The Bema: A Platform with Many Meanings

The Bema: A Platform with Many Meanings

The word bema comes from the ancient Greek word βῆμα, meaning “step” or “platform”. It has different meanings and uses in different contexts, such as architecture, religion, and history. Here are some examples of how the bema is used:

  • In ancient Greece, the bema was an elevated platform used as an orator’s podium in public places like the Pnyx, where the Athenian assembly met. The bema was also used in law courts, where the two parties to a dispute presented their arguments from separate bemas. The bema was a symbol of authority and democracy in ancient Greece.
  • In Eastern Orthodox churches, the bema is the raised part of the sanctuary containing the altar and the throne of the bishop. The bema is separated from the nave by a screen called the iconostasis, which displays icons of saints and holy figures. The bema is the most sacred part of the church, where the clergy perform the liturgy and administer the sacraments .
  • In Jewish synagogues, the bema (or bimah) is a platform or pulpit from which the Torah and the haftarah are read during services. The bema is usually located in the center of the synagogue, separate from the ark that contains the Torah scrolls. The bema is also used for other purposes, such as speeches, announcements, and blessings. The bema is a focal point of worship and education in Jewish communities .

The bema is a versatile and meaningful word that reflects different aspects of culture, religion, and history. It shows how a simple platform can have different functions and significance depending on the context.

The bema also has a historical significance, especially in relation to Christianity. One of the most famous events that took place on a bema was the trial of Saint Paul, the Apostle of the Nations, who visited Corinth in the mid-1st century A.D. and preached the Gospel to the Jews and the Gentiles. Saint Paul was accused by some Jews of conducting illegal teachings and was brought before the proconsul Gallio on the bema of the Roman Forum. However, Gallio dismissed the case as a matter of Jewish law and not of Roman concern. Saint Paul was thus acquitted and continued his missionary work in other cities. The bema of Corinth is considered a sacred site by many Christians and has been partially restored by archaeological authorities.

The bema is not only a platform, but also a witness of history. It has seen the rise and fall of empires, the spread of religions, and the expression of ideas. It has been used for various purposes, such as justice, worship, and education. It has been transformed and adapted to different cultures and times. The bema is a remarkable example of how a simple architectural element can have a rich and diverse meaning.

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