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Is There Child Sacrifice in the Bible?

"A couple of weeks ago you addressed a question about the sacrifice of Isaac by Abraham. In the column you said, It is apparent that child/human sacrifice was unfortunately common.' How is this apparent'?"

There are several reasons why scholars consider human sacrifice to have been common in the ancient days of the Hebrew faith. One reason is the ready acceptance of Abraham to sacrifice his son. Note that in the narrative there Abraham raises no discussion regarding the sacrifice, and in the narrative accounts Abraham was generally presented as one unafraid to speak his mind to God (Genesis 18.23-33). The assumption, therefore, is that human sacrifice was a common enough event so as not to warrant questions or bargaining. (Against this view is the apparent confusion of Isaac as to the object of the sacrifice. Clearly the boy was expecting the offering to be a lamb. However, his confusion could be attributed to Abraham's typical practice of animal sacrifice.)

A second reason to assume the practice of human sacrifice is an a priori argument (argument of general to specific, or deductive reasoning). Included in the book of Deuteronomy is a specific command that there shall be no child sacrifices, "No one shall be found among you who makes a son or daughter pass through fire" (18.10). The argument is, if no one was making child sacrifices there would be no need for a command against its practice. And indeed, there is ample evidence during the monarchy in Israel and Judah that these practices were common. In the book of Kings we read that both kings Ahaz and Manasseh had their own children sacrificed (2 Kings 16.2-3; 21.1-6). And it was Josiah, the purported discoverer of the book of Deuteronomy (or perhaps the sponsor of its writing!) who finally tore down one of the prime sites of human sacrifice in Israel in an effort to put an end to it.

Cleawrly there is ample evidence to support the practice of human sacrifice in ancient Israel.

But what about human sacrifice, not in the name of some foreign religion or idols, but in the name of God, Yahweh, our Lord?

There's plenty of support for even this. The first instance is found in the command found in Exodus 13.2. There we read, "Consecrate to me all the firstborn; whatever is the first to open the womb among the Israelites, of human beings and animals, is mine." This verse and the following passage clearly calls for the sacrifice of all the firstborn animals and children in Israel. However, later in this same chapter the command is modified so that firstborn sons were redeemed, that is a fee was paid to spare the life of the son (13.13), but no such arrangement was made with regards to daughters. The assumption is, therefore, that at least for a period of time all firstborn children were sacrificed to the Lord, and later only daughters were sacrificed that is, until the book of Deuteronomy was written/discovered.

It could be argued that the above seems only theoretical and deductive. However, there is one story of human sacrifice in the name of the Lord that clearly demonstrates the practice. In Judges we read, "And Jephthah made a vow to the Lord, and said, If you will give the Ammonites into my hand, then whoever comes out of the doors of my house to meet me, when I return victorious from the Ammonites, shall be the Lord's, to be offered up by me as a burnt offering.' So Jephthah crossed over to the Ammonites to fight against them; and the Lord gave them into his hand. Then Jephthah came to his home; and there was his daughter coming out to meet him with timbrels and with dancing. She was his only child; he had no son or daughter except her. When he saw her, he tore his clothes, and said, Alas, my daughter! You have brought me very low; you have become the cause of great trouble to me. For I have opened my mouth to the Lord, and I cannot take back my vow'" (Judges 11.30-32, 33-35). Later in the story we're told he kept his vow as he had promised (11.39).

With this final story, and with the evidence previously presented, we must conclude there was indeed human sacrifice in the early days of the Israelites and it was even practiced within the Israelite faith.

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