Child Sacrifice and the Bethulah (16-8-7)

Child sacrifice plays a surprisingly big role in the Tanakh, the Old Testament. What would we think of the near sacrifice of Isaac, if it was not in the Bible?

Heb. 11: 1 to 19:

[1] Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. [2] For by it the elders obtained a good report. [3] Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear. [4] By faith Abel offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, by which he obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts: and by it he being dead yet speaketh. [5] By faith Enoch was translated that he should not see death; and was not found, because God had translated him: for before his translation he had this testimony, that he pleased God.

[6] But without faith [it is] impossible to please [him]: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and [that] he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.

[7] By faith Noah, being warned of God of things not seen as yet, moved with fear, prepared an ark to the saving of his house; by the which he condemned the world, and became heir of the righteousness which is by faith. [8] By faith Abraham, when he was called to go out into a place which he should after receive for an inheritance, obeyed; and he went out, not knowing whither he went. [9] By faith he sojourned in the land of promise, as in a strange country, dwelling in tabernacles with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise: [10] For he looked for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God.

[11] Through faith

also Sara herself received strength to conceive seed, and was delivered of a child when she was past age, because she judged him faithful who had promised. [12] Therefore sprang there even of one, and him as good as dead, so many as the stars of the sky in multitude, and as the sand which is by the sea shore innumerable.

[13] These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. [14] For they that say such things declare plainly that they seek a country. [15] And truly, if they had been mindful of that country from whence they came out, they might have had opportunity to have returned. [16] But now they desire a better country, that is, an heavenly: wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God: for he hath prepared for them a city. [17] By faith Abraham, when he was tried, offered up Isaac:

 child sacrifice

and he that had received the promises offered up his only begotten son, [18] Of whom it was said, That in Isaac shall thy seed be called: [19] Accounting that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead; from whence also he received him in a figure.

Faith

is the topic of the Church Sermons today. Faith is very important. Verse 1 says, it is the substance of things which we hope, the evidence of things which we cannot see! Without faith, it is impossible to please, for he that cometh to God must believe that he is! We must believe that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.

So let us diligently seek him. However that is easy to say. The scripture asks us to believe. The Church ruled based on faith and therefore it never explained its reasoning. In the old days people were not very inquisitive. They liked the clergy to tell them what to do and what to believe. By obeying the clergy they obtained the feeling of belonging, of being in good hands and doing the right thing.

Today however, we want to know reasons. We don’t want to act just on faith. We want to understand. Yet, not many people understand the laws of science. Would you be able to give three pieces of evidence for the Big Bang Theory without looking them up? Or do you just believe that theory? Do you just believe in science, as if it was religion? How many people ‘believe’, a religious act that in our modern economy only the strongest shall survive?! Have these people thought this through to the end? What happens to the majority who are not the strongest? Do these ‘believers’, believe that they can build a peaceful society on this foundation???

The Church

did not explain why it ordained celibacy in 1080 AD. Just fifteen years later Pope Urban II called for the first crusade. He held a speech, but he did not write it down, or if he did, we have not found this writing. There are a number of records which claim to be Pope Urban’s speech. However, they are all very different from each other. One of these records had been written by Robert the Monk. It reports that the Pope said that Europe is too small for its own population. Could this have been the reason to ordain celibacy? Was it a means of birth control?

Are we unfair to the Church?

Probably. At the time of the crusades Moslems had conquered all of the previous colonies of the Holy Roman Empire in Northern Africa and half of Spain. There were Moslem attacks on the Byzantine Empire. Why would a Roman Catholic help the Eastern Church? Didn’t the Catholic Church always paint the Eastern Church to be evil heretics? Was that the reason to make Jerusalem the crusade’s objective? It was much further but the first crusade actually went around the Mediterranean on land past Byzantium, today’s Istanbul. They had to fight against the Moslems whom they encountered on the way.

Everybody knew about Jerusalem from Church. It was much easier to convince people to free Jerusalem than to help the Eastern Churches. And People had not had any geography lessons at school. They didn’t know where they were going. They just went along.

So what does all this have to do with child sacrifice?

This has to do with communication. This is the quest to diligently seek God. This way we may be able to understand those parts of scripture which turn some people away from faith. The laws in the Bible developed from ‘an eye for an eye’ to ‘turn the other cheek’. Today we have the view Christianity is a peaceful religion. Yet there are some who read in the Tanakh, the Old Testament, and judge it to be bad. Therefore they turn away from God. So let us try to understand before we judge in our effort to diligently seek God.

The reading mentioned the near child sacrifice of Isaac. What would we think about that, if it was not in the Bible? So let us try to understand why people did child sacrifice, why Abraham nearly sacrificed Isaac and actually understand the struggle of Moses against this custom.

Child sacrifice

Ex. 13: 2: ‘Sanctify unto me all the firstborn, whatsoever openeth the womb among the children of Israel, [both] of man and of beast: it [is] mine.’ How bad is that?!

Now there are two issues we are going to pursue. Firstly: why would anybody do such a thing? Secondly: How did the custom of child sacrifice develop throughout the Bible? This devotion is only about child sacrifice in honour of God, as in the above verse. It is not in the honour of other gods.

To the first question, people in the Middle East widely practised child sacrifice. In particular they used to sacrifice the firstborn son! So that God asked Abraham in Gen. 22: 2 to sacrifice Isaac, seems very strange to us. Yet to the Ancient Middle Eastern People that was nothing special.

But why the custom? The reason lies with the scientific – religious attitude of the Ancients. The chapter on the Original Sin in Greetings from Paradise explains a basic thought of the Ancients. They thought that the ejaculation from the man’s penis was an early form of the complete child. This was not as strange as it seems to us today. The Ancients did not have microscopes to see that there are millions of sperm cells in an ejaculation. In fact, they did not even know anything about cells. They had found out that this ejaculation makes a woman pregnant. They must have thought that, for example, inside a chicken egg there is a similar gooey substance. This substance changes into a little chicken. So most likely the gooey substance from the penis changes into a newborn baby. However the man must insert it properly into a woman!

This even explains the death penalty for male homosexuality!

This law is in Lev. 20 13. To the Ancients male homosexuality was murder by neglect. If a man inserts the poor child into a man instead of a woman, the child will die! The Bible does not forbid female homosexuality!

So men saw themselves continuing in their offspring. They saw the ejaculation as the complete child. Therefore, they saw the woman just as an empty vessel in which the child would grow. They did not think that the woman had any influence on the outcome of the child. The child was the man. That’s why Jacob said in Gen. 32: 10, ‘…with (nothing but) my staff I passed over this Jordan; and now I am become two bands.’ He has become two bands by inserting himself in the form of the ejaculation into the women!

Consequently since men saw themselves in their offspring, their own offspring was very special to them. So they wanted to treat this son particularly well. Therefore a man must have been eager to know who actually his own son was!

Now when a man took a woman she might have had already someone else inside. So the safest thing would have been to sacrifice the firstborn son.

Why not girls?

Well, people saw girls as empty vessels. A man would not see himself in a girl. Apart from that girls are more valuable than boys. It takes a woman about a year to bear and nurture one newborn. This includes the time until it can run with the other children of the tribe. A man finishes his part in reproduction in ten minutes. That’s why Deut. 25: 5 onwards prescribes that a man’s brother should make his woman pregnant, if he dies. To the Ancients many children in the tribe were important. Mortality was high. The survival of the tribe depended on women bringing forth children at all times.

That is also the reason why the Ancients sent men to fight in war. In the reproductive process within the tribe it is easy to replace a man, if he dies in battle.

Imagine

a tribe of hundred couples. The men go out to fight and ninety – nine die, but one escapes. This one man still could have hundred children each year with the hundred women. Some would die due to diseases, some in hunting accidents, some by raids of other tribes. However, after a few generations, the tribe would get back to the population of one – hundred couples. Now imagine that the hundred women had gone into battle and ninety – nine would have die. Only one got away. The tribe would be dead. They could only have one child per year. So taking into account diseases and other causes of early death that tribe would have had no chance of survival! That’s why the Amazons did not survive!

Therefore in warrior society there were always more women than men. That is the reason why usually one man had several women, not the other way around. If a man would not have several women in these societies, many women would have been without a man.

So what did Moses do about child sacrifice?

Why did he ordain Ex. 13: 2: ‘Sanctify unto me all the firstborn, whatsoever openeth the womb among the children of Israel, [both] of man and of beast: it [is] mine.’?

There is an explanation in the Introduction of Greetings from Paradise that the Ancients actually ate their sacrifices. In other words, they ate the firstborn son of every woman they had and they probably liked eating human meat. So they might have eaten more than just the firstborn. So the above verse restricted the eating of children to the firstborn!

Could the prohibition to eat pork have to do with this? In 2001 there was a case of cannibalism in Germany in which the victim wanted someone to eat him. The cannibal later said that the human meat reminded him of pork. Did Moses check whether the people ate children? Did some of the people tried to pass off their human meat as pork? Was that the reason for its prohibition?

Moses tried to do away with child sacrifice altogether.

Ex. 13: 12 & 13, ‘That thou shalt set apart unto the LORD all that openeth the matrix, and every firstling that cometh of a beast which thou hast; the males [shall be] the LORD’S. And every firstling of an ass thou shalt redeem with a lamb; and if thou wilt not redeem it, then thou shalt break his neck: and all the firstborn of man among thy children shalt thou redeem.’ Donkeys don’t taste so good. But people should redeem the children also.

Did this help? No, because in Ex. 22: 29 says, ‘Thou shalt not delay [to offer] the first of thy ripe fruits, and of thy liquors: the firstborn of thy sons shalt thou give unto me.’ No mention of redemption! Moses must have found it impossible to enforce the complete prohibition of child sacrifice, so he returned to restricting it.

So are the commandments to sacrifice the firstborn son evil?

No, quite the contrary. They were laws restricting a common practice. This restricted the practice to sacrifice children to God. Later on this practice must have disappeared altogether. Then the Tanakh only mentions sacrifices to Molech or Baal. So in Biblical culture the custom disappeared first while it persisted in others.

Eventually the Ancients replaced the sacrifice of the firstborn by introducing the custom to make a woman a bethulah. Bible scholars usually translated this word as virgin, but that is not what it means. There is an explanation in the chapter on the Original Sin in Greetings from Paradise regarding this. A bethulah was just a woman who had restrained from sex for a couple of months. Then her owner would ‘know’ that her offspring was his. That is what knowing a woman means. She would show the blood stained cloths which she would have worn during her periods. They were called bethulim, which the scholars translated as the ‘tokens of virginity’.

This also explains Joel 1: 8, ‘Lament like a virgin (bethulah) girded with sackcloth for the husband of her youth.’ Bethulah does not mean virgin in our modern sense.

This practice finally made child sacrifice superfluous. Maybe even the story of Abraham nearly sacrificing his son was so remarkable to the Ancients, because child sacrifice of the firstborn was the usual thing and Abraham changed his mind about it.

The LORD bless thee, and keep thee: The LORD lift up his countenance upon thee, and give thee peace.

Amen!