N. H. Snaith, The Distinctive Ideas of the Old Testament (1944), 24-32; R. de Vaux, Israel, Its Life and Institutions (1961), 274-311.

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)

sank’-tu-a-ri, sank’-tu-a-ri (miqdash, miqqedhash, qodhesh, "holy place"; hagion):

1. Nature of Article

2. The Graf-Wellhausen Hypothesis

The Three Stages

3. Difficulties of the Theory

(1) Slaughter Not Necessarily Sacrificial

(2) Sacrifice and Theophany

(3) Alleged Plurality of Sanctuaries

(4) The Altar of God’s House

(5) Local Altars in Deuteronomy

4. The Alternative View

(1) Lay Sacrifice

(2) Three Pilgrimage Festivals

5. The Elephantine Papyri

The Elephantine Temple


1. Nature of Article:

The present article is designed to supplement the articles on ALTAR; HIGH PLACE; PENTATEUCH; TABERNACLE; TEMPLE, by giving an outline of certain rival views of the course of law and history as regards the place of worship. The subject has a special importance because it was made the turning-point of Wellhausen’s discussion of the development of Israel’s literature, history and religion. He himself writes: "I differ from Graf chiefly in this, that I always go back to the centralization of the cult, and deduce from it the particular divergences. My whole position is contained in my first chapter" (Prolegomena, 368). For the purposes of this discussion it is necessary to use the symbols J, E, D, H, and the Priestly Code (P), which are explained in the article PENTATEUCH.

It is said that there are three distinct stages of law and history.

2. The Graf-Wellhausen Hypothesis:

The Three Stages:

(2) The second stage is presented by Deuteronomy in the Law and Josiah’s reformation in the history. Undoubtedly, De 12 permits local non-sacrificial slaughter for the purposes of food, and enjoins the destruction of heathen places of worship, insisting with great vehemence on the central sanctuary. The narrative of Josiah’s reformation in 2Ki 23 tallies with these principles.

(3) The third great body of law (the Priestly Code, P) does not deal with the question (save in one passage, Le 17). In Deuteronomy "the unity of the cult is commanded; in the Priestly Code it is presupposed. .... What follows from this forms the question before us. To my thinking, this: that the Priestly Code rests upon the result which is only the aim of Deuteronomy" (Prolegomena, 35). Accordingly, it is later than the latter book and dates from about the time of Ezra. As to Le 17:1-9, this belongs to H (the Law of Holiness, Le 17:1-26:46), an older collection of laws than the Priestly Code (P), and is taken up in the latter. Its intention was "to secure the exclusive legitimation of the one lawful place of sacrifice. .... Plainly the common man did not quite understand the newly drawn and previously quite unknown distinction between the religious and the profane act" (Prolegomena, 50). Accordingly, this legislator strove to meet the difficulty by the new enactment.

See Criticism (The Graf-Wellhausen Hypothesis).

3. Difficulties of the Theory:

(1) Slaughter Not Necessarily Sacrificial

(2) Sacrifice and Theophany

The view that the altars were erected at places that were peculiarly holy, or at any rate were subsequently sanctified by a theophany, is also untenable. In the Patriarchal age we may refer to Ge 4:26, where the calling on God implies sacrifice but not theophanies, Abram at Beth-el (12:8) and Mamre (13:18), and Jacob’s sacrifices (31:54; 33:20). Compare later Samuel’s altar at Ramah, Adonijah’s sacrifice at En-rogel (1Ki 1), Naaman’s earth (2Ki 5), David’s clan’s sacrifice (1Sa 20:6,29). It is impossible to postulate theophanies for the sacrifices of every clan in the country, and it becomes necessary to translate Ex 20:24 "in all the place" (see supra 2, (1)) and to understand "the place" as the territory of Israel.

(3) Alleged Plurality of Sanctuaries

The hypothesis of a multiplicity of sanctuaries in JE and the history also leaves out of view many most important facts. The truth is that the word "sanctuary" is ambiguous and misleading. A plurality of altars of earth or stone is not a plurality of sanctuaries. The early legislation knows a "house of Yahweh" in addition to the primitive altars (Ex 23:19; 34:26; compare the parts of Jos 9:23,27 assigned to J). No eyewitness could mistake a house for an altar, or vice versa.

(4) The Altar of God’s House

Moreover a curious little bit of evidence shows that the "house" had quite a different kind of altar. In 1Ki 1:50 f; 2:28 ff, we hear of the horns of the altar (compare Am 3:14). Neither earth nor unhewn stones (as required by the Law of Ex 20) could provide such horns, and the historical instances of the altars of the patriarchs, religious leaders, etc., to which reference has been made, show that they had no horns. Accordingly, we are thrown back on the description of the great altar of burnt offering in Ex 27 and must assume that an altar of this type was to be found before the ark before Solomon built his Temple. Thus the altar of the House of God was quite different from the customary lay altar, and when we read of "mine altar" as a refuge in Ex 21:14, we must refer it to the former, as is shown by the passages just cited. In addition to the early legislation and the historical passages cited as recognizing a House of God with a horned altar, we see such a house in Shiloh where Eli and his sons of the house of Aaron (1Sa 2:27) ministered. Thus the data of both JE and the history show us a House of God with a horned altar side by side with the multiplicity of stone or earthen altars, but give us no hint of a plurality of legitimate houses or shrines or sanctuaries.

(5) Local Altars in Deuteronomy

Deuteronomy also recognizes a number of local altars in 16:21 (see ICC, at the place) and so does Later Deuteronomistic editors in Jos 8:30 ff. There is no place for any of these passages ia the Wellhausen theory; but again we find one house side by side with many lay altars.

4. The Alternative View:

(1) Lay Sacrifice

The alternative view seeks to account for the whole of the facts noted above. In bald outline it is as follows: In pre-Mosaic times customary sacrifices had been freely offered by laymen at altars of earth or stone which were not "sanctuaries," but places that could be used for the nonce and then abandoned. Slaughter, as shown by the instances cited, was not necessarily sacrificial. Moses did not forbid or discourage the custom he found. On the contrary, he regulated it in Ex 20:24-26; De 16:21 f to prevent possible abuses. But he also superimposed two other kinds of sacrifice--certain new offerings to be brought by individuals to the religious capital and the national offerings of Nu 28; 29 and other passages. If the Priestly Code (P) assumes the religious capital as axiomatic, the reason is that this portion of the Law consists of teaching entrusted to the priests, embracing the procedure to be followed in these two classes of offerings, and does not refer at all to the procedure at customary lay sacrifices, which was regulated by immemorial custom. Deuteronomy thunders not against the lay altars--which are never even mentioned in this connection--but against the Canaanite high places. Deuteronomy 12 contemplates only the new individual offerings. The permission of lay slaughter for food was due to the fact that the infidelity of the Israelites in the wilderness (Le 17:5-7) had led to the universal prohibition of lay slaughter for the period of the wanderings only, though it appears to be continued by De for those who lived near the House of God (see De 12:21, limited to the case "if the place .... be too far from thee").

(2) Three Pilgrimage Festivals.

The JE legislation itself recognizes the three pilgrimage festivals of the House of God (Ex 34:22 f). One of these festivals is called "the feast of weeks, even of the bikkurim (a kind of first-fruits) of wheat harvest," and as Ex 23:19 and 34:26 require these bikkurim to be brought to the House of God and not to a lay altar, it follows that the pilgrimages are as firmly established here as in Deuteronomy. Thus we find a House (with a horned altar) served by priests and lay altars of earth or stone side by side in law and history till the exile swept them all away, and by breaking the continuity of tradition and practice paved the way for a new and artificial interpretation of the Law that was far removed from the intent of the lawgiver.

5. The Elephantine Papyri:

The Elephantine Temple.

Papyri have recently been found at Elephantine which show us a Jewish community in Egypt which in 405 BC possessed a local temple. On the Wellhausen hypothesis it is usual to assume that the Priestly Code (P) and Deuteronomy were still unknown and not recognized as authoritative in this community at that date, although the Deuteronomic law of the central sanctuary goes back at least to 621. It is difficult to understand how a law that had been recognized as divine by Jeremiah and others could still have been unknown or destitute of authority. On the alternative view this phenomenon will have been the result of an interpretation of the Law to suit the needs of an age some 800 years subsequent to the death of Moses in circumstances he never contemplated. The Pentateuch apparently permits sacrifice only in the land of Israel: in the altered circumstances the choice lay between interpreting the Law in this way or abandoning public worship altogether; for the synagogue with its non-sacrificial form of public worship had not yet been invented. All old legislations have to be construed in this way to meet changing circumstances, and this example contains nothing exceptional or surprising.


J. Wellhausen, Prolegomena to the History of Israel, chapter i, for the critical hypothesis; H. M. Wiener, EPC, chapter vi, PS passim for the alternative view; POT, 173 ff.

Harold M. Wiener