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high place

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The conventional translation of a Hebrew word (bamoth) whose meaning continues to be disputed. It refers to a place where sacrifices were offered in the open air. They were hated by prophets as being part of the fertility religion of the Canaanites and incompatible with Yahwism (Hos. 2: 2–20 and Ezek. 16: 16), but attracted much popular support. Indeed many local shrines claimed to have been founded by unimpeachably authentic Israelite heroes—*Jacob at Bethel (Gen. 28: 18–22) and Joshua at Gilgal (Josh. 4: 20–24)—which was a means of making originally Canaanite shrines respectable for faithful Israelites. Indeed before Solomon's Temple was built, they were regarded as acceptable, as when Samuel officiated at Zuph (1 Sam. 9: 19). The town Shiloh, north of Bethel, was a religious centre with priests (1 Sam. 1: 9) until destroyed by the Philistines (Jer. 7: 12–14). But inevitably their existence and attraction led later to Canaanite practices infiltrating into Yahwism. Josiah is credited with destroying the high places (2 Kgs. 23: 4–20) and no doubt the Babylonian invaders completed this work. They were never revived when the exiles returned in the late 6th cent. bce.

Subjects: Religion

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