Animal Sacrificeby Rit Nosotro
Change Over Time essay
Discuss the pervasiveness of animal sacrifice across so many cultures and times. What might this indicate about the human condition? What might this practice have to do with the crucifixion of Christ?
As humanity spread across the globe, domesticated animals were used for sacrifice. Until recently, historically speaking, every tribe on earth offered sacrifices to their concept of deity. Where did this start and more importantly, why did this custom continue?
After the original sin, God provided animal skins to cover the shame of Adam and Eve. Blood was shed to cover their sin. Later, ".Abel brought fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock. " (Genesis 4:4). Animal sacrifice appears again when Noah sacrificed after the flood. Thus was set the tradition of killing an animal as an act of worship and an act of covering for sin. After God forced humanity to separate off the plains of Shinar with their various languages (Gen. 11), the idea of sacrifice spread. Settlements in the ancient flood plains of the Nile, Indus and Yellow River valleys produce isolated cultures that retained the idea of blood sacrifice. After leaving Mesopotamia, Abraham was called to sacrifice his only remaining son Isaac (after Ishmael had been sent away). At the last moment, God provided a ram to be sacrificed in place of Isaac. Isaac's descendants became Egyptian slaves for 400 years until Moses led them back to the land that had been promised to Abraham. There the Hebrews were told to destroy the horrific practice of Baal worship which demanded that infants be sacrificed on the red hot arms of the idol and others entombed alive in the foundations of homes. Although the Israelites sent their scapegoat into the desert or sacrificed upon their temple alter, they still knew that "to obey is better than sacrifice" when it comes to pleasing the Lord. As King David said, "the sacrifices of God are a broken and contrite heart". The Jews offered up burnt offerings to Yahweh up until the destruction of their temple in 70 AD.
The sacrifice of animals has occurred in nearly every religion around the world. 1 From Europe to Africa, from Asia to the Americas, every culture has practiced it. Most sacrifices were performed to appease angry deities or to ensure prosperity. Sacrifices were also used to predict the future. Why did this practice occur across the globe? What does it mean?
In Roman worship, animals were sacrificed and their entrails interpreted. The priests who did this were called Haruspices, and the interpretation, extispicium. The size, shape, and markings of the liver and gallbladder were all thought to be significant. If anything was missing or the interpretation was not favorable, a fresh animal would be slaughtered.2
Prior to colonialism in Africa, animal sacrifices were often part of an repentant or celebratory ritual. Africans sacrificed animals, mainly birds, and in many cases only their blood, to insure that their crops would prosper, that rain would come at the appropriate times, and to cause priests to go into trances and be possessed by spirits. The spirits, speaking through the priests, would then tell of the future. The animal sacrifices in Africa were also accompanied by wild dances and music. 3 Even today, for example, Santeria, an African-based religion combining voodoo and the worship of Roman-Catholic saints, calls for animal sacrifices as a marking for significant events, such as marriage, births, and deaths.
At the start of the 21st century there was a coalition of South African Catholic priests who criticised Catholic leaders who displayed a white colonial mentality that refused to give respect and blessing on native practices such as animal sacrifices. Archbishop Buti Tlhagale of Bloemfontein asserted that "Animal sacrifice has a special place in the scheme of things and is celebrated in almost all African families. We have kept it out of God's Church for too long." He goes on to suggest that the blood of the slain animal--be it goat, chicken, sheep or cow--be presented during the Mass as "a gift to the ancestors, not to God." Ancestor worship as is seen by the archbishop, is merely the native equivalent of the Catholic practice of honoring its canonized saints. (Hyland, HUMANE RELIGION, 2000, http://www.all-creatures.org/hr/hra.htm)
As previously mentioned, the Israelites in the Middle East and Asia frequently offered sacrifices to God. They did so because their God, the one and only true God, commanded it in his Word. The Israelites offered some sacrifices daily and others at certain other stated time of the year. They were a sign of the perfect sacrifice, Jesus Christ, the only son of God, who was to come. 4
In Meso-America the Aztec religion was developed to require human sacrifice in order to please the gods. They believed that if their gods did not have blood to eat, they would die and the universe would be destroyed. Although they believed that the eventual destruction of the universe was inevitable, by sacrificing blood, they would postpone it.5 Cannibalism was practiced as part of the Aztec ceremony in the belief that the life force could be consumed. While not as violent, human sacrifice was also practiced by pre-Incan tribes of the Andes and ancient Celts of Northern Europe.
The pervasiveness of sacrifice seems to indicate that all people realize that there is a God, that he hates sin, and that some sacrifice is necessary to avert his wrath. This is because the law of God is written on every heart. "Which shew the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and [their] thoughts the mean while accusing or else excusing one another;)." Romans 2:15, KJV. 6 However, most people do not recognize that there is only one God, and that animals cannot take away sin.
Because animals cannot take away sin, and because God chose to save some people, to bring them out of an estate of sin and misery and into salvation by a redeemer,7 God had to send a Savior. This Savior was his only son, Jesus Christ, who lived perfectly, died, and rose again from the dead. Without him, no one can go to heaven.
It would seem, then, that the pervasiveness of animal sacrifice is due to the fact that all people know that there is a God who hates sin. Condemned by their own consciences, they try through sacrifices to atone for their many sins. The human race has often felt the need for animal sacrifice as a "trade" for sins. By the sacrifice of their best animals that they had raised or purchased, they showed God that they really loved, or feared him. The intimate connection between one's hand on the knife, on the throat, in the blood, made the act a death for life experience.
Biblical Christianity instructs followers to "present your bodies as a living sacrifice which is holy and acceptable". Christians are encouraged to offer worship as "a sacrifice of praise". They are enabled to approach the throne of God not because some priest slaughtered a lamb, but because the holy and undefiled Jesus "offered up himself" once and for all, according to the book of Hebrews. When Jesus Christ had sacrificed himself on the cross for the sins of the whole world, "..he had cried again with a loud voice, yielded up the ghost. And, behold, the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom; and the earth did quake" (Matthew 27:50,51). The opening of the temple veil was to signify that animal sacrifices are no longer needed to approach God in faith that Jesus Christ had paid the death penalty for sin. There is no need to make sacrifices in exchange for the forgiveness of sins. The only thing needed for forgiveness is to "believe in the name of Jesus, for there is no other name whereby we must be saved."
1. “Animal Sacrifice.” Wikipedia. 23 Jan. 2004.
2. “Extispicium.” About.com. 23 Jan. 2004. <http://ancienthistory.about.com/library/bl/bl_extispicium.htm?terms=animal+sacrifice+history>
3. “African Religions and Their Derivatives.” Porch-nus. 23 Jan.
4. Roberts, Shay Yates. “The Pre-Columbian Age.” Sacrificial Blood
2.1: The Rise of the High Native Empires. 23 Jan. 2004
5. “Romans 2.” Blue Letter Bible. 24 Jan. 2004
6. “Westminster Shorter Catechism Question 20.” Center for Reformed
theology and Apologetics. 24 Jan. 2004
“Leviticus.” Blue Letter Bible. 24 Jan. 2004
Francione , Gary L.. "Santeria and Animal Sacrifice." Animal Rights Law 18
Jan. 2004 <http://www.animal-law.org/sacrifice/sacrfc.htm>
"Human Sacrifice." Bible History 18 Jan. 2004 <http://www.bible-history.com/backd2/human_sacrifice.html>
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