Understanding the “High Places” That So Aggravated Biblical Prophets

The prophet Jeremiah inveighs on multiple occasions against worship that takes place on bamot (singular, bamah), a term usually translated as “high places.” With even greater frequency, the book of Kings condemns the Israelites for maintaining such sanctuaries, which are mentioned in other biblical books as well. Ellen White describes the archaeological and linguistic evidence, and some of the theories proffered by scholars, as to what exactly the bamot were:

The term bamah can mean back, hill, height, ridge, or cultic high place. In the biblical text it is used to mean “the backs of one’s enemies,” “heights,” “top of clouds.” or “waves of sea.” Because of this, the scholar Roland de Vaux said, “The idea which the word expresses . . . is something which stands out in relief from its background, but the idea of a mountain or hill is not contained in the word itself.” This could explain why this word is used even though some of the shrines were not located on hills. The Ugaritic and Akkadian cognates usually mean an animal’s back or the trunk of its body. The Akkadian can also mean land that is elevated. In the text of the Bible, bamot can be found on hills, in towns, and at the gate of Jerusalem (2 Kings 23:8). Ezra 6:3 says they were in the ravines and valleys. The location of a bamah in a valley can also be seen in Jeremiah 7:31 and 32:35. . . .

It is believed [by most experts] that bamot were artificial mounds, which may or may not include a prominent rock. There is some debate as to whether the word bamah refers to [the mound or] to the altar itself. [Such explanations] could account for references to bamot being “built” and “destroyed.” Often attached to the bamot were buildings—houses or temples—where services were conducted and idols were kept. . . .

De Vaux suggested that Israelite bamot were modeled after the Canaanite ones. . . . In [the ancient fortress of] Megiddo, located in the Carmel Ridge overlooking the Jezreel Valley from the west, a bamah was believed to have been found. The structure was a 24-by-30-foot oval platform, which stood six feet tall, was made of large stones, and had stairs that lead to the top. A wall surrounded the structure.

A cultic structure found in Nahariyah, in the western Galilee, was discovered in 1947 and dates to the Middle Bronze Age, but was used until the Late Bronze Age [i.e., it was used during the second millennium BCE]. It consisted of a circular open-air altar, [similar] to the one found in Megiddo, and a rectangular building probably used as a temple workshop. It is also believed that two bamot from the 7th and 6th centuries BCE were found on a hill near Malhah [in southwestern Jerusalem].

Read more at Bible History Daily

More about: Archaeology, Book of Kings, Hebrew Bible, History & Ideas, Idolatry, Jeremiah

An Israeli Buffer Zone in the Gaza Strip Doesn’t Violate International Law

 The IDF announced on Thursday that it is safe for residents to return to some of the towns and villages near the Gaza Strip that have been abandoned since October 7. Yet on the same day, rocket sirens sounded in one of those communities, Kibbutz Mefalsim. To help ensure security in the area, Israel is considering the creation of a buffer zone within the Strip that would be closed to Palestinian civilians and buildings. The U.S. has indicated, however, that it would not look favorably on such a step.

Avraham Shalev explains why it’s necessary:

The creation of a security buffer along the Gaza-Israel border serves the purpose of destroying Hamas’s infrastructure and eliminating the threat to Israel. . . . Some Palestinian structures are practically on the border, and only several hundred yards away from Israeli communities such as Kfar Aza, Kerem Shalom, and Sderot. The Palestinian terrorists that carried out the murderous October 7 attacks crossed into Israel from many of these border-adjacent areas. Hamas officials have already vowed that “we will do this again and again. The al-Aqsa Flood [the October 7th massacre] is just the first time, and there will be a second, a third, a fourth.”

In 2018 and 2019, Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad organized mass marches towards the Israeli border with the goal of breaking into Israel. Billed by Palestinians as “the Great March of Return,” its name reveals its purpose—invasion. Although the marches were supposedly non-violent, they featured largescale attacks on Israeli forces as well as arson and damage to Israeli agriculture and civilian communities. Moreover, the October 7 massacre was made possible by Hamas’s prepositioning military hardware along the border under false cover of civilian activity. The security perimeter is intended to prevent a reprise of these events.

Shalev goes on to dismantle the arguments put forth about why international law prohibits Israel from creating the buffer zone. He notes:

By way of comparison, following the defeat of Nazi Germany, France occupied the Saar [River Valley] directly until 1947 and then indirectly until reintegration with Germany in 1957, and the Allied occupation of Berlin continued until the reunification of Germany in 1990. The Allies maintained their occupation long after the fall of the Nazi regime, due to the threat of Soviet invasion and conquest of West Berlin, and by extension Western Europe.

Read more at Kohelet

More about: Gaza Strip, Gaza War 2023, International Law, Israeli Security