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Bible Encyclopedias

Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature

Sacrifice, Human.

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The offering of human life, as the most precious thing on earth, came in process of time to be practiced in most countries of the world. All histories and traditions darken our idea of the earlier ages with human sacrifices. But the period when such prevailed was not the earliest in time, though probably the earliest in civilization. The practice was both a result and a token of barbarism more or less gross. In this, too, the dearest object was primitively selected. Human life is the most valuable thing known, and of this most precious possession the most precious portion is the life of a child. Children, therefore, were offered in fire to the false divinities, and in no part of the world with less regard to the claims of natural affection than in the land where, at a later period, the only true God had his peculiar worship and highest honors.

Under these circumstances, it is a striking fact that the Hebrew religion, even in its most rudimental condition, should be free from the contamination of human sacrifices. The case of Isaac and that of Jephthah's daughter cannot impair the general truth that the offering of human beings is neither enjoined, allowed, nor practiced in the Biblical records. On the contrary, such an offering is strictly prohibited by Moses as adverse to the will of God and an abomination of the heathen. "Thou shalt not let any of thy seed pass through the fire to Moloch: defile not yourselves with any of these things" (Leviticus 18:21; see also 20:2; Deuteronomy 12:31; Psalms 106:37; Isaiah 66:3; Jeremiah 23:37). Yet in an age in which, like the present, all manner of novelties are broached, and, in some cases, the greater the paradox advanced with the more promptitude and maintained with the greater earnestness, these very clear positions have been withstood, and human sacrifices have been confidently charged on the Hebrew race. In the year 1842, Ghillany, professor at Nuremberg, published a book (Die Menschenopfer der alten Hebraer), the object of which was to prove that as the religion of the ancient Hebrews did not differ essentially from that of the Canaanites so that Moloch, who had been originally a god common to both, merely in the process of time was softened down and passed into Jehovah, thus becoming the national deity of the people of Israel so did their altars smoke with human blood, from the time of Abraham down to the fall of both kingdoms of Judah and Israel. In the same year appeared in Germany another work, by Daumer (Der Feuer- und Molochdienst der alten Hebraer), intended to prove that the worship of Moloch, involving his bloody rites, was the original, legal, and orthodox worship of the nation of Abraham, Moses, Samuel, and David. To these works a reply was put forth in 1843, by Lowengard (Jehovah, nicht Moloch, war der Gott der alten Hebraer), in which he defends the worship of Jehovah from the recent imputations, and strives, by distinguishing between the essential and the unessential, the durable and the temporary, to prepare the way for a reformation of modern Judaism.

We do not think that it requires any deep research or profound learning to ascertain from the Biblical records themselves that the religion of the Bible is wholly free from the shocking abominations of human sacrifices, and we do not therefore hesitate to urge the fact on the attention of the ordinary reader as not least considerable among many proofs not only of the superior character, but of the divine origin, of the Hebrew worship. It was in Egypt where the mind of Moses, and of the generation with whom he had primarily to do, was chiefly formed, so far as heathen influences were concerned. Here offerings were very numerous. Sacrifices of meat offerings, libations, and incense were of very early date in the Egyptian temples. Oxen, wild goats, pigs, and particularly geese, were among the animal offerings; besides these, there were presented to the gods wine, oil, beer, milk, cakes, grain, ointment, flowers, fruits, vegetables. In these, and in the case of meat, peace, and sin offerings (as well as others), there exists a striking resemblance with similar Hebrew observances, which may be found indicated in detail in Wilkinson (Manners and Customs of the Ancient Egyptians, 5, 358 sq.; see also 2, 378), who, in agreement with Herodotus, maintains, in opposition to Diodorus, that the Egyptians were never accustomed to sacrifice human beings a decision which has a favorable aspect on our last position, namely, that the religion of the Israelites, even in its earliest days, was unprofaned by human blood. A remarkable instance of disagreement between the observances of the Egyptians and the Jews in regard to sacrifices is that while the Egyptians received the blood of the slaughtered animal into a vase or basin, to be applied in cookery, the eating of blood was most strictly forbidden to the Israelites (Deuteronomy 15:23).

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Bibliography Information
McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Sacrifice, Human.'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/eng/tce/s/sacrifice-human.html. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.

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Sacrifice