The Economics of Human/Animal Sacrifice.

People regard the Aztecs’ and Incas’ religions as barbaric because they required human sacrifice.  Another bloody practice was the leaders cutting their genitalia and allowing blood to flow down the pyramid steps to put followers into an emotional state.

These practices of sacrifice to gods is in the Bible.  In the Old Testament, there is a lot of animal sacrifice.

Even though religious ritual sacrifice has been required seemingly since the beginning of time, we can see the human mind coming up with practical adjustments.  Humans must have said, “Look, the gods need this sacrifice.  We have to deliver.  But, taking humans we need to work the fields and animals we need for food is really pricey.  I wonder if there’s a cheaper solution?”

They found ways.  The South American tribes started capturing people from other tribes and chopping them up.  They must have figured the god would not notice it was a stand-in sacrifice.

The Jewish and later Christian faith found something even cheaper.  There are those Old Testament stories of tossing in the first born son or the fatted calf.  Smarter minds figured out a one size fits all sacrifice the god would have to accept.

In this version, the god, itself, would own the first born or fatted calf.  Folks on the ground would have to give up nothing. Expensive temple sacrifice ended.  The theological term is, “substitutionary atonement”.

This substitution gave an economic advantage to Christianity and it has been growing for centuries.

Avatar of Jon Lindgren

About Jon Lindgren

I am a former President of the Red River Freethinkers in Fargo, ND, a retired NDSU economics professor and was Mayor of Fargo for 16 years.
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34 Responses to The Economics of Human/Animal Sacrifice.

  1. entech says:

    Makes one wonder why the Bible story would have one of the elders about to follow the command to sacrifice his son prevented from carrying out the command. Only to have the one who did the preventing sacrificing his own son at a later date.

    It is not surprising that so many of us find the whole convoluted mess called the Bible hard to believe.

  2. Stanta says:

    Did I miss something in my reading of the Bible? Is Jon claiming that Jews and Christians performed human sacrifice? Yes there were humans sacrificed in the Bible but I can’t remember any by the Jews, only by the other religions.

    • entech says:

      Exodus

    • Avatar of Jon Lindgren Jon Lindgren says:

      Stan 1:44 “I can’t remember any by the Jews.”
      Scapgoating, putting all sins into a goat, taking him into the wilderness and leaving him their. Not quite slaughter, but a costly sacrifice to the god.

    • entech says:

      In my 12:53 I mentioned Abraham and his son, rather than a testing I read the meaning of this story as an object lesson, this is in Genesis the early development of the Hebrews, a new story for an old people. The story is that their God does not require a human sacrifice, along with the origin myth new habits and behaviours have to be learnt and so the multitude of laws and lessons, some of them trivial (mixed fabrics) some of them serious (no human sacrifice, eventually not even animal sacrifice). This would indicate that human sacrifice had been part of the culture before this time.
      Most references to human sacrifice in the Bible are saying that it is wrong, would this be repeated if it had not been the practice at some earlier time. Going by stories of burning bushes it is likely that the Hebrew God was originally a volcanic or fire God, an anthropomorphic God would eliminate this need for sacrifice – in our image – sacrifice me to me, I don’t think so.

      But it did come back for one last go. Christianity is based on human sacrifice.

      • Stanta says:

        I see it’s a prohibition from mixing the ways of the pagan with the Jews. Often, and especially if married outside the tribe the spouses god entered the house also and in times of great stress, offering to ALL the local gods must have been tempting.

        • entech says:

          ALL the local gods how many were there?

          • Stanta says:

            Yes Entech. Each locality has it’s own gods. A tree, a rock, an animal may have been worshipped. These were rather static and if you moved to a different location there were other gods already being worshiped there and you would worship those gods. That is why the Jewish God was unique at the time, he could be worshiped anywhere and everywhere. He was also a single god and not a pantheon.

            Try reading Michners “the Source” a very good fiction novel that explains the various gods worshiped besides the Jewish God by others in the middle east.

          • entech says:

            Fiction, just like most of the writing about that early period in the history of Humanity. Read it years ago, a good read, well researched, better than Dan brown could ever be – but still fiction. Actually a lot of his books were very interesting and well researched.

            The unique thing about Judaism is that it moved on from the multitude of Gods to one chief God, and from there to the concept of one God. Monotheism was the end result not the start. The unique thing about the development of Judaism was that from the common starting point of adopting the God(s) of the locality the concept of being able to take your God with you was new. Probably the major development was in the Babylonian exile when the idea that God Had a Home and could only be worshipped there was overcome when they lost the Temple. I am still not sure why one particular God of many should have been selected as the only one, out of so many candidates how do you choose.

          • Stanta says:

            I did mention it was fiction right? Sometimes it is easier to learn by placing what is known in a fictional context. You are correct, very well researched, I don’t believe what it tells us has been seriously challenged by the acedemics.

            The portable god is a strong reason for it’s survival. When you can bring your god with you and he doesn’t reside only on one mountain, rock or tree you have an advantage over the other religions. It also means he is exportable.

            Why this and not others? Survival of the fittest?

          • entech says:

            Survival of the fittest ;) the God of evolution? careful the fundies on the site will throw you out of the club.

            ps. I know that you and your religion accept that evolution is a possible explanation, perhaps even true – but I couldn’t resist the dig.

      • Avatar of Dustin White Dustin White says:

        I have to disagree with the idea of God being a fire or volcanic God. The story of the burning bush was only one single story. When God is portrayed in earlier sources, God appears as a man. It is only with later writings (and the story of Moses was a later source) does God begin to be seen as less and less human, and more and more divine. Divine to the point that God is no longer to even be seen by humans, and thus has to find clever ways in order to witness to his people.

        Another major problem with the idea of a volcano god is that God is said to move quite extensively. The Hebrews after all were a wandering group, situated primarily in the wilderness and later highlands. Looking at the geography of the area, there just aren’t volcanoes there that would have allowed such a thing.

        Looking at the earliest sources again, it is most likely that God was seen as some sort of storm god at first, or possibly a warrior god. There are some suggestions also that God was a mountain god, but again, it is a mountain and not volcano.

        • entech says:

          Your right, a bit of poetic license – the burning bush paradigm is irresistible.
          The point is that the monotheist creator of all things, the one and only etc. didn’t spring into being fully developed with the words of Moses. I think it was a long processes of refinement with the creation story taking over as the only story. It did not all happen on a Wednesday afternoon 6000 years ago.

  3. Michael Ross says:

    Human sacrifice was an “abomination” demanded by the “detestable” gods of Baal and Moloch. Animal sacrifice was required by God as a foreshadowing of the shed blood of Christ for the sins of the world. That sacrifice has been made and no more bloodshed is necessary. You liberals are the ones calling for continued sacrifice of the unborn (60,000,000 and counting) on the alter of convenience.

    • Avatar of Grandma Grandma says:

      And in the 1500s in London a hungry child could be hung for stealing a loaf of bread.

      • entech says:

        Condemned to death by good Christian judges.

        • Stanta says:

          That was then, this is now. Do I have to envoke the big three of the 20th century AGAIN?

          • entech says:

            Of course, things have improved dramatically, socially and theologically.
            To invoke the big three (probably quite a few more than three, Ho Chi Min for one an amateur compared to Pol Pot, but still pretty bad) is a favourite trick of yours and a bit of self delusion worthy of a new convert but you should be maturing by now.
            So I invoke my own mantra:
            There have been many atrocious things things perpetrated by people without any religious feelings, this is true and some of the most egregious have been Stalin, Pol Pot and Mao. This does not, in any way, shape or form exonerate, mitigate or in any way alleviate the wrong doings of people with religious feelings.

            Bad things are done by bad people.

  4. Henry says:

    “on the alter of convenience.”

    Correct. Husband’s graduate schooling or killing fifth child/sibling? These choices have unfortunately been made.

  5. Avatar of Dustin White Dustin White says:

    I think the point of sacrifice here is really being missed. It wasn’t necessarily for atonement. There were other ways for that. Animal sacrifice was much more. In essence, it was a community meal with God.

    When an animal was sacrificed, only portions were destroyed. The blood (or life force) was God’s. Part of the meat was also set aside specifically for God. However, much of the meat was kept (it was cooked, and the aroma offered to God, which really is what God wanted as it was pleasing. We can look at Genesis, and the sacrifice that Noah offered up and see this, where it is specifically stated that the smell of the sacrifice was what was pleasing to God).

    The food itself was sanctified, and when eating it (as a family or community, as that was the general way in which such a meal was eaten), it was like having God there with you, eating a meal. Economically then, it was an ideal situation. It gave money to the Temple (which was the center of the religion, and actually would help out all Jews as it also served as the center of a welfare system), it supported the religion, and it gave these individuals a fresh cooked meal that could be shared.

    Even after Jesus died, these sacrifices continued, even by the disciples. Again, it wasn’t really about the atonement of sins. It was giving to God what belonged to God, and one did that in order to show thanks. It was a gift. The sacrifices only ended when the Temple was destroyed. If it hadn’t been destroyed, it is quite likely that Christians and Jews would have continued with such sacrifices. In a sense, it was almost like dining out.

    A quick note, when reading 1 Corinthians, Paul actually deals with the issue of eating meat that was sacrificed to Pagan gods. In a city like Corinth, nearly all meat would have gone that route. The point here is that even though an animal may be sacrificed, it wasn’t wasted in the sense that it was destroyed. The meat was still able to be eaten.

    • Avatar of Jon Lindgren Jon Lindgren says:

      Dustin 3:27 “It wasn’t necessarily for atonement…a community meal with God…part of the meal was set aside specically for God.”

      As an economist, I see something missing from this interpretation. I tend to see everything as an exchange. That is, if a child asked his parent, “Why are we leaving that wonderful meat there to rot/burn? (or whatever happened to it)”, what would the parents reply be? Would it be, “We give it to God, but I don’t know why.”? Doubt that. The answer would have included something the god was doing, or, had done for them. Today, there would be nothing in the collection plate without, in exchange, heaven, or, avoiding hell.

      It just seems human nature the practice had to be in part an exchange. It seems like it would have included atonement since sin seemed to be at the front of their brains, and still is, all the time. But, if it wasn’t atonement, it just had to be something else, health, weather, protection from other tribes, afterlife,???? In my view, if it did not include some kind of exchange or it is contrary to all of human religious behavior.

      This exchange in religion, so I’ve read, started at earliest point in the study of human behavior. Religion has always been more popular among groups who had to deal with uncertainty, ie weather. It was more common in the countrysides than in cities.

      • Stanta says:

        Then you chose to ignore the Greek and Roman gods! Many of the Roman leaders wouldn’t make a move without sacrificing to the plethora of gods they had.

    • Stanta says:

      Good post Dustin.

  6. Stanta says:

    I only brought up the big three AFTER an incident from CENTARIES ago was brought up. When things like that are brought up as if it happened yesterday i WILL bring up the big three. Why should I allow ancient history to stain people in the present day?

    Are only progressives and atheists able to throw crap like that around? You start throwing sh*t expect to get some back.

    • entech says:

      My only problem is when people try to pretend it never happened or that somehow other peoples sins wash out your own.

      As I said everything has improved but it did happen, you must live with your history. I don’t really care about the big three or however many you mention, they were evil bastards.

      It was Christian judges that sentenced starving children to death for stealing food, it cannot be denied, it would not happen now. They were wrong but they were acting according to the laws and morals of the time.

      Throwing some back as you call it is pretty futile when the recipient agrees with you that the big three were as low as you can get. light a candle for Saint Torquemada and I will open the gates to hell for Stalin et.al. (except of course there are no saints and hell is only in your imagination)

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