‘Bamoth’ In The Old Testament -- By: J. T. Whitney

Journal: Tyndale Bulletin
Volume: TYNBUL 30:1 (NA 1979)
Article: ‘Bamoth’ In The Old Testament
Author: J. T. Whitney

‘Bamoth’ In The Old Testament*

J. T. Whitney

* Based on a Nottingham Ph.D. thesis, 1975.

The bamoth were the chief crucible for the conflict between the faith of Israel and the religion of Canaan. Israel had brought with her from the desert a faith based on historical revelation, covenant community, personal commitment and moral obedience.1 The religion of Canaan, on the other hand, was based on an appeal to the senses, magical rites to manipulate the gods, a cyclic view of time, and gods which were merely part of the order of things rather than in control of them.2 Between these two systems, and the different ways of life they represent, there was an inevitable conflict, and as Israel became a settled agricultural community, the local shrines became the focus of the encounter. The frequent reference to the term במה and its cognates (102 times in the Massoretic Text; about 90% in literature relating to the divided monarchy) is sufficient evidence of the importance of these shrines in Israel’s history and in the development of her faith. It is clear from both Old Testament history and prophecy that here was something rejected by those who regarded themselves as heirs to the true Mosaic faith. Light shed on the bamoth will therefore illumine Yahwism also.

Yet, despite progress this century in understanding many aspects of Canaanite religion, the bamoth have remained enigma. Clearly understood lines of interpretation, not of scholarly consensus, have emerged from the study of the Ras Shamra texts about the mythology and

worship of Canaan.3 Light has been shed on much of the religious equipment mentioned in the OT - Standing Stones,4 Asherah Poles,5 Incense Altars, 6 and the ubiquitous Astarte plaque found in every Iron Age excavation illustrate the deep hold of fertility religion on the lives and homes of the ordinary Israelites during the monarchy period.7 Yet it was the bamoth which the biblical historians singled out as the real source of the cancer in their midst. Every king, except two, is criticized because he ‘did not remove the bamoth’, and ‘once again Israel did that which was evil in the sight of the Lord’. Even kings for whom general approval is expressed, like Asa and ...

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