human sacrifice (allusion to Abraham)

Mary Storm umadevi at SFO.COM
Wed Apr 22 19:11:38 UTC 1998

J Kingston Cowart wrote:

> >I want to remind that human sacrifice (however detestable it may be) is not
> >confined only to Hinduism but practically all religions except perhaps
> >Buddhism and Jainism. After all Abraham was asked by God to sacrifice his
> >son but was permitted to sacrifice a ram instead of him.
> >
> One does well to recall these facts of the Western tradition:  1) it was never
> God's intent that Isaac actually be sacrificed; 2) there are no texts in
> Judaism,
> Christianity, or Islam which specify the conditions and methods of human
> sacrifice.  It is indeed proscribed rather than prescribed.

I was going to stay out of this thread, since this topic is a large part
of my dissertation and I am sort of up to my ears in it, but I felt
compelled to jump in. Sorry!
Indian sacrificial tradition is not isolated. Much of Western thought
stems from the idea that the Biblical God is entitled to ask for human
sacrifice. In Exodus (22:29) Yahweh demands the sacrifice of the
Israelites' first-born sons: "You shall not delay to offer from the
fulness of your harvest and from the outflow of your presses. The
firstborn of your sons you shall give to Me.". In Ezekiel (20:26) it is
clarified that this sacrifice was a punishment inflicted by God: "that I
might make them desolate, to the end that they might know that I am the
The Mosaic laws (ca. 1300 B.C.) specifically forbade the Jews from
sacrificing their children to Moloch. The god also known as Ba'al,
accepted child sacrifice and was worshipped throughout the Middle East.
"You shall not give any of your children to devote them by fire to
Moloch and so profane the name of your God" (Leviticus 18:21). The
emphasis rests not on the horror of child sacrifice but on the dishonor
done to Yahweh. The Biblical passages appear ambiguous whether some Jews
did offer their children to Moloch or whether the law is a prohibition
against the possibility that some might take up the practice. King
Solomon offered sacrifice to Moloch and to the god Chemosh in the 10th
century BC (1 Kings 11:7-8). Three centuries later the kings Ahaz (2
Kings 16:3) and Manasseh (2 Kings 21:6) worshipped Moloch right outside
the walls of Jerusalem on the hill of Topheth. The site was destroyed
under the reign of Josiah, the reformer: "And he defiled Topheth, which
is in the valley of the sons of Hinnom, that no one might burn his son
or daughter as an offering to Moloch" (2 Kings 23:10).
The passage from Leviticus forbids sacrifice to a rival god. Although
the references are often oblique, the Hebrew Bible implies Yahweh's
acceptance of, or need for human sacrifice. In the story of Jephthah and
the oblation of his un-named daughter (Judges 11: 30-40), Jephthah
promised God that he would sacrifice the first person to greet him upon
return from battle. He sealed his military victory against the Ammonites
by slitting his daughter’s throat and offering her life to Yahweh. This
event was commemorated every year by a lamentation of the daughters of
Israel. In the better known story of Abraham and Isaac (Genesis 22:
1-19) God’s awful demand for the sacrifice of Isaac, and Abraham’s
willingness to comply is used as a model of obedience to the will of
God. Yahweh was shown to be capriciously and omnipotently generous when
he rescinded his demand and miraculously substituted a ram for Abraham’s
only child. 
Mary Storm

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