Altars are places where sacrifices were offered. There were two or three different sorts. The large constructions found outside some temple buildings may be better classified as "high places" than as altars. Inside the building were both largish rectangular altars made of plastered stone or mud brick, and smaller stone “pillars”, called horned altars, whose flat tops curved up at the corners.
In the outer court of the "House Temple" in the Hebrew citadel at Arad there is a 2.5m square altar. This is a similar size to the horned altar of Beersheba and corresponds to the 5 royal cubit measure given in Ex 27:1 and II Chron 6:13. Small incense altars were found inside the temple apparently flanking the entrance to the debir "holy of holies" They can be seen in the photo on the left.
It may be that Amos mentions all three types. The reference in 2:8 to "reclining" on items of clothing suggests the picnic-like conditions of an outdoor "high place". 3:14 talks of Bethel's altars generally but also singles out one altar with its "horns" (as below), while 9:1 if it pictures the Lord "standing" on the altar (within a temple complex, note the reference to the door posts) must refer to one of the larger rectangular altars.
"Horned altar" (reconstructed) Tel Beersheba
Horned altars have been found in several Israelite sites. The example at Tel Beersheba (left) was reconstructed from stones uncovered as parts of other more recent buildings - the altar having been perhaps dismantled during a reform, such as those the Bible ascribes to Hezekiah and Josiah. It is large, approx. 1.5m (5ft) square.
Another type was found at Megiddo in an Israelite stratum. Number 251 in the Gallery Book (right), it is made of limestone and is about 30 cm square and 67 cms high. This is too small to have been used for animal sacrifice (unlike the Beersheba example above), and presumably was used for incense, grain offerings and libations of wine.
Horned altar from Megiddo from the Rockefeller Museum
This page is part of the Hypertext Bible Commentary - Amos,
© Tim Bulkeley, 1996-2005, Tim Bulkeley. All rights reserved.