Tuesday, October 31, 2006

bamah and bimah

In my synagogue, they recently fixed up the בימה bimah. That made me think that I should probably write a post about the difference between bimah and במה bamah.

Bamah is a biblical word, meaning a "high place". It is found often in the books describing the First Temple period, where it refers to altars in the open - not in the Temple. Because the Temple at that time was the only legitimate place for sacrifices, it gained the sense of "pagan altar". The word apparently comes from an earlier word meaning back - as in the Ugaritic bmt- "back of a person or animal", and it maintains that meaning in a few places in the Tanach as well (Tehilim 18:34, Yeshayahu 14:14).

Bimah is a post-biblical word meaning "platform, pulpit". Klein derives it

"from Greek bema ( = pace, step, platform, stage) which derives from the stem of bainein ( = to go), whence also basis (a stepping, pedestal)."
However, the important archaeologist William Albright believed that the Greek word was borrowed from the Semitic root, via Phoenician.

Both words mean "stage" in modern Hebrew, although in the synagogue, only bimah is used.

There seems to be some disagreement as to the origin of the word for "director" - במאי bamai. Almagor-Ramon writes that it is related to bimah, whereas Klein writes that the word was coined by A. Shlonsky from the word bamah. However, Klein feels this was in error, for the base of bamah is בום not במה.

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