From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

Jump to: navigation, search

Sacrifice (from a Middle English verb meaning 'to make sacred', from Old French, from Latin sacrificium : sacer, sacred; sacred + facere, to make) is commonly known as the practice of offering food, or the lives of animals or people to the gods, as an act of propitiation or worship. The term is also used metaphorically to describe selfless good deeds for others.

Marcus Aurelius and members of the Imperial family offer sacrifice in gratitude for success against Germanic tribes: contemporary bas-relief, Capitoline Museum, Rome
Marcus Aurelius and members of the Imperial family offer sacrifice in gratitude for success against Germanic tribes: contemporary bas-relief, Capitoline Museum, Rome


Theologies of sacrifice

The theology of sacrifice remains an issue, not only for religions that continue to practice rituals of sacrifice, but also for those religions that have animal sacrifice in their scriptures, traditions, or histories, even if sacrifice is no longer made. Religions offer a number of reasons for why sacrifices are offered.

  • Gods need sacrifice to sustain themselves and their power, without which they are diminished.
  • Sacrificed goods are used to make a bargain with the god, who has promised some favour in return for the sacrifice.
  • The lives or blood of sacrificial victims contains mana or some other supernatural power whose offering pleases the god.
  • The sacrificial victim is offered as a scapegoat, a target for the wrath of a god, which otherwise would be visited on the followers.
  • Sacrifice deprives the followers of food and other useful commodities, and as such constitutes an ascetic discipline.
  • Sacrificed goods actually become part of a religious organisation's revenue; it is a part of the economic base of support that compensates priests and supports temples.
  • The sacrifice is actually a part of a festival and is ultimately consumed by the followers themselves; often this includes an element of redistribution where the poor get a larger share than they contributed.
  • The sacrifice may be a sign of a covenant between a god and His people.

Sacrifice in Judaism

See related article on Korban.

In Judaism, a sacrifice is known as a Korban from the Hebrew root karov meaning to "[come] Close [to God]".

The centrality of sacrifices in Judaism is clear, with much of the Bible, particularly the opening chapters of the book Leviticus, detailing the exact method of bringing sacrifices. Sacrifices were either bloody (animals) or unbloody (grain and wine). Bloody sacrifices were divided into holocausts (burnt offerings, in which the whole animal was burnt), guilt offerings (in which part was burnt and part left for the priest) and peace offerings (in which similarly only part of the animal was burnt). Yet the prophets point out that sacrifices are only a part of serving God, and need to be accompanied by inner morality and goodness.

After the destruction of the Second Temple, ritual sacrifice ceased. Maimonides, a medieval Jewish rationalist, argued that God always held sacrifice inferior to prayer and philosophical meditation. However, God understood that the Israelites were used to the animal sacrifices that the surrounding pagan tribes used as the primary way to commune with their gods. As such, in Maimonides' view, it was only natural that Israelites would believe that sacrifice was a necessary part of the relationship between God and man. Maimonides concludes that God's decision to allow sacrifices was a concession to human psychological limitations. It would have been too much to have expected the Israelites to leap from pagan worship to prayer and meditation in one step. In the Guide to the Perplexed he writes:

"But the custom which was in those days general among men, and the general mode of worship in which the Israelites were brought up consisted in sacrificing animals... It was in accordance with the wisdom and plan of God...that God did not command us to give up and to discontinue all these manners of service. For to obey such a commandment would have been contrary to the nature of man, who generally cleaves to that to which he is used; it would in those days have made the same impression as a prophet would make at present [the 12th Century ] if he called us to the service of God and told us in His name, that we should not pray to God nor fast, nor seek His help in time of trouble; that we should serve Him in thought, and not by any action." (Book III, Chapter 32. Translated by M. Friedlander, 1904, The Guide for the Perplexed, Dover Publications, 1956 edition.)

In contrast, many others such as Nachmanides (in his Torah commentary on Leviticus 1:9) disagreed, contending that sacrifices are an ideal in Judaism, completely central.

The teachings of the Torah and Tanakh reveal Judaism's abhorrence of human sacrifices.

Sacrifice in Islam

An animal sacrifice in Arabic is called Qurban. However this word has a pagan connotation. In the islamic context an animal sacrifice is usually referred to as Udhiyah meaning sacrifice. Udhiyah is offered only in Eid ul-Adha.

Animal sacrifice


Is the ritual killing of an animal as part of a religion. It is practised by many religions as a means of appeasing a god or gods or changing the course of nature. Animal sacrifice has turned up in almost all cultures, from the Hebrews to the Greeks and Romans and from the Aztecs to the Yoruba. However, the practise was a taboo among the Ancient Egyptians, and they tended to look down on cultures that practised this custom. Animal sacrifice is still practised today by the followers of Santería and other lineages of Orisa' If a worship as a means of curing the sick and giving thanks to the Orisa (Gods). It is appropriately termed animal offerings and account for extremely small portions of "ebos", ritual activities that include offerings, prayer and deeds, in Santeria. Some villages in Greece also sacrifice animals to Orthodox saints in a practise known as kourbània. This practise, while officially condemned, is tolerated for the benefits it provides to the church and the sense of community it engenders. In India, some semi-tribal Hindus, as well as some worshipper-communities of Shakti (the Mother Goddess) offer sacrifice of goats and buffaloes to the deity, but this practise is by and large quickly vanishing, being condemned by other broad-minded Hindus as superstitious and against the Hindu concepts of compassion and ahimsa. Among the Hindus of Nepal, animal sacrifices are common even today, not only for the mother goddess, but also for almost all deities of the Hindu pantheon. Possibly, the ancient Vedic religion of the Aryans involved animal sacrifice on some special occasions, but it soon disappeared due to the influence of Buddhism, Jainism and later reforms in Hinduism. Hindu way of slaughetring the animal may be a little more painless than the others, as it involves an immediate severing of the whole neck of the animal by one quick stroke of a sword or an axe (otherwise great calamities are superstitiously supposed to befall on the sacrificer), rather than slitting of the throat.

Human sacrifice

Human sacrifice was practiced by many ancient cultures. People would be ritually killed in a manner that was supposed to please or appease some god or spirit. While not widely known, human sacrifices for religious reasons still exist today in a number of nations.

Some occasions for human sacrifice found in multiple cultures on multiple continents include:

  • Human sacrifice to accompany the dedication of a new temple or bridge.
  • Sacrifice of people upon the death of a king, high priest or great leader; the sacrificed were supposed to serve or accompany the deceased leader in the next life.
  • Human sacrifice in times of natural disaster. Droughts, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions etc were seen as a sign of anger or displeasure by deities, and sacrifices were supposed to lessen the divine ire.

Some of the best known ancient human sacrifice was that practiced by various Pre-Columbian civilizations of Mesoamerica. The Aztec were particularly noted for practicing this on an unusually large scale; a human sacrifice would be made every day to aid the Sun in rising, the dedication of the great temple at Tenochtitlán was reportedly marked with the sacrificing of thousands, and there are multiple accounts of captured Conquistadores being sacrificed during the wars of the Spanish Conquest of Mexico.

In Scandinavia, the old Scandinavian religion contained human sacrifice and both the Norse sagas and German historians relate of this, see e.g. Temple at Uppsala and Blót.

There is evidence to suggest Pre-Hellenic Minoan cultures practised human sacrifice. Sacrificed corpses were found at a number of sites in the citadel of Knossos in Crete. One such find at the North house in Knossos numbered 337 bones of children who appear to have been butchered. It is possible they may have been for human consumption as was the tradition with sacrificial offerings made in Pre-Hellenic Civilization.The evidence that this practice was widespread throughout Minoan culture is not strong. It is also possible that the human sacrifices at Crete were one-off occurrences as Knossos did befall an epic tectonic natural disaster around the time at which these sites would have been preserved. Hence these human sacrifices could be explained in terms of the Minoans desperation in the situation and being far from routine procedures. The temple of Anemospilia at Knossos exemplifies this view. Here they found the sacrifice of a teenager which was interrupted by the temple collapsing on the participants due to the tectonic activity at the time. The myth of Theseus and the Minotaur (set in the labyrinth at Knossos) provides evidence that Human sacrifice was commonplace. In the myth we are told that Athens sent seven young men and seven young women to Crete as human sacrifices to the Minotaur. This ties up well with the archaeological evidence that most sacrifices were of young adults or children. This view contrasts with the Utopian view of the Minoans propagated by the archaeologist Arthur Evans.

Human sacrifice still happens today as an underground practice in some traditional religions, for example in muti killings. Human sacrifice is no longer officially condoned in any country, and these cases are regarded as murder.

Some people in India are adherents of a religious cult that westerners refer to as Tantrism; a small percent of unscrupulous Tantric practitioners engage in human sacrifice, often with the promise of inducing childbirth in a sterile couple (see Further Reading). Thankfully these superstitious practices are quickly disappearing. Human sacrifice has been completely absent at all times in mainstream Hinduism, and is severely condemned and seen with utmost horror by all mainstream Hindus. But the absence of any central dogma in Hinduism (as well as large illiteracy in India) has allowed some unscrouplous sideline cults to exist in India. Typically, the British had noted that a few Indian tribes like Maraya and Thugs practiced human sacrifice.

In the Aeneid by Virgil the character Sinon claims that he was going to be a human sacrifice to Poseidon to calm the seas (of course Sinon was lying).

Human sacrifice is a common theme in the religions and mythology of many cultures.

Sacrifice in Christianity

The concept of sacrifice is central to Christianity. In Christian teaching, God became man in Jesus Christ to accomplish the reconciliation of God and humanity, which had separated itself from God through sin (see the concept of original sin). God's perfect justice required atonement for sin from humanity if human beings were to be saved from damnation, but God knew limited human beings could not make sufficient atonement, for humanity's offence to God was infinite. So God, in his perfect mercy, himself became a man so as to pay the debt on behalf of humanity. Only God could make the infinite sacrifice; only a human being could offer it on behalf of humanity, hence only Jesus Christ, truly God and truly human, could offer the atoning sacrifice. This he did by his death on the Cross. Onthe cross, Jesus suffered infinitely, as only infinite God can, taking upon himself the eternal punishment for all sin and thus atoning humanity. This sacrifice replaced the insufficient animal sacrifice of the Old Covenant; Christ the "Lamb of God" replaced the lambs sacrificed at Passover in the Mosaic law. Christ's bodily resurrection three days after his crucifixion shows the efficacy of his sacrifice in freeing human beings from the chains of death.

In the Catholic Church, the Eastern Orthodox Church and the Oriental Orthodox Church, as well as among some High Church Anglicans, the Eucharist or Mass is seen as a sacrifice. It is however, not a separate or additional sacrifice to that Christ on the Cross; it is rather the exact same sacrifice, which trancends time and space ("the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world") (Rev. 13:8), renewed and made present. The complete identification of the Mass with the sacrifice of the Cross is found in Christ's words at the last supper over the bread and wine: "This is my body, which is given up for you", and "This is my blood of the new covenant, which is shed...unto the forgiveness of sins". The bread and wine, offered by Melchisidech in sacrifice in the old covenant (Genesis 14:18; Psalm 110;4), are transformed through the Mass into the body and blood of Christ (see transubstantiation), and the offering becomes one with that of Christ on the Cross. In the Mass as on the Cross, Christ is both priest (offering the sacrifice) and victim (the sacrifice he offers is himself), though in the Mass in the former capacity he works through a solely human priest who is joined to him thorugh the sacrament of Holy Orders and thus shares in Christ's priesthood. Through the Mass the merits of the one sacrifice of the Cross can be appled to the redemption of those present, to their specific intentions and prayers, and to the redemption of the souls in purgatory.

Also often found in Catholic and Orthodox Christianity is the idea of joining one's own sufferings to the sacrifice of Christ on the Cross. Thus one can 'offer up' involuntary suffering such as illness, or purposefully embrace suffering in acts of penance, such as fasting. Some Protestants criticise this as a denial of the all-sufficiency of Christ's sacrifice, but it finds support in St. Paul: "Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ's afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church" (Col 1:24). Pope John Paul II explained in his encyclical Salvifici Doloris: "In the Cross of Christ not only is the Redemption accomplished through suffering, but also human suffering itself has been redeemed...Every man has his own share in the Redemption. Each one is also called to share in that suffering through which the Redemption was accomplished...In bringing about the Redemption through suffering, Christ has also raised human suffering to the level of the Redemption. Thus each man, in his suffering, can also become a sharer in the redemptive suffering of Christ...The sufferings of Christ created the good of the world's redemption. This good in itself is inexhaustible and infinite. No man can add anything to it. But at the same time, in the mystery of the Church as his Body, Christ has in a sense opened his own redemptive suffering to all human suffering."

Some Protestants reject the idea of the Eucharist as a sacrifice, inclining to see it as merely a holy meal (even if they believe in a form of the real presence of Christ in the bread and wine, as Lutherans do). The Protestant tendency is to see the Sacrifice on the Cross as a definitely past event which did away for the need for any sacrifices or human priests ever again. In favour of this position is cited the letter to the Hebrews, the theme of which is the uselessness of the human priests of the old covenant and their regular sacrifices against Christ's 'one sacrifice for sins.' (The Catholic/Orthodox response is that the sacrifice of the Mass in the New Covenant is that one sacrifice for sins on the Cross which trancends time, as discussed above, and that Christ is the real priest at every mass working through mere human beings who share in his priesthood). Since the word 'priest' carries heavy connotations of 'an offerer of sacrifice', Protestants usually do not use it for their clergy. Evangelical Protestantism emphasises the importance of a decision to consciously, personally accept Christ's sacrifice on the Cross as atonement for one's individual sins if one is to be saved - this is known as 'accepting Christ as one's personal Lord and saviour.'

As opposed to both traditional Catholic/Orthodox and Evangelical Christianity, modern liberal Christianity has sometimes tended to lessen the focus on the sacrifice of the Cross. If one is uncomfortable with the idea of original sin, or with the idea that sin demands atonement or punishment, as some liberal Christians are, the theological significance of the sacrifice of the Cross is hard to comprehend. Thus liberal Christianity has tended to focus on Christ's life as moral teacher rather than on his death as sacrificial victim. Sometimes his death has been decoupled from the concept of atonement for sin and seen as primarily an identification of God with the victims of political and social injustice.

Sacrifice in games

Sacrifice is also used metaphorically to describe a number of plays in games. Sacrifices, in this sense, are plays that deliberately lose pieces or opportunities in order to obtain some other advantage.

In chess, a number of plays are described as sacrifices: these typically involve losing a piece or a pawn to disrupt the opponent's formation and open up an attack. Chess openings that involve sacrifices are usually called gambits by chess players; in these gambits, usually a pawn is deliberately lost; gambits that lose a piece are rare and risky. In baseball, a sacrifice fly is a play in which a batter deliberately allows himself to be called out so as to enable another player on base to score. Likewise, a sacrifice bunt in baseball is one in which a batter allows himself to be put out while advancing a team mate, usually to second, but sometimes to third base, from where he has a greater chance to score. Players who commit either a sacrifice fly or bunt are not charged with a "time at bat," thus the out that they sacrificed is not charged against their batting average. In Magic: The Gathering, "sacrifice" means to intentionally destroy one's own card, typically to produce some effect.

Sacrifice is also the name of a computer game released by Shiny entertainment in the year of 2000. For more information about the computer game, see Sacrifice (PC game).

See also

Further reading

  • Human Sacrifice: In History and Today Nigel Davies; Dorset Press, 1981 ISBN 0-88029-211-3
  • In India, case links mysticism, murder John Lancaster, Washington Post, 29 November 2003

External links

Personal tools