Child Sacrifice in Ancient Israel

ed note–a very interesting and pertinent piece written by a professor whose specialty is the Old Testament.

As the readers of this site know, as part of our daily dissection/deconstruction of geo-political events and the manner by which organized Jewish interests play a predominant, inordinate, and statistically over-represented role, we maintain the position that one cannot understand the role that these interests play without first understanding the religious psychology that drives their thoughts, behaviors, and thus the geo-political/social agendas which these interests pursue.

And, as the readers of this site know, we maintain that one cannot understand this religious psychology without first understanding the foundational basis from which it originates, which is the ‘Old Testament’ and in particular, the first 5 books which collectively make up what is known as the Torah.

What is most revealing in the professor’s piece is the obvious schizophrenia that pervades much of Judaic teaching on the issue of child sacrifice. In one section the Hebrews, Israelites, Jews, Khazars, Shmay-zars–whatever combination of letters and sounds we want to employ in naming them–are told that indeed they are to sacrifice their first born as an offering to Yahweh, and then they are told not to. A few chapters later the original command is repeated, only to again be rescinded.

The obvious problem associated with this is that it leaves those in the grasp of such teachings in a state of moral paralysis in terms of what it is they are supposed to do and not do. When such a situation presents itself, where–within the same book–they are being commanded ‘thou shalt’ only to then be commanded ‘thou shalt not’, the result is all too predictable–a people who are incapable of adjudging right from wrong based upon the precepts of their ‘religion’, making them a pliable and potent force for those issuing all the contradictory commands. In such a situation, when it serves the personal interests of the ‘ruling class’ to emphasize the ‘thou shalts’, they do, and then when it serves their own personal interests to emphasize the ‘thou shalt nots’, they do, reaping the rewards of harnessing the mental energies and political activities of a people who will blindly go where they are told to go and blindly do what they are told to do.

Bringing this thing to the present day, it is also a very clear window into the MO of the Jewish state as it exists today–both in ‘Israel proper’ as well as those other areas of the world (principally the once ‘Christian’ West) where powerful organized Jewish interests hold sway over political, cultural, and social issues.


In Israel, non-Jewish children, i.e. the Palestinians, are sacrificed on a daily basis by the high priests of the IDF who–using military methods backed up by political protocols–engage regularly in a modern-day repeat/representation of the same child sacrifice taking place in the Old Testament in appeasing the god of the Jews, Yahweh.

In the West, the crushing-in-its-weight over-representation of Jewish interests in the abortion on demand business should not be seen as a mere accident either, given the deeply-embedded protocols and paradigms within the Judaic psyche as a result of the religious psychologism that adheres to the necessity of human sacrifice as the principal means of ‘getting on the right side’ of the Hebraic god.

Put in less sophisticated and easier to understand language, what we are dealing with here are some really sick puppies, and what’s worse is the fact that they are in near total control of the world’s economy, media, political systems and are armed to the teeth with nuclear weapons which they have threatened to unleash upon the world in what they envision as the ultimate ‘burnt offering’ as commanded by Judaism in appeasing the violent, blood-demanding god of the Hebrews, Yahweh.

“For the Judahites have done evil in my sight”—an oracle of Yahweh—“they have set their abominations in the House over which my Name is invoked, defiling it. They build the shrines of the Topheth, which is in the Valley of the Son of Hinnom, to burn their sons and their daughters in the fire—which I did not command, nor did it arise in my mind.” (Jeremiah 7:30–31)

Among the many accusations that the prophets of the Hebrew Bible level at their contemporaries, child sacrifice certainly ranks among the most egregious. The idea that the Israelites would sacrifice their own children is so shocking that one may be tempted to dismiss the charge merely as hyperbolic. But the accusation is hardly limited to Jeremiah. For instance, among the first commands in Deuteronomy’s collection of laws is:

‘When Yahweh your god has cut off before you the peoples among whom you are about to enter to dispossess, and you have dispossessed them and lived in their land, be careful lest you are ensnared by them, after they have been destroyed before you—lest you inquire about their gods, saying, “How did these peoples serve their gods? I also will do likewise.” You must not do likewise for Yahweh your god, because every abomination to Yahweh that he hates they have done for their gods—for they even burn their sons and their daughters in the fire to their gods… (Deut 12:29–31)

This is a warning to the Israelites not to imitate the depraved Canaanites by sacrificing Israelite children to Yahweh in the same way that Canaanites sacrificed their sons and daughters to their gods. But why would such a command exist among the corpora of biblical laws unless some Israelites were at least tempted to sacrifice their children to Yahweh? Further, the fact that the oracle in Jeremiah accuses them of precisely that only strengthens the suspicion that the practice of child sacrifice was a very real, and apparently quite controversial, issue in ancient Israel.

These are far from the only references to child sacrifice in the Hebrew Bible. While the story of Abraham’s near sacrifice of Isaac (Gen 22) is probably the most famous example, there are also less well-known tales, such as Jephthah’s sacrifice of his daughter in fulfillment of a vow (Judg 11–12) and King Mesha of Moab’s sacrifice of his firstborn son during what appeared to be a hopeless siege(2 Kgs 3). Various biblical law codes demand that the firstborn of one’s cattle and flocks be handed over as a sacrifice to Yahweh, but some passages suggest that the requirement applied to firstborn children as well. In most cases, firstborn children are to be “redeemed” via the offering of a sheep (e.g., Exod 34:19–20) or a cash payment to the priests (e.g., Num 18:15–16). But in at least one case no form of redemption is mentioned (Exod 22:28–29), possibly indicating that firstborn children were sacrificed in some Yahwistic circles–

‘You shall not revile God, or curse a leader of your people. You shall not delay to make offerings from the fullness of your harvest and from the outflow of your presses. The firstborn of your sons you shall give to me…’

Scholars have long debated whether the Israelites could have ever actually sacrificed their children. If so, to which god (or gods) and how pervasive was the practice? There is a general consensus that child sacrifice did indeed take place in ancient Israel, although there is little agreement on the extent to which the practice occurred or on other specifics. Some argue that children were never offered to Yahweh, but only to foreign Canaanite gods like “Molek,” while others argue that child sacrifice was an ancient part of Yahwistic religion, which only fell out of favor after such rites were condemned as foreign syncretism by revisionist rhetoric, including that of the Hebrew Bible.

In my recent monograph, Child Sacrifice in Ancient Israel, I address these arguments and, like most scholars, argue that at least some Israelites did sacrifice their children, probably to Yahweh. My primary objective, however, is not merely to address the existence or non-existence of Israelite child sacrifice. Instead, I collect all of the different types of evidence—biblical, archaeological, and epigraphic—in attempting to untangle the various forms of child sacrifice. “Child sacrifice” was not a homogeneous phenomenon any more than “sheep sacrifice.”

In some cases, children are said to have been sacrificed “as a mōlek-offering.” These offerings have good parallels in the Punic colonies, where an identically named rite involving child sacrifice appears in conjunction with vows. In other cases, firstborn children are offered during times of distress, such as a famine or a siege. In yet others, firstborn children are offered as a matter of course in acknowledgment of Yahweh’s claim to the first portion of all produce. Children were sacrificed for a variety of purposes in a variety of circumstances, and it appears that different groups of Yahwists practiced different forms of child sacrifice, while some—like those most prominently represented in the Hebrew Bible—practiced none of them.

Turning to the rhetoric of the Hebrew Bible itself, it is interesting to note that, even among the groups that practiced no form of child sacrifice, there was a diversity of opinion on the topic. For instance, some biblical writers seem to assume that firstborn children were indeed owed to Yahweh, but that this obligation could be carried out via a substitute offering of some sort. Others, however, reject out of hand the idea that Yahweh’s claim to firstlings ever applied to children at all. Some texts, like the one from Deuteronomy quoted above, accuse reprobate Israelites of sacrificing their children to Yahweh as if he were one of the foreign gods of the Canaanites. Others, however, equate child sacrifice with the worship of Baal or idols and deny that Yahweh was ever linked with such offerings, even by “bad” Yahwists.

One striking example of such rhetorical disagreements among biblical authors opposing child sacrifice is the question of whether Yahweh ever commanded that children be sacrificed. In the Jeremiah passage quoted above, Yahweh flatly declares that child sacrifice is a thing that “I did not command, nor did it arise in my mind” (Jer 7:31). Ezekiel, on the other hand, suggests that Yahweh did command that children be sacrificed, but only as a punishment for the Israelites’ repeated faithlessness. There Yahweh declares that, because the Israelites did not follow Yahweh’s good laws by which they could live, “I gave them statutes that are not good and precepts by which they could not live. I defiled them by their gifts, in causing to pass over every firstborn, so that I might desolate them” (Ezek 20:25–26).

In this case, there seems to be a disagreement about whether the version of the law of the firstborn that lacks any sort of redemption clause constitutes a legitimate Yahwistic law at all. Thus, examining the rhetoric surrounding child sacrifice reveals differences in opinion concerning which biblical law codes were authoritative, as well as how they ought to be interpreted.

Exploring the practice of child sacrifice provides a window into the diversity of Israelite Yahwism. There was diversity in practice among those Yahwists who sacrificed their children, but there were also a variety of rhetorical strategies employed by those who opposed such rites. While the Hebrew Bible today overwhelmingly condemns child sacrifice as abominable, this biblical consensus only emerged as the result of a struggle over the relationship of Yahweh worship to the sacrifice of children. While those who opposed all forms of child sacrifice obviously (and thankfully!) won the day, the fact that these debates are preserved at all indicates that at least some Israelites saw things differently.

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