Child Sacrifice, Ancient and Modern

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Earlier this week The Guardian ran a story about human sacrifice and ancient Roman history. During the third century BC, the chief rival of Rome was the city of Carthage on the North African coast.

Carthage was a Phoenician city, and Roman sources always accused the Carthaginians of sacrificing their own children to their gods. I have always believed the Roman stories of Carthaginian child sacrifice, but many scholars dismissed these stories as mere propaganda. They just couldn’t be true.

But some archeologists have been amassing material evidence that seems to support the Roman sources. It looks like the Carthaginians really did sacrifice their children. One of the archeologist told The Guardian that she is experiencing some pushback from her findings.

Quinn said many of her academic colleagues were appalled by her conclusions.

“The feeling that some ultimate taboo is being broken is very strong. It was striking how often colleagues, when they asked what I was working on, reacted in horror and said, ‘Oh no, that’s simply not possible, you must have got it wrong.’”

“We like to think that we’re quite close to the ancient world, that they were really just like us – the truth is, I’m afraid, that they really weren’t.”

Some things are just so horrible that we do not want to think about them. We do not want to believe they are true. This archeologist correctly notes that we ought to look at the Carthaginians honestly. But I think we need to look at ourselves honestly too.

She said, “We like to think that we’re quite close to the ancient world, that they were really just like us—the truth is, I’m afraid that they really weren’t.” I, on the other hand, am afraid that we are too much like them.

How is American abortion so very different from what the Carthaginians did? Priests killed their children in a temple, and abortionists kill our children in a clinic. Carthaginian parents expected favors from their gods if they offered their children. They expected a better life. Why do we abort our children?

Americans abort their children because they believe they’ll have a better life. Maybe they want better health by not undergoing the rigors of pregnancy. Maybe they expect that their career opportunities will be better without a child. Maybe they just don’t want to shop at Costco.

Carthaginians killed babies because they wanted a better life. We kill babies because we want a better life. The only difference that I can see is that the Carthaginians sacrificed children to their gods, while we just sacrifice them to ourselves.

But this level of selfishness is too terrible to think about, so most of us will turn a blind eye to our atrocities, just as most scholars have refused to see the atrocities of the Carthaginians.

[Originally posted at First Things]

4 responses to “Child Sacrifice, Ancient and Modern”

  1. •Objectors don’t believe the Bible or what it records. They claim that the sins of the Canaanites (particularly human/child sacrifice) are untrue, and just self-serving lies of the Israelites to justify their conquest of the Promised Land.
    •But if they don’t believe the OT accounts were factually correct then neither can they condemn the Israelites as factually guilty.
    •What they are left with to condemn is not ‘factual guilt’, but only the Biblical narrative, to them a mere ‘fabrication’ or ‘story’.
    •But the Biblical parameters, to which their objections then must be confined, stipulate that ‘human/child sacrifice’ was a big, big problem. Atheists cannot ignore that stipulation, for by doing so they have changed the subject & they are no longer arguing against the Bible, but have created a diversion, a strawman.
    •But it seems obvious that these accounts (of murderous sacrifices) were not to ‘demonize’ the Canaanites, nor to glorify the Israelites. Because the Jews were honest and self-critical enough to confess that they became guilty of the same horrible atrocities.
    •The OT prophets (over and over again, repeatedly and repeatedly) condemned their own for sacrificing humans, making them ‘pass through the fire’. •They would hardly have confessed to such ‘sacrifices’ if it were not true of themselves, nor if they had not in fact emulated the unforgivable and actual sins of the Canaanites, against which God had so often warned them.

  2. Great post. And very insightful reply, d’Preacher Verily. I thought that it was “common knowledge” that the Phoenicians practiced child sacrifice. A recent episode of America Unearthed concluded that a stone in Chicago was actually a stone alter carved by the Phoenicians for child sacrifice; they mentioned a similar stone found in Florida.

    The parallels of ancient child sacrifice to abortion is dead on and a very enlightening perspective.

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