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Holman Bible Dictionary

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Additional Resources
• Nave's Topical Bible
Human sacrifice
• International Standard Bible Encyclopedia
Human Sacrifice

The ritual slaying of one or more human beings to please a god. This was widely practiced by many cultures in antiquity. Although the frequency of the practice is difficult to determine, the fact is that such rituals were performed for various reasons. For example, both Egyptians and Sumerians before 2000 B.C. killed servants and possibly family members to bury them with deceased kings to allow those who had served or been near the official in life to accompany him to the realm of the dead. In Mesopotamia, and perhaps elsewhere, the remains of animals and humans offered as sacrifice were deposited within foundations to protect the building from evil powers, a practice possibly reflected in 1 Kings 16:34.

In the Old Testament, Jephthah sacrificed his daughter as a fulfillment of a vow, although the incident is clearly not normative (Judges 11:30-40). In the ninth century Mesha, king of Moab, offered his own son as a burnt offering presumably to Chemosh, national god of Moab, upon the walls of his capital while under siege by Israel and Judah (2 Kings 3:27). The event was so shocking that the siege was terminated. However, although Israelite law specifically forbade human sacrifice (Leviticus 18:21; Leviticus 20:2-5), persistent references to the practice occur, especially between 800 and 500 B.C. Both Ahaz and Manasseh burned their sons as an offering in times of national peril (2 Kings 16:3; 2 Kings 21:6). The sacrifices were made in the valley of Hinnom which protected Jerusalem from the west and south. A portion of the valley bore the name Topheth, a name derived from the word for fireplace or hearth. Apparently Topheth was an open air cultic area where Molech sacrifices were offered. The term Molech occurs frequently in connection with human sacrifice. In the Bible and elsewhere Molech apparently was used in two ways: 1) as the name or a title of a god to whom sacrifice was made (see 1 Kings 11:7) and 1 Kings 11:2) as a specific type of sacrifice which involved the total consummation of a person, usually a child, by fire. Both usages of the term may be reflected in the Old Testament. Both Jeremiah and Ezekiel condemn such offerings as an abomination to God (Jeremiah 7:31-32; Jeremiah 19:5-6; Ezekiel 16:20-21; Ezekiel 20:31). Josiah defiled Topheth as a part of his reformation so that “no one might burn his son or his daughter as an offering to Molech” (2 Kings 23:10 RSV).

These practices, foreign to the worship of Yahweh, must have been adopted by Israel from the surrounding peoples. Direct evidence for human sacrifice during the first millennium B.C. comes from two cultures with which Israel had contact: the Phoenician colony of Carthage and the Arameans. The Carthaginians sacrificed children to Kronos during periods of calamity caused by war, famine, or disease. Pits filled with bones of animals and children have been excavated at Carthage with inscribed stones indicating these were Molech sacrifices. The Arameans of Gozan in northwest Mesopotamia sacrificed humans to the god Hadad. Interestingly, the Sepharvites, a people from an area dominated by Arameans deported to Palestine in 721 B.C. by Sargon II, burned their children as offerings to Adrammelech and Anammelech (2 Kings 17:31). Yet the abomination of human sacrifice, stated Jeremiah, never entered the mind of Yahweh (Jeremiah 19:5). See Molech.

Tommy Brisco

Copyright Statement
These dictionary topics are from the Holman Bible Dictionary, published by Broadman & Holman, 1991. All rights reserved. Used by permission of Broadman & Holman.

Bibliography Information
Butler, Trent C. Editor.. "Entry for 'HUMAN SACRIFICE'". "Holman Bible Dictionary".
<>. 1991.


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