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The practice of burying a widow upon the death of her husband (or more typically the burning of a widow on the pyre of her deceased spouse), known as sati, is an important topic of inquiry for the study of contemporary religiosity, premodern rites, and interpretations of religious sources. (2) The victimization of widows brings to the fore significant and often contentious matters that are at the core of a society's perspectives on human sacrifice, particularly in relation to two questions: Is it morally acceptable, and To what extent is it sanctioned by revered statements? Given that religions are ever evolving, the answers to these questions can vary over time. For modern Hinduism, a renewed investigation into the acceptability of widow burning was mandated by reactions to the 1987 death of Roop Kanwar, a young woman who committed sati in northern India shortly after the passing of her spouse. The debate demonstrated that the dissenting side saw sati as illegitimate based on revered source material and ethical standards. This study examines both modern Hinduism and biblical traditions in order to demonstrate that just as sati has fostered disagreements over widow sacrifice in modern Indian culture, the immolation of innocent children stimulated conflict in ancient Israel and among the interpreters who have studied Israelite religion. While these two debates stemmed from distinct cultural, historical, and geographical contexts, their focal points were similar. As with Hinduism, morality and religious statements were and have been significant in the debate regarding Israelite rites. In the end, ancient Israel moved away from the immolation of innocent children and Hinduism has largely abandoned sati sacrifice. (3)

As an historian of ancient Israel, I can appreciate Jonathan Z. Smith's position that scholars of the Bible should be engaged in comparative analysis. (4) Such an enterprise can be difficult and care should be taken to avoid broad generalizations and ethnocentrisms. (5) Still, Robert A. Segal was correct to argue that it is acceptable to note similarities between groups when the scholar finds them, even if such groups have not been in dialogue with each other. It is interesting that Segal chose to cite highly ethnocentric comments James G. Frazer made in Garnered Sheaves on the importance of understanding a particular religious tradition solely on its own merits prior to making comparisons, but it is a valid observation (minus the ethnocentric view). (6)

The comparative approach I have taken here is straightforward: I have identified similar features in the debates about specific forms of human sacrifice in modern Hinduism and biblical Judaism while bearing in mind the individuality of each debate. This study does not suggest that these debates embody universal phenomena or that one religion influenced the other. While the contentious matters I examine here derive from dissimilar cultural and historical settings, there are parallels in the ways that sati and child sacrifice have been addressed in the respective religious traditions and the related interpretative discourses. (7) This study is, therefore, in line with one of the approaches taken in the field of Indo-Judaic Studies in that it examines affinities between the two groups instead of focusing on direct interactions. (8)

The point of departure for this analysis is the 1987 sati of Roop Kanwar, which was investigated by the Women and Media Committee of the Bombay Union of Journalists. Roop Kanwar was married to Maal Singh of Deorala for eight months, beginning in January 1987, but she lived with her spouse for little more than twenty days. When Singh died suddenly in early September from what appeared to be a case of gastroenteritis, Roop Kanwar performed an act of self-immolation. (9)
According to early reports, Roop, after the first shock had worn off,
became very calm and reportedly told her father-in-law that she wished
to commit sati. Press reports say that she decked herself in bridal
finery and, in keeping with the tradition, led the funeral procession
to the cremation ground in the centre of the village. She then ascended
the pyre and placed her husband's head in her lap. Blessing the crowd
assembled there and chanting the gayatri mantra, she slowly burnt to
death on the pyre. News of the sati soon spread to neighbouring
villages and people flocked to Deorala with offerings of coconuts for
the sati mata. (10)

In the year after Roop Kanwar's sacrifice, V. V. Raman argued in India Abroad, a publication considered to represent the Indian community in the United States, that "our current concern should be not so much with whether sati is part of Hinduism as with its unfortunate and undeniable occurrence in Hindu society." Raman continued:
Not all the apologetics in the world can erase the fact that very often
in Hindu society (as elsewhere) women have been subjugated, treated
shabbily and considered as inferior beings. Sati is merely one of its
more atrocious and vicious expressions. Many in the course of India's
long history have condemned it: Banabhatta, Akbar, Guru Amar Das, and
Ram Mohun Roy, to mention but a few.

We must resist the temptation to explain away such evils or pretend
they have nothing to do with (former) Hindu world views. It is not
through computers and more television sets that we will enter the
modern age, but through a bold vision that will not hesitate to condemn
and correct sectarian hatreds, social injustices, and dark-age
superstitions without being defensive about their religious
associations, while still retaining the many grand and glorious
elements in our traditions."

Even a cursory examination of past sentiments will demonstrate that the British previously perceived that such a view corresponded to a more "enlightened" version of Hinduism, (12) as seen by the perspectives espoused by a British governor general of India and a former British ambassador to the United States. (13) During the era of British imperialism, attempts were made to secure support at home for the cessation of sati-immolation; the writings of James Peggs, a former missionary to India, demonstrate such efforts. (14)

Raman would find much in common with the focus of Peggs's study, despite the separation in time between the writers; one wrote in the era that sati was outlawed due primarily to foreign sentiments--the British banned sati in 1829--and the other during the period when sati was legislated against through more internal pressures. (15) It was not until after the death of Roop Kanwar that new legislation against the practice was incorporated into the Indian penal code. (16) The Commission of Sati (Prevention) Act was enacted in 1987 in order to bring an end to the rite. The law outlined the following punishments both against the woman attempting sati and those assisting her:
3. Attempt to commit sati. Notwithstanding anything contained in the
Indian Penal Code (45 of 1860), whoever attempts to commit sati and
does any act towards such commission shall be punishable with
imprisonment for a term which may extend to one year or with fine or
with both....

4. Abetment of sati. (1) Notwithstanding anything contained in the
Indian Penal Code (45 of 1860), if any person commits sati, whoever
abets the commission of such sati, either directly or indirectly, shall
be punishable with death or imprisonment for life and shall also be
liable to fine. (2) If any person attempts to commit sati, whoever
abets such attempt, either directly or indirectly, shall be punishable
with imprisonment for life and shall also be liable to fine."

Note the differences between the potential penalties leveled against the one seeking to immolate herself and the ones who help her. If the widow proves unsuccessful in performing the sati, she faces the possibility that she will either be imprisoned for a maximum of one year or be fined or both. By contrast, those who help her commit the act could receive the maximum penalty of execution in addition to a monetary fine, but this would occur only if the widow dies. If she survives, they could receive life imprisonment and a fine as the maximum sentence. The Indian government clearly viewed sati as an act of murder and the widow as a victim of violent crime. In fact, in 2007 the government proposed several changes to the 1987 sati law, such as describing sati as murder. (18) In 2008, amendments to legislation against sati were eventually abandoned due to disagreements at the cabinet level, but the notion that sati is homicidal is a common judgment on sati sacrifice in the literature of the late twentieth century. (19)

The report of the Women and Media Committee on Roop Kanwar's death, for example, argued that she had been murdered and suggested that a woman can never voluntarily perform sati in any case, even when she believes that she is an independent actor in the ritual, because such a "volunteer" is merely fulfilling the prescriptions of an oppressive Indian community. (20) These views are echoed by aspects of the governments 2006 proposed changes to sati legislation. An amendment proposed that should it be shown that a widow was not forced into attempting to kill herself at her husbands funeral, the courts would consider the possibility that she acted as a result of social preconditioning before seeking to find her culpable of attempting suicide. What is more, the family members of the widow could be guilty of abetment simply because they could have hindered her from carrying out the ritual but failed to do so. (21) By viewing the family as liable for a widows death, the proposed changes sought to modify the belief in the viability of sati at the very place where much of a child's values are formed: the home. Even though these proposed changes were not enacted into law, the Commission of Sati (Prevention) Act, 1987 seeks to restrain the promulgation of sati by outlawing its veneration, including at temples, an effort focused on limiting social conditions that might encourage the voluntary or involuntary performance of sati.

In 2000, one sati opponent, Madhu Kishwar, expressed approval for the government s efforts to curb what she viewed as criminal activity; that is, violence that is the result of religious motivations or that occurs when others are made to adhere to destructive traditions. She did not, however, accept interference in beliefs considered to cause no harm. She argued that temples related to the veneration of sati should be maintained, despite feminist concerns that sati veneration encourages the actual sacrifice of widows. Her argument was that restricting the veneration of sati could result in sanctions against other religious practices in India and that the practice of sati sacrifice is not widespread in regions where sati worship is evident. (22)

How important have the premodern Hindu scriptural or revered words been in the modern debate? (23) While Raman acknowledged that some, not all, Hindu sources support sati, sacred traditions were essentially irrelevant to the thrust of Ramans argument. (24) This perspective has been expressed elsewhere: "However, whether sati and other reprehensible practices have scriptural sanction or not, is besides [sic] the point. The issue at stake is one of human dignity and the freedom to live as one chooses." (25) For others, however, Hindu sources have served a central role in the debate over sati immolation, as reflected, for instance, in the nineteenth-century work of Rammohun Roy, who was opposed to the rite, regarding it as murderous. (26)

More recently, two religious leaders have come to the fore on this issue following the death of Roop Kanwar. According to Niranjan Dev Teerth, "The Vedas, all the Smritis, the Dharam Sindhu, Likhit Sindhu, etc, all detail the factors that justify sati." However, in the view of Swami Agnivesh, "One will have to distinguish between the spurious scriptures and the correct scriptures.... It is the four Vedas alone, the samhitas, that can be regarded as divine knowledge and have authority. All the rest, the Upanishads, the smritis, Brahmin granth, are acceptable only so far as they conform to the Vedas.... According to the Vedas, sati is absolutely unthinkable." (27) Agnivesh's comments demonstrate the great importance placed on the Vedas as the foundational and most authoritative of the Hindu source traditions. Given that both Agnivesh and Teerth agree on the importance of Vedic teaching, albeit with divergent interpretations, it is fitting to consider Vedic tradition more specifically. (28)

In a recent treatment of sati in Hindu sources, including its definitive occurrence in post-Vedic material, Pallavi Thakur noted that debate concerning the early references to sati is still ongoing. A key passage in the Rig Veda (X.18.7.) lends itself to divergent linguistic interpretations. (29) Regarding this segment and the Vedas in general, Francis Jarman stated:
The earliest holy texts, the Vedas, contain references to widows
remarrying, but no direct mention of self-immolation, except possibly
one very controversial section of the Rig-Veda X,18,7ff. (c. 1300 BC or
later) which seems to describe the widow stepping forward to lie down
beside the body on the pyre before being called back to the land of the
living. This could be a ritual gesture of paying last respects; or a
symbolic rejection of a yet earlier tradition of immolation; but in
some versions it may also be a corrupt text, with the verb--agne, to
"go into the fire" (from agni, fire), substituted for--agre, to "come
forward." The result is an unclear reading, perhaps the result of a
transcription mistake by a scribe. (30)

Based on Jarman's discussion, one might conclude that if agne were the original reading, then Rig Veda X could demonstrate Vedic acceptance of sati. However, there is uncertainty about such a rendering and the passage cannot be taken as proof that sati is endorsed in the Vedas. It is understandable that opposing perspectives could both reference Vedic tradition in arguing for or against the rite, as was done during the nineteenth-century debate over sati. (31) Agnivesh's view corresponds to a pervasive perspective that Vedic sources do not prescribe sati immolation. (32) Yet given the fact that later traditions clearly support sati, such as Vishnusmriti 25.14 and Brahma Purana 80.75, one might wonder how such a change occurred. (33) In this sense, opponents of sati, such as Agnivesh, have seen in the practice the degeneration of Hindu society from former ideals. (34) Accordingly and with a measure of vehemence, Meena Gaur argued that
in the quagmire of widespread superstition and ignorance, wild and
poisonous weeds of dogmatic belief were being grown by the priests, the
so called custodians of the gates of heaven, who could issue a
pass-port to it to the most degenerate of men but not to a women [sic]
unless she mounted the burning pyre of her deceased husband. Such was
the tyrany [sic] of the social degeneration and the pitiable plight of
women in India during the Middle Ages. (35)

Sakuntal Narasimhan similarly described sati as developing out of the deterioration of the position of women in Indian society and classified it as religiously sanctioned murder. (36)

While the Indian government regards sati as homicide, the Commission of Sati (Prevention) Act, 1987, does not delve too deeply into the religious sanctioning of the rite, noting that it "is nowhere enjoined by any of the religions of India as an imperative duty." (37) This statement implies that the religious traditions of the country recognize the practice but do not require it. The law categorizes sati as that which "is revolting to the feelings of human nature." (38) The prevention act, then, reflects several aspects of the modern debate.

The anti-sati act of 1987 and the debate surrounding the rite reflect an aspect of reforming discourse that dates back to the nineteenth century: a focus on modifying Hinduism based on a stance "whereby 'traditional' customs--suttee or widow-burning, the ban on widow remarriage, Untouchability and so on--are castigated as medieval deformations of the original and true principles of classical Hindu religious law." (39) One of the operating principles of such reform efforts was that legitimacy or illegitimacy was viewed in the light of Hindu revered words. Thus, Hindu sources were important for the reformists when they granted their approval or disapproval of religious matters. The modern judiciary, moreover, has experienced the impact of a scripture-oriented approach to what constituted the religiously acceptable, specifically on the issue of sati. (40) The state of India sided with the view that Hindu sources do not mandate the rite of sati, a perspective of the earlier reform movement. (41)

This brief foray into the world of the sati has explored how human sacrifice can be a contentious issue within a religious tradition and how a religion navigates the tension. Some turn to religious statements in order to support their respective views, while others disregard these revered sources in favor of what they consider to be more progressive morals. In a similar vein, one can detect in the ancient world a tendency, for instance among Greeks, to accept the occurrence of human sacrifice in their societies, but as a past practice, particularly of the time of myths and legends. (42) Ancient writers often spoke about human immolation among their ancestors or among foreigners. In either case, it was a rite typically connected to the Other. According to the Hebrew Bible, the Israelites also categorized some forms of human sacrifice as foreign or antithetical to the ways of true Israelite worship, at the same time acknowledging that some of their fellow Israelites were consistently involved in it.

The biblical sources, particularly those associated with prophets (the key social reformers of Israel), sought to end such practices on moral grounds and based on divine decrees. Interpreters have addressed the topic of biblical sacrifice in ways that parallel discourse connected to sati; that is, by considering the moral legitimacy of child sacrifice and by examining revered words. (43) While there is no archaeological evidence for the types of Israelite child sacrifice described below and individuals must base their conclusions on interpretations of the texts, this article supposes that the literary sources reflect debates that transpired.

There is an account of a young woman of ancient Israel who mounted an altar to be burned as a sacrifice. In this instance, it was an act of daughterly devotion, not wifely duty. Nevertheless, some interpreters have categorized the episode as a case of murder. (44) The story is recounted in the book of Judges (11:29-40), where one reads of a judge named Jephthah who led a military expedition against one of Israel s nemeses, the Ammonites. Prior to battle, the leader undertook a vow "to Yahweh, saying, If you certainly give the Ammonites into my hand, then it will happen that the one who goes out, that is, will go out from the doors of my house to meet me at my return in peace from the Ammonites, shall belong to Yahweh and I will send that one [lit. him] up as a burnt sacrifice.'" (45) Jon D. Levenson supposed that the object of the vow was an animal, but David Marcus has demonstrated that a human victim embodies the Hebrew terminology better. (46) Despite some discomfort on the part of readers and the attempt to provide a viable nonsacrificial interpretation of the chapter, (47) the passage clearly indicates that a human sacrifice is in focus. When the victorious judge returns home, his only child, a daughter, goes forth to meet him. His response is one of anguish, for "he ripped his clothes and said, 'Oh no, my daughter, you have caused me to bow very low and you have joined my disturbers given that I opened my mouth to Yahweh and I cannot return [my words]."' She answers with great piety and fortitude, stating, "My father, you have opened your mouth to Yahweh; do to me just as that which went forth from your mouth, after which Yahweh has accomplished for you vengeance upon your enemies, the Ammonites." The text says that "at the end of the two months, she returned to her father and he performed to her his vow which he had vowed," which means that the burnt sacrifice was performed.

Upon hearing this narrative, one might wonder why it has been taken as a portrayal of murder. It is, after all, found in the collection of sources that forms the foundation for Judaism and Christianity. The passage does not condemn the act, at least not explicitly, and it has been regarded, for example by Jo Ann Hackett, as indicating the acceptability of child sacrifice within early Israelite religion. (48) Others, too, have recognized indications of the appropriateness of child sacrifice in biblical discourse, including Mark S. Smith and Paul G. Mosca. (49) Yet, as with the debate in Hinduism over sati, biblical interpreters have disputed the legality of human sacrifice within ancient Israelite religion. Joseph Telushkin, who considered Jephthah a murderer, explained his position thus:
The most shocking aspect of this whole saga is what it reveals about
the depraved level of Israelite morality at the time. One of the
Torah's earliest teachings is that God abhors human sacrifice (Genesis,
chapter 22), a point it repeatedly makes (Leviticus 18:21, 20:1-5;
Deuteronomy 12:31, 18:10). Yet Jephthah and his fellow Israelites seem
to think that an immoral vow takes precedence over innocent blood....
That Jephthah's fellow citizens allow him to sacrifice his daughter
reflects almost as poorly on them as on him. To claim to believe in the
God of the Torah, while simultaneously practicing human sacrifice, is
absurd, akin to starting an organization composed of "Meat Eaters for
Vegetarianism." (50)

Again, as with sati, one encounters the concepts of communal culpability, the notion that the law prohibited the practice, and the idea of depraved morality. Telushkins reconstruction recognizes an apparent societal shift regarding views about the legitimacy of the practice, a movement away from the teachings found in Genesis 22, the quintessential example of the sacrifice of a firstborn child within Israelite religion. According to Jon L. Berquist, this text portrays Abraham as seeking "to kill his son, to sacrifice this child to a testy, testing God." (51) However, in Berquists estimation, Yahweh never wanted the sacrifice in the first place--Abraham was supposed to argue with God, as he had done when he attempted to save the Sodomites. In Berquists view, Yahweh did not require child immolation in any situation. Why? "There is no anger within God that demands a destructive response or that seeks the death of any person, innocent or guilty." (52) Aharon Agus described Genesis 22 as a test of Abrahams strength:
It would be trivial to suppose that we are being told how Israel, in
its "spiritual infancy," came to the realization that human sacrifice
is abhorrent. Rather, we must see the command to sacrifice Isaac in a
cultural-religious thought-context, where the religiosity of human
sacrifice is so far removed from expectability that the listener is no
longer concerned with the theological polemic against it It has nothing
to do with the pagan custom of child-sacrifice (which is mans
passionate participation in the brutal fertility of nature, a fertility
in which life and death, giving up and gaining, dance back and forth in
the single purpose of struggling through to the survival dictated by
that very brutality), and it is the deaf listener to biblical tradition
who hears that dissonant chord in the straightforward story. (53)

Thus, for Agus, Genesis 22 is not to be regarded as a passage about the Israelite recognition that human sacrifice should not be practiced: it was too far beyond the realm of their comprehension. Thus, there was no intellectual debate over the issue, no moral shift. In Lillian Klein's analysis, human sacrifice among the Israelites was rare: "Indeed, it seems to have been exceptional. It was not condoned and was altogether unsuitable as an offering to Yahweh, who had tested Abraham's faith with the demand of the sacrifice of his son Isaac (Gen. 22.2), only to halt the human sacrifice and substitute an animal offering." (54) R. J. Thompson also argued that human sacrifice, specifically the sacrifice of the firstborn child, is represented in the Hebrew Bible as extraordinary and as taking place due to "grave circumstances." It was not part of pure Yahwism; rather, its practice was primarily a result of foreign influence. (55) Roland de Vaux viewed human immolation as characteristically part of degenerate societies and rejected the idea that it had any place within the appropriate practice of Yahwism; he blamed the Canaanites or their descendants, the Phoenicians, for instigating a cultic perversion among the Israelites. De Vaux relegated the story of Jephthah's sacrifice to the realm of the extraordinary. (56)

According to Eric Heaton, Israelite jurisprudence accepted the possibility of child immolation, as reflected in Exodus 22:29-30, a rare passage about the demand by Israel's deity that the Israelite firstborn sons should be sacrificed to him. However, Israelite law shied away from its actual practice, as seen in Exodus 34:19-20, which refers to the redemption of firstborn sons. When, according to Heaton, the "revolting custom" was performed by the Israelite masses, it was because they had followed in the ways of the earlier religious rites of Canaan. (57) Elmer Leslie also implicated the Canaanites as the source of the occasional Israelite practice of sacrificing humans:
These indications confirm the conclusion that so far as the public
worship of Israel was concerned, by the middle of the eighth century it
had become largely Canaanite worship. Israel had practically lost its
theocratic mission and had become "like all the nations" (1 Samuel 8.
20), her Yahweh worship being scarcely distinguishable from the
fertility cults of the Baalim. (58)

In contrast, rather than viewing child sacrifice as a decline from a purer form of morality as a result of foreign influence, John L. McKenzie argued that not only was child sacrifice atypical for early or late Israelites (as it was for the Canaanites) but that the exceptional sacrifice of Jephthahs daughter illustrates "that the religious ideas of early Israel were in some features so primitive as to be nearly savage. It is difficult for us to understand how even a war lord and bandit chief who professed the Israelite faith could have arrived at an idea of Yahweh which would conceive Yahweh as accepting human sacrifice." (59) Shalom Spiegel espoused a similar view in his discussion of the Aqedah. He argued that biblical Yahwism was a merciful stage of religious development wherein human sacrifice was replaced by animal immolation, yet the primitive, pagan custom of child immolation continued to reemerge from time to time, particularly during times of stress, as people wrestled to fully embrace the innovation of animal substitution. Spiegel saw this innovation as a moral development and the battle as one of parental love versus the fear of the divine. (60) In Nelson Gluecks opinion, the "pitiful rite" or "hideous ceremony" of firstborn infant immolation performed over the millennia in Canaan was no longer sanctioned after "a still small voice penetrated the innermost consciousness of man," telling Abraham to stop his ritual sacrifice of Isaac. (61)

The general consensus of these writers is that for the Israelites, child sacrifice, as presented in the biblical narratives, was an aberration that was primarily influenced by foreign practices. It was not sanctioned in pure Yahwism, it was a moral digression, and it was not sanctioned in biblical passages. In such a conceptualization, Genesis 22 could be seen as a commentary on Canaanite rituals of sacrifice in which the God of Israel called for animal rather than human immolation. Alternatively, the passage could be regarded as reflecting the evolution of Israelite faith from a time when child sacrifice was practiced to a time when animal substitution was mandated. (62)

In either reconstruction, it is possible to read the passage in light of an internal debate about the legitimacy of sacrificing innocent children that must have transpired among practitioners of the Israelite cult. The Hebrew Bible demonstrates that the immolation of innocent children was a common issue of concern. It is mentioned time and time again with much disapproval as a problematic practice in pre-exilic times (e.g., Leviticus 20:1-5; Deuteronomy 12:29-31), it is represented as a murderous rite (Psalm 106:37-38), and it is depicted as a practice leading to severe judgment connected to the conquest and exile of the Israelites (2 Kings 17:17 and 21:6).

Marvin A. Sweeney's contention that the reference to child sacrifice in Micah 6:7 is hyperbolic is based on the perspective that human sacrifice was illegal in ancient Israel. (63) Yet one can read Micah 6:6-8 in the light of an internal conflict within ancient Israel. The prophet asks:
With what shall I draw near to Yahweh,
When I bow down before the God on high?
Shall I approach him with burnt sacrifices,
With year-old calves?
Shall Yahweh be pleased with more than a thousand rams,
With ten thousand streams of oil?
Shall I give my firstborn [as a sacrifice] for my transgression,
The fruit of my loins [as a sacrifice] for the iniquity of my life
Let it be declared to you, O man, what is appropriate,
And what Yahweh seeks from you:
Only to practice justice,
To love loyalty,
And to live in humility with your God.

If one were to consider the possibility that those listening to this message were practicing child sacrifice in order to gain cleansing from sin, a function for child immolation that is never mandated in biblical discourse, then the prophet's argument would express the view that it, like animal sacrifice, was not at the top of the list of ways to secure divine acceptance and was ultimately unnecessary. Instead, one was to seek a just, loving, and humble walk before God. In Israelite law, shedding innocent blood was deplored and required atonement/purification (Deuteronomy 19; 21; Numbers 35). The immolation of innocent children was regarded as wrongfully spilling blood (Psalm 106:37-38), which, for the early Israelites, was a powerful substance. (64)

In the book of Ezekiel, it is apparent that some Israelites were performing child sacrifice in Jerusalem and visiting the temple on the same day (Ezekiel 23:37-39):
For they [Samaria and Jerusalem] were adulterous and had blood on their
hands; with their idols they committed adultery and also their sons,
whom they bore unto me, they caused to pass over to them for food.
Still this they did to me: they made my sanctuary unclean on that day
and polluted my Sabbaths; that is, after they slaughtered their sons to
their idols, they came to my sanctuary on that day in order to defile
it. Thus they did in the midst of my temple.

This passage does not state that the Israelites were performing child sacrifice to the God of Israel, but it does say that some were worshipping Yahweh at the central sanctuary and were involved in child immolation elsewhere, conceivably at the Jerusalem Topheth. Another text from Ezekiel suggests that the God of Israel once endorsed the practice, however. Ezekiel 20:25-26 reads: "I also gave them statutes that were not good and customs in which they could not live. I made them unclean by their gifts in causing every firstborn to pass over so that I could decimate them/make them infertile, so that they would know that I am Yahweh." The passage states that child sacrifice was commanded as an act of judgment because the Israelites had rejected Yahweh's life-giving statutes. While this text clearly indicates that Yahweh had once called for the immolation of firstborn children, albeit with a less than positive endorsement, the message sought to persuade the audience to abandon its practice (Ezekiel 20:31).

A book associated with another prophet from the late First Temple era describes an attempt to dissuade Israelites from child sacrifice. The immolation of innocent children in the capital city of Jerusalem was an important reason for Jeremiah's prophetic denunciation of his contemporaries in a message delivered in the Hinnom Valley, the infamous location of the Topheth. Standing there, the prophet proclaimed that Yahweh had said that "they constructed the high places of Baal to burn their sons in the fire as burnt sacrifices to Baal, which I neither commanded, articulated, nor did it rise up in my mind" (Jeremiah 19:5). The desolation of the city, which would be defiled like the Topheth (Jeremiah 19:5-15), was a foregone conclusion because of the actions of Manasseh several years before the Babylonian conquest. This was so despite the efforts of Manasseh's grandson, King Josiah, who accomplished, among other things, the defilement of the Topheth as part of his religious reforms (2 Kings 23:10).

The sacrifice of innocent Israelite children was not truly Yahwistic, according to the biblical texts. It was one factor that had led to the exile and was no longer to be performed after 586 BCE. The roughly contemporary books of Jeremiah and Ezekiel reflect similar views; the one, by its denials that Yahweh had ever approved of the rite of offering children as burnt sacrifices to Baal in the Hinnom Valley and the other by stating that Yahweh regarded the command to sacrifice firstborn children in a negative light. However, the denials in Jeremiah imply that some Israelites thought that such child sacrifice was Yahwistic. Otherwise, why would Yahweh need to deny its legitimacy?

The passage that perhaps corresponds to the negative statutes alluded to in Ezekiel 20 is Exodus 22, previously mentioned in reference to its call to sacrifice firstborn children. The relevant portion reads (verses 29-30):
Your produce and your wine you shall not delay; the firstborn of your
sons you shall grant to me. Thus, you shall do for your cattle [and]
sheep: for seven days the [young] will be with its mother, on the
eighth day you shall grant it to me.

Any reference to redeeming firstborn sons is absent in this text, in contrast to most other passages that mention Yahwehs claim on firstborn Israelites (e.g., Exodus 13:12-15; 34:18-20; Numbers 18:14-17). While one could argue that the omission does not indicate a sanctioning of firstborn immolation per se, one is justified in suggesting that it could reflect a time when the sacrifice of innocent children was endorsed in Israelite worship before it was later abandoned, as reflected in Ezekiel and possibly also in Micah. The query in Micah 6 about the need to provide firstborn sacrifice to address sin uses the same verb (natan) as Exodus 22. Both Micah and Ezekiel could, therefore, be viewed as commentaries on a statute that was once mandated--giving firstborn children in sacrifice to Yahweh--but was eventually changed.

Nevertheless, it would seem that by at least the late monarchical period and into the exilic era, there were serious attempts to distance Israelite religion from the immolation of innocent children. Some of the arguments were that Yahweh never endorsed the practice at the Topheth (Jeremiah) and that he temporarily commanded the Israelites to practice firstborn child sacrifice (Ezekiel) but that he did not endorse it completely. (65) According to Heath Dewrell, the final stage in the evolution of the anti-child sacrifice argument was categorizing child sacrifice as foreign and therefore antithetical to the ways of true Yahwism. (66)

Since child sacrifice was regarded as a reason for divine punishment and the associated consequences of destruction and exile for both the Northern and Southern Kingdoms (2 Kings 17; 23), exilic and post-exilic practitioners of the Israel cult would have sought to avoid innocent child sacrifice. The Babylonian and Persian periods were the time frame for the final phases of an internal debate about the legitimacy of the sacrifice of innocent children. (67) In short, the voices recorded in the Bible were calling their fellow Israelites to change the practice on moral grounds and because of the voiding of a previous divine command. Biblical interpreters have mirrored this debate, which stretched back into the ancient era; and recent publications demonstrate that such discourse will continue. (68)

Despite the gaps in chronology and geography that exist between modern India and ancient Israel, both cultures have wrestled with a particularly contentious issue through changes in perceptions of morality and by referring to revered words--the Vedas for Hindus and statutes and prophetic statements for the Israelites, all of which were regarded as divinely orchestrated. Because modern interpreters of ancient Jewish law could consult the Hebrew Bible, they used it to argue for the acceptability or unacceptability of child sacrifice in early Judaism, just as the Vedas were consulted in modern India. In the process of biblical analysis, the views that opposed innocent child sacrifice in the Bible were incorporated into the modern discourse. Both the Bible and its readers discussed certain types of child sacrifice as murderous and morally regressive. These labels were also applied to sati in modern discourse.

Nevertheless, because the biblical texts convey a complex and multifaceted perspective on innocent child sacrifice, divergent modern interpretations emerged regarding the extent to which the Bible endorses such sacrifice. The same could be said of sati in Hinduism in the sense that the Vedas may not call for the practice, but other sources support it. Whereas significant movement away from sati sacrifice occurred in modernity, early Judaism experienced the transition away from innocent child sacrifice in antiquity. In both instances, reforms occurred. The state of India was built on the work of reformers such as

Roy, who sought to steer Hinduism to what was perceived as a truer and better version. The debate on sati that transpired in the colonial era resurfaced in independent India in the late 1980s and followed similar lines. In both time periods, the Vedas were particularly important and changes in perceptions of what constitutes moral behavior occurred. Legislation was established to prohibit the practice.

Like the modern reformers in India, ancient Israel experienced reforms of its own. In this case, the voices of change came from those whose words are referenced in the prophetic texts such as the books of Ezekiel, Micah, and Jeremiah. The prophets, the major social reformers of early Judaism, claimed to speak on behalf of their deity and were thus asserting divine authority for their statements. They specified that child sacrifice was not required and that although it had once been divinely mandated, it was no longer acceptable. Assuming that the passages reflect actual sacrificial practices, a supposition that has not been independently verified, it could be said that the prophetic discourses ultimately won the debate and helped lead ancient Israel away from practices deemed immoral. The biblical texts constitute legal prohibitions that are analogous to state-mandated restrictions.

Religions are never static; they always evolve, transform, and adapt. Not only do debates over issues of human sacrifice result in reforms and in some instances legislation, but the changes can occur in unexpected ways. Views about sati, for instance, underwent an intriguing transformation even before Roop Kanwar died, perhaps due to the restrictions the British imposed. One of those changes is that a widow who is stopped from dying as a self-sacrifice becomes a living sati. She is deified and given a site of worship. This was the case with Jaswant Kanwar, a woman who attempted sati not far from the place where Roop Kanwar died. (69) More changes are on the horizon. For instance, the CEO of PETA India, Poorva Joshipura, published an article in the Internal Business Times in October 2014 entitled "Animal Sacrifice Has No Place in Space-Age India," in which she wrote "technology, industry, economic growth, Mars mission, animal sacrifice. Spot the odd one out." (70) For the Israelites of the exilic and post-exilic eras, the immolation of innocent children constituted the "odd one out" in a list of acceptable cultic practices, and the negativity expressed in biblical sources regarding the inappropriateness of such child sacrifice influenced modern interpreters in assessing the practice as out of the ordinary.


(1.) The focus of this article is on the biblical representation of sacrificing innocent children. The immolation of guilty offspring is found in texts such as 2 Samuel 21 and Deuteronomy 13. On these passages, see Jason Tatlock, "The Place of Human Sacrifice in the Israelite Cult," in Ritual and Metaphor. Sacrifice in the Bible, ed. Christian Eberhart (Atlanta, GA: Society of Biblical Literature, 2011), 33-48.

(2.) Sati has been identified correctly as a type of human sacrifice, even by one of the key modern authorities on the subject who opposed the practice. See Raja Rammohun Roy, The English Works of Raja Rammohun Roy with an English Translation of'Tuhfatul Muwahhiddin" (Allahabad: The Panini Office, 1906), 365-372. See also Shalva Weil, "Yom Kippur: The Festival of Closing the Doors," in Between Jerusalem and Benares: Comparative Studies in Judaism and Hinduism, ed. Hananya Goodman (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1994), 92; and Andrea Major, Sovereignty and Social Reform in India: British Colonialism and the Campaign against Sati, 1830-60 (London: Routledge, 2011), 97.

(3.) Human sacrifice or human immolation is a complex concept that has fostered debate about both its definition and its legitimacy. If one allows for the viability of a general definition of sacrifice, then it can be simply defined as a ritual killing focused on eliciting a response from the suprahuman realm inhabited by deities and other forms of immaterial entities. For a fuller discussion of human sacrifice, see Jason Tatlock, "How in Ancient Times They Sacrificed People: Human Immolation in the Eastern Mediterranean Basin with Special Emphasis on Ancient Israel and the Near East" (PhD diss., University of Michigan, 2006); and Glenn M. Schwartz, "Archaeology and Sacrifice," in Sacred Killing: The Archaeology of Sacrifice in the Ancient Near East, ed. Anne Porter and Glenn M. Schwartz (Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 2012), 1-32. See also Jeffrey Carter, ed., Understanding Religious Sacrifice: A Reader (2003; repr., London: Continuum, 2006).

The terms Hinduism and Judaism are the commonly used English designations for the faith traditions, and I use them here as broad terms for these world religions. On the authoritative position of the Vedas as a characteristic of Hindu orthodoxy, see T. Patrick Burke, The Major Religions: An Introduction with Texts, 2nd ed. (Maiden: Blackwell Publishing, 2004), 18. For a comparative approach to the rabbinic movement in Judaism and the brahmanical tradition in Hinduism with an emphasis on their shared focus on central scriptures, consult Barbara A. Holdrege, Veda and Torah: Transcending the Textuality of Scripture (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1995). For a comparative study of Hinduism and Judaism based on textual material, see Henri Hubert and Marcel Mauss, Sacrifice: Its Nature and Function, trans. W. D. Halls (1898; repr., Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1964). Much of the discussion in the pages that follow centers on modern Hindu views, specifying the importance of reform Hinduism, a movement Holdrege notes. By contrast, the focus on Judaism is on ancient religiosity as embodied by the Hebrew Bible or Tanakh, which has been a uniting force in various branches of modern Judaism. The first five books (the Torah) are especially revered and authoritative, as reflected by the focus on a Torah scroll during services. The biblical texts themselves demonstrate that this religiosity, like modern Hinduism, was multifaceted and included a variety of perspectives.

(4.) Jonathan Z. Smith, "Religion and Bible," Journal of Biblical Literature 128, no. 1 (2009): 5-27.

(5.) For Christianity's privileged space in the comparative enterprise, see Stefani Engelstein, "Coining a Discipline: Lessing, Reimarus, and a Science of Religion," in Fact and Fiction, ed. Christine Lehleiter (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2016), 221-246. On criticism of early comparative work and an attempt to move forward with a comparative theology, see Reid B. Locklin and Hugh Nicholson, "The Return of Comparative Theology," Journal of the American Academy of Religion 78, no. 2 (2010): 477-514.

(6.) Robert A. Segal, "Response to Peter Ochs' 'Comparative Religious Traditions,'" Journal of the American Academy of Religion 74, no. 1 (2006): 129-132.

(7.) For a more comprehensive comparative study of Hinduism and Judaism, see Hananya Goodman, ed., Between Jerusalem and Benares: Comparative Studies in Judaism and Hinduism (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1994). See also Nathan Katz, Ranabir Chakravarti, Braj M. Sinha, and Shalva Weil, eds., Indo-Judaic Studies in the Twenty-First Century: A View from the Margin (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007).

(8.) Nathan Katz, "Indo-Judaic Studies in the Twenty-First Century: A Perspective from the Margin," in Indo-Judaic Studies in the Twenty-First Century: A View from the Margin, ed. Nathan Katz, Ranabir Chakravarti, Braj M. Sinha, and Shalva Weil (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007), 2-3.

(9.) Women and Media Committee, Trial by Fire: A Report on Roop Kanwar's Death (Bombay: Women and Media Committee, Bombay Union of Journalists, 1987), 1-2.

(10.) Ibid.

(11.) V. V. Raman, "Sati: Symptom of Contempt for Women," India Abroad, January 29,1988. On its website (, India Abroad claims to be the popular embodiment of the Indian American world view.

(12.) Some consider sati to be uncivilized or antiquated. See S. Verma, "Many Women Still Await Independence," News India-Times 27, no. 34 (1997): 18; and M. P. Daiya, "My Turn: Sati; No Vedic Injunction," Hinduism Today 10, no. 9 (1988): 3.

(13.) William Bentinck, "Lord William Bentinck on the Suppression of Sati, 8 November 1829," in Speeches & Documents on Indian Policy 1750-1921, vol. 1, ed. Arthur Berriedale Keith (London: Oxford University Press, 1922), 208-226; James Bryce, "Some Difficulties in Colonial Government Encountered by Great Britain and How They Have Been Met," Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 30, no. 1 (July 1907): 16-23.

(14.) See James Peggs, India's Cries to British Humanity, Relative to the Suttee, Infanticide, British Connexion with Idolatry, Ghaut Murders, and Slavery in India: To Which Is Added Human Hints for the Melioration of the State of Society in British India, 2nd ed. (London: Seely and Son, 1830), iii; James Peggs, The Suttees' Cry to Britain; Containing Extracts from Essays Published in India and Parliamentary Papers on the Burning of Hindoo Widows (London: Seely and Son, 1827).

(15.) For an examination of the nineteenth-century debate about sati, see Lata Mani, "Contentious Traditions: The Debate on Sati in Colonial India," in Recasting Women: Essays in Indian Colonial History, ed. Kumkim Sangari and Sudesh Vaid (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1990), 88-126. My study focuses primarily on the late twentieth to early twenty-first centuries, but the parallels between the discourses of the earlier disagreements are striking, for example, in terms of analysis of Hindu sources. See also Major, Sovereignty and Social Reform in India, 81-82, 90, for a discussion of local responses to the abolition of sati, including how sati appears in sources Hindus revere.

(16.) Radha Kumar, The History of Doing: An Illustrated Account of Movements for Women's Rights and Feminism in India, 1800-1990 (New Delhi: Kali for Women, 1993), 10-11.

(17.) "The Commission of Sati (Prevention) Act, 1987," Ministry of Women and Child Development, accessed February 8, 2018,

(18.) Vikas Dhoot, "Sati to Be Called a Murder, Spectators Face Action Too," The Indian Express, September 12, 2007, accessed February 8, 2018, /216315/.

(19.) Himanshi Dhawan, "Govt Drops Move for Stricter Sati Law," The Times of India, April 23, 2008, accessed February 8, 2018,; H. C. Upreti and N. Upreti, The Myth of Sati (Some Dimensions of Widow Burning) (Bombay: Himalaya Publishing House, 1991), vi; and Sakuntal Narasimhan, Sati: A Study of Widow Burning in India (New Delhi: Viking, 1990), 27.

(20.) Women and Media Committee, Trial by Fire.

(21.) Subodh Ghildiyal and Mahendra Kumar Singh, "New Sati Law Tough on Family," Times News Network, lanuary 27, 2006, accessed April 20, 2006,

(22.) Madhu Kishwar, "Don't Shackle Freedom: One Woman Challenges Ban on Sati Temples as Regulating Peoples Beliefs," Hinduism Today, October 31,2000, 60.

(23.) Coburn preferred to designate what some call "scripture" as "the Word" in Hinduism in order to avoid prejudicing written over oral/aural receptions. He noted that vocalizing and listening to Hindu sacred material has been the normative mode of reception, even though some have appeared in written form. Coburn also discussed various categories and types of Hindu material, such as iruti and smrti. One of the more important treatments in Coburn deals with the notion that the Vedas are categorized as sruti, material considered to have divine provenance, in contrast to smrti, literature that reflects human interpretation of what originated from the divine realm. Coburn's terminology has influenced the way I refer to scripture. See Thomas B. Coburn, "'Scripture' in India: Towards a Typology of the Word in Hindu Life," Journal of the American Academy of Religion 52, no. 3 (1984): 435-440. This distinction demonstrates the significance of the Vedas as authoritative. Fuller described them as having the greatest authority within Hinduism and indicated although they have been frequently cited in Indian courts of law, they have rarely been important for deciding cases. Yet Hindu texts did influence sati legislation, as referenced in the Commission of Sati (Prevention) Act, 1987. See C. J. Fuller, "Hinduism and Scriptural Authority in Modern Indian Law," Comparative Studies in Society and History, 30, no. 2 (1988): 225-248.

(24.) The Women and Media Committee condemned sati for humanitarian reasons. They considered religious reasons to be irrelevant. See Trial by Fire,

(25.) "The Weekly Debate," Illustrated Weekly of India, May 1,1988,26-33.

(26.) For a treatment of sati in Hindu texts, see Roy, The English Works of Raja Rammohun Roy, 365-372.

(27.) The comments of Niranjan Dev Teerth and Swami Agnivesh were published in "The Weekly Debate," The Illustrated Weekly of India, May 1, 1988, 27, 32.

(28.) On Vedic sacrifice, human victims, self-sacrifice, and substitution, see Brian K. Smith and Wendy Doniger, "Sacrifice and Substitution: Ritual Mystification and Mythical Demystification," Numen 36, no. 2 (1989): 189-224. See also Asko Parpola, "Human Sacrifice in India in Vedic Times and Before," in The Strange World of Human Sacrifice, ed. Jan N. Bremmer (Leuven: Peeters, 2007), 157-177.

(29.) Pallavi Thakur, "A Journey of Hindu Women from Shakti to Sati in Ancient India," International Journal of Engineering, Technology, Science and Research 4, no. 6 (2017): 383-385.

(30.) Francis Jarman, "Sati: From Exotic Custom to Relativist Controversy," CultureScan 2, no. 5 (2002): 5, accessed July 17, 2017,

(31.) Roy, The English Works of Raja Rammohun Roy, 365-372.

(32.) Arvind Sharma, "The Scriptural Sanction for Sati in Hinduism," in Sati: Historical and Phenomenological Essays, ed. Arvind Sharma, Ajit Ray, Alaka Hejib, and Katherine K. Young (Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1988), 38; Rajendra Kumar Saxena, Social Reforms: Infanticide and Sati (New Delhi: Trimurti Publications Private Limited, 1975), 59; Ajit Kumar Ray, Widows Are Not for Burning: Actions and Attitudes of the Christian Missionaries, the Native Hindus and Lord William Bentinck (New Delhi: ABC Publishing House, 1985), 2; Santosh Singh, A Passion for Flames (Jaipur: RBSA Publishers, 1989), 14; Menna Gaur, Sati and Social Reforms in India (Jaipur: Publication Scheme, 1989), 45; and Narasimhan, Sati, 13-14.

(33.) On these texts, see Thakur, "A Journey of Hindu Women from Shakti to Sati in Ancient India," 384.

(34.) Jamison notes that sati was not practiced in early Indian culture; see Stephanie W. Jamison, "Penelope and the Pigs: Indic Perspectives on the 'Odyssey,'" Classical Antiquity 18, no. 2 (1999): 238.

(35.) Gaur, Sati and Social Reforms, 43.

(36.) Narasimhan, Sati, 27.

(37.) "The Commission of Sati (Prevention) Act, 1987."

(38.) Ibid.

(39.) Fuller, "Hinduism and Scriptural Authority in Modern Indian Law," 242.

(40.) Ibid., 242-243.

(41.) Fuller cited Roy as an example of a modern reformer, and we have seen that Roy was opposed to sati based on Hindu revered words, even indicating that it was not required in Hinduism. Fuller, "Hinduism and Scriptural Authority in Modern Indian Law"; Roy, The English Works of Raja Rammohun Roy, 365-372.

(42.) A. Henrichs, "Human Sacrifice in Greek Religion: Three Case Studies," in Le sacrifice dans l'Antiquite, ed. Jean Rudhardt and Olivier Reverdin (Geneva: Foundation Hardt, 1981), 232-233.

(43.) The study of child sacrifice in ancient Israel provided here is based on literary analysis. I am not aware of material confirmation of child immolation in Iron Age Israel, although there are similarities between the biblical representation of herem-warfare, which included the sacrifice of children, and what is found on the Mesha Stele, or Moabite Stone. For more on this form of sacrifice, see Tatlock, "How in Ancient Times They Sacrificed People," 159-160, 166-174; and Susan Niditch, War in the Hebrew Bible: A Study in the Ethics of Violence (New York: Oxford University Press, 1993), 28-55. For works that explore human sacrifice and ancient Israel, see John Day, Molech: A God of Human Sacrifice in the Old Testament (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989); Alberto Green, The Role of Human Sacrifice in the Ancient Near East (Missoula: Scholars Press, 1975); George C. Heider, The Cult of Molek: A Reassessment (Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1985); and Francesca Stavrakopoulou, King Manasseh and Child Sacrifice: Biblical Distortions of Historical Realities (Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 2004). See also Moshe Weinfeld, "The Worship of Molech and of the Queen of Heaven and Its Background," Ugarit-Forschungen 4 (1972): 133-154; M. Weinfeld, "Burning Babies in Ancient Israel," Ugarit-Forschungen 10 (1978): 411-413; Morton Smith, "A Note on Burning Babies," Journal of the American Oriental Society 95, no. 3 (1975): 477-479; Karin Finsterbusch, Armin Lange, and K. F. Diethard Romheld, eds., Human Sacrifice in Jewish and Christian Tradition (Leiden: Brill, 2007); Vita Daphna Arbel, Paul C. Burns,). R. C. Cousland, Richard Menkis, and Dietmar Neufeld, eds., Not Sparing the Child: Human Sacrifice in the Ancient World. Studies in Honor of Professor Paul G. Mosca (London: Bloomsbury, 2016); and Ed Noort and Elbert Tigchelaar, eds., The Sacrifice of Isaac: The Aqedah (Genesis 22) and Its Interpretations (Leiden: Brill, 2002). For a broader treatment of human sacrifice in the Hebrew Bible, see Tatlock, "The Place of Human Sacrifice in the Israelite Cult."

(44.) Joseph Telushkin, Biblical Literacy. The Most Important People, Events, and Ideas of the Hebrew Bible (New York: William Morrow and Co, 1997), 176-178, 483-484; M. Bal, "Dealing/With/Women: Daughters in the Book of Judges," in The Book and the Text: The Bible and Literary Theory, ed. Regina M. Schwartz (Cambridge, MA: Basil Blackwell, 1990), 18.

(45.) Translations from the Hebrew Bible are mine unless otherwise noted.

(46.) Jon D. Levenson, The Death and Resurrection of the Beloved Son: The Transformation of Child Sacrifice in Judaism and Christianity (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1993), 24; David Marcus, Jephthah and His Vow (Lubbock: Texas Tech Press, 1986), 13, 58nl.

(47.) Leon J. Wood, Distressing Days of the Judges (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1975), 294.

(48.) See Jo Ann Hackett, "Religious Traditions in Israelite Transjordan," in Ancient Israelite Religion: Essays in Honor of Frank Moore Cross, ed. Patrick D. Miller Jr., Paul D. Hanson, and S. Dean McBride (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1987), 131.

(49.) Mark S. Smith, The Early History of God: Yahweh and the Other Deities in Ancient Israel, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: W. B. Eerdmans, 2002), 172; and Paul G. Mosca, "Child Sacrifice in Canaanite and Israelite Religion" (PhD diss., Harvard University, 1975), 212.

(50.) Telushkin, Biblical Literacy, 177.

(51.) Jon L. Berquist, "What Does the Lord Require? Old Testament Child Sacrifice and New Testament Christology," Encounter 55, no. 2 (1994): 122.

(52.) Ibid., 128.

(53.) Aharon Agus, The Binding of Isaac and Messiah (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1988), 2-3.

(54.) Lillian R. Klein, The Triumph of Irony in the Book of Judges (Sheffield: The Almond Press, 1988), 91, emphasis in original.

(55.) R. J. Thompson, Penitence and Sacrifice in Early Israel outside the Levitical Law (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1963), 76.

(56.) Roland de Vaux, Ancient Israel (New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1961), 441-446; Roland de Vaux, Studies in Old Testament Sacrifice (Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 1964), 52-90.

(57.) E. W. Heaton, Everyday Life in Old Testament Times (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1956), 231.

(58.) Leslie, like Heaton, articulated a distinction between official worship and popular religious rites; Elmer A. Leslie, Old Testament Religion: In the Light of Its Canaanite Background (New York: The Abingdon Press, 1936), 161, 216-217.

(59.) John L. McKenzie, The World of the Judges (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1966), 148.

(60.) Shalom Spiegel, The Last Trial: On the Legends and Lore of the Command to Abraham to Offer Isaac as a Sacrifice: The Akedah, translated with introduction and new preface by Judah Goldin (Woodstock: lewish Lights Publishing, 1993), 63-65, 77.

(61.) Nelson Glueck, Rivers in the Desert (New York: Farrar, Straus and Cudahy, 1959), 61.

(62.) According to Mosca, Genesis 22 is the earliest etiological explanation for the substitution of an animal for firstborn sacrifice. See Mosca, "Child Sacrifice in the Canaanite and Israelite Religion," 237, 270n242. For more on the passage, see Tatlock, "How in Ancient Times They Sacrificed People," 184 ff.

(63.) Marvin A. Sweeney, The Twelve Prophets, vol. 2 (Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 2000), 400. Ed Noort has opined, conversely, that despite the rhetoric and potential exaggeration in the passage, "the fact remains that in the imagery of Micah it was esteemed to be a real possibility to sacrifice the firstborn"; Ed Noort, "Child Sacrifice in Ancient Israel: The Status Quaestionis," in The Strange World of Human Sacrifice, ed. Jan N. Bremmer (Leuven: Peeters, 2007), 125n56.

(64.) For more on this, see Tatlock, "The Place of Human Sacrifice in the Israelite Cult."

(65.) Levenson, too, saw in the biblical texts an internal discussion within Yahwism regarding the legitimacy of child sacrifice; The Death and Resurrection of the Beloved Son, 4-5.

(66.) Heath D. Dewrell, Child Sacrifice in Ancient Israel (Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 2017), 148-190.

(67.) On human sacrifice in the Bible and the Persian era, see Thomas C. Romer, "Le sacrifice humain en Juda et Israel au premier millenaire avant notre fere," Archiv fur Religionsgeschichte 1, no. 1 (1999): 17-26.

(68.) Recent publications demonstrate the continued relevance of matters under discussion in this article. For instance, John Dunnill, citing Levenson and Tatlock, recognized the connection between child sacrifice and ancient Yahwism; Dunnill, Sacrifice and the Body: Biblical Anthropology and Christian Self-Understanding (Farnham: Ashgate, 2013), 105. R. Scott Smith considered child sacrifice to be a Canaanite rite that was both an immoral practice worthy of punishment and one that Israelites adhered to due to Canaanite influences. Smith would consider child sacrifices non-Yahwistic; Smith, In Search of Moral Knowledge: Overcoming the Fact-Value Dichotomy (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2014), 351-358. A. J. K. Hattingh and E. E. Meyer provided a succinct summation of academic views on human sacrifice in ancient Israel and argued for the probable sacrificial meaning of herem in Leviticus 27; see Hattingh and Meyer, '"Devoted to Destruction'. A Case of Human Sacrifice in Leviticus 27?" Journal for Semitics 25, no. 2 (2016): 630-657. Dewrell dedicated a chapter to analyzing how biblical authors handled the issue of child sacrifice. He examined the issue of firstborn sacrifice in Exodus 22 and Deuteronomy 15, arguing that the latter passage was constructed in response to material found in the former and was purposeful in its exclusion of firstborn sacrifice due to a rejection of its acceptability. See Dewrell, Child Sacrifice in Ancient Israel, 148-190.

(69.) Narayan Bareth, "Indians Worship Would-Be Sacrifice," BBC News, August 2, 2002, accessed July 18, 2017,

(70.) Poorva Joshipura, "Animal Sacrifice Has No Place in Space-Age India," International Business Times, October 17, 2014, accessed October 28, 2014,

JASON TATLOCK is an associate professor of history at Georgia Southern University in Savannah, Georgia. He may be contacted at
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