(Hebr. bāmâ). A hill or elevated platform used for sacrifice; a local place of worship; or, in pejorative usage, any sanctuary other than the Temple in Jerusalem. The term seems originally to have referred to a natural height where sacrifices were offered. The site was often a hill outside an adjacent city. It was necessary, for example, to “go up” to reach the high place that lay outside Samuel's hometown (1 Sam. 9.12–14, 19) and to “come down” to return to the city (1 Sam. 9.25). References to the building (1 Kings 11.7; Jer. 19.5) and destruction (2 Kings 23.8; Ezek. 6.3) of high places show that artificially raised platforms were also used. Thus, it is not surprising to find mention of high places within cities (1 Kings 13.32; 2 Kings 17.29) or even in ravines and valleys (Ezek. 6.3).
The form and structure of the high place have been illustrated archaeologically by the discovery at several sites of large, raised platforms of various sizes, often accessed by steps. Some of these are from the pre‐Israelite period, including an Early Bronze Age example from Megiddo (mid‐third millennium BCE) and Middle Bronze Age examples from Gezer and Nahariyeh, near Haifa. Other excavated high places date to the Israelite period, including examples at Dan, Hazor, Megiddo, Arad (Map 1:X6), and Malha, southeast of Jerusalem.
The editors of the Deuteronomic history (Deuteronomy—2 Kings) regarded the high places as illicit. This negative judgment stemmed from the association of high places with proscribed cultic activities and the worship of foreign gods (1 Kings 11.7) and from the Deuteronomic belief that Jerusalem was the only legitimate place of sacrifice to Yahweh. According to Deuteronomy 12.1–14, Moses instructed the people that, after they had entered the Promised Land, they must destroy all the places where the local gods were worshiped. Instead of rebuilding these places for the worship of Yahweh, they were to seek the single place that Yahweh would choose and bring their sacrifices there. The subsequent story shows that this chosen place was Jerusalem, as Solomon asserts in his speech in dedication of the Temple (1 Kings 8.15–53). From this point of view, sacrifice at high places was acceptable in pre‐Temple times. Thus Samuel is not condemned by the Deuteronomic editors for his association with a high place (1 Sam. 9.12–25), and even Solomon is excused for his sacrifices at the Gibeonite high place (1 Kings 3.3–4). After the Temple is built, however, sacrifice at local places of worship is no longer condoned. The law of the central sanctuary, in fact, becomes the chief criterion by which subsequent kings of Judah are evaluated by the Deuteronomic editors. All of the kings of Judah before Hezekiah are said to have permitted high places to remain in use, so that Rehoboam and his successors are condemned for tolerating shrines “on every high hill and under every green tree” (1 Kings 14.23; cf. Deut. 12.2). The northern rulers are censured for the same crime, which is a part of the final condemnation of the northern kingdom in 2 Kings 17.9–10. Hezekiah and Josiah are said to have introduced reforms in Judah that included, among other things, the removal of the high places (2 Kings 18.4; 23.8, 13, 15, 19).
P. Kyle McCarter, Jr.