Excerpt From My Book on Child Sacrifice

I've received more than one email from Christians who say that of all the issues I write about in my book the most troubling one concerns child sacrifice in the Bible (imagine that!?). Here's the excerpt below (from pp. 136-37). What d'ya think?

When it comes to child sacrifice it was actually commanded by God. In Exodus 22:29-30 we read:
“You shall not delay to offer from the fullness of your harvest and from the outflow of your presses. The first-born of your sons you shall give to me. You shall do likewise with your oxen and with your sheep: seven days it shall be with its dam; on the eighth day you shall give it to me.”
Later on God admitted he did this in Ezekiel 20:25-26 where he purportedly said:
“Moreover I gave them statutes that were not good and ordinances by which they could not have life; and I defiled them through their very gifts in making them offer by fire all their first-born, that I might horrify them; I did it that they might know that I am the LORD.” (See note). [19]
The context of the Exodus passage just quoted above concerns offerings and sacrifices, and it says God requires that first born sons are to be literally sacrificed to him. Hence, unlike other passages where there is the possibility of redemption with a substitute sacrifice (cf. Exodus 13:13; 34:10-20), none is stated there. The concept of "redemption" is an interesting one that goes hand in hand with child sacrifice, because animals were substituted for the firstborn. Yet that says nothing against the idea that a better sacrifice was the firstborn child himself, and many people in the Old Testament did just that. Circumcision was probably a substitutionary child sacrifice (Exodus 4:24). Child sacrifice was probably only considered evil when it was done in the name of a foreign god, and doing so was punishable by death precisely because it was offered to another deity (Leviticus 20:2; 18:21 Deuteronomy 12:31; 18:10; II Kings 17:17 23:10; II Chronicles 28:3; 33:4-10; Ps 106:38; Isaiah 57:5,6; Jeremiah 7:31 32:35 Ezekiel 16:20,21; 20:26,31; 23:37,39; Acts 7:43).

Child sacrifice was something that several Biblical people either did, or assisted others in doing so. Abraham was not morally repulsed by the command itself and there is no command against this practice there by God (Genesis 22). Then there is Jepthah who sacrificed his daughter because of a stupid vow (Judges 11); David (II Sam. 21:7-9); Solomon and his wives (I Kings 3:16); Ahab (I Kings 16:33-34); Ahaz (II Kings 16:2-3); Hoshea (II Kings 17:7); and Manasseh (II Kings 21:6; II Chronicles 33:6). It was a problem for King Josiah (II King 23:10), for Jeremiah (Jeremiah 7:30-31; 19:3-5; 32:35), and Ezekiel (Ezekiel 16:20-21; 20:25-26, 30-31). The prophet Micah wonders if he should sacrifice his oldest son “as a sin offering” (6:6-8). It was a practice so prevalent when offered to foreign gods, that it is named as one of the reasons God sent the Babylonians to conquer Israel and forcibly take many of them as captives (II Kings 17:16-18). We even read where the King of Moab sacrificed his son which caused the Israelites to retreat in defeat. Moab’s sacrifice created a great “wrath,” (ketzef), which was an external force to the warriors in the story, indicating that his sacrifice caused some divinity to act on behalf of Moab. (II Kings. 3:26-27). In the New Testament God the Father sacrifices his only son (Jesus) as the central redemptive act of Christianity, and God still seeks to fulfill his lust for human sacrifice by burning humans forever in the lake of fire.


[19] Hector Avalos tells us that, “For most of biblical history, Yahweh was not against child sacrifice per se, but rather against child sacrifice to other gods.” See his Creationists for Genocide. Jon D. Levenson states that "only at a particular stage rather late in the history of Israel was child sacrifice branded as counter to the will of YHWH and thus ipso facto idolatrous." The Death and Resurrection of the Beloved Son, (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1993), p. 5. Susan Niditch, in War in the Hebrew Bible: A Study in the Ethics of Violence (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993) says, “While there is considerable controversy about the matter, the consensus over the last decade concludes that child sacrifice was a part of ancient Israelite religion to large segments of Israelite communities of various periods.” p. 47. S. Ackerman argues that within the ancient Israelite community, “the cult of child sacrifice was felt in some circles to be a legitimate expression of Yawistic faith.” Under Every Green Tree: Popular Religion in Sixth-Century Judah (Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1992), p. 137. See also Francesca Stavrakopoulou, King Manasseh and Child Sacrifice: Biblical Distortions of Historical Realities, (Walter De Gruyter Inc., 2004).

First published 7/30/09