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de:Opfer (Religion) fr:Sacrifice Sacrifice is 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.


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.
  • In the Hebrew Bible, God issues a number of commandments for Israelites to offer animal sacrifices in the portable sanctuary, known as the Tabernacle. Once the Israelites were settled in the land of Canaan, all sacrifices were ordered to be ended except those offered in the Temple in Jerusalem. In the Bible God asks for sacrifices as a sign of a covenant between himself and the Israelite 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]". Medieval Jewish rationalists like Maimonides reinterpreted the need for sacrifice. In this view, 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 were be 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.)

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

Animal sacrifice

is the ritual killing of an animal as part of a religion. It is practiced 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. Animal sacrifice is still practiced today by the followers of [[Santer�a]] as a means of curing the sick and giving thanks to the gods. It is appropriately termed animal offerings and account for extremely small portions of "ebbos", ritual activities that include offerings, prayer and deeds, in Santeria.

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 know, human sacrifices for religious reasons still exist today in a number of nations, including India.

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 [[Tenochtitl�n]] 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 [[Bl�t]].

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.

Many people in India are adherents of a religion called 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).

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

Christians believe that the death of Jesus Christ was a self-sacrifice for mankind's sins.

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, 11/29/2003

External links

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