Human Sacrifice

hu’-man: 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 Mic 6:6 f, 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 2Ki 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 (De 12:31). The Israelites are said to have borrowed it from their Canaanite neighbors (2Ki 16:3; 2Ch 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 (2Ki 23:10; Le 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).


The Biblical writers without exception look upon the practice with horror as the supreme point of national and religious apostasy, and a chief cause of national disaster. They usually term the rite "passing through fire," probably being unwilling to use the sacred term "sacrifice" in reference to such a revolting custom. There is no evidence of a continuance of the practice in captivity nor after the return. It is said, however, that the heathen Sepharvites, settled by the Assyrian kings in the depopulated territory of the Northern Kingdom, "burnt their children in the fire to Adrammelech and Anammelech, the gods of Sepharvaim" (2Ki 17:31). The practice is not heard of again, and probably rapidly died out. The restored Israelites were not affected by it.

Compare SACRIFICE (Old Testament), VI, 10.