Biblical Archaeology Review 40:5, September/October 2014

First Person: Human Sacrifice to an Ammonite God?

By Hershel Shanks

As its title indicates, an article in the July/August BAR addressed the question of ancient infant sacrifice (“Infants Sacrificed? The Tale Teeth Tell” by Patricia Smith), mainly at the tophet in Carthage, and cites Biblical passages (Leviticus 18:21; Jeremiah 32:35; 2 Chronicles 28:3) that fulminate against the practice.

But, strictly speaking, these Biblical passages do not condemn infant sacrifices but the sacrifice of sons and daughters. Is the Bible condemning infant sacrifice or, more broadly, the sacrifice of sons and daughters of more advanced age—or any age? Indeed, the most famous Biblical episode of (almost) human sacrifice involves a son who walks three days up a mountain with his father and converses with him. On the last leg of the journey the son carries the wood. He is referred to as a lad or a youth (na’ar). This of course is the famous Akedah in Hebrew, the binding of Isaac in Jewish tradition, often referred to otherwise (somewhat inaccurately) as the sacrifice of Isaac (Genesis 22). Clearly, Isaac is no infant.

When Abraham is about to sacrifice Isaac, an angel of the Lord cries out to Abraham to stay his hand, and a ram caught by his horns in a thicket is sacrificed instead of Isaac.

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