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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.

Pre-Columbian cultures

Aztec Culture

Archeologists have found remains of 42 children sacrificed to Tlaloc (and a few to Ehécatl, Quetzalcoatl and Huitzilopochtli) in the offerings of the Great Pyramid of Tenochtitlan.[1] Template:Further

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.[2] 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 Peru practiced mass sacrifices of men and boys.[3]

Ancient Near East

Tanakh (Hebrew Bible)

References in the Tanakh 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' (2 Kings 3:27). 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?' (Micah 6:7), and receives a response, 'He has shown all you people what is good. And what does Yahweh require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your god.' (Micah 6:8)

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

Psalm 106:37 and 38 also talk of human sacrifice.

The 12th century rabbi Rashi, commenting on Jeremiah 7:31 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 Genesis 22 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.[citation needed]

Another instance of human sacrifice mentioned in the Tanakh is the sacrifice of Jephthah's daughter in Judges 11. 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 Judges 11:31 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. However, 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 Canaanites, 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."[citation needed]

The accuracy of such stories is disputed by some modern historians and archaeologists.[4] Nevertheless, several apparent "Tophets" have been identified, including a large one in Carthage.[citation needed]

Sites within Carthage and other Phoenician centers revealed the remains of infants and children in large numbers; some historians[citation needed] 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.[citation needed] Skeptics suggest that the bodies of children found in Carthaginian and Phoenician cemeteries were merely the cremated remains of children that died naturally.[5] 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".[6] 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.[citation needed]

According to Lawrence and Wolff, in 1984, there was a consensus among scholars 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.[7] They placed their children alive in the arms of a bronze statue of:

the lady Tanit ... . The hands of the statue extended over a brazier into which the child fell once the flames had caused the limbs to contract and its mouth to open ... . The child was alive and conscious when burned ... Philo specified that the sacrificed child was best-loved.[8]

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 Carthage, 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 (see Interpretatio graeca for clarification). 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 archenemies seem cruel and less civilized.

Pre-Islamic Arabia

The Quran documents pagan Arabians sacrificing their children to idols.Template:Cite quran

Prehistoric Britain

A young child was buried with its skull split by a weapon at Woodhenge. This was interpreted by the excavators as a child sacrifice.[9]


An investigation by the BBC into human sacrifice in Uganda found that ritual killings of children are more common than Ugandan authorities once thought.[10]


Precious little actual archeological evidence of widespread child sacrifice exists, leading some archaeologists to propose that child sacrifice may have been less prevalent than historical documents may suggest. In the case of Carthage, for instance, the only reports of child sacrifice come from Roman sources. It is possible that, being mortal enemies of the Carthaginians, the classic historians may have engaged in a sort of propaganda against their enemies.[11] This can also be seen in the Jewish case: as they accused others in the Near East of child sacrifice, they themselves would come to be accused of it in blood libel cases.

In other cases, such as the Aztec and Inca child sacrifices, archaeological evidence has supported the written sources, and even added new information that keeps the debate open.

See also


  1. – article in Spanish
  2. - "Pre-Columbian Andean Sacrifices"
  3. Channel article
  4. Carthage tries to live down image as site of infanticide
  5. The Phoenicians Elsa Marston p55
  6. Sergio Ribichini, "Beliefs and Religious Life" in Moscati, Sabatino (ed), The Phoenicians, 1988, p.141
  7. Stager, Lawrence; Samuel. R. Wolff (1984). "Child sacrifice in Carthage: religious rite or population control?". Journal of Biblical Archeological Review January: 31–46.
  8. Brown, Shelby (1991). Late Carthaginian Child Sacrifice and Sacrificial Monuments in their Mediterranean Context. Sheffield Academic Press. pp. 22–23.
  9. Ronald Hutton, The Pagan Religions of the Ancient British Isles: Their Nature and Legacy, ISBN 0-631-18946-7, page 90.
  10. Tim Whewell, "Witch-doctors reveal extent of child sacrifice in Uganda", BBC News, 7 January 2010

External links


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