High Places—1 Kings 14:23

What Scripture refers to as high places were sacred sites that ancient peoples used as centers for worshipping Baal and other gods (1 Kings 14:23). The Hebrew word bamah (pl. bamoth) “high place,” actually means “back of a person or an animal.” It can also mean an elevation or a hilltop (1 Sam. 9:19). High places were outdoor locations, mostly on elevated ground or hills and often associated with ashera (“sacred pole”), masseboth (“standing stones”) or mizbeah (“altar”). The Canaanites and others worshiped their gods, sacrificed animals or children, or held religious festivals at high places. They also were centers for their social life.

Archaeologists have uncovered some complex building remains on hilltops or artificial mounds that indicate such cultic functions. Although Israelites used such sites for worship (1 Sam. 9:12-14; even Solomon built some for his non-Israelite wives [1 Kings 11:7] and offered sacrifices to Yahweh on ones previously used for the true God [1 Kings 3:3, 4]), their increasing usurpation for pagan worship led God‘s prophets after the construction of the Jerusalem Temple to vigorously denounce worship at or any association with the high places. During religious reforms, such high places might be torn down (2 Kings 23:8-15) and/or removed completely (2 Kings 18:4, 22). Deuteronomy 12:3 and 16:21, 22 mention the types of objects associated with various high places and indicate that rituals took place before or involving images, and that offerings were made there to various deities. A high place could be placed within a building, the house of the bamah (see 1 Sam. 9:11-25).

Recent archaeological research suggests that bamoth might consist of an urban multi-roomed structure with sacrificial and incense altars and perhaps a liska, a room for eating meals (cf. 1 Sam. 9:22-24). In Canaan, some settlements had the name of Bamoth (Num. 21:19) or Bamot-Baal (Josh. 13:17), indicating that they were specific places for Baal worship and may have been situated on hills. Shrines might be located anywhere (see 2 Kings 23:8 and Jer. 7:31).

Despite the patriarchal tradition of Jacob setting up a masseboth (a standing stone or type of monument) at an open-air site at of Luz (Gen. 28:22), the Old Testament condemns the practice (Lev. 26:1; Deut. 7:5) because of its association with Baal. Worship of the true God increasingly became mixed with that of Baal. Shortly before the Babylonian captivity such syncretitic worship had even invaded the Temple in Jerusalem (2 Kings 23:6, 8, 14). After the Exile, Jews apparently ceased to worship Yahweh at the high places, although such cultic installations continued for other religions well into the Greek and Roman eras.


Geraty, “The ‘High Place’ in Biblical Archaeology.”

Mazar, “The ‘Bull-Site’–An Iron Age I Open Cult Place,” 27-42.

Yadin, “Beer-Sheba: The High Place Destroyed by King Josiah,” 10.