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Child Sacrifice at Carthage: The Evidence Revisited

Updated on March 27, 2019
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Dr. David Thiessen is an educator, writer, pastor, and speaker. He has authored several books on a variety of topics including Archaeology

I. Introduction

Recently the ABR organization published an issue in their signature magazine trying to relate abortion with child sacrifice. I took them to task when on their website they published an blurb which did a hatchet job on the issue. The following paper was the result from a candid discussion with one of ABR’s staff via private e-mail.

I did not like what was being said nor the attitude in which their rebuttals came but it did motivate me to investigate further. The general terms like ‘lots of evidence, put me off as well as I wanted to see what evidence there was that supported the idea/theory of child sacrifice in Carthage.

What I found was both interesting and surprising as you will read for yourselves shortly. What also motivated me was that here was a Christian organization that did not care about honesty, justice, fair play and so on, using the past to fit their modern day anti-abortion agenda. It is a stretch and a dirty trick and it certainly wasn’t something Jesus commanded His followers to do.

What follows is a simple discussion of the evidence for the idea that child sacrifice took place in Carthage, followed by the same for those who oppose that theory. Then a brief look at what the Bible says about the issue and finally an analysis of the evidence presented.

I will have more to say about modern applications for the believer in my conclusion. Read it for yourselves, look up the references and read their points of view and come to your own conclusions.

II. Evidence for Child Sacrifice

It seems that Dr. Stager and his writing partners are the go to men when it comes to quoting evidence for the practice of child sacrifice in Carthage. I have not read all the works on this issue but enough to see that when other writers discuss the issue, they end up quoting Stager, Greene and Wolfe for the pro argument.

In The Odyssey debate Drs. Stager and Greene state that there are four main sources for evidence when it comes to supporting their claim that child sacrifice took place in Carthage. These four are: i). Classical authors; ii). Biblical prophets; iii). Stele associated with Carthaginian burial urns and iv). Inscriptions expressing vows to Phoenician deities. (Stager & Greene o3:o6)

The classical authors include Plutarch who lived from 46-122 AD approx. and who wrote extensively. Then there was Tertullian who lived later, about 160-225 AD approx., next comes whose life spanned from 375 – to after 418 AD approx. before these gentleman it is said that Diodorus Siculus lived and wrote around the 1st century BC (Reference.com child sacrifice) and finally Kleittarchos was paraphrased by some unknown author (Stager & Wolfe 1984).

They all mention or allude to some sort of sacrificial act conducted by the people of Carthage. The Biblical prophets will be dealt with at a later time but they include Jeremiah and Ezekial, whose words are restricted to the Biblical lands.

The third source for evidence for the practice of child sacrifice comes from the steles found in the children’s cemeteries at Carthage. I do not want to use the biblical word ‘tophet’ here because some do and it distorts the issue at hand. Its use by archaeologists is basically prejudicial and not objective. On these steles are written different words by parents usually addressing their god and there seems to be thousands of them (Stager & Greene 03:06)

Then the fourth source mentioned by Stager and Greene come from inscriptions other than found on the stele. A minor source for the assumption that child sacrifice took place was the presence of animal remains found in the same locations, along with a sheep’s picture on one stele (Stager & Wolfe 1984)

Then in a dig at Zarapath an inscription was dug up containing a 4 line reference to Tanit one of the gods of the Phoenician people. (B & Sp. Vol. 4). This inscription has been used as evidence that child sacrifice took place at that location and to support the theory that such practice was carried out at Carthage.

Another picture used to support the theory is one of an adult holding a baby carved on a stele which Stager and Wolfe interpret to mean a priest is holding a baby and taking it to be sacrificed. (Stager & Wolfe 1984).

This is the extent of the evidence for child sacrifice being practiced in Carthage. Unfortunately, at the end of the third Punic war, the Romans destroyed almost all of written texts of the Carthaginians. “The historical study of Carthage is problematic. Due to the subjection of the civilization by the Romans at the end of the Third Punic War, very few Carthaginian historical primary sources survive” (N.W.E.-Carthage)

This fact hinders discovery of the real purpose of the children’s cemeteries found at Carthage and it denies us knowledge of the meaning of the stele as well as many of the carved pictures as well.


© 2019 David Thiessen

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