Child Sacrifice in Ancient Israel

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Heath D. Dewrell
Published 30 May 2017
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Among the many religious acts condemned in the Hebrew Bible, child sacrifice stands out as particularly horrifying. The idea that any group of people would willingly sacrifice their own children to their god(s) is so contrary to modern moral sensibilities that it is difficult to imagine that such a practice could have ever existed. Nonetheless, the existence of biblical condemnation of these rites attests to the fact that some ancient Israelites in fact did sacrifice their children. Indeed, a close reading of the evidence—biblical, archaeological, epigraphic, etc.—indicates that there are at least three different types of Israelite child sacrifice, each with its own history, purpose, and function.

In addition to examining the historical reality of Israelite child sacrifice, Dewrell’s study also explores the biblical rhetoric condemning the practice. While nearly every tradition preserved in the Hebrew Bible rejects child sacrifice as abominable to Yahweh, the rhetorical strategies employed by the biblical writers vary to a surprising degree. Thus, even in arguing against the practice of child sacrifice, the biblical writers themselves often disagreed concerning why Yahweh condemned the rites and why they came to exist in the first place.




Chapter 1. Children Sacrificed as Part of a "Molek" Rite

Those Who Deny the Existence of a God "Molek"

Scholars Who Continue to Argue That "Molek" Was a Deity

"Molek" Disappears Once Again

Chapter 2. Archaeological, Iconographic, and Epigraphic Evidence for Child Sacrifice in the Levant and Central Mediterranean

Megiddo, Gezer, and Taanach

The Amman Airport Temple and Umm el-Marra

Alleged Depictions of Canaanite Child Sacrifice in Egyptian Art

The Punic Central Mediterranean

More Evidence from the Levant? Tyre and Achziv

The Nebi Yunis Inscription

The Incirli Trilingual

The Deir ʿAllā Inscriptions

The Idalion Inscription

Summary and Conclusions

Appendix: Documentation of Sites with Tophets

Chapter 3. A General Sacrifice of Firstborn Israelite Children?

Chapter 4. Varieties of Child Sacrifice in Ancient Israel

Mesha's Sacrifice of His Firstborn Son

Firstborn Offerings in Micah 6:1–8


Hiel's Firstborn and Youngest Sons?

Child Sacrifice in Assyrian Samerina?

Molek Revisited: The History and Nature of Israelite למלך Sacrifices


Chapter 5. Biblical Reactions to Israelite Child Sacrifice


Later Legal Traditions




Summary and Conclusions



Index of Authors

Index of Scripture

Index of Other Ancient Sources