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Monday, October 19, 2009

Human Sacrifices and the Death of Jesus

I believe that the idea of Jesus Christ dying for man’s sin has its origin in the ancient concept of offering human sacrifices to a deity. We know human sacrifice was common in ancient times.

Human sacrifice is the act of killing human beings as part of a religious ritual (ritual killing). Its typology closely parallels the various practices of ritual slaughter of animals (animal sacrifice) and of religious sacrifice in general. Human sacrifice has been practiced in various cultures throughout history. Victims were typically ritually killed in a manner that was supposed to please or appease gods, spirits or the deceased, for example as a propitiatory offering, or as a retainer sacrifice when the King's servants are killed in order for them to continue to serve their master in the next life.

Human sacrifice has been practiced on a number of different occasions and in many different cultures. The various rationales behind human sacrifice are the same that motivate religious sacrifice in general. Human sacrifice is intended to bring good fortune and to pacify the gods, for example in the context of the dedication of a completed building like a temple or bridge. There is a Chinese legend that there are thousands of people entombed in the Great Wall of China. In ancient Japan, legends talk about Hitobashira ("human pillar"), in which maidens were buried alive at the base or near some constructions as a prayer to ensure the buildings against disasters or enemy attacks. For the re-consecration of Great Pyramid of Tenochtitlan in 1487, the Aztecs reported that they killed about 80,400 prisoners over the course of four days. According to Ross Hassig, author of Aztec Warfare, "between 10,000 and 80,400 persons" were sacrificed in the ceremony. (“Human Sacrifice,” in Wikipedia)

Even conservative Bible scholars acknowledge the prominence of human sacrifices in the ancient world. For example the article “Sacrifice, Human”, in the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia(ed. James Orr) states:

As an expression of religious devotion, human sacrifice has been widespread at certain stages of the race's development. The tribes of Western Asia were deeply affected by the practice, probably prior to the settlement of the Hebrews in Palestine, and it continued at least down to the 5th century BC. At times of great calamity, anxiety and danger, parents sacrificed their children as the greatest and most costly offering which they could make to propitiate the anger of the gods and thus secure their favor and help. There is no intimation in the Bible that enemies or captives were sacrificed; only the offering of children by their parents is mentioned. The belief that this offering possessed supreme value is seen in Micah 6:6 ff., where the sacrifice of the firstborn is the climax of a series of offerings which, in a rising scale of values, are suggested as a means of propitiating the angry Yahweh. A striking example of the rite as actually practiced is seen in 2 Ki 3:27, where Mesha the king of Moab (made famous by the Moabite Stone), under the stress of a terrible siege, offered his eldest son, the heir-apparent to the throne, as a burnt offering upon the wall of Kir-hareseth. As a matter of fact this horrid act seems to have had the effect of driving off the allies.

Human sacrifice was ordinarily resorted to, no doubt, only in times of great distress, but it seems to have been practiced among the old Canaanitish tribes with some frequency (Dt 12:31). The Israelites are said to have borrowed it from their Canaanite neighbors (2 Ki 16:3; 2 Ch 28:3), and as a matter of fact human sacrifices were never offered to Yahweh, but only to various gods of the land. The god who was most frequently worshipped in this way was Moloch or Molech, the god of the Ammonites (2 Ki 23:10; Lev 18:21; 20:2), but from Jeremiah we learn that the Phoenician god Baal was, at least in the later period of the history, also associated with Molech in receiving this worship (Jer 19:5; 31:35).

Dr. David R. Dilling, a graduate of Wheaton College and Grace Theological Seminary, writes: In Mesopotamia, for example, we have the positive evidence of a published Babylonian cylinder seal which unmistakably portrays the actual execution of a human sacrifice. A.H. Sayce, British Assyriologist of a generation ago, has called attention to an Akkadian poem of pre-Semitic times with its later Assyrian translation concerning the sacrifice of a firstborn son. It says distinctly, "His offspring for his life he gave." Biblical evidence that human sacrifice was known in Mesopotamia in later times is found in II Ki. 17:31, ". . .And the Sepharvites burnt their children in the fire to Adrammelech and Anammelech, the gods of Sepharvaim."(The Atonement and Human Sacrifice, Grace Theological Journal 12.2 [Spring, 1971]).

We know that some Jews also practiced human sacrifice, albeit to a foreign deity, Molech. King Ahaz is said to have “made his son pass through the fire”, a clear reference to human sacrifice (2 Kin. 17:17; ). King Manasseh, likewise, is said to have made his son “pass through the fire” (2 Kin. 21:6). “Pass through the fire” in the King James Version is rendered “sacrifice in the fire” in the New International Version and “give to be burned as a sacrifice” in the New Living Translation.

The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia in the article on “Molech,“ says regarding the phrase “pass through the fire”:

When we come to consider the nature of this worship it is remarkable how few details are given regarding it in Scripture. The place where it was practiced from the days of Ahaz and Manasseh was the Valley of Hinnom where Topheth stood, a huge altar-pyre for the burning of the sacrificial victims. There is no evidence connecting the worship with the temple in Jerusalem. Ezekiel's vision of sun-worshippers in the temple is purely ideal (Ezek 8). A priesthood is spoken of as attached to the services (Jer 49:3; compare Zeph 1:4,5). The victims offered to the divinity were not burnt alive, but were killed as sacrifices, and then presented as burnt offerings. "To pass through the fire" has been taken to mean a lustration or purification of the child by fire, not involving death. But the prophets clearly speak of slaughter and sacrifice, and of high places built to burn the children in the fire as burnt offerings (Jer 19:5; Ezek 16:20,21).

So it is clear that some Jews in the Old Testament period practiced human sacrifice (Jer. 32:35; Eze. 16:21, 20:26, 20:31, 23:37).

While Yahweh was displeased with these human sacrifices and forbade them (Lev. 18:21; Dt. 18:10), it seems that his main problem was that they were offered up to a foreign god. As the evangelical theologian, David Dilling says:

1) The legal prohibitions, as well as the prophetic polemics, are uniformly related to heathen deities. In the passages cited, human sacrifice occurs almost incidentally amid lists of abominations rendered in connection with idolatrous worship. (2) The greater offense is not the sacrifice, but the idolatry involved in offering such a sacrifice to a god other than Yahweh. The first commandment is not, "Thou shalt not offer human sacrifices, "but, "Thou shalt have no other gods before me." (3) The Bible contains no prohibitions of human sacrifice to Yahweh. The only possible exception to this principle is the legislation regarding the redemption of the first-born sons in Ex. 13:1-16. This passage, however, does not condemn human sacrifice. On the contrary, it proves that Yahweh had a very definite claim on all the first-born of Israel, whether man or beast.( p. 25).

One can also argue that Yahweh’s command to Abraham to offer up Isaac is evidence that human sacrifice, in principle at least, was an acceptable idea in OT times. God’s command to Abraham in Genesis 22 has been unsettling to many a Christian commentator or theologian. Many conservatives have argued that it was never Yahweh’s intention for Abraham to go through with the sacrifice but that he was simply testing Abraham’s faith. Dilling, however, takes great issue with this notion. He writes: The most frequent objection raised against the Biblical presentation of Yahweh and His relationship to sacrifice is that sacrifice, whether of human beings or of beasts, is an element of primitive religion, and that Yahweh really desires not sacrifice at all but obedience. . . . This view, carried to its logical conclusion, would eliminate the necessity of the sacrificial death of Christ. This in turn eliminates the atonement and thereby abnegates the whole Christian gospel.(pp. 26-27).

I think Dilling is right. If one argues that human sacrifice, per se, is unacceptable to God, then one must also maintain that the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ, was unacceptable to God. Thus, the consistent evangelical theologian must maintain that human sacrifice, in and of itself, was not against the will of God, otherwise, he/she has just eliminated the possibility that the death of Christ was acceptable to God.

Dilling continues: The crucial question related to the proposed sacrifice of Isaac is this: In the death of Christ, did God actually demand the sacrifice of an innocent human being as a substitutionary sacrifice for others, thereby atoning for their sins and propitiating the wrath of a holy God against them? The dilemma which this question poses for the interpreter is: If answered affirmatively, then there is no a priori ground for denying that God could have demanded the actual slaying of Isaac as a sacrifice. Indeed, if God could demand the death of his own Son as a substitutionary sacrifice, then there is more ground for expecting Him to demand the sacrifice of other human beings than for denying the same. On the other hand, if one answers negatively, then the whole basis for Christian salvation is destroyed.( p. 28)

Dilling (pp. 27-28) believes that the sacrifices found in other religions actually derive from the revelation of the OT God to his people. He argues:

The institution of sacrifice is a primitive, savage rite that was merely tolerated for a season until more advanced revelation could be received. The latter position we reject on the grounds of our presupposition that the Holy Scriptures are an inspired and inerrant revelation, and the corollary that the religion of Israel is therefore essentially revealed rather than evolved. However, even apart from this premise, it is quite possible to establish with a relatively high degree of certitude that the origin of sacrifice must be accounted for on the basis of divine revelation. Hobart Freeman has pointed out that:” The universal prevalence of the practice of vicarious and piacular sacrifice. . .cannot be reasonably explained apart from the idea that it was derived from a common and authoritative source.” [Hobart E. Freeman, "The Doctrine of Substitution in the Old Testament" (unpublished Th.D. dissertation, Grace Theological Seminary, Winona Lake, Ind., 1961), p. 103.])

While I disagree with Dilling and Freeman on the origin of the idea of human sacrifice, I think it’s a powerful admission on their part, when they say that it was really Yahweh's idea. I believe the case is actually reversed. The concept of offering a human sacrifice to propitiate a deity originated among the Gentiles and that the Jews, while generally repulsed by the idea, understood it as the ultimate offering to a deity. That explains why the death of Jesus was later interpreted by the early followers of Jesus (who were largely Jews) as the ultimate and final sacrifice for the sins of mankind. It was, in their understanding, the climax and fulfillment of all the animal sacrifices in Judaism (see the Book of Hebrews).


  1. Just came across your blog, and this post is most enlightening, confirming my own ideas about the alleged sacrifice of Jesus, which notion came after the fact, and naturally intended to instill guilt in the minds and hearts of humans. This was and is the prime selling point, even though being a very gruesome one. Most christians miss the obvious point, though, that there really is NO sacrifice since Jesus was god, and they believe god to be all knowing and believe in heaven after death. Since Jesus had to have known who he was (god) and that heaven awaited, death was his escape to nirvana.

    1. I have studied with deep introspection fact which are believed about the crucifiction of Christ. In any scenario, I am baffled by one unanswered question: If our God, the father of Christ is a loving God, how could any loving father require his only begotten, beautiful, perfect son be tortured and murdered by heathens, in order that this son pay for their sins? That , in my humble opinion, is blasphemy and insanity. Especially for that fact that in return, Salvation is given to justifify such a blood sacrifice. This leads me to declare that most "religion" is based on dogmatic insanity. The most accutate definition of "insanity" is extreme irrationality with deep conviction. Can you see why "terrorists" are motivated. Wrong teaching. Dogma is the basis of insanity. God held all who have become misguided. Another fact is that if humanity had been saved and blessed by the Crucificxion of Christ, then why was humanity, afterwards, cast into almost 2,000 years of "dark ages"? Theologians with answer with dogma. Why aren't we born with a book in our hands? Experience teaches us what words cannot.

  2. After the "binding of Isaac" is there another instance where human sacrifice is even mildly suggested as being normative for the Jews?

    Further, throughout the binding of Isaac, there is a sense of horror that builds up, rather than a feeling that this is a joyous and terrific thing. That seems to be consistent with the other probable child sacrifice narrative that at least I can recall in the Old testament, i.e., Jepthath's daughter. According to Norman Podhoretz in "The Prophets," these stories - well, at least "the binding of Isaac" - may have been designed to inculcate a distaste for child sacrifice in Hebrew culture.

    Now, obviously, we don't know what the surrounding cultures felt about their practice of child sacrifice. I have no idea what is what like for parents in Carthage to offer their children to Baal. Does anyone? That's a real question. Is there any literature similar to that of Genesis and Judges in the Phoenician and Canaanite cultures that would allow us an insight into what seems like an inhuman practice? If there isn't, does that suggest that Podhoretz might be right?

  3. Great work Ken!

    [Below is my conclusion to a chapter I had originally written for John Loftus’ forthcoming book (Unfortunately it will not be included).

    Human Sacrifice in the Hebrew Bible

    It is now almost universally accepted among objective scholars of the Hebrew Bible that the so-called Exodus from Egypt never happened based on both archaeology and textual
    evidence.(12) The fact that the language of the Israelites is a direct descendent of Canaanite Ugaritic in the family of Northwest Semitic along with the Hebrew Bible’s ancient pagan motif of Chaoskampf (the conflict with chaos and creation) has been noted by both Oxford University’s John Day(13) and the University of Edinburgh’s N. Wyatt (14) as the same literary style is also noted by Harvard University’s Frank Cross (15).

    Although the religious rhetoric from the Deuteronomistic Historians to such prophets as Hosea, Jeremiah and Ezekiel denounce human sacrifice and places it in the context of Israelite apostasy to the Canaanite god Molech, there is little if any textual evidence that the Canaanites ever practiced human sacrifice as noted by Susan Ackerman: “At Ugarit evidence for child sacrifice is surprisingly sparse.” and, after surveying current scholarship of the subject in 1992, she states about the Canaanites: “And even if the correct reading is bkr, the ‘first-born’ referred to could just as easily be animal as human. Again, we must conclude that no certain interpretation is possible.”(16)

    Plus, the fact that of the 8 verses in the Hebrew Bible which relates a god of human sacrifice to Israel (blamed for its fall 2 Kings 17:17)and Judah (where a sacrificial practice was restricted to areas near Jerusalem) by worshipping a Canaanite god, there is no evidence that mlk is to be vocalized in Ugaritic as Molech.(17)

    In the final analysis, the Hebrew Bible is the result of an editorial process whereby history is rewritten to reflect perceived Israelite monotheistic orthodoxy and to keep her god (Yahweh) relative to changes in religious traditions. (18)

    It is my personal view that Yahweh was originally a fringe god of the poor hill country Israelites who was associated with and worshiped by the Canaanites along with the other gods of the Ugaritic pantheon. This entire pantheon of gods (along with the god Yahweh) was originally worshiped by the rich and educated Canaanites of the low country coastal areas.

    Though not the only god the Israelites worshiped, Yahweh was the Divine Warrior king god who is depicted as leading the Israelites into victorious battles. It was Yahweh who protected the early Israelites in Holy War and, like the Canaanite gods El and Baal, Yahweh could both create and control the weather and fertility for those who served him.

    But like the pre-Columbian Mayan god in Mel Gibson’s movie Apocalypto, in return Yahweh demanded and received human sacrifice. Though the earliest traditions of this epic are now obscured under layers of redacted material of orthodox religious tradition of the Hebrew Bible, they nevertheless were to remerge once again in the demand for human blood and death in the atonement that Christianity gave to their God (Yahweh) in the theology of the sacrificial slaughter of Jesus.

  4. End Notes:

    12. The most authoritative work that supports this thesis are the two volumes in The Anchor Bible series by W. H. C. Propp on Exodus (Exodus: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary, New York, Doubleday (now Anchor Yale), Vol. 1, 1999; Vol. 2, 2006). See also the excellent study by William Dever: Who Were the Early Israelites and Where Did They Come From? (Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 2006). This view is also accept by European scholars: J.C. De Moor, The Rise of Yahwism: The Roots of Israelite Monotheism (Belgium, Leuven University Press, 2 ed. 1997) especially his chapter on The Crisis of Polytheism pp. 41 - 102. Also the major work by John Day: Yahweh and the Gods and Goddesses of Canaan (Sheffield Academic Press, 2000) see his conclusions as to Yahweh having a wife and acting in the same manner as the gods of the Canaanite pantheon in his Conclusion: The Canaanite Gods and Goddesses and the Rise of Monotheism, pp. 226 - 233.

    13. John Day, God’s Conflict With the Dragon and The Sea: Echoes of a Canaanite Myth in the Old Testament (Cambridge University Press, 1985) especially pp. 1 - 61.

    14. N. Wyatt, Myths of Power: A Study of Royal Myth and Ideology in Ugaritic and Biblical Tradition (Munster, Ugarit-Verlag, 1996) as the history scholarship for the creation myth is fully discussed in his chapter on The Chaoskampf Myth, pp. 117 - 218.

    15. F.M. Cross, The Epic Traditions of Early Israel: Epic Narrative and the Reconstruction of Early Israelite institutions in R.E. Friedman, ed. The Poet and the Historian: Essays in Literary and historical Biblical Criticism (Harvard Semitic Studies 26, Scholars Press, Chico California, 1983) pp. 13-39.

    16. Susan Ackerman, Under Every Green Tree: Popular Religion in Sixth-Century Judah (Atlanta, Scholars Press, Harvard Semitic Monographs 46, 1992) pp.122 - 123.

    17. Again see the discussion by Ackerman, Under Every Green Tree, pp.
    126 - 143. Secondly, Molech is not even discussed in N. Wyatt’s chapter The Religion of Ugarit: An Overview in W.G.E. Watson and N. Wyatt eds., Handbook of Ugaritic Studies (Leiden, EJ Brill, 199) pp.529 - 585. In fact, the Index of Divine Names (843 - 844) has no reference to Molech at all in this massive text of 892 pages.

    18. As a case in point here, one can see how a revision of the life of King David is refined in the work of the Chronicler. One reason David is such a wonderful king in Israelite history is the strong PR editing readers are fed in the books of 1 & 2 Chronicles, such as in who really killed Goliath (Elhanan 2 Samuel 21:19 or David 1 Chronicles 20: 5 9 (here Elhanan only kills Goliath’s brother Lahmi) or who cause David to number Israel (God 2 Samuel 24:1 or Satan 1 Chronicles 21:1).

  5. Harry,

    Thanks for the insightful post.


  6. Peter,

    I don't think that human sacrifice was normative for the Jews but I find it interesting that its not absolutely forbidden. The OT God never asks for it except in the case of Abraham and of course he stops him before he finishes the act. However, as Dilling points out, if one were to say that human sacrifice was in and of itself abhorrent to Yahweh, then the sacrifice of Jesus Christ becomes very problematic.

  7. Examples of Human Sacrifice in the Hebrew Bible

    Now it came about after these things, that God tested Abraham, and said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” He said, “Take now your son, your only son, whom you love, Isaac, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I will tell you. The Akedah Genesis 22:1-2

    Now it came about at midnight that the LORD struck all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, from the firstborn of Pharaoh who sat on his throne to the firstborn of the captive who was in the dungeon, and all the firstborn of cattle. The Passover Exodus 12:29

    Jephthah made a vow to the LORD and said, “If You will indeed give the sons of Ammon into my hand, then it shall be that whatever comes out of the doors of my house to meet me when I return in peace from the sons of Ammon, it shall be the LORD’S, and I will offer it up as a burnt offering. ---- When Jephthah came to his house at Mizpah, behold, his daughter was coming out to meet him with tambourines and with dancing. Now she was his one and only child; besides her he had no son or daughter. Judges 11: 30 & 34

  8. I take it from the responses, that the only two instances of Hebrew child sacrifice, putatively offered to the Hebrew God is those in the Binding of Isaac and Jepthath's daughter. None of the responses deal with the fact that the "tone" of both stories involves horror, a heightening tension that is relased in the story of Isaac, and unmitigated horror in the case of Jepthath.

    Now it may be true that child sacrifice is not explicitly forbidden in the Torah - but, then again, it might be, under the heading of "Thou shalt not murder" or, perhaps, the implicit prohibition may also be found in the commands that positively dictated how God would be worshipped, which never included a demand for child sacrifice - but in any event, the stories of Jepthath and Isaac may have been understood as something more than an explicit command. Again, I refer you to Norman Podhoretz' "The Prophets" p. 25: "Generation after generation of believers have been tormented by this story, asking why it was necessary for God to devise so cruel a test. My own theory is that only by undergoing the experience himself - in his own person, and on his own flesh - can Abraham come to fully realize that idolatrous practices are an ever present danger to God's chosen people, and that they can exert their insidious power through the voice of God himself."

    This might be a modern retrojection, so I'd be interested in knowing how ancient commenters dealt with the text.

    Concerning the sacrifice of Jesus, I think we have to be careful about retrojecting our ideas onto the past. In general, we have a tendency to think that there is nothing particularly abnormal or shocking about the idea that God demanded the death of his Son because we temporally past the Resurrection. We know the outcome of the story and can read the prior events in that context. Can we say, though, that people prior to the Resurrection would have casually accepted the metaphorical "child sacrifice" of Jesus. I doubt it. Witness for example that my church does two things that would be zany to an outsider: (a) hang large statues of a man being tortured to death in its sacred places and (b) engage in what might be inaccurately described as "ritual cannibalism." Can we say therefore that modern Catholics are not concerned about cannibalism, or are incipient cannibals, or that they have a "torture fetish." Only someone who is indulging in a sorry sort of bigotry would make that argument in any serious fashion. The reason why we these two traits are "normative" is because what was learned later - i.e., that the death of Christ was invested with a particular significance - not because our ancestors were "soft" on child sacrifice, or cannibalism, or torture.

    Seriously, I just don't think that dog will hunt for anyone who doesn't have an axe to grind.

  9. Peter, Thanks for your comments. You write: "Can we say, though, that people prior to the Resurrection would have casually accepted the metaphorical "child sacrifice" of Jesus. I doubt it."

    My answer is No, I don't think that prior to the resurrection the Jews 'casually' accepted the idea of child sacrifice. I think they were repulsed by it.

    However, after the death and supposed resurrection of Jesus, his early followers had to come up with a theological interpretation of what happened. They applied Isa. 53 and other passages in the OT to maintain that Jesus, the Messiah, did die as a human (and divine) sacrifice.

    They could not have come up with this interpretation if the OT was clear on the notion that Yahweh opposed all human sacrifices "per se."

  10. Ken,
    Let me try to summarize what I take to be the premise of your post. Let me know if this is an accurate interpretation.

    1) The NT declares that Jesus' death was a (human) sacrifice to God for our sins.
    2) The sacrifice of Jesus on the cross was pleasing to God and made possible the "salvation" of humanity (forgiveness, reconciliation, etc.)
    3) Therefore, God does not consider human sacrifice intrinsically immoral or evil.

    Implications of these facts mights include:
    4) Since we intuitively know that human sacrifice is immoral, the God of the Bible is not worthy of worship, or is unlikely to exist.
    5) Since the biblical account reflects the primitive worship of the ancients, the Bible cannot be regarded as the inspired word of God, but rather should be seen as only a product of human creation typical of the time period.

    (I was reading with a bigger picture view, not just regarding PST. Another reading would be if you believe in PST then you need also to believe that human sacrifice can be acceptable to God).

    I agree that if premises 1 and 2 hold, then conclusion 3 logically follows. However, I question the validity of premises 1 and 2. Granted, most evangelicals accept 1 and 2 (and deny 3), and maybe that is the only point to take from this post. But is there any interest in discussing whether 1 and 2 are indeed true?

  11. Kyle,

    Thanks for your thoughtful comments

    My basic position is #5. I have constructed the argument the way that I have in order to show PST adherents their own internal inconsistencies.

    It seems to me that if a position is internally inconsistent, then parts of it must be jettisoned or the whole system jettisoned.

  12. I really want to make this point again, because I think it’s the most important perspective.

    Do not necessarily lump the Hebrew Bible in with the New Testament. Do not assume they have the same theology. That is a big mistake. Just as a Christian would (justifiably) criticize you for lumping the NT and Book of Mormon together, don’t make the same mistake.

    There are many reasons why Jews (who brought the OT) do not accept the NT as being divine, and the reasons almost all have to do with the fact that the NT contradicts the OT on virtually every major theological issue, ranging from atonement, messiah, law of Moses, idolatry, etc. In other words, if God is speaking through the OT, then the message Christians are giving us cannot possibly be from the same God. Marcion noticed that 1,900 years ago, and was called a heretic for it.

    Just for a moment, forget about the historical theories about how these beliefs formed, etc. Just imagine that, for the sake of argument, the OT is a divine document. Now, ask yourself, does the NT agree with what God has already revealed in the OT? Because if the answer is no, then every historical or philosophical argument becomes irrelevant.

    So ask yourselves whether Jesus and the NT atonement model actually is what the OT proscribes. Does the OT tell people to believe in the messiah to gain atonement? Is blood necessary? Can atonement be achieved without blood/sacrifice? Was Jesus a legitimate offering (ie. On the altar, at the hands of a Levitical priest, w/o blemish, etc.)?

  13. Kyle and Ken,

    #5 is definitely my position as well, both for the very good reasons stated and several more. Even though Blood Sacrifice corrupts both the OT and NT (primarily because of Paul), I am still personally not willing to discard the whole book. I think there are many important themes that are worthy of study, if for no other reason than Bible study helps the “thoughtful student” to debunk the Fundies the more repugnant Dogmas of Christianity! A noble cause, methinks!

  14. Hey Buck:

    You asked if anybody has read Rene Girard. I have not but here is a Link to a summary of Girard’s work by By Jeramy Townsley, Dec 2003

    In an excerpt from Townsley’s summary of Girard’s Theory as it applies to Christianity, Townsley writes:

    “Further, Girard himself does not espouse a particular brand of Christianity that must be used as an hermeneutical framework through which to see his theory. In fact, Girard seems to radically overturn traditional ideas about the meaning of Christ's death on the cross, by rejecting the idea of an atoning blood sacrifice as the reason for Christ's crucifixion. Girard redefines Christ's death as a self-sacrifice by Jesus to allow the world to see the scapegoating mechanism as a futile effort to end violence. This, in opposition to the contemporary view of the crucifixion as a necessary requirement of a wrathful God who must have a blood sacrifice to avenge God’s justice and goodness. In this way Girard’s reinterpretation represents a contribution to the socially rejuvenating path out of substitutionary atonement theory.”

    Note this statement: “Girard redefines Christ's death as a self-sacrifice by Jesus to allow the world to see the scapegoating mechanism as a futile effort to end violence.”

    Scapegoating is obviously a classical Jewish Sacrificial Practice in the OT. We again see (at least the idea of) scapegoating concerning Jesus in the Gospel of John (John:11:50 and John 18:14) But Girard thinks that Jesus Death shows that scapegoating is not the answer? Ok, but what is? Non- Scapegoating? Not relying on others (the scapegoats?) to save us? So we shouldn’t rely on Jesus (the scapegoat) to save us? If so, how are we saved? How do we end the violence?

    All this seems very esoteric and unspecific to me.

    Sorry, I’m so stupid, but I don’t get this either.

    In His Love, John

  15. Interesting post. Here are some of my thoughts:

    1. The Noahic Covenant of Gen. 9 forbids murder and the drinking of blood. so then how come Abraham thought that it was God speaking to him to sacrifice his son??? Naivity?

    2. Gen. 15:12 tells the story of Yahweh making His covenant with Abraham. It was an extremely bloody event, involving several animals being sacrificed. Then it says, "and lo, a deep sleep fell upon Abram; and behold, a HORROR, a GREAT DARKNESS, fell upon him." I don't know if anyone has ever been in the presence of a demon, devil or evil spirit, but I have, and I can tell you that these words describe exactly what it feels like. I can't help but wonder if Abraham wasn't making a covenant with a spirit of darkness - especially when you look at all of the crimes against humanity that Yahweh drove the Israelites to do.

    3. I have never seen a commentary about how it is that God (since Jesus is supposed to be God), sacrificed Himself...TO HIMSELF. Doesn't that strike anyone as being a bit unreal? If He wasn't sacrificing to Himself, then who pray tell, was he sacrificing to? WHO WOULD WANT TO RECEIVE A SACRIFICE OF DEATH...the Creator of all life, or the one who comes to "steal, kill and destroy" (Satan)?

    4. How come Christians believe that Jesus is God when He repeatedly speaks to the "Father" as though He is someone else???

    5. Why would God issue a rite that symbolizes the drinking of blood (communion) if He had not only forbidden it in the Noahic covenant, but also in the covenant of Moses?

    I agree with Rob Walker about Jesus contradicting the Law of Moses and OT. While I do not agree that he should have been murdered for it, I can see why the Hebrews thought that He was not the messiah. Just one example, Yahweh was adamant about circumcision (which is a form of ritualistic child abuse IMHO). However, Jesus said that it wasn't necessary; that it should be interpreted as a spiritual circumcision of the heart. While I prefer Jesus' take on it, it is not what Yahweh clearly commanded.

  16. Qeren,

    thanks for your comments and questions.

    1. I suspect that Abraham thought it was not murder if God was commanding it or perhaps he thought that God as the lawgiver has the right to override his law if he so desires.

    2. I personally do not believe in demons so I would have to answer no. The reason for cutting the animals in two and walking between them was to illustrate what would happen if someone breaks the covenant. They would die.

    3. Well as you probably know the earliest theory of Jesus' death was that it was a ransom paid to Satan. PST adherents today would argue that it was not a ransom but a satisfying or quenching of the holy wrath of God against sin. I agree with you that the offering of oneself to oneself as a sacrifice does not make sense.

    4.Well Christians have developed the doctrine of the Trinity which says that while there is only one God, that one God exists in three persons. The three persons can speak to each other, love each other, etc. I agree that the doctrine does not make sense, i.e., three being one but that is their belief.

    5. Good point. I guess its okay if its his son's blood.

    I also agree that it is impossible to reconcile the teachings of the OT with the NT. Heck, I don't even think you can reconcile the OT with the OT or the NT with the NT.


  17. Great points Ken. I agree completely, not that you need my approval! (grin)

  18. Ken,

    Thank you for your responses. In response to your responses (in the same numbered order):

    1. Your response "perhaps he thought that God as the lawgiver has the right to override his law if he so desires" assumes - as evidently Abraham did - that God was the one making the request. I am suggesting that perhaps it wasn't God, but another spiritual entity feigning Him. I know you don't believe, but the evil ones do like to feign being God in order to get us to do horrific things (like 9/11).

    3. I don't know what "PST" stands for, but the notion that Christ's sacrifice appeased the wrath of an angry God says that God is unrighteous, because wrath is unrighteous, and so is murdering an innocent human - especially if its your own child! In Christianity, the premise for Jesus'sacrifice is that God is so holy that He cannot accept any of us filthy humans into His presence. He will condemn us to eternal hell. But if God is that holy, then why does He have so much trouble forgiving? The NT warns Christians to forgive. The OT says that God requires mercy. How is it then, that this same God can do neither? I am not faulting God. I am suggesting that perhaps these stories are not inspired by God at all.

    Does the above make any sense, or is it just me?

    1. Qeren, I think you hit the nail on the head. Please read
      “Is God Violent, Or Nonviolent?” at

      (God and Satan are sometimes confused by people, even by writers of Scripture.)

      Also Buck/All, regarding arguments for and against the ideas of René Girard, please see “Fighting For God's Nonviolence,” at


  19. Hey Qeren:

    Can't say I agree with #1. I think “The Devil”, “Satan” or “The Adversary” are all metaphors for our negative and evil, thoughts, words and deeds.

    But your #3 response makes perfect sense to me. I think most of the OT stories are baloney, but that still doesn't mean we can't learn a (good) thing or two from them. However, there are a few accounts that are so hopelessly vile that only folks who have been brainwashed will “see god’s goodness” in them or try to pull something "moral" or “beautiful” or "Christ-Like" out of examples of abject evil. These people worry me (alot).

    You are on the right track to challenge “god” whenever “god” breaks its own rules.

    Grace & Peace, John

  20. qeren,

    I agree that the stories of the Bible do not cohere logically. However, I would not agree with what you are implying--that a supernatural evil force is responsible for the Bible. I don't believe in the supernatural--either holy or evil.

  21. James Alison is one of the best Girardian interpretors, this article he kind of lays out what a Girardian interpretation of Atonement theology would look like.

  22. Hi Ken,

    I commented on another post, but it's the same topic here. You wrote above:

    "They (NT) could not have come up with this interpretation if the OT was clear on the notion that Yahweh opposed all human sacrifices "per se."

    I disagree. The NT and OT differ significantly on core theological issues, and yet there is no shortage of evangelical theologians rationalizing away the difference. You are surely familiar with many of them.

    Even as the scholar above writes, he seems to acknowledge that the OT deity requires obedience more than sacrifice- that is clear. The OT’s main theological demand from the Hebrews is not blood offerings, it’s obedience- that is the consistent scriptural theme. But he sees the (obvious) theological problem with that for Christianity.

    Anyway, Ken, I’m sure you know as well as anyone the divergent OT and NT teachings on the role and identity of the messiah, of the law, and so on- but that hardly stopped the NT from importing a new theology and claiming it originated in the OT (such as Isaiah 53, which you quoted above). So no, just because the NT claims something as “OT theology” doesn’t mean the OT ever condoned, let alone promoted it.

  23. Hi, Thomas, and welcome.

    Dr. Pulliam passed away on October 29, 2010, and while his blog remains active, it's generally pretty quiet around here. I'm sorry you missed him, because I think he would have appreciated the quality of your comments.

  24. Human Sacrifice is a CRIME.

  25. God is God, the early humans who killed/murdered Jesus, changed the concept as if He was sacrificed? to cover up their..., As people of that age were considering Jesus was GOD, so if they changed the fact from murder for the fear of losing power to sacrificing him for our sins, making Jesus the Hero! showing him in the limelight while, our Creator is shown as if he was satisfied by his life, and was pleased, so he forgave all humans, from the time of Adam till today all sins are forgiven? and this will continue until... we believe in this repeated story? but why!
    -Trinity-Jesus was was a mere human, who died. but the bible was altered, to show him as God, but why?
    -Eliminating punishing GOD, in human senses we have, Yes. But have we changed/gained anything? We are losing more...
    -We can live a carefree life, to satisfy/please our senses, not worried about being punished... not in next life, but in this life only?
    We are all children of God, let us not break his commandments, that too the first one itself!
    We humans, change wife, children even parents to some extent, but from (2014) years back, we are trying to change God himself, as He is a very loving God, so naturally, punishing God?
    A parent who wants to coverup the mistakes, act with the child and always be very cool and are not bothered about the welfare of the child! But if the parent is really caring for the child, He will be a strict Father... this is logic, mostly all won't agree! this is the naked truth about our God but we teaching opposite, for years.

    1. Nathan

      I think your post is as incoherent as the bible itself.

  26. I know this is old but I have been thinking about this a lot myself and coming to dead ends. I don't have all the references in front of me to all the scriptures but over and over the old testament prophets were clear that blood sacrifice and burnt offerings were not EVER what God asked for. There is a game being played in the OT here is what made me realize what was happening. There was a group called Essene, they believed in baptism for the forgiveness of sins, condemned sacrifice, condemned slavery, believed in father/mother God as one, were Egalitarian and lived in Nazareth. They were known for healing the sick and called themselves "the way". It's obvious, John the Baptist and Jesus were Essene. The earliest church were called Nazarites. They preached the true message until Paul made Jesus a blood sacrifice.