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Child sacrifice is the ritualistic killing of children in order to please, propitiate or force a god or supernatural beings in order to achieve a desired result. As such, it is a form of human sacrifice. The practice has received considerable opposition throughout history, and it has often become a target for those engaged in criticism of religion. Child sacrifice is thought to be an extreme extension of the idea that, the more important the object of sacrifice, the more devout the person giving it up is.
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Note: Varies by jurisdiction
Note: Varies by jurisdiction
|By victim or victims|
Archeologists have found remains of 42 children. It is alleged that these remains were sacrificed to Tlaloc (and a few to Ehécatl, Quetzalcoatl and Huitzilopochtli) in the offerings of the Great Pyramid of Tenochtitlan by the Aztecs of pre-Columbian Mexico. Human sacrifice was an everyday activity in Tenochtitlan and children were not exempt. They, in particular, were offered to Tláloc, the god of rain. Bernardino de Sahagún, a religious man left writings that describe such sacrifices, compiled from the first hand accounts of natives who had lived in Tenochtitlan in the times before it fell. Hernán Cortés himself also mentioned child sacrifices in his letters to King Carlos I of Spain.
The Inca culture sacrificed children in a ritual called qhapaq hucha. Their frozen corpses have been discovered in the South American mountaintops. The first of these corpses, a female child who had died from a blow to the skull, was discovered in 1995 by Johan Reinhard. Other methods of sacrifice included strangulation and simply leaving the children, who had been given an intoxicating drink, to lose consciousness in the extreme cold and low-oxygen conditions of the mountaintop, and to die of hypothermia.
In Maya culture, people believed that supernatural beings had power over their lives and this is one reason that child sacrifice occurred. The sacrifices were essentially to satisfy the supernatural beings. This was done through k'ex, which is an exchange or substitution of something. Through k’ex infants would substitute more powerful humans. It was thought that supernatural beings would consume the souls of more powerful humans and infants were substituted in order to prevent that. Infants are believed to be good offerings because they have a close connection to the spirit world through liminality. It is also believed that parents in Maya culture would offer their children for sacrifice and depictions of this show that this was a very emotional time for the parents, but they would carry through because they thought the child would continue existing. It is also known that infant sacrifices occurred at certain times. Child sacrifice was preferred when there was a time of crisis and transitional times such as famine and drought.
There is archaeological evidence of infant sacrifice in tombs where the infant has been buried in urns or ceramic vessels. There have also been depictions of child sacrifice in art. Some art includes pottery and steles as well as references to infant sacrifice in mythology and art depictions of the mythology.
The Timoto-Cuicas offered human sacrifices. Until colonial times children sacrifice persisted secretly in Laguna de Urao (Mérida). It were described by the chronicler Juan de Castellanos, who cited that feasts and human sacrifices were done in honour of Icaque, an Andean prehispanic goddess.
References in the Tanakh point to an awareness of human sacrifice in the history of ancient Near Eastern practice. The king of Moab gives his firstborn son and heir as a whole burnt offering (olah, as used of the Temple sacrifice). In the book of the prophet Micah, the question is asked, 'Shall I give my firstborn for my sin, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?' (Micah 6:7), and responded to in the phrase, 'He has shown all you people what is good. And what does Yahweh require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.' (Micah 6:8) The Tanakh also implies that the Ammonites offered child sacrifices to Moloch.
In Leviticus 18:21, 20:3 and Deuteronomy 12:30-31, 18:10, the Torah contains a number of imprecations against and laws forbidding child sacrifice and human sacrifice in general. The Tanakh denounces human sacrifice as barbaric customs of Baal worshippers (e.g. Psalms 106:37). James Kugel argues that the Torah's specifically forbidding child sacrifice indicates that it happened in Israel as well. Mark S. Smith argues that the mention of "Topeth" in Isaiah 30:27–33 indicates an acceptance of child sacrifice in the early Jerusalem practices, to which the law in Leviticus 20:2–5 forbidding child sacrifice is a response. Some scholars have stated that at least some Israelites and Judahites believed child sacrifice was a legitimate religious practice.
Genesis 22 relates the binding of Isaac, in which God tests Abraham by asking him to present his son, Isaac, as a sacrifice on Mount Moriah. No reason is given within the text. Abraham agrees to this command without arguing. The story ends with an angel stopping Abraham at the last minute and making Isaac's sacrifice unnecessary by providing a ram, caught in some nearby bushes, to be sacrificed instead. Francesca Stavrakopoulou has speculated that it is possible that the story "contains traces of a tradition in which Abraham does sacrifice Isaac". Rabbi A.I. Kook, first Chief Rabbi of Israel, stressed that the climax of the story, commanding Abraham not to sacrifice Isaac, is the whole point: to put an end to the ritual of child sacrifice, which contradicts the morality of a perfect and giving (not taking) monotheistic God. According to Irving Greenberg the story of the binding of Isaac, symbolizes the prohibition to worship God by human sacrifices, at a time when human sacrifices were the norm worldwide.
In the Book of Judges, the figure of Jephthah makes a vow to God, saying, "If you give the Ammonites into my hands, whatever comes out of the door of my house to meet me when I return in triumph from the Ammonites will be the Lord’s, and I will sacrifice it as a burnt offering" (as worded in the New International Version). Jephthah succeeds in winning a victory, but when he returns to his home in Mizpah he sees his daughter, dancing to the sound of timbrels, outside. After allowing her two months preparation, Judges 11:39 states that Jephthah kept his vow. According to the commentators of the rabbinic Jewish tradition, Jepthah's daughter was not sacrificed, but was forbidden to marry and remained a spinster her entire life, fulfilling the vow that she would be devoted to the Lord. The 1st-century CE Jewish historian Flavius Josephus, however, understood this to mean that Jephthah burned his daughter on Yahweh's altar, whilst pseudo-Philo, late first century CE, wrote that Jephthah offered his daughter as a burnt offering because he could find no sage in Israel who would cancel his vow. In other words, this story of human sacrifice is not an order or requirement by God, but the punishment for those who vowed to sacrifice humans.
The birth of Jesus on route with his parents rushing back to Galilee indicates they wished to avoid giving birth in Phoenicia where the newborn's life would be at risk.
The story Herod killing all newborns indicates suspicion that he followed non-Jewish religious practices. (Salome demanding the head of John the Baptist is another indication.)
Neighbors criticized Carthage for their child sacrifice practices. Plutarch (ca. 46–120 AD), Tertullian, Orosius and Diodorus Siculus mention this practice however, Livy and Polybius do not. The ancestors of Carthage, Canaanites, were also mentioned performing child sacrifices in the Hebrew Bible and by some Israelites, at a place called the Tophet ("roasting place").
Some of these sources suggest that babies were roasted to death on a heated bronze statue. According to Diodorus Siculus, "There was in their city a bronze image of Cronus extending its hands, palms up and sloping toward the ground, so that each of the children when placed thereon rolled down and fell into a sort of gaping pit filled with fire."(Bib. Hist. 20.14.6)
Sites within Carthage and other Phoenician centers revealed the remains of infants and children in large numbers; some historians interpret this as evidence for frequent and prominent child sacrifice to the god Baal-hamon.
The accuracy of such stories is disputed by some modern historians and archaeologists. At Carthage, a large cemetery exists that combines the bodies of both very young children and small animals, and those who argue in favor of child sacrifice have argued that if the animals were sacrificed then so too were the children. However, recent archaeological work has produced a detailed breakdown of the age of the buried children and based on this, and especially on the presence of pre natal individuals - that is still births, it is also argued that this site is consistent with the burial of children who had died from natural causes in a society that had a high infant mortality rate - as Carthage is assumed to have been. I.e. this data supports the view that Tophets were cemeteries for those who died shortly before or after birth, regardless of the cause.
Greek, Roman and Israelite writers refer to Phoenician child sacrifice. However, some historians have disputed this interpretation, suggesting instead that these were resting places for children miscarried or who died in infancy. Skeptics suggest that the bodies of children found in Carthaginian and Phoenician cemeteries were merely the cremated remains of children that died naturally. Sergio Ribichini has argued that the Tophet was "a child necropolis designed to receive the remains of infants who had died prematurely of sickness or other natural causes, and who for this reason were "offered" to specific deities and buried in a place different from the one reserved for the ordinary dead". The few Carthaginian texts which have survived make absolutely no mention of child sacrifice, though most of them pertain to matters entirely unrelated to religion, such as the practice of agriculture.
According to Stager and Wolff, in 1984, there was a consensus among scholars that Carthaginian children were sacrificed by their parents, who would make a vow to kill the next child if the gods would grant them a favor: for instance that their shipment of goods were to arrive safely in a foreign port. They placed their children alive in the arms of a bronze statue of:
|“||the lady Tanit ... . The hands of the statue extended over a brazier into which the child fell once the flames had caused the limbs to contract and its mouth to open ... . The child was alive and conscious when burned ... Philo specified that the sacrificed child was best-loved.||”|
Later commentators have compared the accounts of child sacrifice in the Old Testament with similar ones from Greek and Latin sources speaking of the offering of children by fire as sacrifices in the Punic city of Carthage, which was a Phoenician colony. Cleitarchus in his "Scholia" of Plato's Republic mentions the practice:
|“||There stands in their midst a bronze statue of Kronos, its hands extended over a bronze brazier, the flames of which engulf the child. When the flames fall upon the body, the limbs contract and the open mouth seems almost to be laughing until the contracted body slips quietly into the brazier. Thus it is that the ‘grin’ is known as ‘sardonic laughter,’ since they die laughing.||”|
This reference also seems to clarify that the statue itself was not made to move by the flames, but rather the burnt and shriveled body of the victim was contorted by them.
Diodorus Siculus too references this practice:
|“||Himilcar, on seeing how the throng was beset with superstitious fear, first of all put a stop to the destruction of the monuments, and then he supplicated the gods after the custom of his people by sacrificing a young boy to Cronus and a multitude of cattle to Poseidon by drowning them in the sea[...] in former times they had been accustomed to sacrifice to this god the noblest of their sons, but more recently, secretly buying and nurturing children, they had sent these to the sacrifice||”|
Plutarch in De superstitione also mentions the practice in Carthage:
|“||they themselves offered up their own children, and those who had no children would buy little ones from poor people and cut their throats as if they were so many lambs or young bird||”|
Claims concerning Moloch and child sacrifice may also have been created for negative effect. The Romans and Israelites describe child sacrifice as a practice of their 'evil' enemies. Some scholars think that after the Romans finally defeated Carthage and totally destroyed the city, they engaged in post-war propaganda to make their archenemies seem cruel and less civilized. The topic of whether Phoenician child sacrifice was real or a myth continues to be discussed in academic circles, including the work of M'hamed Hassine Fantar 
The Ver Sacrum ("A Sacred Spring") was a custom by which a Greco-Roman city would devote and sacrifice everything born in the spring, whether animal or human, to a god, in order to relieve some calamity.
The murder of children for body parts with which to make muti, for purposes of witchcraft, still occurs in South Africa. Muti murders occur throughout South Africa, and especially in rural areas. Traditional healers or witch doctors often grind up body parts and combine them with roots, herbs, seawater, animal parts and other ingredients to prepare potions and spells for their clients.
In the early 21st century Uganda has experienced a revival of child sacrifice. In spite of government attempts to downplay the issue, an investigation by the BBC into human sacrifice in Uganda found that ritual killings of children are more common than Ugandan authorities admit. There are many indicators that politicians and politically connected wealthy businessmen are involved in sacrificing children in practice of traditional religion, which has become a commercial enterprise.
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