Did Israel Practice Child Sacrifice?

A blog has created a post that makes some interesting conclusions about child sacrifice in ancient Israel, as reported in the Old Testament. You can find the entire post here. The author concludes that child sacrifice was a practice done in ancient Israel as a sacrifice to YHWH, the God of Israel.

First, we learn from what direction the author comes in several statements such as when he refers to Jeremiah 32:35 as “a part of the Dueteronomistic redaction of the text.” This refers to a form of higher criticism known by several names, such as the Documentary Hypothesis. It was first widely attributed to the Graf-Welhausen school. In short, the theory holds that a series of editors created the Old Testament, and the versions of the Bible books we have today were not written by the traditional authors. So to the author of the blog in quesiton, the book of Jeremiah we have today is a thoroughly human creation shaped by a series of Jewish editors (redactors). By contrast, the text of the books themselves claim to be the words of a prophet sent by God to give a message to Israel. How one views this issue determines the conclusions one draws from the text. Is it a message from God, or the product of a fallable human priest’s motivation to create a message?

The Documentary Hypothesis is in the process of being rejected by current scholarship, which you can find out more here. Conservative scholarship continues to reject the Documentary Hypothesis, and therefore takes the text as written by the traditional authors.  When we read the text for what meaning is in the words themselves, we come to a different conclusion than those who hold to the Documentary Hypothesis. Regardless, the question at hand is what the text actually says, not what we assume a redactor was trying to say.

Next, with this in mind, the following quote from the blog becomes much more telling:

For instance, Jeremiah 32:35 (a part of the Deuteronomistic redaction of the text reads, “And they built high places for Baal, which are in the valley of ben Hinnom in order to make their sons and their daughters pass through the fire as a mlk sacrifice.  This I did not command them, nor was it in my heart (for them) to do this abomination…”  The other passages in Jeremiah are similar.

However, even if these passages in Jeremiah are not conclusive as to whether human sacrifices were performed in YHWH’s name or at YHWH’s behest, other biblical passages confirm this fact.  For instance, Ezekiel 20:25-26 directly indicates that YHWH actually commanded such sacrifices: “I [YHWH] also gave them statutes that were not good, and ordinances by which they could not live.  I caused them to sin by their (own) gifts, by causing (them) to pass through (the fire) all who open the womb [i.e., the firstborn], in order that I might horrify them, in order that they might know that I am YHWH.”  Moreover, the imagery of the mlk sacrifice in Isaiah 30:27-33 (esp. verse 33) clearly indicates that such offerings were performed for/to YHWH.

When this author claims, “even if these passages in Jeremiah are not conclusive as to whether human sacrifices were performed in YHWH’s name or at YHWH’s behest” we have a bit of disagreement. If one merely takes the Jeremiah quote at what it says, and if we read the chapter in context, it clearly has YHWH condemning child sacrifice. Only by positing a Deuteronomistic redactor can we conclude that the passage is “not conclusive.”

Third, the author quotes Ezekiel 20:25-26, with the key phrase being v.26, where the quote has YHWH causing them to sin, causing them to pass their children through the fire (e.g., child sacrifice). The only problem is that this is not what the passage says. I checked 17 English translations, and none of them read this way. Most say “I declared them to be defiled” or “I declared them unclean” or “I let them become polluted.” The closest any of them gets is “I defiled them” or “I polluted them.” None say “I caused them to sin.” The key word in v.26 is tawmay (Strongs 2930). My two Hebrew lexicons (BDB, Strongs) both say this term means to become unclean or to pronounce ritually unclean. Perhaps the author is a Hebrew scholar and translated the passage afresh, but in any case, the version posted in the blog is different than every scholarly reference I have.

Therefore we hold Ezekiel 20:26 to say, as all English translations do, “I pronounced them unclean because of their gifts, in that they caused all their firstborn to pass through the fire…”(NASB). This view is further supported by simply reading the whole chapter, where YHWH spends the entire section condemning Israel for disobeying. To hold that a passage that thoroughly condemns Israel’s actions would then suddenly pop up in v.26 and teach that the author is teaching it to be OK to sacrifice children, is a conclusion that does not hold from the passage.

Fourth, the author claims that the imagery in Isaiah 30:33 clearly teaches that child sacrifices were made for/to YHWH. This statement is a bit unclear, possibly misleading. We would agree that the Bible tells us that the ancient Israelites performed child sacrifice; this is the subject of many passages in the Bible, including Isaiah 30. It is also possible that the Israelites also mixed the worship of YHWH with the child sacrifices they made to idols, possibly combining the two into a single act of worship. But it is not true that Isaiah 30, or anywhere else in the Bible, has YHWH saying this is something that should be done. Just the opposite, for child sacrifice and idol worship are the things that YHWH, through the prophets Isaiah and Jeremiah, are strongly condemning. Simply reading the chapter of Isaiah 30 makes this clear.

So it is no secret that people in ancient Israel practiced child sacrifice. The conclusion, however, is that God spends a great deal of time condemning such practice, and ultimately punished Israel for doing so. This supports the Biblical position that all people are flawed sinners, rebellious toward God, and in need of a Savior.

I believe the root of such mistakes is that the Biblical story unfolds slowly over 1000 pages of text, and we simply do not read them. Going to a single passage, or sometimes a single phrase, does not give a clear representation of what is actually taught in the Bible.



About humblesmith

Christian Apologist & Philosopher
This entry was posted in Apologetics, Bible, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Did Israel Practice Child Sacrifice?

  1. Wes says:

    Have heard similar argument on other posts stating that the OT God condoned child molestation and sex slavery. So agree with you humblesmith in relation to contextual argument. Yes the result God’s judgement sometimes takes time – a lot of pages covered in the Bible to get to that point. And so there are people who seem to not take into acocunt the full context of things.
    And if they do continue to read on and see that judgement (many times in the form or a nation being attacked), God is a merciless, hearless being… God it seems can never win, and is boxed up nicely in the eyes of those wise people… in summary- nice arctile!!!

  2. zanspence says:

    Nice article and articulate conclusion of the truth. As soon as I began to read your article I knew that the author in question has a personal premise that the Bible is fallible and therefore the condemnation of child sacrifice by God in the Bible is not believed by the author. I clicked on the author’s name and they have written numerous Mormon articles. It is a well known fact of Mormonism that their belief is that the Bible is corrupt. So that’s the origin of the article.

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