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Child Sacrifice at Carthage: The Evidence Revisited, part two

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

III Evidence Against Child Sacrifice

There is a lot of opposition to the above theory and one of the leading opponents in 1984 was M’hamed Hassine Fantar who participated in the Odyssey debate with Drs. Stager and Greene. He points out that the classical scholars mentioned by Stager and Greene were not the only historians of the time who wrote on Carthage and whose work survives. Two earlier writers Livy (64 BC -12 AD) and Polibius (200- 118 BC) who were well informed of Carthage did not write one word about child sacrifice taking place. (Fantar 03:06)

He also wrote in the same article that Gustav Flaubert passed on the idea of child sacrifice in his novel Salammbo without citing any evidence and that Diodorus’s account was more myth and legend than history (Ibid)

Other evidence is that the burials were more ritual in nature and that the cemeteries were not exclusive to the people of Carthage but open to all who lost a child while living in the area. (Ibid)

But that isn’t all the evidence against child sacrifice. Jarret A Lobell in a recent article for Archaeology magazine wrote that researchers have found that many of the burials featured deaths that were prenatal or a day or two after birth and that the mortality rate was consistent with the same type of deaths in modern societies. (Lobell:64:01:2011)

This idea is backed up by the Italian archaeologist Piero Bartoloni after excavations at Zama, came to the same conclusion after studying the remains of 6,000 or so urns. (Bartoloni:2007). He concluded that they were still born babies and not sacrificial victims.

Others state that the presence of animal remains undermine the idea of child sacrifice. (Lexicorient:Carthage).

The argument against child sacrifice is a strong one, and the evidence supporting it seems to be well researched and reasoned. The silence of the Carthaginians, due to no fault of their own, does not help this side of the debate either. Their own words would go a long ways in settling the issue. Of course, many would argue that the Carthaginians altered their own history to make themselves look better but there is no evidence that they acted like the ancient Egyptians, who are well known to do such revisionist recording.

The Romans did not do anyone any favors by their destructive nature and the truth is now lost to history because of their actions. The Greek and Roman authors do not help as they did not use any references, or at least recorded any, that they used to come to the conclusion that the Carthaginains sacrificed their children. This point helps the ‘No’ side because their words can be put down as hearsay evidence or unsubstantiated rhetoric by the enemies of the people of Carthage. In other words, they are biased and their words cannot be taken for fact.

Now it is time to take a look at what the Bible says about this topic as it is used, along with the biblical word ‘tophet’ to support the idea that the Carthaginians practiced child sacrifice.

IV. What The Bible Says

In this section I am going to quote the biblical passages first so that people can read for themselves what God says on the issue. Then put a few thoughts at the end. Quotes will be form both the KJV and the 1984 NIV versions, and compared when noted.

Lev. 18:21– And thou shalt not let any of thy seed pass through the fire to Molech, neither shalt thou profane the name of thy God: I am the Lord. (KJV)

Do not give any of your children to be sacrificed[a] to Molech, for you must not profane the name of your God. I am the Lord. (NIV)

Lev, 20:1-5–The Lord said to Moses, 2 “Say to the Israelites: ‘Any Israelite or any alien living in Israel who gives[a] any of his children to Molech must be put to death. The people of the community are to stone him. 3 I will set my face against that man and I will cut him off from his people; for by giving his children to Molech, he has defiled my sanctuary and profaned my holy name. 4 If the people of the community close their eyes when that man gives one of his children to Molech and they fail to put him to death, 5 I will set my face against that man and his family and will cut off from their people both him and all who follow him in prostituting themselves to Molech. (NIV)

Jer. 7:31–And they have built the high places of Tophet, which is in the valley of the son of Hinnom, to burn their sons and their daughters in the fire; which I commanded them not, neither came it into my heart. (KJV)

Jer. 19:4-6– Because they have forsaken me, and have estranged this place, and have burned incense in it unto other gods, whom neither they nor their fathers have known, nor the kings of Judah, and have filled this place with the blood of innocents;5 They have built also the high places of Baal, to burn their sons with fire for burnt offerings unto Baal, which I commanded not, nor spake it, neither came it into my mind:6 Therefore, behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that this place shall no more be called Tophet, nor The valley of the son of Hinnom, but The valley of slaughter. (KJV)

Jer. 32:35–They built high places for Baal in the Valley of Ben Hinnom to sacrifice their sons and daughters[a] to Molech, though I never commanded, nor did it enter my mind, that they should do such a detestable thing and so make Judah sin. (NIV)

And they built the high places of Baal, which are in the valley of the son of Hinnom, to cause their sons and their daughters to pass through the fire unto Molech; which I commanded them not, neither came it into my mind, that they should do this abomination, to cause Judah to sin. (KJV)

Ez. 16:20-21– And you took your sons and daughters whom you bore to me and sacrificed them as food to the idols. Was your prostitution not enough? 21 You slaughtered my children and sacrificed them[a] to the idols. (NIV)

Ez. 23:36-39– The Lord said to me: “Son of man, will you judge Oholah and Oholibah? Then confront them with their detestable practices, 37 for they have committed adultery and blood is on their hands. They committed adultery with their idols; they even sacrificed their children, whom they bore to me,[a] as food for them. 38 They have also done this to me: At that same time they defiled my sanctuary and desecrated my Sabbaths. 39 On the very day they sacrificed their children to their idols, they entered my sanctuary and desecrated it. That is what they did in my house. (NIV)

36 The Lord said moreover unto me; Son of man, wilt thou judge Aholah and Aholibah? yea, declare unto them their abominations;37 That they have committed adultery, and blood is in their hands, and with their idols have they committed adultery, and have also caused their sons, whom they bare unto me, to pass for them through the fire, to devour them.38 Moreover this they have done unto me: they have defiled my sanctuary in the same day, and have profaned my sabbaths.39 For when they had slain their children to their idols, then they came the same day into my sanctuary to profane it; and, lo, thus have they done in the midst of mine house. (KJV)

Deut. 12:31– Thou shalt not do so unto the Lord thy God: for every abomination to the Lord, which he hateth, have they done unto their gods; for even their sons and their daughters they have burnt in the fire to their gods. (KJV)

There are several things that need to be pointed out from these passages. First, the word ‘tophet’ only refers to one place in Israel—the valley Ben Hinnom and does not refer to children cemeteries anywhere else in the world.

Second, We find no mention of the Phoenicians practicing child sacrifice. We do get a general term for the people occupying the promised land but no specific civilizations are named. Yes, a god is named but that does not mean that all people who worshipped hat god sacrificed their children.

That is like saying ‘since it is a fact that some people who are christian had abortions, all people who are called christian practiced and favored abortion. Generalities are not evidence.

Third, We know that the people of Canaan in the Promised land practiced child sacrifice/passing through the fire but no mention of such practices migrating to other areas of the world.

Fourth, Does ‘passing through the fire actually mean child sacrifice? We have the 1984 NIV translators equating the two but does it really, when God makes separate mention of killing children and passing through the fire?

That is a detailed study for another day.


© 2019 David Thiessen

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