human sacrifice and death penalty

Jean Fezas jean.fezas at WANADOO.FR
Thu Apr 23 16:21:08 EDT 1998


At 12:11 PM 22/04/1998 -0700,  Mary Storm gave a list of  Biblical passages
referring to "human sacrifice". They are all related to a very particular kind
of human sacrifice: the victim is always the son or the daughter of the person
offering the sacrifice (and the crucifixion fits exactly this pattern)

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. The sacrifice
of criminals, just like the "voluntary" death of the sinner may be a useful
(necessary?) representation for getting rid of antisocial elements without
entering into the cycle of private revenge: it is supposed to benefit the
victim as well as the executioner. Conversely, it seems to me that death
penalty never frightened nor dissuaded criminals, but is related to human
sacrifice, and even in "modern" societies it is surrounded by ritualistic
patterns.

Manu (VIII.317) already tells us that "Men who, after having committed sins
have been punished by kings go to heaven without being stained, just like good
men having accomplished good actions"... See how rAma uses this zloka to
justify the murder of vAlin, in Ram. 4.18.
rAjabhir dhRta-daNDAs tu kRtvA pApAni mAnavAH /
nirmalAH svargam Ayanti santaH sukRtino yathA //

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//


J.F.



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