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Updated: 2019.04.25

Origins Of Ancient Sacrifice

Animal sacrifices in Mesopotamia predated Yi•sᵊr•â•eil by millennia. Its clear that animal sacrifice in Yi•sᵊr•â•eil was adopted from inherited beliefs common to ancient Mesopotamia, Egypt, the entire Middle East—and even the ancient world globally.

Philosophy Underlying Ancient Sacrifice

Hypotheses explaining the philosophy underlying dependence of ancient belief systems on sacrifices proliferate disguised as fact, but there is no known ancient evidence authoritatively explaining the original philosophy that underlaid ancient animal sacrifice. The underlying philosophy of sacrifice, generally, seems clear: to supplicate and obtain favor with incomprehensible forces beyond their control, which, they reasoned, must be gods. This seems to have evolved into competition: Im prospering more than you because I curry more favor with the gods than you. Therefore, I shall rule over you because my gods are more powerful than your gods. Eventually, If I can control the gods, or become a man-god, I can become all powerful, rich, famous and rule the world. Gifts to curry favor with their perceived gods drove the sacrificial belief systems to ever greater lengths—ultimately, sacrifice of ones firstborn son.

Jewish Take: Filtering Out Idolatrous Explanation

Meat is the ultimate expression of power and control, says [Prof. Nir] Avieli, explaining mankinds obsession with its favorite protein. You take a knife and slaughter a living thing. You take its life and put it into your own body. Also, there is an assumption among human beings that if you eat meat, you are taking its power into yourself. These are beliefs that have a nutritional basis as well, but its mostly a social issue…

Throughout history, eating fire-roasted meat was a rare thing, limited to the wealthy and powerful. Roasting meat is something that rich people do. If you take a kilogram of meat and cook it in 10 liters (roughly 2.6 gallons) of water, you get dozens of portions of soup. If you roast the cut over the fire, it shrinks, loses about half of its weight, and is enough for maybe two or three people. Roasting is a process of strengthening and concentrating all the characteristics that we are talking about… why roasted meat is at the heart of their national identity… men used cattle and sheep to take over an area. Its the conventional method: Grab grazing land away from the natives, and whatever you fence in is yours.

Frederick Jackson Turner, the important American historian, claims that the American barbecue is a negotiation with history. American men conquered the area with the help of cattle. The American icon — the Marlboro Man on a horse — what does he do at night beneath the star-filled sky? He lights a campfire and roasts a piece of meat over the flame. In other words, he uses cattle to conquer the area, and eats the meat of the cattle in order to gather strength that will help him go on with the work of conquering and controlling. Therefore, says Turner, roasting over a flame, the barbecue, is a manifestation of power, masculinity, and control over the space.

Why Animal (Including Human First-Born) Sacrifice?

Ancient philosopher-scientists recognized that killing an animal for meat was terminating a nëphësh, which, as documented in Tōr•âh, the ancients believed to be a life-force vector in the dâm:

“…because the nëphësh of the bâ•sâr is in the dâm.”

It was axiomatic that the nëphësh, having come from the Creator (i.e. their perceived gods), belonged to the Creator (their perceived gods) and must, therefore, be returned at death to the Creator (their perceived gods)—not eaten! It was, further, axiomatic to them that since the nëphësh of the dead was returned to the Creator (their perceived gods) via decomposition of the corpse in burial or fire cremation, then returning the nëphësh into the earth or fire-smoke must, therefore, be the acceptable return-mechanisms. Since they regarded the nëphësh as being in the dâm, then pouring the dâm into the earth or burning it in fire, transforming it into ascendance smoke, returned the nëphësh to the Creator (their perceived gods).

This general belief system and process, then, became the core philosophy of animal sacrifice: gifts of grilled meat from which the nëphësh had been properly returned to the Creator (their perceived gods), part of which was shared, when deemed appropriate, with a priest representing the perceived god; for propitiation, thanks or in payment of fines for transgressions—the ancient criminal justice system.

A second factor is that in ancient times there was no system of banks, monetary transfer, nor even large denominations of paper currency. Rather than lugging a cumbersome, highwaymen-magnet bindle of heavy precious metals and gems like a hobo or run-away child, domestic animals valuated the wealth of ancient peoples. Both offerings to the gods and punitive fines for criminal behavior were, accordingly, imposed (according to financial standing) in the currency of the various values of domestic animals: bulls being the most valuable and for the most serious fines or gifts of supplication or propitiation, then kids or lambs; lastly doves, baked goods or coins.

Qayin & Hâ•vël

Ta•na"kh recalls the ancient controversy in terms of farmer Qayin v desert nomad shepherd Hâ•vël—favoring the first-fruit animal-sacrifice of the desert nomad shepherd over the ordinary crop-sacrifice of the farmer. Superficial commentators routinely fail to notice that the distinction was between first-fruit v ordinary; not between animal v crop, nor desert-nomad v farmer—though the account has routinely been politically weaponized for millennia, both by domestic animal ranchers and defenders of the theological imperative of animal sacrifice. Such commentators miss the point entirely: the account contrasted the heartfelt sincere Hâ•vëls sacrifice of a first-fruit v the meaningless ritual ceremony of sanctimonious Qayins pretentious charity of second-rate veggies!. The Ta•na"kh account contrasts favoring the offering of the sincere person v refusing the ceremonial ritual of the sanctimonious person—the lesson confirmed repeatedly by the Nᵊviy•im!

Avᵊrâ•hâm v Human Sacrifie

In the ancient world, globally, sacrificing to perceived gods developed as a formula for supplication or propitiation; the best—i.e. first-fruit gifts as perceived by mortals were sacrificed to obtain favor with incomprehensible forces beyond their control. A number of ancient accounts indicate that, when all other sacrifices and pleas fail and the situation is dire, sacrifice of ones firstborn son was deemed the most likely to favorably persuade the gods.

This was the religious environment into which Avᵊrâ•hâm was born. Later in life, after migrating to the Levantine Nëgëv, six times, in six different locations of the Nëgëv, Avᵊrâ•hâms ranch-hands dug a bᵊeir to anchor a new homestead.

Despite a peace agreement between the Pᵊli•shᵊt•in king, Avi-mëlëkh, and Avᵊrâ•hâm, six times, Pᵊli•shᵊt•in violently seized his bᵊeir and budding homestead. Avᵊrâ•hâms furious desperation (!) upon digging bᵊeir number shëva, apparently came to the attention of king Avi-mëlëkh, requesting Avᵊrâ•hâm to swear to remain peaceful.

I will so swear if… was Avᵊrâ•hâms reply to the Pᵊli•shᵊt•in king. And Avᵊrâ•hâm reported the invasion of his six homesteads, and the violent seizure, by the Pᵊli•shᵊt•in, of all six bᵊeir•ōt that he had dug. Then Avᵊrâ•hâm personally paid the king for the bᵊeir shëva from his personal livestock—plus shëva ewes for a bᵊrit with the king resolving that Avᵊrâ•hâm had dug the bᵊeir shëva! Thats why Avᵊrâ•hâms homestead ranch is still called Bᵊeir Shëva today!

But it was Avᵊrâ•hâms desperation to defend his last-stand Bᵊeir Shëva that drove him to consider the conventional last-ditch supplication—sacrifice of his first-born son, Yi•tzᵊkhâq. But, unlike the gods of the goy•im around him, was the sacrifice of his firstborn son what his Singularity-Creator would want? There was only one way to find out. He would make a Khag to Har Mor•i•yâh, make a reasonable attempt to sacrifice his firstborn son, trust the Singularity-Creator to make the question of human sacrifice clear to him and see what would transpire. As he hoped, an extraordinary vicarious sacrifice presented itself at the A•qeid•âh and the rest is history.

Vicarious Expiation/Atonement—Anthropomorphism (Idolatry) Contradicting Ta•na"kh

The propriety of the sacrifice system, given the idolatrous Egyptian experience that Yi•sᵊr•â•eil had assimilated (to which Yi•sᵊr•â•eil repeatedly reverted), was not straight-forward. The difference between when sacrifice is Ta•na"kh-compatible, and when not, hinges on the concept of vicariousness.

Theres nothing inherently vicarious (hence, neither anthropomorphic nor idolatrous) about payment of a court fine, even when the fine is valuated in the ancient currency of domestic livestock. Ta•na"kh-compatible sacrifice per se, therefore, despite being so similar in appearance to Egyptian and other ancient idolatrous (anthropomorphic) sacrifices, wasnt technically prohibited. Only anthropomorphic beliefs about sacrifices were, and remain, prohibited.

The court fine, (an imposed debt), was the khat•ât—what anthropomorphic Christian idolaters pervert into blood atonement—that satisfied the Ta•na"kh debt requirement for ki•pūr, which, Ta•na"kh stipulates, was a gift of the khein of ‑‑ in return for tᵊshuv•âh. There was no magic in blood; only anthropomorphism.

What Mōsh•ëh and his contemporary leading scientists considered anthropomorphic as opposed to scientific reality, and what we know today to be merely anthropomorphic as opposed to scientific reality, has changed due to our more advanced knowledge of science and reality. The mortal author of wa-Yi•qᵊr•â 17.11, limited to the ancient scientific knowledge of his day, clearly could not have been echoing the Immutable and Omniscient Creator-Singularity, ‑‑. Seeing that loss of blood, unchecked, always resulted in death, ancient scientists reasoned that the nëphësh must return to the Creator in the blood. The mortal authors reasoning was respectable given their level of knowledge, but his scientific premise (that the nëphësh was in the dâm) was false. The notion that the nëphësh was an element of every animals dâm we know today was simply O2. (mundus mutatus).

When science distinguished that O2 wasnt a nëphësh, the whole fear of consuming an animals nëphësh, along with the procedure of pouring the perceived nëphësh out on the ground, or burning it into physical smoke (seeming to transform into nothing), to return to the Creator is exposed to be an error in physics; implying physical likeness of invisible and undetected physical O2 (mistaken for the spiritual, i.e. non-dimensional, nëphësh) to be on the same dimensional level as—i.e. to be like—the non-physical and non-dimensional Creator—i.e. anthropomorphic!

Its even simpler to recognize the anthropomorphism inherent in attempting to equate and trade physical O2 for spiritual atonement. Even more anthropomorphic (idolatrous), to supplicate the non-dimensional Creator-Singularity with the anthropomorphic smell of meat grilling on the altar; attempting to bribe the non-dimensional Creator-Singularity with a bit of anthropomorphic physical meat, some wine and baked goods.

In every case (except Pësakh, commemorating the great Tenth Plague deception of Egyptian soldiers), these were khat•ât payments to the court (or simple charitable offerings) via the kō•han•im, which both the offerer and the kō•han•im were required to treat as sacred, ‑‑-provided nëphësh. (It is no less incumbent upon modern people today to treat meat in this, kâ•sheir and proper sacred reverent and thankful manner, instead of as like any slab of a potato or turnip found in the supermarket; veggies, too, are life from ‑‑ that dont prompt proper thanksgiving among most people today.) Dont even think about expecting ‑‑ to dwell in a physical temple!

So the sacrifice system, while not inherently evil, lingered as a non-essential source of persistent descent into anthropomorphism/​idolatry; a misunderstood inheritance from earlier goy•im from which—the Nᵊviy•im prophesied—Yi•sᵊr•â•eil must eventually be weaned, not to be resurrected after the destruction of the Beit ha-Mi•qᵊdâsh and yō•khas•in! Yᵊsha•yâhu ha-Nâ•vi prophesied (56.7) a Beit Tᵊphil•âh, not yet another Beit ha-Mi•qᵊdâsh!

Consequently, while payment of a court fine in the ancient currency of domestic livestock remains, unchanged, Ta•na"kh-compatible, (mundus mutatus)—some of the procedures Mōsh•ëh allowed have since proven part of the anthropomorphic idolatrous environment of the Egyptians, Mesopotamians, et al. inherited, unbeknownst to them, by ancient Yi•sᵊr•â•eil.

Moreover, the currency has changed. Virtually the entire world today pays court fines in some national currency other than domestic livestock.

Hence, animal sacrifice is no longer Ta•na"kh-compatible. Neiether ‑‑ nor HisTa•na"kh have changed; (mundus mutatus)

The refined sense of the [nëphësh]'s separation from God which is to be offset by another [nëphësh] ([in the dâm]) is certainly not inherent in the primitive [Avrahamic/​Ta•na"kh] conception. Moreover, the [khat•ât] is never presented for grave moral offenses… In this connection the ceremony of [sᵊmikh•âh] is discovered to be only one of the many symbolic rites, abundant in primitive jurisprudence, whereby acquisition or abandonment of property is expressed. In the case of the sacrifices it implies absolute relinquishment ("manumissio"). The animal reverts thereby to its original owner—God.

Thus, persons or items were thought to be made holy by charging up their holy item, or recharging their nëphësh, by donating a supplemental nëphësh to the Creator via returning it to the earth. In early thinking, when all else had failed, the ultimate donor was another human.

Purpose Of Specifying Types Of Sacrifices

Ram•ba"m was on the right track in noting: Why a lamb and not a ram was chosen is an idle inquiry befitting fools, but not the serious-minded. (Moreh, 3.36.) … The sacrifices more especially are really not of Jewish origin. As during Moses' time it was the general custom among all men to worship by means of sacrifices, [ibid.] ‑‑, in His Wisdom, laid out the strategy, confirmed by the Nᵊviy•im, to wean Israel from sacrifices by stages. The sacrificial service is not the primary object of the Law; but supplications, prayers, and the like are. Hence the restriction of the sacrifices to one locality, by which means God kept this particular kind of service within bounds. [ibid.]

While still mysterious and incomprehensible to Dark Ages rabbis—and all other theologians as well, the reason for specifying different animals for different sacrifices, once the ancient misconceptions are filtered out, becomes ridiculously simple. These animals were money in ancient times; different animals equivalent to different, large, denominations of currency today. Since different severities of violations mandated correspondingly different valuations of fines, payment of these different fines required different denominations of animal property The violator's financial and social standing was also taken into account. Violation of a minor prohibition might mandate a fine judged to be a vessel of wine. Violation of something more serious might be judged to require payment of a goat, etc. Offerings were also made in this currency of animals, supplemented by lesser kâ•sheir food items or coins.

Weaning of Yi•sᵊr•â•eil From Temple & Animal Sacrifice

As far as mortals, even modern scientists, can tell, whatever the life-force is, it certainly derives from, and returns to our shared Creator-Singularity; but it cannot be merely a component of blood nor its return hinge on a process of pouring blood on the ground nor burning it in fire. What use has ‑‑ for meat, other food or coin? The very essence of offering a physical sacrifice to god is a manifestation of anthropomorphism, idolatry that is strictly prohibited by Ta•na"kh! Hence, recognizing that the Creator-Singularitys Will prevails in human affairs, His forbearance in allowing the destruction of the First (and then a Second) Temple—weaning Yi•sᵊr•â•eil from making sacrifices—was a constructive mi•tzᵊwâh that weaned Yi•sᵊr•â•eil from both the idolatrous anthropomorphisms of a god emerging from a sacred spirit mountain into a Temple and from a god that (not who) can be placated—manipulated—by physical sacrifices of mortal wealth or machinations. The rabbis were right insofar as they recognized that charity had replaced sacrifice. (mundus mutatus)

Future Beit Tᵊphil•âh vs Anthropomorphic Temple & Sacrifices

Prior to building the Beit ha-Mi•qᵊdâsh -Rish•ōn Temple (whose architectural plan, obviously handed down from Mōsh•ëh, replicated the Mortuary Temple of Egyptian Queen-Par•oh Khat-shepset), Israeli heads of households built their own family altars and made their own sacrifices. With 20-20 hindsight, its clear that, in constraining Yi•sᵊr•â•eil to a single, centralized national location for sacrifices, ‑‑ was weaning Yi•sᵊr•â•eil in stages from a lingering anthropomorphic idolatry inherited millennia earlier from the surrounding goy•im. Likewise, the Romans destruction of the anthropomorphic Temple and the yō•khas•in of the kō•han•im who perpetuated the anthropomorphic (idolatrous) practice of sacrifices could only occur by the Forbearance of ‑‑—finally fully weaning Yi•sᵊr•â•eil from anthropomorphism.

This also prepared Yi•sᵊr•â•eil for the Beit Tᵊphil•âh prophesied by Yᵊsha•yâhu (56.6-8); not yet-another anthropomorphic Temple of anthropomorphic sacrifices! Unlike superficial literalist interpretations, the original principles of ‑‑ and Tōr•âh never change. Rather, (mundus mutatus)!

Exception: Why Pësakh Sacrifice Is Still a Mi•tzᵊwâh?

Every Pësakh, news media shows videos of Orthodox Jews near Har ha-Bayit sacrificing a Pësakh kid or lamb. Orthodox Jews wouldnt be doing this if it were included among the sacrifices limited to the Temple and yō•khas•in-authenticated kō•han•im.

The Pësakh sacrifice is entirely different in kind. From its inception, it was never intended as a sacrifice offered to any god. Rather, this was an animal sacrificed in order to provide blood to spatter around the front door so that Egyptian soldiers, who were checking every home to enforce the Par•ohs command that every family sacrifice their firstborn son, would see the blood around the door and assume the command had been carried out—and skip (pass) over that household. Families had to eat the kid or lamb in its entirety to get rid of the evidence of the deception that delivered the lives of the firstborn sons of all of Yi•sᵊr•â•eil. Even the Par•oh sacrificed his firstborn son. The Tenth Plague!

Todays commemorations annually recall the great deception of the Tenth Plague, which enabled Yi•sᵊr•â•eil to escape the Par•ohs firstborn-sacrifice decree. It is a commemoration, a bit like turkey is to the American Thanksgiving holiday; not a sacrifice offering at all. Hence, it wasnt ended, nor even interrupted, by the destruction of the Temples nor the destruction of the yō•khas•in. The mi•tzᵊwâh remains valid and open-ended.

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