In ancient Israel or Canaan, a shrine built on an elevated site. For Canaanites the shrines were devoted to fertility deities, to the Baals, or to the Semitic goddesses called the Asherot. The shrines often included an altar and a sacred object such as a stone pillar or wooden pole. One of the oldest known high places, dating from circa 2500 BC, is at Megiddo. The Israelites also associated elevated places with the divine presence, and after conquering Canaan they used Canaanite high places to worship Yahweh (God). Later the Temple of Jerusalem on Mount Zion became the only accepted high place.
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This rendering is etymologically correct, as appears from the poetical use of the plural in such expressions as to ride, or stalk, or stand on the high places of the earth, the sea, the clouds, and from the corresponding usage in Assyrian; but in prose bamah is always a place of worship. It has been surmised that it was so called because the places of worship were originally upon hilltops, or that the bamah was an artificial platform or mound, perhaps imitating the natural eminence which was the oldest holy place, but neither view is historically demonstrable. The development of the religious significance of the word took place probably not in Israel but among the Canaanites, from whom the Israelites, in taking possession of the holy places of the land, adopted the name also. In old Israel every town and village had its own place of sacrifice, and the common name for these places was bamah.
Around these places the religion of the ancient Israelite centred; at festival seasons, or to make or fulfil a vow, he might journey to more famous sanctuaries at a distance from his home, but ordinarily the offerings which linked every side of his life to religion were paid at the bamah of his own town. The building of royal temples in Jerusalem or in Samaria made no change in this respect; they simply took their place beside the older sanctuaries, such as Bethel, Dan, Gilgal, Beersheba, to which they were, indeed, inferior in repute.
The religious reformers of the 8th century BC assail the popular religion as corrupt and licentious, and as fostering the monstrous delusion that immoral men can buy the favour of God by worship; but they make no difference in this respect between the high places of Israel and the temple in Jerusalem (cf. sqq.; ; Isaiah to sqq.). Hosea stigmatizes the whole cultus as pure heathenism—Canaanite baal-worship adopted by apostate Israel. The fundamental law in prohibits sacrifice at every place except the temple in Jerusalem; in accordance with this law Josiah, in 621 BC, destroyed and desecrated the altars (bmoth) throughout his kingdom, where Yahweh had been worshipped from time immemorial, and forcibly removed their priests to Jerusalem, where they occupied an inferior rank in the temple ministry.
In the prophets of the 7th and 6th centuries the word bamot connotes "seat of heathenish or idolatrous worship"; and the historians of the period apply the term in this opprobrious sense not only to places sacred to other gods but to the old holy places of Yahweh in the cities and villages of Judah, which, in their view, had been illegitimate from the building of Solomon's temple, and therefore not really seats of the worship of Yahweh; even the most pious kings of Judah are censured for tolerating their existence. The reaction which followed the death of Josiah (608 BC) restored the old altars of Yahweh; they survived the destruction of the temple in 586, and it is probable that after its restoration (520-516 BC) they only slowly disappeared, in consequence partly of the natural predominance of Jerusalem in the little territory of Judaea, partly of the gradual establishment of the supremacy of the written law over custom and tradition in the Persian period.
It may not be superfluous to note that the deuteronomic dogma that sacrifice can be offered to Yahweh only at the temple in Jerusalem was never fully established either in fact or in legal theory. The Jewish military colonists in Elephantine in the 5th century BC had their altar of Yahweh beside the highway; the Jews in Egypt in the Ptolemaic period had, besides many local sanctuaries, one greater temple at Leontopolis, with a priesthood whose claim to "valid orders" was much better than that of the High Priests in Jerusalem, and the legitimacy of whose worship is admitted even by the Palestinian rabbis.
The term High Place also refers to the central portion of the Holy Table, where the antimension and Gospel Book are normally kept. The only other objects that are permitted to occupy this place on the altar are the chalice and discos (paten) for the celebration of the Divine Liturgy. On the various Feasts of the Cross, a tray covered by an aër (liturgical veil) holding a Cross and branches of basil is placed on the High Place of the Holy Table until it is taken in procession to the center of the nave. On Good Friday, the Epitaphion is set on the Holy Table until it is taken to the "tomb" in the center of the nave for veneration by the faithful. During the Paschal Vigil, this Epitaphion is taken through the Holy Doors and placed again on the High Place of the Holy Table, where it will remain until the Ascension.