Chapter 2 Polemics against Child Sacrifice in Deuteronomy and the Deuteronomistic History

In: Intolerance, Polemics, and Debate in Antiquity
Dominik Markl
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This contribution argues that polemics can also have a positive effect on societies and cultures. Although the Deuteronomistic tradition emphasises the foreign origin of child sacrifice, several texts indicate that the idea of the sacrifice (or “consecration”) of the firstborn son, in particular, seems to be a genuine part of Israelite religion. Sacrificing human or animal offspring could be understood as returning to the deity that which has been received—in the hope of gaining divine favour to produce further offspring. Moreover, surrendering one’s beloved child to a deity could be seen as proof of the highest degree of piety. Child sacrifice was a last resort in desperate situations for worshippers of deities who were believed to require sacrifice. This motivation and the resulting historical practice of child sacrifice form the background for the polemics against it in biblical texts, especially in Deuteronomy and Kings. The motif of child sacrifice is embedded there in a cluster of cultic sins which lead to the exile of Israel and Judah. Both Deuteronomy and Kings employ sophisticated literary warfare, with the declared aim of abolishing child sacrifice. These Deuteronomistic polemics contributed, in the end, to reducing child sacrifice in several cultures to a merely archaeological fact.

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Intolerance, Polemics, and Debate in Antiquity

Politico-Cultural, Philosophical, and Religious Forms of Critical Conversation

Series:  Themes in Biblical Narrative, Volume: 25


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