Last modified on September 26, 2018, at 17:26

High place

An authentic high place, excavated at Tel Dan in northern Israel near Lake Chennerith/Tiberias/Sea of Galilee
A high place (Hebrew bamah, plural bamot[1]) was a site, at the top of any high hill, that served usually as a place of worship of the Canaanite gods Baal and Asherah.[2][3]

Conventions of the High Place

A typical high place would have:

  1. An altar to Baal,[1][2][3][4]
  2. A stone pillar representing Baal and dedicated to him,[1][2][3][5]
  3. A carved or engraved wooden pole (called a grove in the King James Version) dedicated to Asherah,[1][2][3]
  4. Any of a number of other idols,[2][3][6] and
  5. At least one building,[1][2][7][8][9] which might have served as a hall for pagan feasts.[1]

At a minimum, people burnt incense at a high place[3]—but sometimes they held animal or even human sacrifices, and specifically of children.[2][10]

Archaeological Evidence

Archaeologists have discovered multiple high-place remnants. The oldest known "high place" was at Megiddo.[3] The Megiddo bamah is dated at 2500 BC,[3] which would place it shortly after the Great Flood if a "Long Sojourn in Egypt" is assumed. The assumptions behind this date are not available. Still, this high place would probably date back to the time of Abraham.

Worship at High Places

Most worship at high places was of pagan gods, especially before the invasion of Canaan by the nation of Israel.[3] Two historical exceptions existed: in the period between the destruction of Shiloh and the building of the Temple of Jerusalem, Judge Samuel worshiped God Himself at a high place,[2][11] and David and Solomon worshipped at a Tabernacle re-pitched on a high place.[2][12] But once the Tabernacle and/or the Temple were in place, worship of God at high places was against God's will.[13]

That aside, God had specifically enjoined the Israelites from worshiping even Him at any high places,[3] and even directed them to remove all high places as they took possession of the land.[14] They did not do this, and because of this they were tempted continually by the largely sensual worship of the Canaanite gods and often yielded to that temptation. Indeed, King Solomon built many high places himself to accommodate the belief systems of many of his foreign wives.[2] In addition, King Jeroboam I of the Northern Kingdom set up golden calves, one at each of two high places in his kingdom, as the centerpiece of an alternative religious system that he invented to stop people from going up to Jerusalem to worship God.[2] Those high places would not be removed before the Fall of Samaria more than two centuries (two and a half centuries according to James Ussher) later.

Part of the evaluation of all the kings of the Southern Kingdom was whether they did anything about the high places.[13] Only three kings receive credit for removing them completely; these were Jehoshaphat and the two great reformers, Hezekiah and Josiah.[1] Jehoshaphat's role in removing high places receives little notice among commentators today, and yet the Bible says that Jehoshaphat removed the high places during his reign, a thing which only two other Kings of the Southern Kingdom managed to do. Josiah's thoroughgoing removal of high places is, of course, associated with the finding, during his reign, of the "book of the Law in the house of the LORD"[3][15]

Famous High Places in OT Times

Perhaps the most famous of all high places was on Mount Carmel, the site of a famous demonstration of God's power by the prophet Elijah.[16]

The High Place as a Metaphor

Today many prominent Christian leaders denounce as "high places" any doctrines that, they say, come not from the Bible but from another source, and especially doctrines that, they charge, others have inserted into the Bible. This would certainly include the paying of any sort of homage to a God-substitute figure in popular culture, including extraterrestrial "visitors" to earth.

The accuracy or applicability of this epithet to any particular doctrine is beyond the scope of this article. What is relevant here is that those who call any particular doctrine a "high place" mean to imply that the inventor and/or holder(s) of that doctrine are trying to avoid an uncomfortable truth or truths about the Bible or about themselves. They also mean to imply that the doctrine itself is distracting to proper worship, devotion, and Bible study.

Ironically, the Hebrew word bamah translated "high place" is very close to the Greek word bema, which means "judgment seat" and is the term used for a court held by a Roman magistrate and also for the Judgment Seat of Christ, before which all believers will one day stand.


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 1.6 Authors unknown, "Entry for High Place," Encyclopædia Britannica, 1911. Retrieved April 18, 2007, from LoveToKnow 1911 (a site that reproduces the 1911 Britannica, now in the public domain).
  2. 2.00 2.01 2.02 2.03 2.04 2.05 2.06 2.07 2.08 2.09 2.10 Chad Brand, Charles Draper, Archie England, et al., eds. The Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary. Nashville, Tennessee: Holman Bible Publishers, 2003, ISBN 0805428364, pp. 761-2
  3. 3.00 3.01 3.02 3.03 3.04 3.05 3.06 3.07 3.08 3.09 3.10 Authors unknown. "Entry for High Place." Encyclopædia Britannica. 2007. Retrieved April 18, 2007, from Encyclopædia Britannica Online.
  4. II_Kings 21:3 (NASB) II_Chronicles 14:3 (NASB)
  5. II_Kings 3:2 (NASB)
  6. II_Kings 17:29 (NASB) II_Chronicles 33:19 (NASB)
  7. I_Kings 12:31 (NASB)
  8. I_Kings 13:32 (NASB)
  9. I_Kings 16:32-33 (NASB)
  10. Jeremiah 7:31 (NASB)
  11. I_Samuel 9:12-25 (NASB)
  12. I_Chronicles 16:1-4,37-40 (NASB)
  13. 13.0 13.1 Authors unknown. "Entry for Bamah/Bamot." Judaism 101: A Glossary of Basic Jewish Terms and Concepts, Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America. Retrieved April 18, 2007
  14. Deuteronomy 7:5 (NASB)
  15. II_Chronicles 34:14-19 (NASB)
  16. I_Kings 18:18-45 (NASB)

See also