Thursday, April 5, 2012

Human Sacrifice in the Bible and Other Religions


The story of the trial of Abraham's faith—when he is ordered by the Lord to sacrifice his only son Isaac—is to be found in Genesis xxii. 1-19, and is as follows:
"And it came to pass . . . that God did tempt Abraham, and said unto him: 'Abraham,' and he said: 'Behold, here I am.' And he (God) said: 'Take now thy son, thine only son, Isaac, whom thou lovest, and get thee into the land of Moriah, and offer him there for a burnt offering upon one of the mountains which I will tell thee of.'
"And Abraham rose up early in the morning, and saddled his ass, and took two of his young men with him, and Isaac his son, and clave the wood for the burnt offering, and rose up and went into the place which God had told him. . . . (When Abraham was near the appointed place) he said unto his young men: 'Abide ye here with the ass, and I and the lad will go yonder and worship, and come again to thee. And Abraham took the wood for the burnt offering, and laid it upon (the shoulders of) Isaac his son, and he took the fire in his hand, and a knife, and they went both of them together. And Isaac spake unto Abraham his father, and said: 'Behold the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?' And Abraham said: 'My son, God will provide himself a lamb for a burnt offering.' So they went both of them together, and they came to the place which God had told him of. And Abraham built an altar there, and laid the wood in order, and bound Isaac his son, and laid him on the altar upon the wood. And Abraham stretched forth his hand, and took the knife to slay his son. And the angel of the Lord called unto him out of heaven, and said: 'Abraham! Abraham! lay not thine hand upon the lad, neither do thou anything unto him, for now I know that thou fearest God, seeing that thou hast not withheld thy son, thine only son from me.'
"And Abraham lifted up his eyes, and looked, and behold behind him a ram caught in a thicket by his horns, and Abraham went and took the ram, and offered him up for a burnt offering in the stead of his son. . . . And the angel of the Lord called unto Abraham, out of heaven, the second time, and said: 'By myself have I sworn saith the Lord, for because thou hast done this thing, and hast not withheld thy son, thine only son, . . . I will bless thee, and . . . I will multiply thy seed as the stars in the heaven, and as the sand which is upon the sea shore, and thy seed shall possess the gate of his enemies. And in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blest, because thou hast obeyed my voice.' So Abraham returned unto his young men, and they rose up and went together to Beer-sheba, and Abraham dwelt at Beer-sheba."
There is a Hindoo story related to the Sânkhâyana-sûtras, which, in substance, is as follows: King Hariscandra had no son; he then prayed to Varuna, promising, that if a son were born to him, he would sacrifice the child to the god. Then a son was born to him, called Rohita. When Rohita was grown up his father one day told him of the vow he had made to Varuna, and bade him prepare to be sacrificed. The son objected to being killed and ran away from his father's house. For six years he wandered in the forest, and at last met a starving Brahman. Him he persuaded to sell one of his sons named Sunahsepha, for a hundred cows. This boy was bought by Rohita and taken to Hariscandra and about to be sacrificed to Varuna as a substitute for Rohita, when, on praying to the gods with verses from the Veda, he was released by them.
There was an ancient Phenician story, written by Sanchoniathon, who wrote about 1300 years before our era, which is as follows:
"Saturn, whom the Phœnicians call Israel, had by a nymph of the country a male child whom he named Jeoud, that is, one and only. On the breaking out of a war, which brought the country into imminent danger, Saturn erected an altar, brought to it his son, clothed in royal garments, and sacrificed him."
There is also a Grecian fable to the effect that one Agamemnon had a daughter whom he dearly loved, and she was deserving of his affection. He was commanded by God, through the Delphic Oracle, to offer her up as a sacrifice. Her father long resisted the demand, but finally succumbed. Before the fatal blow had been struck, however, the goddess Artemis or Ashtoreth interfered, and carried the maiden away, whilst in her place was substituted a stag.
Another similar Grecian fable relates that:
"When the Greek army was detained at Aulis, by contrary winds, the augurs being consulted, declared that one of the kings had offended Diana, and she demanded the sacrifice of his daughter Iphigenia. It was like taking the father's life-blood, but he was persuaded that it was his duty to submit for the good of his country. The maiden was brought forth for sacrifice, in spite of her tears and supplications; but just as the priest was about to strike the fatal blow, Iphigenia suddenly disappeared, and a goat of uncommon beauty stood in her place."
There is yet still another, which belongs to the same country, and is related thus:
"In Sparta, it being declared upon one occasion that the gods demanded a human victim, the choice was made by lot, and fell on a damsel named Helena. But when all was in readiness, an eagle descended, carried away the priest's knife, and laid it on the head of a heifer, which was sacrificed in her stead."
The story of Abraham and Isaac was written at a time when the Mosaic party in Israel was endeavoring to abolish idolatry among their people. They were offering up human sacrifices to their gods Moloch, Baal, and Chemosh, and the priestly author of this story was trying to make the people think that the Lord had abolished such offerings, as far back as the time of Abraham. The Grecian legends, which he had evidently heard, may have given him the idea.
Human offerings to the gods were at one time almost universal. In the earliest ages the offerings were simple, and such as shepherds and rustics could present. They loaded the altars of the gods with the first fruits of their crops, and the choicest products of the earth. Afterwards they sacrificed animals. When they had once laid it down as a principle that the effusion of the blood of these animals appeased the anger of the gods, and that their justice turned aside upon the victims those strokes which were destined for men, their great care was for nothing more than to conciliate their favor by so easy a method. It is the nature of violent desires and excessive fear to know no bounds, and therefore, when they would ask for any favor which they ardently wished for, or would deprecate some public calamity which they feared, the blood of animals was not deemed a price sufficient, but they began to shed that of men. It is probable, as we have said, that this barbarous practice was formerly almost universal, and that it is of very remote antiquity. In time of war the captives were chosen for this purpose, but in time of peace they took the slaves. The choice was partly regulated by the opinion of the bystanders, and partly by lot. But they did not always sacrifice such mean persons. In great calamities, in a pressing famine, for example, if the people thought they had some pretext to impute the cause of it to their king, they even sacrificed him without hesitation, as the highest price with which they could purchase the Divine favor. In this manner, the first King of Vermaland (a province of Sweden) was burnt in honor of Odin, the Supreme God, to put an end to a great dearth; as we read in the history of Norway. The kings, in their turn, did not spare the blood of their subjects; and many of them even shed that of their children. Earl Hakon, of Norway, offered his son in sacrifice, to obtain of Odin the victory over the Jomsburg pirates. Aun, King of Sweden,[devoted to Odin the blood of his nine sons, to prevail on that god to prolong his life. Some of the kings of Israel offered up their first-born sons as a sacrifice to the god Baal or Moloch.
The altar of Moloch reeked with blood. Children were sacrificed and burned in the fire to him, while trumpets and flutes drowned their screams, and the mothers looked on, and were bound to restrain their tears.
The Phenicians offered to the gods, in times of war and drought, the fairest of their children. The books of Sanchoniathon and Byblian Philo are full of accounts of such sacrifices. In Byblos boys were immolated to Adonis; and, on the founding of a city or colony, a sacrifice of a vast number of children was solemnized, in the hopes of thereby averting misfortune from the new settlement. The Phenicians, according to Eusebius, yearly sacrificed their dearest, and even their only children, to Saturn. The bones of the victims were preserved in the temple of Moloch, in a golden ark, which was carried by the Phenicians with them to war. Like the Fijians of the present day, those people considered their gods as beings like themselves. They loved and they hated; they were proud and revengeful; they were, in fact, savages like themselves.
If the eldest born of the family of Athamas entered the temple of the Laphystian Jupiter, at Alos, in Achaia, he was sacrificed, crowned with garlands, like an animal victim.
The offering of human sacrifices to the Sun was extensively practiced in Mexico and Peru, before the establishment of Christianity