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The bema or speaker's platform at the Pnyx in Athens, with the Acropolis in the background.
For the Christian eschatological concept, see Bema Seat; for other uses see Bema (disambiguation)

The Bema (from the Greek: bema, “step”) means a raised platform. In antiquity it was probably made of stone, but in modern times it is usually a rectangular wooden platform approached by steps.

The original use of the bema in Athens was as a tribunal from which orators addressed the citizens as well as the courts of law (see Pnyx). In Greek law courts the two parties to a dispute presented their arguments each from separate bemas. Bema was also used as the name for a place of judgement, that is the raised seat of the judge, as described in the New Testament, in Matthew 27:19 and John 19:13, and further, as the seat of the Roman emperor, in Acts 25:10, and of God, in Romans 14:10, when speaking in judgment.

Interior of the Amsterdam Synagogue: the bema (or tebáh) is in the foreground, and the Hekhál (Ark) in the background.

The bema became a standard fixture in Jewish synagogues (see bemah) from which a selection ("parsha") from the Torah and the Haftarah are read. In Orthodox Judaism, the bema is located in the center of the synagogue, separate from the Ark. In other branches of Judaism, the bema and the Ark are joined together.

Bema in an Eastern Orthodox church, with three steps leading up to it. (Assumption Cathedral in Smolensk).

The ceremonial use of a bema carried over from Judaism into early Christian church architecture. It was originally a raised platform with a lectern and seats for the clergy, from which lessons from the Scriptures were read and the sermon was delivered. In Western Christianity the bema developed over time into the chancel (or presbytery) and the pulpit.

In Eastern Christianity bema remains the name of the platform which composes the sanctuary; it consists of both the area behind the iconostasion and the platform in front of it from which the deacon leads the ektenias (litanies) together with the ambo from which the priest delivers the sermon and distributes Holy Communion. It may be approached by one or several steps. The bema is composed of the altar (the area behind the iconostasion), the soleas (the pathway in front of the iconostasion), and the ambo (the area in front of the Holy Doors which projects westward into the nave). Orthodox laity do not normally step up onto the bema except to receive Holy Communion.

See also


1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

BEMA (Gr./31iµa,), in ecclesiastical architecture, the semicircular recess or exedra, in the basilica, where the judges sat, and where in after times the altar was placed. It generally is roofed with a half dome. The seats, Op6voc, of the priests were against the wall, looking into the body of the church, that of the bishop being in the centre. The bema is generally ascended by steps, and railed off. In Greece the bema was the general name of any raised platform. Thus the word was applied to the tribunal from which orators addressed assemblies of the citizens at Athens. That in the Pnyx, where the Ecclesia often met, was a stone platform from 10 to II ft. in height. Again in the Athenian law court counsel addressed the court from such a platform: it is not known whether each had a separate bema or whether there was only one to which each counsel (? and the witnesses) in turn ascended (cf. W. Wyse in his edition of Isaeus, P. 44 0). Another bema was the platform on which stood the urns for the reception of the bronze disks (tiikPoc) by means of which at the end of the 4th century the judges recorded their decisions.

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