human sacrifice and death penalty

George Thompson thompson at JLC.NET
Fri Apr 24 13:06:11 UTC 1998

In response to the recent post of Jean Fezas:
>May I suggest that offering one's own children to the divinity is quite
>different from the sacrifice of a stranger (an enemy) or of a criminal (a
>sinner). By slaughtering his (first-born) son, his most precious property, the
>father shows his respect to the divinity he tries to propitiate.

One frequently encounters the comparison of the Abraham-Isaac narrative
with the ZunaHzepa narrative [AB 7.13-18], since both involve the potential
sacrifice of a son. But I think that the differences are *far* more
interesting than the similarities. The Abraham-Isaac narrative illustrates
JF's point quite well. But the Vedic narrative cannot be said to "show
respect to the divinity", as Abraham does with his complete, unwavering
submission to his god's command.

First, there is much stalling on the part of Harizcandra, the father; there
is the son Rohita's refusal to participate as victim; there is explicit
contempt for the Brahmin AjIgarta Sauyavasi, who is so crassly willing to
sell his son ZunaHzepa as a surrogate for the king's son Rohita; finally,
the gathered Brahmins are clearly reluctant to perform the sordid deed
themselves [and have to pay AjIgarta, again, to do tie up his son, and then
to take up the knife]....

On the whole a much more complicated, ambivalent, situation than the
Biblical one.


>In the mRcchakaTika, act X, cArudatta declares, on his way to the execution
>ground : "By the prints of hand dipped in red sandal paste, impressed over all
>my limbs and covered over with rice-flour and sesamum powder, I, a man, am
>turned into an animal (about to be slaughtered)" [translation MR. Kale]
>sarvagAtreSu vinyastai rakta-candana-hastakaiH/
>piSTa-cUrNAvakIrNaz ca puruSo 'haM pazu-kRtaH//

Of course, in Vedic the human victim was the pazu par excellence, at the
top of the canonical list [paJcapazu]. This list seems to me to be the key
to understanding sacrificial "logic", which culminates in the glorification
of self-sacrifice.

I look forward to Wezler's article cited by Georg von Simson [for which
many thanks]

George Thompson

More information about the INDOLOGY mailing list