Lecture #236: The History of the Divine Service at Altars (XLVI) – The Prohibition of Bamot (XXIII)

  • Rav Yitzchak Levy

The Great Bama in Giv'on and the Transition from Giv'on to Mount Moriya

What do we know from Scripture about the Great Bama in Giv’on?


The primary discussion of Giv'on is in the book of Divrei Ha-yamim. It is interesting that the book of Shemuel notes several events that took place in Giv'on when the Mishkan was there, but makes no mention whatsoever of the Mishkan itself. They are as follows:


1. The meeting between Yoav and Avner takes place at the pool in Giv'on (II Shemuel 2:13).


2. When Yoav's men go out in pursuit of Sheva ben Bikhri, they meet Amasa "at the great stone which is in Giv'on" (II Shemuel 20:8).


Divrei Ha-yamim does not relate at all to the transition from Nov to Giv'on, nor even to the very building of a great bama in Giv'on. Rather, the place is mentioned in connection with several important events that took place during the days of David and Shlomo.


1. I Divrei Ha-yamim (16) describes the transfer of the ark of the Lord from Kiryat-Ye'arim to the city of David. David pitched a tent for the ark of the Lord in the city of David and offered sacrifices before it. He appointed some of the Levites to minister before the ark, to invoke, to thank, and to praise the Lord God of Israel. In verse 39 it says: "And Tzadok the priest and his brethren the priests, before the Mishkan of the Lord in the bama that was at Giv'on." Let us pay attention to the double designation: "the Mishkan of the Lord" and "the bama that was in Giv'on.


2. I Divrei Ha-yamim notes regarding the threshing floor of Aravna the Yevusite, which was to be the site of the Temple: "But the Mishkan of the Lord, which Moshe made in the wilderness, and the altar of the burnt-offering, were at that time in the bama in Giv'on" (21:29). The place is mentioned as the Mishkan of the Lord that was made by Moshe, alongside the burnt-offering altar.


3. II Divrei Ha-yamim describes Shlomo's journey to Giv'on, and emphasizes the clear difference between Giv'on and Jerusalem:


So, Shlomo, and the entire congregation with him, went to the bama that was at Giv'on; for there was the Tent of Meeting of God, which Moshe the servant of the Lord had made in the wilderness. But the ark of God David had brought up from Kiryat-Ye'arim to the place which David had prepared for it: for he had pitched a tent for it at Jerusalem. Moreover the brazen altar, that Betzalel the son of Uri, the son of Chur, had made, he put before the Mishkan of the Lord: and Shelomo and the congregation sought to it. And Shlomo went up there to the brazen altar before the Lord, which was at the Tent of Meeting. (1:3-6)


Scripture indicates that in Giv'on there was "the Tent of Meeting of God, which Moshe the servant of the Lord had made in the wilderness" as well as "the brazen altar, that Betzalel the son of Uri, the son of Chur, had made." That is, the bama in Giv'on is a continuation of the Mishkan in the wilderness, while the tent that David pitched for the ark is in Jerusalem.


4. Verse 13 of that same chapter reads: "Then Shlomo came to the bama that was at Giv'on to Jerusalem, from before the Tent of Meeting, and reigned over Israel." I Melakhim describes regarding Shlomo: "And the king went to Giv'on to sacrifice there; for that was the great bama: a thousand burnt-offerings did Shlomo offer upon that altar" (3:4). In Giv'on, God also appeared to Shlomo in a nocturnal dream.


5. I Divrei Ha-yamim states: "And these are they whom David set over the service of song in the house of the Lord, after the ark had rest. And they ministered before the dwelling place of the Tent of Meeting with singing, until Shlomo had built the house of the Lord in Jerusalem: and then they performed their office according to their order" (6:16-17). Although it is not specifically mentioned that this was in Giv'on, it is the clear implication from the text.


As mentioned above, Scripture notes that each of these events took place in Giv'on and emphasizes that the Mishkan stood there. Nonetheless, there is no mention of the circumstances of the Mishkan's transfer from Nov to Giv'on.


It is interesting that these references to Giv'on appear only in Divrei Ha-yamim, which generally strengthens the Davidic dynasty along with the Mishkan and the Mikdash. By contrast, the book of Shemuel describes the events of the time from the prophetic perspective and does not see fit to mention the Mishkan in Nov even once. Apparently, the great bama in Giv'on had no special spiritual or national significance.


We should note that even in Divrei Ha-yamim, Giv'on is mentioned specifically in connection with events that took place in the days of David: bringing the ark to the City of David, and building the altar at the threshing floor of Aravna the Yevusite on Mount Moriya. These were foundational events concerning the selection of Jerusalem and its establishment as the site of the resting of the Shekhina for generations.


These two events reflect the tendency of Divrei Ha-yamim to emphasize the selection and sanctity of Jerusalem. However, since the communal bama still stood in Giv'on, and the full Mishkan service was performed there daily, Giv’on is still mentioned frequently.


As for the days of Shlomo, it is clear that Shlomo is more strongly connected to the sacrificial service (while David is primarily connected to the ark). For example, upon becoming king, Shlomo goes to the great communal bama in Giv'on and offers sacrifices there.


It may well be that there is little reference to a central location for communal sacrifices because bamot were permitted after the destruction of Shilo. Thus, the overall conclusion from the absence of any mention of Nov and Giv'on in the book of Samuel is that the national communal bama had little spiritual and national significance. Even during the time of David, there is no mention of pilgrimages to Giv'on or to events of spiritual and national significance being conducted there.


Additionally, there is no explicit description of David going to Giv'on to offer sacrifices.[1] As mentioned, David is strongly connected to the ark and invests a great deal in developing the tent that housed it. He additionally strengthened Jerusalem as his capital city and prepared for the building of the house of God on Mount Moriya. Therefore, it is not surprising that he does not go to Giv'on.


It is possible that the connection drawn in Divrei Ha-yamim between the great bama and the Tent of Meeting in the wilderness is meant to portray the bama as a continuation of the temporary experience in the wilderness.  In distinction, David and the ark are connected to the permanent building of the future Temple on Mount Moriya. These two aspects ultimately unite when the great bama is brought from Giv'on to Mount Moriya, the ark brought from the city of David to Mount Moriya, and the Temple built and consecrated by King Shlomo.


From Giv’on to Mount Moriya


This transition is described in I Melakhim: "And they brought up the ark of the Lord, and the Tent of Meeting, and all the holy vessels that were in the Tent, even those did the priests and the Levites bring up" (8:4; and II Divrei Ha-yamim 5:5). The plain meaning of the verse is that the ark was brought up from the city of David, while the Tent of Meeting and the holy vessels were brought up from Giv'on. The great bama and the ark are once again united after having been separated at the time of the destruction of Shilo. Now, they reach their permanent location in the house of God on Mount Moriya. 


Chazal describe this process in the Tosefta in tractate Sota: "After the first Temple was erected, the Tent of Meeting was stored away, its boards, clasps, pillars and sockets. Nevertheless they used only the table and candlestick that were made by Moshe" (13:1). The Gemara in Sota then states that the boards, clasps, pillars and sockets were hidden away "under the crypts of the Temple" (9a).


A question arises based on the statement of Chazal regarding Shilo: "When they came to Shilo… [the Mishkan] there had no roof, but [consisted of] a stone edifice with a ceiling of curtains above" (Zevachim 14:5-7).  Seemingly, they had already stopped using the boards, pillars and sockets in Shilo. Why, then, do Chazal say that these items were stored away after the Temple was built?


One solution depends on the structure of the great bama in Nov and Giv’on. From the plain sense of the Mishna's description, it seems that the stone edifice with a ceiling of curtains was unique to Shilo.


After the destruction of Shilo, did the great bama return to resemble the original Mishkan with its boards, sockets, pillars, and clasps? If so, we can easily understand why these components were stored away under the crypts of the Temple after the move from Giv'on to the house of God on Mount Moriya.


In tractate Sukka, Chazal give an alternative understanding of the ultimate destiny of the boards:


Another interpretation of "Standing up" (Shemot 26:15). Lest you may say: "Their hope is lost, their expectation is frustrated," Scripture expressly states: "Acacia wood standing up," implying that they will stand forever and to all eternity (45b).


The Maharsha (ad loc.) explains that not only will the gold plate exist forever, but even the wooden boards, which should have rotted over the course of the thousands of years of their existence, will remain intact in perfect condition.


Rabbeinu Bachya explains in his commentary:


And according to Kabbala: "Acacia wood standing up," this is like: "Seraphim stand above Him" (Yeshayahu 6:2). "Standing" refers to supernal powers, for there is nothing in the Mishkan and its vessels that is not drawn up above…

This means to say that even though the Mishkan and the Temple will eventually be destroyed, and the physical holy vessels will eventually become lost in the exile, one must not understand that just as they ceased below, so too their image will cease above, God forbid. But rather they will stand and endure forever, and if they ceased below, they will eventually return to their original state.

This is what Chazal said in tractate Sukka, chapter Lulav ve-arava (Sukka 45b)… "That they held their [gold] overlaying (tzefuyan). Lest you may say: 'Their hope is lost, their expectation is frustrated,' Scripture expressly states: 'Acacia wood standing up," implying that they will stand for ever and to all eternity" (Shemot 26:15, s.v. ve-asita et).


Thus, the Mishkan itself is eternal. Even if the earthly Mishkan is destroyed, that which is preserved in the heavenly Mishkan will eventually be revealed once again. This gives an eternal side to Moshe’s work in constructing it.[2] 


The consecration of the Temple concludes with David bringing the ark from the city of David, and the Tent of Meeting and its vessels from Giv'on. The vessels that can be used in the Temple, e.g., the table and the candlestick, continue to serve in the Temple. However, the vessels that served in the temporary Mishkan at its various stations: the boards, the clasps, the pillars, and the sockets, are stored away under the crypts of the Temple for eternal preservation.


(Translated by David Strauss)


[1] In the passage in I Divrei Ha-yamim (31:29-30) dealing with the building of the altar at the threshing floor of Aravna the Yevusite, it says that the Mishkan that was made by Moshe and the burnt-offering altar were at the bama in Giv'on: "And David could not go before it to inquire of God: for he was terrified because of the sword of the angel of the Lord."

[2] Rabbi Tzadok of Lublin relates a similar idea with respect to David and the gates: "The entrance to the Holy of Holies was the handiwork of David. This sunk into the ground and was stored away to remain forever, and the enemies will never be able to gain control over it and use it for mundane purposes" (Takkanat ha-Shavin, p. 109, s.v. ve-sehu takhlit hamtakat ha-yetzer).