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See also Religious abuse, and Infanticide

Child sacrifice is the ritualistic killing of children in order to please, propitiate or force supernatural beings in order to achieve a desired result. As such, it is a form of human sacrifice.

Similar in concept but different in meaning is the blood libel, in which groups (such as the Jews or Roma) are falsely accused of killing children and drinking their blood. The blood libel was then used as an excuse to attack these groups (pogrom being a Slavic term for this kind of attack).

Pre-Columbian cultures

Aztec Culture

Archeologists have found remains of 42 children sacrificed to Tlaloc (and a few to Ehécatl, Quetzalcóatl and Huitzilopochtli) in the offerings of the Great Pyramid of Tenochtitlanmarker.

Inca culture

The Inca culture sacrificed children in a ritual called capacocha. Their frozen corpses are still being discovered in the South American mountaintops. The first of these corpses, a female child who had died from a blow to the skull, was discovered in 1995 by Johan Reinhard. Other methods of sacrifice included strangulation and simply leaving the children, who had been given an intoxicating drink, to lose consciousness in the extreme cold and low-oxygen conditions of the mountaintop, and to die of exposure.

Moche Culture

The Moche of northern Perumarker practiced mass sacrifices of men and boys.

Ancient Near East

Minoan Crete

In Knossosmarker and dating to Minoan Crete, the bones of at least four children (who had been in good health) were found which bore signs that they were butchered in the same way the Minoans slaughtered their sheep and goats, suggesting that they had been sacrificed and eaten.

Hebrew Bible

References in the Bible point to an awareness of human sacrifice in the history of ancient near-eastern practice. The king of Moab gives his firstborn son and heir as a whole burnt offering (olah, as used of the Temple sacrifice). It is apparently effective, as his enemy is promptly repelled by a 'great wrath' ( ). In the book of the prophet Micah, one asks, 'Shall I give my firstborn for my sin, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?' ( ), and receives a response, 'It hath been told thee, O man, what is good, and what the LORD doth require of thee: only to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God.' ( )

The Bible implies that the Ammonites offered child sacrifices to Moloch.

The 12th century rabbi Rashi, commenting on stated:
Tophet is Moloch, which was made of brass; and they heated him from his lower parts; and his hands being stretched out, and made hot, they put the child between his hands, and it was burnt; when it vehemently cried out; but the priests beat a drum, that the father might not hear the voice of his son, and his heart might not be moved.
A different rabbinical tradition says that the idol was hollow and was divided into seven compartments, in one of which they put flour, in the second turtle-doves, in the third a ewe, in the fourth a ram, in the fifth a calf, in the sixth an ox, and in the seventh a child, which were all burnt together by heating the statue inside.

In there is a story about the binding of Isaac. In this story, God tests Abraham by asking him to present his son, Isaac, as a sacrifice on Mount Moriah. No reason is given within the text. Abraham agrees to this command without arguing. According to the text, God does not want Abraham to actually sacrifice his son; it states from the beginning that this is only a test of obedience. The story ends with an angel stopping Abraham at the last minute and making Isaac's sacrifice unnecessary by providing a ram, caught in some nearby bushes, to be sacrificed instead. Many Bible scholars have suggested this story's origin was a remembrance of an era when human sacrifice was abolished in favor of animal sacrifice.

Another instance of human sacrifice mentioned in the Bible is the sacrifice of Jephthah's daughter in . Jephthah is victorious in battle against the children of Ammon and vows to sacrifice to God whatsoever comes to greet him at the door when he returns home. The vow is stated in as
"Then it shall be, that whatsoever cometh forth of the doors of my house to meet me, when I return in peace from the children of Ammon, shall surely be the LORD's, and I will offer it up for a burnt offering." When he returns from battle, his virgin daughter runs out to greet him. That he actually does sacrifice her is shown in verse 11:39 "And it came to pass at the end of two months, that she returned unto her father, who did with her according to his vow which he had vowed". This example seems to be the exception rather than the rule, however, as the verse continues "And she was a virgin. From this comes the Israelite custom that each year the young women of Israel go out for four days to commemorate the daughter of Jephthah the Gileadite.".

The lamentations that were offered annually in remembrance of this act frame it as the atrocity it was, and accentuate the grievousness of such a rash action. According to commentators in the rabbinic Jewish tradition this was a gross violation of God's law, and this part of the Bible illustrates the terrible tragedy of human sacrifice. The majority of the early Christian interpreters saw the sacrifice of Jepthah's virgin daughter as foreshadowing, like Isaac, the death of Jesus Christ. They may have been influenced in this interpretation by the biblical account describing Jepthah's vow (Judges 11:29) being made whilst under the influence of the Holy Spirit.

Phoenicia and Carthage

Carthage was notorious to its neighbors for child sacrifice. Plutarch (ca. 46–120 AD) mentions the practice, as do Tertullian, Orosius and Diodorus Siculus. Livy and Polybius do not. The Hebrew Bible also mentions what appears to be child sacrifice practiced at a place called the Tophet ("roasting place") by the Canaanite, ancestors of the Carthaginians, and by some Israelites.

Some of these sources suggest that babies were roasted to death on a heated bronze statue. According to Diodorus Siculus, "There was in their city a bronze image of Cronus extending its hands, palms up and sloping toward the ground, so that each of the children when placed thereon rolled down and fell into a sort of gaping pit filled with fire."

The accuracy of such stories is disputed by some modern historians and archaeologists . Nevertheless, several apparent "Tophets" have been identified, including a large one in Carthage.

Sites within Carthagemarker and other Phoenicianmarker centers revealed the remains of infants and children in large numbers; most historians interpret this as evidence for frequent and prominent child sacrifice to the god Ba'al Hammon.

Greek, Roman and Israelite writers refer to Phoenician child sacrifice. However, some historians have disputed this interpretation, suggesting instead that these were resting places for children miscarried or who died in infancy. The debate is ongoing among modern archeologists and historians. Skeptics suggest that the bodies of children found in Carthaginian and Phoenician cemeteries were merely the cremated remains of children that died naturally . Sergio Ribichini has argued that the Tophet was "a child necropolis designed to receive the remains of infants who had died prematurely of sickness or other natural causes, and who for this reason were "offered" to specific deities and buried in a place different from the one reserved for the ordinary dead". The few Carthaginian texts which have survived make absolutely no mention of child sacrifice , though most of them pertain to matters entirely unrelated to religion, such as the practice of agriculture.

According to Lawrence and Wolff there is a consensus among scholars is that Carthaginian children were sacrificed by their parents, who would make a vow to kill the next child if the gods would grant them a favor: for instance that their shipment of goods were to arrive safely in a foreign port. They placed their children alive in the arms of a bronze statue of:

Later commentators have compared the accounts of child sacrifice in the Old Testament with similar ones from Greek and Latin sources speaking of the offering of children by fire as sacrifices in the Punic city of Carthagemarker, which was a Phoenician colony. Cleitarchus, Diodorus Siculus and Plutarch all mention burning of children as an offering to Cronus or Saturn, that is to Ba‘al Hammon, the chief god of Carthage. Issues and practices relating to Moloch and child sacrifice may also have been overemphasized for effect. After the Romans finally defeated Carthage and totally destroyed the city, they engaged in post-war propaganda to make their arch enemies seem cruel and less civilized.

Pre-Islamic Arabia

The Quran documents pagan Arabians sacrificing their children to idols .

Prehistoric Britain

A young child was buried with its skull split by a weapon at Woodhengemarker. This was interpreted by the excavators as a child sacrifice.


Some archaeologists have found evidence that suggests that the prevalence of child sacrifice may have been less than commonly believed . In the case of Carthage, the only reports of child sacrifice come from Roman sources. Revisionist historians claim that, being mortal enemies of the Carthaginians, the classic historians may have engaged in blood libel. This has not been accepted by most historians. In other cases, archaeological evidence has confirmed the written sources, and even added new information that keeps the debate open.

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