Illustrated Architecture Dictionary

Also called Alemar

1. Historical Terms: the speaker's platform in the assembly in ancient Athens

2. Christianity:  raised area surrounding the altar in a church; the sanctuary

3. Judaism: The bema became a standard fixture in Jewish synagogues from which a selection 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.
In antiquity it [bema] 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.

Bema was also used as the name for a place of judgment, that is the raised seat of the judge, as described in the New Testament, in Matthew 27:19  ...  and further, as the seat of the Roman emperor, in Acts 25:10, and of God, in Romans 14:10, when speaking in judgment. means a raised platform.

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.

 - Wikipedia (July 2011)

Examples from Buffalo architecture:

Photos and their arrangement 2011 Chuck LaChiusa
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