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International Standard Bible Encyclopedia
Human sacrifice was ordinarily resorted to, no doubt, only in times of great distress, but it seems to have been practiced among the old Canaanitish tribes with some frequency (Deuteronomy 12:31 ). The Israelites are said to have borrowed it from their Canaanite neighbors (2 Kings 16:3; 2 Chronicles 28:3 ), and as a matter of fact human sacrifices were never offered to Yahweh, but only to various gods of the land. The god who was most frequently worshipped in this way was Moloch or Molech, the god of the Ammonites (2 Kings 23:10; Leviticus 18:21; Leviticus 20:2 ), but from Jeremiah we learn that the Phoenician god Baal was, at least in the later period of the history, also associated with Molech in receiving this worship (Jeremiah 19:5; Jeremiah 31:35 ).
As in the case of the Canaanites, the only specific cases of human sacrifice mentioned among the Israelites are those of the royal princes, sons of Ahaz and Manasseh, the two kings of Judah who were most deeply affected by the surrounding heathen practices and who, at the same time, fell into great national distress (2 Kings 16:3; 2 Chronicles 28:3; 2 Kings 21:6; 2 Chronicles 33:6 ). But it is clear from many general statements that the custom was widespread among the masses of the people as well. It is forbidden in the Mosaic legislation (Leviticus 18:21; Leviticus 20:2-5; Deuteronomy 18:10 ); it is said in 2 Kings 17:17 that the sacrifice of sons and daughters was one of the causes of the captivity of the ten tribes. Jeremiah charges the people of the Southern Kingdom with doing the same thing ( Jeremiah 7:31; Jeremiah 19:5; Jeremiah 31:35 ); with these general statements agree Isaiah 57:5; Ezekiel 16:2 f; Ezekiel 20:31; Ezekiel 23:37; Psalm 106:37 f. A study of these passages makes it certain that in the period immediately before the captivity of Judah, human sacrifice was by no means confined to the royal family, but was rather common among the people. Daughters as well as sons were sacrificed. It is mentioned only once in connection with the Northern Kingdom, and then only in the summary of the causes of their captivity ( 2 Kings 17:17 ), but the Southern Kingdom in its later years was evidently deeply affected. There were various places where the bloody rite was celebrated (Jeremiah 19:5 ), but the special high place, apparently built for the purpose, was in the Valley of Tophet or Hinnom (
The Biblical writers without exception look upon the practice with horror as the supreme point of national and religious apostasy, and a chief cause of national disaster. They usually term the rite "passing through fire," probably being unwilling to use the sacred term "sacrifice" in reference to such a revolting custom. There is no evidence of a continuance of the practice in captivity nor after the return. It is said, however, that the heathen Sepharvites, settled by the Assyrian kings in the depopulated territory of the Northern Kingdom, "burnt their children in the fire to Adrammelech and Anammelech, the gods of Sepharvaim" (2 Kings 17:31 ). The practice is not heard of again, and probably rapidly died out. The restored Israelites were not affected by it. Compare SACRIFICE (Old Testament), VI, 10.
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Orr, James, M.A., D.D. General Editor. Entry for 'Sacrifice, Human'. International Standard Bible Encyclopedia. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/eng/isb/s/sacrifice-human.html. 1915.