Child Sacrifice in Judaism
H. Abdul Al-Dahir
There has been research as to why the Temple Mount had no stone structures that pre-date the Persian period. The Temple Mount or Mount Moriah is a limestone outcrop under which is a cave now named the Well of souls. According to Genesis, Abraham brought Isaac to this spot, bound him hand and foot, and attempted to offer him as a burnt sacrifice or tophet. This indicates that Mount Moriah was one huge natural altar for sacrifice. Ex 20:25 forbids the construction of altars from hewn stones. It seems that Abraham was not the only member of his clan to practice human sacrifice. According to Genesis 22:20-24, his brother, Nahor, sacrificed his children by his concubine Reumah. We can deduce this fact from their names:
20 Now it came about after these things, that it was told Abraham, saying, “Behold, Milcah [j]also has borne children to your brother Nahor: 21 Uz his firstborn and Buz his brother and Kemuel the father of Aram 22 and Chesed and Hazo and Pildash and Jidlaph and Bethuel.” 23 Bethuel [k]became the father of Rebekah; these eight Milcah bore to Nahor, Abraham’s brother. 24 His concubine, whose name was Reumah, [l]also bore Tebah and Gaham and Tahash and Maacah.
Tebah means slaughter, Gaham means burning, Tahash means skin (flayed?) and Maacah means to pierce, to emasculate, to bruise, to stick. So, there a number of ways the Judeans sacrificed their children, slaugthering (slitting the carotid arteries), flaying, removal of the testicles and burning. That the Judeans were indulging in child sacrifice is discussed in the Wiki article entitled Tophet:
The Valley of Hinnom was used as a place for worshipers in Canaan to burn their own children alive as sacrifices to the gods Moloch and Baal. One section of the Hinnom Valley was called Topheth (also spelled Tophet or Topeth), where the children were slaughtered (2 Kings 23:10). The name Topheth is derived from either, or both, the Hebrew word toph, meaning a drum, because the cries of children being sacrificed by the priests of Moloch were masked by the sound of the beating on drums or tambourines; or from taph or toph, meaning to burn.
The term is spelled Topheth in most English bibles. However, it appears in versions such as the King James and New King James as “Tophet”.
The following references are made in the Hebrew Bible. In Jeremiah 7:31-34 Yahweh states his contempt for child sacrifices.
They have built the high places of Topheth, which is in the valley of the son of Hinnom, to burn their sons and their daughters in the fire; which I didn’t command, nor did it come into my mind. Therefore, behold, the days come, says Yahweh, that it shall no more be called Topheth, nor The valley of the son of Hinnom, but The valley of Slaughter: for they shall bury in Topheth, until there be no place [to bury]. The dead bodies of this people shall be food for the birds of the sky, and for the animals of the earth; and none shall frighten them away. Then will I cause to cease from the cities of Judah, and from the streets of Jerusalem, the voice of mirth and the voice of gladness, the voice of the bridegroom and the voice of the bride; for the land shall become a waste.
The practice of burning children in Topheth was ended by Josiah, King of Judah, who “defiled Topheth” as part of his great religious reforms (2Kings 23:10). Topheth is mentioned elsewhere in the Old Testament:Jeremiah 7:31-32 Jeremiah 19:6, Jeremiah 19:11-14, and Isaiah 30:33.
From the above research, one can conclude that the Judean high holy place was a natural altar where high-born children like Isaac were sacrificed. After their blood was collected in a vessel so as not to taint the altar, which was daubed with a token amount of the sacrificial blood, the bodies of the children were burnt and their ashes must have been scattered as there are few ancient graves of these sacrificed youngsters in the Valley of Hinnom. Or the children could have been sacrificed on this spot and then burned in the Valley of Hinnom. This would have kept the altar clean of burnt residue and reduced the need for grave sites. In any case, the fact that this natural outcrop was viewed as Yhwh’s natural altar explains why a tent shrine would have shrouded the altar and not a stone temple. The conclusion is that if one were to dig into the fill and retaining walls that surround this ancient Judean sacrificial altar, one would find no artifact that would pre-date the Persian period. The retaining wall and the fill only date to the time of Herod the Great who expanded the Persian financed ‘2nd’ temple, which, if one discounts the tent shrine as a structure, should be named the First Temple. Underneath the fill is a limestone mountain or rock.
Note Bene: Worshipers in Canaan included Israelites and Judeans. From the Biblical narratives of Abraham and Lot, the Judeans worshiped Yhwh with child sacrifice. The names of the matriarch and her sacrificial children all derive from Akkadian words:
Reumah – Akkadian name: riamu: shepherdess,
Tebah – Akk name: ?ab??u : to slaughter (animals, humans) , to butcher , to cut up , to massacre
Gaham – Akk name: ?am??u 1) fire : to burn / to burn up
Tahash/Thahash – Akk name: ?a??tu (dhahatu): to squeeze, to put pressure on , to oppress or du??usu : to oppress
Maacah – Akk name: ma???u : to beat ; to wound , to stab ; to slaughter Š. to cause to beat Št. to let o.s. be beaten N. to be beaten ; to be wounded ; to be slaughtered or mak??u: slaughter-bench
The Hebrew word ‘topheth’ is derived from the Egyptian word for sacrifice or safet S29-I9-X1-T30-E100B. The hieroglyphic determinative E100B is a recumbent sheep which is ready for slaughter. This image is reflected in Gen 22:13 where Abraham offers a sheep in place of his son.