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Child Sacrifice at Carthage: The Evidence Revisited, part three

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

V. Analysis of the Evidence—Problems

In looking at the evidence for the ‘yes’ side of the issue it is hard to agree with Andrew White when he wrote the following: It is well established that this rite of child sacrifice originated in Phoenicia, ancient Israel’s northern neighbor, and was brought to Carthage by its Phoenician colonizers (White:ABR:2012)

For the evidence is more speculative, assumed or a result of a wild and large leap to a conclusion. If we use the carved images of a sheep or supposed priest holding a baby as an example, it is mere reading into the images that they represent child sacrifice. There is no textual representation that could lead one to conclude that they do.

Or that a single reference to a common deity in an another geographical location implies that child sacrifice took place outside of the Promised Land and on a large scale. Such thinking demonstrates a bias against the Carthaginians simply based upon the unsubstantiated word of the enemies of the people of Carthage.

Stager and Greene mention something about ‘lurid details’ but then they go on to say that such are unverifiable. (Stager & Greene 03:06), so why include them in with the supposed evidence supporting their pro position? Such information only colors or distorts the archaeological record and the issue itself and only serves the purposes of those who cannot bring themselves to think that child sacrifice did not take place at Carthage.

Then there is the problem of the amount of burials taking place at the children’s cemeteries in Carthage. According to Stager and Wolfe, approx. 20,000 burials took place over a 200 year period, from 400 BC to 200 BC. (Stager & Wolfe:BAR10:01) and another source has it pegged form 800 BC to 146 BC (White:ABR:2012). A range of 654 years.

That amounts to approx. 100 burials a year for Stager’s and Wolfe’s estimate and approx.. 40 a year for White’s. Even if you add in some multiple burials in the same urns those figures do not support the supposed horrific picture any of them are trying to paint about the ancient Carthaginians. Especially when you compare those figures to the example of the European children’s hospitals of the 19th century where one in St. Petersburg had 25,000 children on its rolls and admitting 5,000 more annually. Unfortunately 30-40% died within the first 6 weeks. (Stager & Wolfe:BAR:10:01).

30-40% equals an approx.. tally of 7,500 to 10,000 children dying a year. It would take only 2 years of these children’s hospitals to surpass the amount of remains found at Carthage yet the latter is accused of sacrificing their children while the former were are lauded for their attempts to save unwanted babies/youth? Why couldn’t those cemeteries at Carthage be the sad results of the same endeavor?

Next we come to the idea of labeling these cemeteries as Tophets and one internet blogger came up with this wonderful question: “However, what I do not understand is why these burials from Carthage are identified as ‘Tophet’ burials?”(rogueclassicist:2010)

This is a good question because there is no explanation for this extrapolation of the biblical term. It is highly prejudicial and seems to seek to manipulate the reader’ opinion because the physical evidence supporting child sacrifice is weak and basically non-existent. It also seems that the researchers who use this term are being very dishonest in their work as the Bible does not refer to this term being applied to any area outside of the Promised Land.

Nor does it imply that all child cemeteries are Tophets and without real evidence it is just wrong to call those in other areas Tophets. A careful study of the biblical use of the term is needed to clear up this obvious attempt to distort the reality and insult a people who cannot defend themselves.

Another problem with the pro side of the issue is the idea that ancient historians must be taken at their word because they are supposedly primary witnesses to the event in question. If we are to do so, then why are historians like Livy and Polybius ignored and not taken at their word? Why is it only those historians who agree with the pro side get such status?

Mainly because they tell the pro side what they want to hear and no attempt is made to verify their claims and accusations. This is just poor academics and scholarly work. None of the ancients have supporting documentation to back them up nor do they cite any works so to follow through on such a principle is not smart. It distorts the issue and allows for accusations to stand without proof.

Since we know that the Romans destroyed almost all of the textual evidence when they finally defeated the Carthaginians what we have is a people who cannot defend themselves and explain what the remains means. It is not just nor right to mar their name based upon the unverifiable accusations made by the ancient writers who also happened to be their enemies.

Finally, we have the issue of why was Carthage founded in the first place. Supposedly I was founded by Queen Dido who fled Tyre at the murder of her husband (N.W.E.:Carthage) but could a good reason be that those people who left Tyre did so because they did not want to be part of the child sacrifice taking place in Canaan at the time?

In other words, the people of Carthage and Zarapath are guilty by association. They are using the same name of a Canaanite god thus they must be practicing child sacrifice as well. There is no evidence to support that contention and it is highly irresponsible to take one small inscription and a few pictures and infer child sacrifice took place within those borders.

None of the inscriptions refer to child sacrifice specifically and such charges are read into the existing inscriptions by archaeologists and scholars long removed from event in question. It seems that the researchers for the pro side went in with pre-supposed conclusions and found what they were looking for without critical examination of the all the mitigating factors.

In other words, the Carthaginians were guilty and they were not allowed to prove their innocence.

As for the con side of the issue, the physical evidence seems to side with them though of course much could be placed in the subjective category and be a matter of opinion not fact. They are lucky in that the pro side abuses the data they uncover to fit their ideas of what took place over 2000 years ago.

The silence of the Carthaginians does not help them nor do the ambiguous nature of the inscriptions but again, such items do not help the pro side at all. The heightened sensitivity concerning child sacrifice and which leads to the distortion of the evidence is exampled by the building of the Ammon airport in 1955. At the time a building with a bunch of bones were uncovered and immediately the archaeologist in charge put forth a theory that they were evidence for child sacrifice.

Unfortunately for the archaeologist and those who supported his theory, the bones turned out t be adult and the building may have been an ancient funeral home and crematorium. (BAR:40) Such leaps to a pre-determined conclusion only helps the con side of the issue as it can use such mistakes in judgement to point out the bias nature of those working in the field of archaeology and demonstrate that the ancient people, not only of Carthage but other cities, do not have a chance to express their innocent stature.

The evidence is immediately turned against them. This is one of the problems in this issue as one employee of a Christian organization stated the following: ‘Besides, if they are guilty of such horrific crimes, who cares whether they can defend themselves or not’.* The chips are stacked against the Carthaginians as even some claimed Christians do not want to allow justice or fairness to enter the playing field

We need to care because we need to present the truth not our version of what took place in the past.

© 2019 David Thiessen


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