on each side of which are tapers of white wax, except at all offices for the dead, and during the last three days of Passion-week, at which time they are yellow. A crucifix is placed on the altar. There is a copy, written in a legible hand, of the Te igitur, a prayer addressed only to the first Person of the Trinity. The altar is furnished with a little bell, which is rung thrice when the priest kneels down, thrice when he elevates the host, and thrice when he sets it down. There is also a portable altar or consecrated stone, with a small cavity in the middle of the front side, in which are put the relics of saints, and it is sealed up by the bishop. Should the seal be broken, the altar loses its consecration. The furniture of the altar consists of a chalice and paten for the bread and wine, both of gold or silver; a pyx for holding the wafer, at least of silver-gilt; a veil, in form of, pavilion, of rich white stuff to cover the pyx; a thurible, of silver or pewter, for the incense; a holy-water pot, of silver, pewter, or tin; also corporals, palls, purificatories, etc. About the time of Charlemagne it became common to have several altars in one church, a custom which spread, especially since the eleventh century. The side altars were usually erected on pillars, side walls, or in chapels, while the main or high altar stands always in the choir. The Greek churches have generally only one altar.
3. The portable altar (altare portatile, gestatorium, or itinerarium) was one that might be carried about at convenience. These altars Martene refers to the very earliest ages of the Church, maintaining, with some reason, that during times of persecution portable altars were much more likely to be used than those which were fixed and immovable. The use of such portable altars was afterward retained in cases of necessity. The order of benediction is given by Martene, De Ant. Eccl. Rit. (2, 291). — Bingham, Orig. Eccl. bk. 8, ch. 6, § 11-15; Procter, on Common Prayer, p. 29, 58; Collier, Eccl. Hist. — 6. 257; Butler, Lives of Saints, 4, 418; Neal, Hist. of Puritans, 1, 44; 2, 306.
4. The privileged altar (ara proerogativa) was one to which peculiar privileges are granted: e.g. an altar at which, by privilege of the pope, masses for the dead may be said on days when they are not permitted at other altars, and where, according to the modern Roman doctrine, the Church applies, in a peculiar manner, the merits of Jesus Christ and the saints to the souls in purgatory; "but not so that a soul is infallibly delivered from purgatory at each mass that is said, as some may imagine, because indulgences can only avail the dead in the way of suffrages." The origin of privileged altars in the Roman Church dates as lately as the time of Gregory XIII; i.e. between 1572 and 1585, although some writers have endeavored to assign them to an earlier period.
In the earliest ages, the clergy only were allowed to approach the altar; not even the emperor himself, at first, was allowed this privilege, but afterward the rule was relaxed in favor of the imperial dignity (Canon 69, in Trullo). The approach of women to the altar was, if possible, even more strictly prohibited than that of men (Can. 44 of Laodicea, can. 4 of Tours, etc.).
"In these days," says Martene, "the licentiousness of men has arrived at that pitch in the churches, that not only emperors and princes, but the very common people so fill the choir that scarcely is there. sitting room left for the ministering clergy. Nay, more; with shame be it spoken, often women are found so lost to all reverence and shame, as not to hesitate to sit on the very steps of the altar!" — Martene, De Ant. Eccl. Rit. lib. 1, cap. 3; Landon, Eccl. Dict. s.v.
Further literature on the subject of altars is contained in the treatises of Batellus, Ablutio basilicoe Vat. (Romans 1702); Bebel, De mensis euch. vett. (Argent. 1668); Chladenius, De altaragio, (Vit. 1746); Cleffel, De expurg. altaris (Viteb. 1718); Fabricius, De altaribus (Helm. 1698); Fries, Altare in ev. Kirchen (Flensb. 1776); Gattico, De oratoriis (Romans 1741); Geret, De vet. Chr. altaribus (Onold. 1755); Maii, Diss. de aris et altaribus vett. (Giess. 1732); Mizler, De aris et altaribus (Viteb. 1696); Molinsaus, De altaribus vet. Chr. (Hannov. 1607); Orland, De expiando altariq (Flor. 1709); Schmid, De altar. portatilibus (Jen. 1695); Schonland, Nachricht von Altiren (Leipz. 1716); Slevogt, Rechte der Altare (Jena, 1726, 1732); Tarpagius, De sepulchro altarium (Hafn. 1702); Thiers, Autels des eglises (Par. 1688); Tilemann, De altellis (Ulad. 1743); Treiber, De situ altarium (Jen. 1668); Voigt, Thysiasteriologia (Hamb. 1709); Wildvogel, Dejure altarium (Jen. 1716); Hoffmann, De Ara Victoria Imperatoribus Christ. odiosa (Wittenb. 1760); Heideloff, D. Christl. Altar (Nurnb. 1838). SEE TEMPLE.