BEMA , 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, , 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 11 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. 440). Another bema was the platform on which stood the urns for the reception of the bronze disks by means of which at the end of the 4th century the judges recorded their decisions.
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)