High place (בָּמָה, bamah'; often in the plural, בָּמוֹת; Sept. in the historical books, τὰ ὑψηλά, τὰ ὕψη; in the Prophets, βωμοί; in the Pentateuch, στήλαι, Le 26:30, etc.; and once εἴδωλα, Eze 16:16; Vulg. excelsa, fana) often occurs in connection with the term grove. By "high places" we understand natural or artificial (בָּתֵּי בָמוֹת, 1 Kings 23:32; 2Ki 16:20; comp. 1Ki 11:7; 2Ki 23:15) eminences where worship by sacrifice or offering was made, usually upon an altar erected thereon; and by a "grove" we understand a plantation of trees around a spot in the open air set apart for worship and other sacred services, and therefore around or upon the "high places" which were set apart for the same purposes. SEE GROVE.
We find traces of these customs so soon after the deluge that it is probable they existed prior to that event. It appears that the first altar after the deluge was built by Noah upon the mountain on which the ark rested (Ge 8:20). Abraham, on entering the Promised Land, built an altar upon a mountain between Beth-el and Hai (Ge 12:7-8). At Beersheba he planted a grove, and called there upon the name of the everlasting God (Ge 21:33). The same patriarch was required to travel to the Mount Moriah, and there to offer up his son Isaac (Ge 22:2,4). It was upon a mountain in Gilead that Jacob and Laban offered sacrifices before they parted in peace (Ge 31:54). In fact, such seem to have been the general places of worship in those times; nor does any notice of a temple, or other covered or enclosed building for that purpose, occur. Thus far all seems clear and intelligible. There is no reason in the mere nature of things why a hill or a grove should be an objectionable, or, indeed, why it should not be a very suitable place for worship. Yet by the time the Israelites returned from Egypt, some corrupting change had taken place, which caused them to be repeatedly and strictly enjoined to overthrow and destroy the high places and groves of the Canaanites wherever they found them (Ex 34:13; De 7:5; De 12:2-3). That they were not themselves to worship the Lord on high places or in groves is implied in the fact that they were to have but one altar for regular and constant sacrifice; and it was expressly enjoined that near this sole altar no trees should be planted (De 16:21). SEE ALTAR. The external religion of the patriarchs was in some outward observances different from that subsequently established by the Mosaic law, and therefore they should not be condemned for actions which afterwards became sinful only because they were forbidden (Heidegger, Hist. Patr. II, 3 § 53). It is, however, quite obvious that if every grove and eminence had been suffered to become a place for legitimate worship, especially in a country where they had already been defiled with the sins of polytheism, the utmost danger would have resulted to the pure worship of the one true God (Havernick, Einl. 1, 592). It would infallibly have led to the adoption of nature- goddesses and "gods of the hills" (1Ki 20:23). It was therefore implicitly forbidden by the law of Moses (De 12:11-14), which also gave the strictest injunction to destroy these monuments of Canaanitish idolatry (Le 26:30; Nu 33:52; De 33:29; where Sept. τραχήλων), without stating any general reason for this command beyond the fact that they had been connected with such associations. It seems, however, to be assumed that every Israelite would perfectly understand why groves and high places were prohibited, and therefore they are only condemned by virtue of the injunction to use but one altar for the purpose of sacrifice (Le 17:3-4; De 12, passim; 16:21; Joh 4:20). This practice, indeed, was probably of great antiquity in Palestine. Upon the summit of lofty Hermon are the remains of a small and very ancient temple, towards which faced a circle of temples surrounding the mountain. SEE HERMON. That a temple should have been built on a summit of bare rock perpetually covered with snow shows a strong religious motive, and the position of the temples around the mountain indicates a belief in the sanctity of Hermon itself. This inference is supported by a passage in the treaty of Rameses II with the Hittites of Syria, in which, besides gods and goddesses, the mountains and the rivers, both of the land of the Hittites and of Egypt, and the winds, are mentioned, in a list of Hittite and Egyptian divinities. The Egyptian divinities are spoken of from a Hittite point of view. for the expression 'the mountains and the rivers of the land of Egypt" is only half applicable to the Egyptian nature-worship, which had, in Egypt at least, but one sacred river (Lepsius, Denk Eanler, 3, 146; Brugsch, Geographische Inschriften, 2, 29; De Rouge, in Rev. Arch. nouv. ser. 4:372). SEE HITTITE. That Hermon was worshipped in connection with Baal is probable from the name Mount Baal-Hermon (Jg 3:3), Baal- Hermon (1Ch 5:23) being apparently given to it, Baal being, as the Egyptian monuments indicate, the chief god of the Hittites. That there was such a belief in the sanctity of mountains and hills seems evident from the great number of high places of the old inhabitants, which is clearly indicated in the prohibition of their worship as compared with the statement of the disobedience of the Israelites. SEE HILT.
The injunctions, however, respecting the high places and groves were very imperfectly obeyed by the Israelites; and their inveterate attachment to this mode of worship was such that even pious kings, who opposed idolatry by all the means in their power, dared not abolish the high places at which the Lord was worshipped. It appears likely that this toleration of an acknowledged irregularity arose from the indisposition of the people living at a distance from the Temple to be confined to the altar which existed there; to their determination to have places nearer home for the chief acts of their religion-sacrifice and offering; and to the apprehension of the kings that if they were prevented from having places for offerings to the Lord in their own neighborhood they would make the offerings to idols. Moreover, the Mosaic command was a prospective one, and was not to come into force until such times as the tribes were settled in the Promised Land, and "had rest from all their enemies round about." Thus we find that both Gideon and Manoah built altars on high places by divine command (Jg 6:25-26; Jg 13:16-23), and it is quite clear from the tone of the book of Judges that the law on the subject was either totally forgotten or practically obsolete. Nor could the unsettled state of the country have been pleaded as an excuse, since it seems to have been most fully understood, even during the life of Joshua, that burnt-offerings could be legally offered on one altar only (Jos 22:29). It is more surprising to find this law absolutely ignored at a much later period, when there was no intelligible reason for its violation-as by Samuel at Mizpeh (1Sa 7:10) and at Bethlehem (1Sa 16:5); by Saul at Gilgal (1Sa 13:9) and at Ajalon (1Sa 14:35); by David on the threshing floor of Ornan (1Ch 21:26); by Elijah on Mount Carmel (1Ki 18:30); and by other prophets (1Sa 10:5). It will, however, be observed that in these cases the parties either acted under an immediate command from God, or were invested with a general commission of similar force with reference to such transactions. It has also been suggested that greater latitude was allowed in this point before the erection of the Temple gave to the ritual principles of the ceremonial law a fixity which they had not previously possessed. This is possible, for it is certain that all the authorized examples occur before it was built, excepting that of Elijah; and that occurred under circumstances in which the sacrifices could not possibly have taken place at Jerusalem, and in a kingdom where no authorized altar to Jehovah then existed. The Rabbins have invented elaborate methods to account for the anomaly: thus they say that high places were allowed until the building of the tabernacle; that they were then illegal until the arrival at Gilgal, and then during the period while the tabernacle was at Shiloh; that they were once more permitted while it was at Nob and Gibeon (compare 2Ch 1:3), until the building of the Temple at Jerusalem rendered them finally unlawful (R. Sol. Jarchi, Abarbanel, etc., quoted in Carpzov, App. Crit. p. 333 sq.; Relanid, Ant. Hebr. 1, 8 sq.). 'Others content themselves with saying that until Solomon's time all Palestine was considered holy ground, or that there existed a recognized exemption in favor of high places for private and spontaneous, though not for the stated and public sacrifices. Such explanations are sufficiently unsatisfactory; but it is at any rate certain that, whether from the obvious temptations to disobedience, or from the example of other nations, or from ignorance of any definite law against it, the worship in high places was organized and all but universal throughout Judaea, not only during (1Ki 3:2-4), but even after the time of Solomon. The convenience of them was evident, because, as local centers of religious worship, they obviated the unpleasant and dangerous necessity of visiting Jerusalem for the celebration of the yearly feasts (2Ki 23:9). The tendency was engrained in the national mind; and, although it was severely reprehended by the later historians, we have no proof that it was known to be sinful during the earlier periods of the monarchy, except, of course, where it was directly connected with idolatrous abominations (1Ki 11:7; 2Ki 23:13). In fact, the high places seem to have supplied the need of synagogues (Ps 74:8), and to have obviated the extreme self-denial involved in having but one legalized locality for the highest forms of worship. Thus we find that Rehoboam established a definite worship at the high places, with its own peculiar and separate priesthood (2Ch 11:15; 2Ki 23:9), the members of which were still considered to be priests of Jehovah (although in 2Ki 23:5 they are called by the opprobrious term כּמָרַים). It was therefore no wonder that Jeroboam found it so easy to seduce the people into his symbolic worship at the high places of Dan and Bethel. at each of which he built a chapel for his golden calves. Such chapels were, of course, frequently added to the mere altars on the hills, as appears from the expressions in 1Ki 11:7; 2Ki 17:9, etc. Indeed, the word בָּמוֹת became so common that it was used for any idolatrous shrine even in a valley (Jer 7:31), or in the streets of cities (2Ki 17:9; Eze 16:31). These chapels were probably not structures of stone, but mere tabernacles hung with colored tapestry (Eze 16:16; Aqu., Theod. ἐμβόλισμα; see Jeremiah ad loc.; Sept. εἴδωλον ῥαπτόν), like the σκηνὴ ἱερά of the Carthaginians (Diod. Sic. 20:65; Creuzer, Symbol. 5, 176), and like those mentioned in 2Ki 23:7; Amos 5, 26. Many of the pious kings of Judah were either too weak or too ill-informed to repress the worship of Jehovah at these local sanctuaries, while they of course endeavored to prevent it from being contaminated with polytheism. It is therefore appended as a matter of blame or a (perhaps venial) drawback to the character of some of the most pious princes, that they tolerated this disobedience to the provisions of Deuteronomy and Leviticus. On the other hand, it is mentioned as an aggravation of the sinfulness of other kings that they built or raised high places (2
Chronicles 21:11; 28:25), which are generally said to have been dedicated to idolatrous purposes. It is almost inconceivable that so direct a violation of the theocratic principle as the public existence of false worship should have been tolerated by kings of even ordinary piety, much less by the highest sacerdotal authorities (2Ki 12:3). When, therefore, we find the recurring phrase, "Only the high places were not taken away; as yet the people did sacrifice and burn incense on the high places" (2Ki 14:4; 2Ki 15:5,35; 2Ch 15:17, etc.), we are forced to limit it (as above) to places dedicated to Jehovah only. The subject, however, is made more difficult by a seeming discrepancy, for the assertion that Asa "took away the high places" (2Ch 14:3) is opposite to what is stated in the first book of Kings (1Ki 15:14), and a similar discrepancy is found in the case of Jehoshaphat (2Ch 17:6; 2Ch 20:33). Moreover, in both instances the chronicler is apparently at issue with himself (14:3; 15:17; 17:6; 20:33). It is incredible that this should have been the result of carelessness or oversight, and we must therefore suppose, either that the earlier notices expressed the will and endeavor of these monarchs to remove the high places, and that the later ones recorded their failure in the attempt (Ewald, Gesch. 3, 468; Keil, Apolog. Versuch. p. 290), or that the statements refer respectively to Bamoth dedicated to Jehovah and to idols (Michaelis, Schulz, Bertheau on 2Ch 17:6, etc.). "Those devoted to false gods were removed, those misdevoted to the true God were suffered to remain. The kings opposed impiety, but winked at error" (bishop Hall). At last Hezekiah set himself in good earnest to the suppression of this prevalent corruption (2Ki 18:4,22), both in Judah and Israel (2Ch 31:1), although, so rapid was the growth of the evil, that even his sweeping reformation required to be finally consummated by Josiah (2 Kings 23), and that, too, in Jerusalem and its immediate neighborhood (2Ch 34:3). The measure must have caused a very violent shock to the religious prejudices of a large number of people, and we have a curious and almost unnoticed trace of this resentment in the fact that Rabshakeh appeals to the discontented faction, and represents Hezekiah as a dangerous innovator who had provoked God's anger by his arbitrary impiety (2Ki 18:22; 2Ch 32:12). After the time of Josiah we find no further mention of these Jehovistic high places.
As long as the nations continued to worship the heavenly bodies themselves, they worshipped in the open air, holding that no walls could contain infinitude. Afterwards, when the symbol of fire or of images brought in the use of temples, they were usually built in groves and upon high places, and sometimes without roofs. The principle on which high places were preferred is said to have been that they were nearer to the gods, and that on them prayer was more acceptable than in the valleys (Lucian, De Sacrif. 1, 4). SEE HILL. The ancient writers abound in allusions to this worship of the gods upon the hill-tops; and some of their divinities took their distinctive names from the hill on which their principal seat of worship stood, such as Mercurius Cyllenius, Venus Erycina, Jupiter Capitolinus, etc. (see especially Sophocles, Trachin. 1207, 1208; Appian, De Bello Mlithrid. § 131; compare Creuzer. Symbol. 1, 150). We find that the Trojans sacrificed to Zeus on Mount Ida (II. 10, 171), and we are repeatedly told that such was the custom of the Persians, Greeks, Germans, etc. (Herod. 1, 131; Xenoph. Cyrop. 8, 7; Mem. 3, 8, § 10; Strabo, 15, 732). To this general custom we find constant allusion in the Bible (Isa 65:7; Jer 3:6; Eze 6:13; Eze 18:6; Ho 4:13), and it is especially attributed to the Moabites (Isa 15:2; Isa 16:12; Jer 48:35). Evident traces of a similar usage are depicted on the Assyrian monuments. The groves which ancient usage had established around the places of sacrifice for the sake of shade and seclusion, idolatry preserved, not only for the same reasons, but because they were found convenient for the celebration of the rites and mysteries, often obscene and abominable, which were gradually superadded. According to Pliny (book 12), trees were also anciently consecrated to particular divinities, as the esculus to Jove, the laurel to Apollo, the olive to Minerva, the myrtle to Venus, the poplar to Hercules. It was also believed that as the heavens have their proper and peculiar deities, so also the woods have theirs, being the Fauns, the Sylvans, and certain goddesses. To this it may be added that groves were enjoined by the Roman law of the Twelve Tables as part of the public religion. Plutarch (Nuna, 1, 61) calls such groves. ἄλση θεῶν, "groves of the gods," which he says Numa frequented, and thereby gave rise to the story of his intercourse with the goddess Egeria. In fact, a degree of worship was, as Pliny states, transferred to the trees themselves. They were sometimes decked with ribbons and rich cloths, lamps were placed on them, the spoils of enemies were hung from them, vows were paid to them, and their branches were encumbered with votive offerings. Traces of this arborolatry still exist everywhere, both in Moslem and Christian countries; and even the Persians, who abhorred images as much as the Hebrews ever did, rendered homage to certain trees. The story is well known of the noble plane-tree near Sardis, before which Xerxes halted his army a whole day while he rendered homage to it, and hung royal offerings upon its branches (Herod. 5, 31). There is much curious literature connected with this subject which we leave untouched, but the reader may consult Sir W. Ouseley's learned dissertation on Sacred Trees, appended to the first volume of his Travels in the East. SEE IDOLATRY.
Mr. Paine remarks (Solomon's Temple, etc., Bost. 1861, p. 21), "the 'high place, בָּמָה, mound, was small enough to be made and built in every street, at the head of every way (Eze 16:24-25), in all their cities (2Ki 17:9), and upon every high hill, and under every green tree (1Ki 14:23). It could be torn to pieces, beaten small as dust, and burnt up (2Ki 23:15). Thus it [often] was of combustible materials.... These mounds, with their altars, were built in the streets, where people could assemble around them. When on the hills out of the city they lasted many years; for' the mounds built by Solomon on the right hand or south side of the Mount of Destruction before Jerusalem, were destroyed by Josiah (2Ki 23:13; 1Ki 11:7), nearly four hundred years after they were built. But mounds of earth no larger than Indian-corn or potato-hills will last a great number of years, and those somewhat larger for centuries (compare the Indian mounds in the West). That the mounds destroyed by Josiah had lasted so many centuries is a proof that they were not wholly of wood; that they could be burnt is a proof that they were not wholly of stone; that they could be beaten to dust indicates that they were made of anything that came readiest to hand, as earth, soil, etc. For the houses of the mounds, or high places, in which were images of their gods, see 2Ki 17:29; priests of these places of worship, 1Ki 12:32; 1Ki 13:2,33; 2Ki 17:32; 2Ki 23:9,20; beds for fornication and adultery, in the tents about the mounds, Isa 57:3-7; Eze 16:16,25, etc. Some of these houses were tents, for women wove them (2Ki 23:7). The peoplemen, women, children, and priests-assembled in groves, on hills and mountains, or in the streets of their cities; threw up a mound, on which they built their altar; set up the wooden idol [Asherah] before the altar;
pitched their tents around it under the trees; sacrificed their sons and daughters, sometimes on the altar (Eze 16:20), and committed fornication and adultery in the tents, where also they had the images of their gods."