A God Driven by Blood and Death: Human Sacrifice and the Slaughter of Christ

(I wish to thank Robert B for listing all the many references to human sacrifice in the Old Testament / Hebrew Bible as he did in an earlier comment to a post. Great work Robert! However, for time’s sake, I have limited my study mainly to the books of Genesis and Joshua.)

I. The Primitive Epic

A. Yahweh Battles the Gods of Nature and the Hymn of His Annual Enthronement in the Temple as Warrior-King

A description of one of the ancient annual fall enthronement is found in the Hebrew poem of Psalm 24: 7 -10:

Lift up your heads, O Gates, And be lifted up, O ancient doors!

That the King of glory may come in!
Who is the King of Glory?
Yahweh strong and mighty,
Yahweh mighty in battle.

Lift up your heads, O Gates,
And lift them up, O ancient doors,
That the King of glory may come in!
Who is this King of glory?
Yahweh of Heaven, He is the King of Glory.

(Note: since the Hebrew “יהוה” is rendered into English as “the Lord”, I have used the personal name of the deity “Yahweh” instead. The problem of equating Yahweh with the universal theistic term θεός / God in the New Testament is a major problem I plan to address on a future post.)

One of the best Sitz im Leben of this ancient poem is given by Frank Cross:

“We may see reflected in this liturgy the reenactment of the victory of Yahweh in the primordial battle and his enthronement in the divine council or, better, in his newly built (cosmic) temple.
Such an interpretation assumes a Canaanite myth-and-ritual pattern standing behind the Israelite rite reflected in the psalm. Yamm, deified Sea, claimed kingship among the gods. The council of the gods assembled and, told of Yamm’s intentions to size the kingship and take Ba’l captive, made no protest. They were cowed and despairing, sitting with heads bowed to their knees. Ba’l rases and rebukes the divine assembly, and goes forth to war. In the (cosmogonic) battle he is victorious, and he returns to take up kingship (CTA 2 & 4). Presumably he returned to the assembled gods and appeared in glory, and the divine assembly rejoiced. In a later text (CTA 4) Ba’l’s temple, symbolic of his new sovereignty, is completed, and the gods sit at banquet celebrating. Ba’l is king.
Similarly, in Tablet VI of the Babylonian Creation Epic, Marduk, after battling the primordial ocean, Tiamat, and creating the universe out of her carcass, receives from the gods a newly constructed temple where the gods sit at banquet celebrating his kingship. The Babylonian account of creation in the Enuma elis is not too remote a parallel since there is some evidence, collected by Thorkild Jacobsen (The Battle Between Marduk and Tiamat” JAOS, 88 (1968), 104 - 108) that the battle with the dragon Ocean is West Semitic in origin.” The Divine Warrior” in Canaanite Myth and Hebrew Epic: Essays in the History of the Religion of Israel by Frank M. Cross (Harvard University Press,1973) p.93.

B. The Warrior-King Yahweh and his Chosen People: The Israelites

Let me begin by stating that of all the ancient Near Eastern texts which we have translated today, the Hebrew god Yahweh is the only deity that keeps a “chosen” race alive so he can lead them and slaughter them as his bi-polar mental state changes a from manic חסד (hesed or loving kindness) to one of depression and rage such a expressed in Numbers 11: 1:

“Now the people became like those who complain of adversity in the hearing of Yahweh; and when Yahweh heard it, His anger was kindled, and the fire of Yahweh burned among them and consumed some of the outskirts of the camp.”

This characterization of Yahweh is derived from the nose of a snorting and raging bull. Once Yahweh changes into this murderous deity, Moses must try and reason with him; even offering himself to be consumed as an atonement for sin:

“Now Moses heard the people weeping throughout their families, each man at the doorway of his tent; and the anger of Yahweh was kindled greatly, and Moses was displeased. …So if You are going to deal thus with me, please kill me at once, if I have found favor in Your sight, and do not let me see my wretchedness." (Numbers 11: 10 & 15).

The rage Yahweh can become so great that his consuming thirst for blood and death must be satisfied and, once again, we find this god raging like a bull with a flaming nose from his fierce anger:

“Yahweh said to Moses, ‘Take all the leaders of the people and execute them in broad daylight before Yahweh, so that the fierce anger of Yahweh may turn away from Israel.’" (Numbers 25: 4)

Yahweh is pictured as an unstable and very abusive adult who just can not understand the short comings of his children and, if this god not controlled or at least reasoned with, he can slaughter the entire human race (women, children, the unborn, along with animals which have none nothing in the way of “sin” as in the flood story (Genesis 8 - 9). Thus, animals and humans are viewed often as equal which carry life in the early accounts of “J” as both can be blamed and both can be sacrificed to stave off Yahweh’s craving for blood and life. (For example, an animal forced into an act of sex with an Israelite must be killed along with the human as Yahweh considers both defiled with sexual sin (Leviticus 20: 15 - 16). Revealed here is the fact that, just as in the story of the “Fall from Eden” with a curse placed on the serpent and the slaughter of all the animals / humans for being evil (Genesis 6: 5 - 7), so too are humans and animals, considered flesh and blood that can be sacrifice to satisfy Yahweh anger as well as his need to feed on the smoke of the burning flesh.)

II. Beginning the Demand for Human Sacrifice: The Story of Cain and Able in the Yahwistic or “J” Account.

With the creation stories of Genesis 1 and 2 in place and the expulsion of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden, the “J” account uses one verse (Genesis 4:1) to tie the lineage of the first humans couple to a section of theology on sacrifice which is more important in the editor’s thinking than how the earth got populated. In fact the epic moves so fast towards the cultic ritual of sacrifice that no sooner is the reader introduced to Eve giving birth, then these two men are now mature adults who, for the first time in Hebrew history, have a presumed knowledge of the Jewish sacrificial system and the theology of the Torah as to why it must be done.

For the general reader in the synagogue or church today, he or she is totally caught off guard by trying to maintain Genesis 3 with the expansion of the population of the earth after the man (Adam) and woman (Eve) are totally alone in the newly created earth / “the land” “הארץ ”, after they are expelled. (see: Richard Hess, “Splitting the Adam: The Usage of Adam in Genesis I - V,” in Studies in the Pentateuch, edited by J. A. Emerton (E.J. Brill, 1990) pp.1-15)

The religious reader of the early Genesis account who believes that Genesis contains the absolute truth on the earth creation and population has often asked: “Where did Cain get his wife?” or “Where did the other people come from who Cain claimed would try to kill him?”

The answer to his problem is that this section of text has nothing to do with the Toledo / generations of the earth by Adam and Eve, their children or their future generations, but is a section dealing with the first and proper way to sacrifice to God. It also tells the religious reader what the diety really wants and, if given it, that a Covenant of protection will be extended to those persons who do give Yahweh (God) blood and the life that is sustained by it in its death.

Although Adam is cursed to be only a tiller of the ground (Genesis 3:17 - 19) Able is introduced as an experienced herdsman who anachronistically offers “the first and best of his flock and their fat portions” (Gen. 4:4) as, again required by the latter Torah. Though both Cain (The Law of First Fruits: Ex. 23:16, 19; 34: 22, 26 Numbers 13:20) and Able bring God their sacrifices as proscribed in in the law of sacrifice (Numbers 18:17) Yahweh chooses the one that requires the taking of life whose fat is to be burnt to fed him on his throne in Heaven via the smoke.

Since the text Abel brought an animal and Cain brought his grain to sacrifice as proscribed under the Law, the Jewish reader, for whom this story was written, would be very familiar with both the law regarding grain and animal sacrifice. However, what is important here to the Priestly writer is that Yahweh chooses Abel’s offering over Cain’s in that the young animal’s blood which carries its life along with its fat portions can be burnt as a “sweet smell to Yahweh”. The choice of animal sacrifice over grain goes back to the time of hunters and gathers when the “Hebrews” lived in the highlands of Canaan in contrast to the rich and more advanced, but sedately agricultural life of the Canaanites along the coast.

To get the odious smell of cooking meat that rise up toward “the sky” הַשָּׁמַיִם
Hasmyrime where the gods along with Israel‘s Yahweh lived; two demands were needed to accomplish this:
A. Slaughtering / killing of the animal.
B. Burning of its body parts or fat meat so Yahweh can smell it as the heat of the fire carries the smoke upward to where the warrior deity or Yahweh sit on his throne and can now feed on the burnt flesh. (This sacrifice ritual is highly important in the Priestly redaction in Genesis 8: 21; Exodus 29: 18, 25; Lev. 1: 9, 13 ,17, 2: 2 ,9, 12, 3: 5, 16, 4:31, 6: 15, 21, 8:21, 8: 28, 17: 6, 23: 13, 18, 26: 31; Numbers 15: 3,7, 10, 13, 14, 24,18: 17, 28: 2, 6, 8, 13, 24, 27, 28: 27, 29: 2,6, 8, 13 Ezekiel 6: 13, 16: 19, 20: 28, 41. It is repeated again and again so there is no question as to how to get the sweet odor to Yahweh, the slaughtered meat must be burnt to put it into a form Yahweh himself could enjoy.)

Since Abel’s sacrifice deals with blood and death, Yahweh chooses it over the grain offering of Cain. Thus, it is in anger (Gen. 4:6) that Cain kills Abel, but (as noted above) the epic story with its set Laws / Torah regarding sacrifice are anachronistically applied as a teaching tool for latter Jews to this primitive history of the of the first people.

Even though Abel’s murder is also anachronistically known to be against the Mosaic Torah (Exodus 20: 13), Yahweh is only put out by the fact that Cain’s blood is wasted on the ground (Gen. 4: 10 & 11. While the blood of some murdered people “cry out from the ground” (Job 16: 18), the problem here is that Abel’s blood spilt on the ground away from Yahweh’s alter (see: J. Milgrom, “Sacrifices and Offering in the Old Testament” in The Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible: Supplementary Volume (edited by K. Crim, Abingdon Press 1976) pp. 763 - 771). The fact that Abel’s life is understood as simply equal to that of an animal sacrificed away from the altar is the reason that Yahweh is upset. (This point is noted in a related code by the Priestly editor as stated by W.W. Hallo: “Under the Levitical dispensation, animal slaughter “Except at the authorized altar” is murder”. The animal too has life (older version: “a soul”). its vengeance is to be feared, its blood must be “covered” or explained by bringing it to the altar.” (William W. Hallo, “The Origins of the Sacrificial Cult: New Evidence from Mesopotamia and Israel,” in Ancient Israelite Religion: Essays in Honor of Frank M. Cross (edited by P. Miller, P. Hanson and S.D. McBride Fortress Press, 1987) pp. 3-13)

This story of the first sacrifice ends when Cain kills his brother Abel by the shedding of blood. Yahweh then both curses and protects him at the same time. In the end, Yahweh / God got what he needed and wanted; the slaughter of life by draining its blood done twice. Yahweh’s protection for Cain is given by the use of the ancient Near Eastern divine number “7” which is a common magical and religious number in Semitic text such as those, not only from Ugarit, but text written in Akkadian. (see: Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament, 3 edition, edited by J.B Pritchard (Princeton University Press, 1969). Biblical numbers of 3, 6, 7, 40, 70 are understood as divine number that not only influenced the Gospels and Revelation, but by even Jesus himself!) This numerology is amplified more so in Genesis 4: 24 when Lamech cries out:

“If Cain is avenged sevenfold, Then Lamech seventy-sevenfold.”

In summary, what we have depicted in Genesis 4 is an epic tale projected back in time, about NOT how the second generation of descendants of Adam and Eve populated the earth, but why the slaughter of life and the draining of its blood is more pleasing to Yahweh then the sedentary fruits agriculture. As characteristic with the general Hebrew sacrifice (where the animal is killed and the blood drained before it is burnt) Abel’s animal sacrifice, along with its “fat portions” is simply regarded by Yahweh in the text by וַיִּשַׁע which the LXX renders as “και επειδεν” but the meaning is not clear. The LXX makes it plain that Cain’s sacrifice was not on the same level a Abel’s by “ου προσεσχεν”. Thus, Cain is cursed to leave the sedentary life which had just been cursed on Adam by Yahweh himself (Gen. 3: 17 - 19). Cain then takes on the wandering life of a herdsman that can then supply the sacrifices of animals whose blood and flesh are more pleasing to Yahweh.

This story tells us why Yahweh demands life; be it animal (as in the case of Abel’s offering or the killing of Abel as done by the agrarian Cain). Also, that its acceptance by Yahweh is revealed with a cultic divine mark of protection on Cain. The section ends with two deaths (both animal and human) with the ancient deity pleased with both. (The problem of these sacrificial offerings not being burnt is a challenge the Yahwist (J) in that he / she could not fit into the story of fire to burn the sacrifices with since he did not even know or how to anachronously inserted a concept like the stealing of fire as the Greeks did with Prometheus (See both works by the late C.H. Gordon: The Common Background of Greek and Hebrew Civilizations (New York, 1965) and his Homer and Bible: The Origin and Character of East Mediterranean Literature (New Jersey, 1967). This is brought up to date by the master of ancient Greek religion; Walter Burkett: Creation of the Sacred: Tracks of Biology in Early Religions (Harvard University Press, 1998) where both humans and animals function in the role of sacrifice to the Gods to remove the guilt of sin.

III. Empirical Texts Telling of the Wars of Yahweh and the Slaughter of Men, Women and Children (as animals) to Satisfy Yahweh (God’s) Craving for Blood and Life

Apart from the Tetratuch, the book of Joshua forms one of six sections of the Deuteronomistic History (Joshua - Kings) that conveys the epic story of Israel. The redactor of the epic in Joshua wanted to portray the Israelites as having destroyed completely all the inhabitants of Canaan(contra to that of the text of Judges which has the inhabitants of Canaan living within the land along side the Israelites) in a massive sweep under the divine concept of Holy War / Divine Warrior (Modern terms given to the context where Yahweh Himself leads the Israelite armies into battle during Holy War. of the LORD (Yahweh):

"It shall be, when you hear the sound of marching in the tops of the balsam trees, then you shall act promptly, for then the LORD (Yahweh) will have gone out before you to strike the army of the Philistines." (2 Samuel 5: 24) (An excellent discussion of this concept can be found in Frank M. Cross: Canaanite Myth and Hebrew Epic: Essays in the History of the Religion of Israel. See the chapter on “The Divine Warrior“, pp. 91 - 111 and P.D. Miller, The Divine Warrior in Early Israel, (Harvard Semitic Monographs V, 1970).

As Divine or Holy Warriors, the Israelite men would ready themselves for war by consecration in reframing from sex and not cutting their hair (Judges 5:2 plus the figure of the Nazirite Holy warrior: Samson) which is record in the ancient poetic text of Judges 5 or what scholars call “The Song of Deborah”.

This is again reiterated in 2 Samuel 11: 6-14 in the story of King David and Uriah when Joab brings Uriah home to sleep with Bathsheba to cover up David’s sexual sin. But as a dedicated Holy Warrior, Uriah refused sex (2 Samuel 11: 11). Although Nathan foretells David of his coming crisis 2 Sam. 12 1-15, the section ends when Yahweh kills the innocent child of David and Bathsheba as a crude sacrifice for sin. (However, once the first child slaughter is accepted as the atonement for David’s sin, Yahweh can then bless them with a second child who will became famous: Solomon (vs.24)). I have used the term “slaughter” in the context that David’s first born, just like in the epic context when Yahweh himself slaughters the first born of both the Egyptian’s children and animals in the covenant of Passover to be taught as a sign for all future Israel:

“For the LORD will pass through to smite the Egyptians; and when He sees the blood on the lintel and on the two doorposts, the LORD will pass over the door and will not allow the destroyer to come in to your houses to smite you. When you enter the land which the LORD will give you, as He has promised, you shall observe this rite. And when your children say to you, 'What does this rite mean to you?' you shall say, 'It is a Passover sacrifice to the LORD who passed over the houses of the sons of Israel in Egypt when He smote the Egyptians, but spared our homes.'" And the people bowed low and worshiped.” (Exodus 12: 23 - 27).

The above elements are brought together in the epic tale of the fall of Jericho where both the concepts of Holy War and the Divine Warrior are incorporated with the common ancient Near Eastern magical number seven:

“Also seven priests shall carry seven trumpets of rams' horns before the ark; then on the seventh day you shall march around the city seven times, and the priests shall blow the trumpets. "It shall be that when they make a long blast with the ram's horn, and when you hear the sound of the trumpet, all the people shall shout with a great shout; and the wall of the city will fall down flat, and the people will go up every man straight ahead.” (Joshua 6: 4 - 5).

With the city wall destroyed, the human slaughter of all the men women and children along with their animals could begin under the ancient concept of Holy War where Yahweh, as the leading Warrior-King deity of the Israelite army, demands all the booty of the city from the death of all living things to its gold, silver, bronze and iron as his portion of the הרס or “harem” or the BAN.

“They utterly destroyed everything in the city, both man and woman, young and old, and ox and sheep and donkey, with the edge of the sword…They burned the city with fire, and all that was in it. Only the silver and gold, and articles of bronze and iron, they put into the treasury of the house of the LORD. (Joshua 6: 21 & 24)

{Word study: שָׂרַף as used in this context is associated with בָּאֵשׁ as the text reads
“שָׂרַף בָּאֵשׁ” or “to burn with fire”. This is a cognate of the Akkadian ina isati sarapu “to destroy by fire” as in relation to burning figurines in magic rituals.

The word שָׂרַף as used in this study is associated in the Priestly work of Leviticus in the burning of animal sacrifices (see also Numbers 17:4, Judges 7: 31, 19: 5 and 2 Kings 17:31). However, most importantly, פרש is used in the Hebrew Bible in the context of children burnt to the gods: Duet. 12: 31, Jeremiah 7: 31, 19: 5, and 2 Kings 17: 31.

Thus, all life, both human and animal life of the city of Jericho, is ritualistically slaughtered and then Yahweh can feast on the smoke from the blood and bodies of the victims, the city is “שָׂרַף בָּאֵש” or burnt with fire.}

The cultic magical elements flow full and free in Joshua 6 - 7. But the victory is short lived due to hidden sin! Unknown to Joshua, Yahweh is denied his full booty; not the precious lives of the non-combatant: All the innocent women, children, babies, the unborn and animals (which Yahweh again equates the innocent human life), but Yahweh greed is for the material metal wealth; that is the gold, silver, bronze and iron that could be used in his tabernacle. (In the book of Jonah, after Jonah preaches in Nineveh, Jonah 4:11 tells us that both humans and animal repented.)

With the murder of all life in Jericho completed and the everything burnt to Yahweh (Notice that the cultic proper killing of life of both humans and animal in Jericho means that their blood must be drained. Thus Joshua 6: 21 makes it a point to tell the Jewish reader of this epic that death was to be by “the edge of the sword” before the ritual / sacrificial burning 6: 24 could take place.)

To seal the future fate of the city, an divine curse is placed on anyone who tries to rebuild it:

“Then Joshua made them take an oath at that time, saying, "Cursed before the LORD is the man who rises up and builds this city Jericho; with the loss of his firstborn he shall lay its foundation, and with the loss of his youngest son he shall set up its gates." (Joshua 6:26). (again, the curse here is much like we find in such major This is like many general ancient Near Eastern Akkadian texts such as the epilogue to the Code of Hammurabi. Thus, Yahweh’s curse in verse 26 has set the stage for the slaughter of Achan and all that belonged to him.

Since Yahweh was denied his booty of gold and silver, Yahweh must take his vengeance out on the 3,000 Israelites by not marching into Holy War against Ai:

“So about three thousand men from the people went up there, but they fled from the men of Ai. The men of Ai struck down about thirty-six of their men, and pursued them from the gate as far as Shebarim and struck them down on the descent, so the hearts of the people melted and became as water.” (Joshua 7: 4-5)

The reason given to Joshua is that “Israel has sinned” by taking Yahweh’s gold and sliver:

"Israel has sinned, and they have also transgressed My covenant which I commanded them. And they have even taken some of the things under the ban and have both stolen and deceived. Moreover, they have also put them among their own things.” (Joshua 7: 11) Thus, all of Israel must consecrate themselves to be made holy (as in a divine ritual for Holy Warriors and priests):

“ 'It shall be that the one who is taken with the things under the ban (harem) shall be burned with fire, he and all that belongs to him, because he has transgressed the covenant of the LORD, and because he has committed a disgraceful thing in Israel.'" (Joshua 7: 15).

Since Yahweh was cheated out of his gold and silver, human slaughter must sacrificially be feed to Yahweh to quench his hunger for blood and life:

“Joshua said, "Why have you troubled us? The LORD will trouble you this day." And all Israel stoned them with stones; and they burned them with fire after they had stoned them with stones.” (Joshua 7: 25)

Again, the slaughter of men, women, children, babies along with the unborn are an atonement for the original booty of gold and silver God was denied. As such, Achan’s whole extended family is sacrificed by stoning (death caused by blunt force trauma
associated with both external and internal bleeding) then, just like Jericho, the slaughtered families are sacrificed to Yahweh to feed on by fire and its smoke.

To mark the spot as holy, an altar built of stones was set up there to honor Yahweh:

“They raised over him a great heap of stones that stands to this day, and the LORD turned from the fierceness of His anger. Therefore the name of that place has been called the valley of Achor to this day.” (Joshua 7: 26)

With Yahweh’s hunger for human blood and flesh satisfied, he again marches with the Israelites into Holy War; this time against Ai. But, unlike before, Joshua cuts a deal with Yahweh to make up for their defeat the first time by Achan’s hidden sin. Thus, Israel will get to keep all the “spoils and its cattle” (8: 2), but again, all the human life of 12,000 souls must be sacrificially killed and burnt to Yahweh:

“…then all Israel returned to Ai and struck it with the edge of the sword. All who fell that day, both men and women, were 12,000-- all the people of Ai. For Joshua did not withdraw his hand with which he stretched out the javelin until he had utterly destroyed all the inhabitants of Ai. … So Joshua burned Ai and made it a heap forever, a desolation until this day.” (Joshua 8:24c - 26 and 28)

III. The Slaughter of Christ

To keep this post from futher excessive length, I’ve listed some of the reasons that Jesus, as the Christ, fails to qualify as a true sacrificial offering. To get Jesus to a point where he can be both a human sacrifice and a retuning Warrior-King; the term Messiah had to be totally degraded. It‘s little wonder St. Paul states:

“For the message about the cross is nonsense to those who are being destroyed, but it is God's power to us who are being saved. … For since, in the wisdom of God, the world through its wisdom did not know God, God was pleased to save those who believe through the nonsense of our preaching.” (1 Corth. 1: 18 & 21)

A. The Roman method of crucifixion, which included the beating before Jesus was nailed to the cross, was done by pagan gentile men who were neither consecrated as holy in God’s sight, nor was Jesus’ beating and crucifixion generally any different from the thousands the Romans had made examples out of earlier (Josephus, Jewish Wars 2: Ch.308; Philo Flacc 72: 84 -85).

B. No animal in the Hebrew Bible was made to suffer as an atonement to God. The animal was ritualistically killed usually with a knife and then it bled to died quickly. Aftewards, its whole body was brunt or only its fat and organs burnt with the sweet smell in the form of smoke of the bruning flesh rising up to God.

In contrast, Jesus was made to suffer under Roman law and was neither quickly killed by proper bleeding nor burnt. Even the innocent women, children and babies who were slain with the sword at Jericho died quickly and then were burnt so Yahweh could enjoy it.

C. No sacrificial animal, be it human or beast, could still be alive (resurrected) after the act of sacrifice and still be a true offering to God. Its life (as carried in the blood and burnt body) were sealed in death to God forever into the heavens by the rising smoke.

D. Again, since Jesus was not burnt as human sacrifice as in the Hebrew Bible, God could feast upon the smell of the smoke.

F. No one single offering atoned once and for all the sins of the Jews much less those of the entire future world (conta Paul’s theology in Romans). That Jesus is said to be sinless is only a relevant truth: To the educated religious Jews, he blasphemer. To the Christians, the sinless lamb of God.

I could continue, but enough for now. I’m sure this post will be a hotly debated subject in the comment section.