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Human Sacrifice in Judaism

[Who Would God Kill? graphic]

Though the usual assumptions are that Yahwehism, or archaic Judaism, was free of human sacrifice the evidence in the Bible refutes that belief.  A careful reading of the text - despite all of the editing by the priestly caste which was done before the text became "Holy" and fixed - shows a lot of nasty material which the devout manage to read without seeing. Those who have eyes, let them read!

A frequent complaint of the "prophets" is the falling of the Israelites into the ways of their neighbors, including child sacrifice. [For example Jeremiah 19:4-5] Ignoring the claimed extreme impressionability of Yahweh's people, it is not clear that this was merely the influence of their neighbors.  The texts strongly suggest that this was a survival from archaic Yahwehism which had by then become an embarrassment [to some, but by no means all]. In Ezekiel 20:25-26, the prophet gives an ingenious explanation for religious rules and practices which were becoming an embarrassment. Yes, they were indeed given by the God of Isreal, but God gave the bad laws as a form of punishment. The bad laws seem to include child sacrifice. [Since God admits that parts of the Bible are bad laws, where does this leave the fundamentalist?] But there is more.

A regular theme is the warnings that Yahweh's chosen are not to come too close to the divine presence to protect the people from his tendency to kill without warning, for example Exodus 19:21.

Also Yahweh has a history of attempting to kill his own Prophets and other chosen.  There is the cruel command god gave to Abram (Honored Father) to sacrifice his favored child Isaac (Laughter). (Genesis 22:1 to 13)  Though god eventually changes his mind, the text treats this as a reasonable divine request. Honored-Father did not respond by saying, "Kill my son given to me by my god?  No! You must be an evil spirit!".  Though Honored-Father did have a record of protesting the divine murders of all those strangers in Sodom, he said nothing here.  His own son was fair game.

Or later (Genesis 32:24 to 32) when god attacks Jacob (Heel) while Heel is asleep.  Though this looks to be an attempt to kill, Yahweh only succeeds in breaking his hip. So Heel-Clutcher  becomes Israel, Fought-God.  Fought-God then names the place of the fight, Face-of-God.  Of course, the divine figure Fought-God defeats might not have been Yahweh.  But then the text becomes openly polytheistic.  A personal battle with Yahweh is consistent, however, with the divine character.

More strangely, in some respects, is what happens when Moses (To-Draw-Out-a-Son), is sent back to Egypt from Arabia to deliver the Israelites (i.e. the people who fight god) from their slavery.  On the way, while stopped for the night, Yahweh comes by and attempts to kill To-Draw-Out-A-Son.  This is only prevented by Zipporah (Bird), To-Draw-Out-A-Son's wife, doing an emergency circumcision of their son and then touching the bloody foreskin to To-Draw-Out-A-Son's own genitals.  Then Yahweh goes away.

And in Numbers, chapter 22, there is the story of Baalam being saved from a divine murder only because the donkey he is riding refuses to walk anywhere near the divine presence. An ironic story indeed.

The Levites, the Priest caste, gets its' initial holiness by the mass murder of selected Israelites (Exodus 32:26 to 29), but never gets a long term reprieve from divine capriciousness.  Their ceremonial robes have bells attached to remind Yahweh not to kill his own priests! (Exodus 28:31 to 35 and then 36 to 43)

One could hope that not being a prophet or chosen; or being a criminal might bring safety. Oh, not at all. In the story of the conquest of Jericho, Joshua 6:17 makes the explicit point that the entire population is to be killed as a sacrifice to Yahweh.  In Isaiah 34:5 to 7 a similar notion comes up with Yahweh promising the genocide of the people of Edom as a personal sacrifice to himself.

In Deuteronomy 13:12 to 16 we learn what is to be done about heretics and those who live in the same town with them. All the people and livestock of the town - even people and livestock who were not heretics - were to be killed by sword. The dead and all the property were to be piled in the town square and burned as a whole burnt offering to Yahweh. Oh, and do not rebuild the town - ever. Somehow the myth started that gods only wanted the best, but in a pinch heretics, criminals and prisoners of war will do. There are after all more of latter than the former. [Note: The Roman coliseums were consecrated areas having the alters of the main gods and goddesses; so the human and animal deaths there were offerings to the gods. Since so few people today are Jupiter worshipers I do not need to deal with that religion.]

Jepthah, in his prayer to Yahweh for a military victory in the bloody wars of the Israelites, promises a human sacrifice to Yahweh.  He gets his victory and sacrifices his only daughter. Oddly enough, his daughter is upset not over being killed, but over dying a virgin. (Judges 11:30 to 40)

The command in Leviticus 18:21 against sacrificing children to Moloch comes out as not a ban on child sacrifice, but a ban on the worship of foreign deities.  This suspicion is confirmed by Exodus 13:11 to 16, where Yahweh asserts his ownership of all first born males, both human and animal.  What saves the humans from sacrifice is the substitution of additional animal sacrifices.

Actually, human sacrifice was seen as something so Holy and powerful, that even the sacrices to other gods was recognized as legitimate when practiced by gentiles. In 2 Kings chapter 3 is a desciption of a war against Moab. When the Isrealites surrounded the capitol of Moab, the Moab king fearing defeat sacrificed his son to his god on the city walls [2 Kings 3:26-27]. On seeing this the Isrealites fled in terror because the Moabite god Chemosh having received a sacrifice would surely defeat them.

I do not believe this is the complete case for human sacrifice in Yahwehism since I only made a cursory search for evidence in the Bible and have not checked the Talmud or other traditions.  But what is here is enough to make the case.  God sometimes ordered and other times accepted human sacrifice.  Many people, especially first born sons, were only saved by the substitution sacrifices of additional livestock. [Note: Wives, children and livestock had the same legal status.] There is also the hint that the purpose of circumcision was either as a substitution for the sacrifice of the entire baby boy, or a marker that substitution sacrifices had been made.  [See 1 Samual 18:24 to 27 on the use of foreskins as a way to track the numbers of kills.] The circumcision would let god, or the priests rather, know not to take that particular child.

This human sacrificial tradition may have had a long life in Judaism.  The Jewish heresy of Christianity only makes sense if these sacrifices were still going on at the times of the Christianity's origins.  Whether Jesus was a man before he was a god; or was killed in a tree or was crucified does not matter.  This all makes no sense as an act of redemption unless there was a human sacrificial rite!

All this goes a long way toward explaining the violence which has been created by the Followers of the Book, Jews, Christians and Moslems.  What was born from and nurtured by centuries of ritual murder would be expected to create more violence.


Copyright ©1999 by UrsaMajor
"Who Would God Kill?" graphic created by Psycho Dave and used by permission