Ritual sacrifice

Sacrifice

[sak-ruh-fahys]

Sacrifice (from a Middle English verb meaning "to make sacred", from Old French, from Latin sacrificium: sacr, "sacred" + facere, "to make") is commonly known as the practice of offering food, objects (typically valuables), or the lives of animals or people to the gods as an act of propitiation or worship. The term is also used metaphorically to describe selfless good deeds for others or a short term loss in return for a greater gain, such as in a game of chess.

The practice of sacrifice is found in the oldest human records. The archaeological record contains human and animal corpses with sacrificial marks long before any written records of the practice. Sacrifices are a common theme in most religions, though the frequency of animal, and especially human, sacrifices are rare today.

Judaism

In Judaism, a sacrifice is known as a Korban, from the Hebrew root karov, meaning "to [come] close [to God]".

The centrality of sacrifices in Judaism is clear, with much of the Bible, particularly the opening chapters of the book Leviticus, detailing the exact method of bringing sacrifices. Sacrifices were either bloody (animals) or unbloody (grain and wine). Bloody sacrifices were divided into holocausts (burnt offerings, in which the whole animal was burnt), guilt offerings (in which part was burnt and part left for the priest) and peace offerings (in which similarly only part of the animal was burnt). Yet the prophets point out that sacrifices are only a part of serving God and need to be accompanied by inner morality and goodness.

After the destruction of the Second Temple, ritual sacrifice ceased except among the Samaritans (see ). Maimonides, a medieval Jewish rationalist, argued that God always held sacrifice inferior to prayer and philosophical meditation. However, God understood that the Israelites were used to the animal sacrifices that the surrounding pagan tribes used as the primary way to commune with their gods. As such, in Maimonides' view, it was only natural that Israelites would believe that sacrifice was a necessary part of the relationship between God and man. Maimonides concludes that God's decision to allow sacrifices was a concession to human psychological limitations. It would have been too much to have expected the Israelites to leap from pagan worship to prayer and meditation in one step. In the Guide for the Perplexed, he writes:

"But the custom which was in those days general among men, and the general mode of worship in which the Israelites were brought up consisted in sacrificing animals... It was in accordance with the wisdom and plan of God...that God did not command us to give up and to discontinue all these manners of service. For to obey such a commandment would have been contrary to the nature of man, who generally cleaves to that to which he is used; it would in those days have made the same impression as a prophet would make at present [the 12th Century] if he called us to the service of God and told us in His name, that we should not pray to God nor fast, nor seek His help in time of trouble; that we should serve Him in thought, and not by any action." (Book III, Chapter 32. Translated by M. Friedlander, 1904, The Guide for the Perplexed, Dover Publications, 1956 edition.)

In contrast, many others such as Nachmanides (in his Torah commentary on Leviticus 1:9) disagreed, contending that sacrifices are an ideal in Judaism, completely central.

The teachings of the Torah and Tanakh reveal Judaism's abhorrence of human sacrifices.

Christianity

In Christian teaching, God became incarnate in Jesus Christ to accomplish the reconciliation of God and humanity, which had separated itself from God through sin (see the concept of original sin). According to the view that has dominated Western theology since early in the 2nd millennium, God's justice required an atonement for sin from humanity if human beings were to be restored to their place in creation and saved from damnation. However, God knew limited human beings could not make sufficient atonement, for humanity's offence to God was infinite, so God sent his only Son to become the sacrifice of the everlasting covenant. In Christian theology, this sacrifice replaced the insufficient animal sacrifice of the Old Covenant; Christ the "Lamb of God" replaced the lambs' sacrifice of the ancient Korban Todah (the Rite of Thanksgiving), chief of which is the Passover in the Mosaic law.

Geza Vermes writes that the title "Lamb of God" does not necessarily refer to the metaphor of a sacrificial animal. He points out that in Galilean Aramaic, the word talya, literally "lamb", had the common meaning of "male child". This is akin to kid meaning "child" in modern colloquial English. The female equivalent of talya was talitha, literally "ewe lamb" and figuratively "girl" (the word is found in the narrative of the daughter of Jairus). Thus, "Lamb of God" could have been a slang means of saying "Son of God" or "God's Kid". This view differs from the traditional understanding of the phrase as it is used in reference to the acts of Jesus, and not merely his status as the Son of God.

In the Roman Catholic Church, the Eastern Orthodox Churches, as well as among some High Church Anglicans, the Eucharist or Mass, and the Divine Liturgy of the Eastern Catholic Churches and Eastern Orthodox Church, is seen as a sacrifice. It is however, not a separate or additional sacrifice to that Christ on the cross; it is rather the exact same sacrifice, which transcends time and space ("the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world") (Rev. 13:8), renewed and made present, the only distinction being that it is offered in an unbloody manner. The sacrifice is made present without Christ dying or being crucified again; it is a re-presentation to God, of the "once and for all" sacrifice of Calvary by the now risen Christ, who continues to offer himself and what he has done on the cross as an oblation to the Father. The complete identification of the Mass with the sacrifice of the cross is found in Christ's words at the last supper over the bread and wine: "This is my body, which is given up for you," and "This is my blood of the new covenant, which is shed...unto the forgiveness of sins." The bread and wine, offered by Melchizedek in sacrifice in the old covenant (Genesis 14:18; Psalm 110:4), are transformed through the Mass into the body and blood of Christ (see transubstantiation; note: the Orthodox Church does not hold as dogma, as do Catholics, the doctrine of transubstantiation, preferring rather to not make an assertion regarding the "how" of the sacraments), and the offering becomes one with that of Christ on the cross. In the Mass as on the cross, Christ is both priest (offering the sacrifice) and victim (the sacrifice he offers is himself), though in the Mass in the former capacity he works through a solely human priest who is joined to him through the sacrament of Holy Orders and thus shares in Christ's priesthood. Through the Mass, the merits of the one sacrifice of the cross can be applied to the redemption of those present, to their specific intentions and prayers, and to the redemption of the souls in purgatory. A prophecy of the sacrifice of the Mass, offered in every corner of the world, is found in the Book of Malachi in the Old Testament: "from the rising of the sun to the going down of the same, my name has been glorified among the Gentiles, and in every place incense is offered to my name, and a pure offering, for my name is great among the Gentiles" (Mal. 1:10-11).

The concept of self-sacrifice and martyrs are central to Christianity. Often found in Catholic and Orthodox Christianity is the idea of joining one's own sufferings to the sacrifice of Christ on the cross. Thus one can offer up involuntary suffering, such as illness, or purposefully embrace suffering in acts of penance, such as fasting. Some Protestants criticize this as a denial of the all-sufficiency of Christ's sacrifice, but it finds support in St. Paul: "Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ's afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church" (Col 1:24). Pope John Paul II explained in his encyclical Salvifici Doloris:

"In the Cross of Christ not only is the Redemption accomplished through suffering, but also human suffering itself has been redeemed...Every man has his own share in the Redemption. Each one is also called to share in that suffering through which the Redemption was accomplished...In bringing about the Redemption through suffering, Christ has also raised human suffering to the level of the Redemption. Thus each man, in his suffering, can also become a sharer in the redemptive suffering of Christ...The sufferings of Christ created the good of the world's redemption. This good in itself is inexhaustible and infinite. No man can add anything to it. But at the same time, in the mystery of the Church as his Body, Christ has in a sense opened his own redemptive suffering to all human suffering."
Some Protestants reject the idea of the Eucharist as a sacrifice, inclining to see it as merely a holy meal (even if they believe in a form of the real presence of Christ in the bread and wine, as Lutherans do). The more recent the origin of a particular tradition, the less emphasis is placed on the sacrificial nature of the Eucharist. The Catholic/Orthodox response is that the sacrifice of the Mass in the New Covenant is that one sacrifice for sins on the cross which transcends time offered in an unbloody manner, as discussed above, and that Christ is the real priest at every Mass working through mere human beings to whom he has granted the grace of a share in his priesthood. Since the word priest carries heavy connotations of "one who offers sacrifice", Protestants usually do not use it for their clergy. Evangelical Protestantism emphasizes the importance of a decision to accept Christ's sacrifice on the Cross consciously and personally as atonement for one's individual sins if one is to be saved—this is known as "accepting Christ as one's personal Lord and Savior".

The Orthodox Church sees the celebration of the Eucharist as a continuation, rather than a reenactment, of the Last Supper, as Fr. John Matusiak (of the OCA) says: "The Liturgy is not so much a reenactment of the Mystical Supper or these events as it is a continuation of these events, which are beyond time and space. Unlike many of the Protestant bodies, the Orthodox also see the Eucharistic Liturgy as a bloodless sacrifice, during which the bread and wine we offer to God become the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ through the descent and operation of the Holy Spirit, Who effects the change." This view is witnessed to by the prayers of the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, when the priest says: "Accept, O God, our supplications, make us to be worthy to offer unto thee supplications and prayers and bloodless sacrifices for all thy people," and "Remembering this saving commandment and all those things which came to pass for us: the cross, the grave, the resurrection on the third day, the ascension into heaven, the sitting down at the right hand, the second and glorious coming again, Thine own of Thine own we offer unto Thee on behalf of all and for all," and "… Thou didst become man and didst take the name of our High Priest, and deliver unto us the priestly rite of this liturgical and bloodless sacrifice…"

Islam

An animal sacrifice in Arabic is called ḏabiḥa (ذَبِيْحَة) or Qurban (قُرْبَان) . The term may have roots from the Jewish term Korban'; in some places such as in India/Pakistan, qurbani is always used for Islamic animal sacrifice. In the Islamic context, an animal sacrifice referred to as ḏabiḥa'' (ذَبِيْحَة) meaning "sacrifice as a ritual" is offered only in Eid ul-Adha. ..."therefore, to thy Lord turn in prayer and in Sacrifice. " (Nahr)-Al Quran, 108.2 Qurbani is an Islamic prescription for the affluent to share their good fortune with the needy in the community. On the occasion of Eid ul Adhaa, affluent Muslims all over the world perform the Sunnah of Prophet Ibrahim (Abraham) by sacrificing a goat or sheep. The meat is then divided into three equal parts. One part is retained by the person who performs the Qurbani. The second is given to his relatives. The third part is distributed to the poor. The Muslims say that this has nothing to do with blood and gore (Qur'an 22:37: "It is not their meat nor their blood, that reaches God. It is your piety that reaches Him..."). The sacrifice is done to help the poor and in remembrance of Prophet Abraham's willingness to sacrifice his son Ishmael at God's command. The sacrificial animal may be a lamb, a sheep, a goat, a camel or a cow. The animal must be healthy and conscious.

The Islamic system of slaughter is called Ḏabīḥah.

Hinduism

The Sanskrit Yajna is often translated as "sacrifice" but also means worship, devotion, offering, and oblation. It is especially used to describe the offering of ghee (clarified butter), grains, spices, and wood into a fire along with the chanting of sacred mantras. The fire represents Agni, the divine messenger who carries offerings to the Devas. The offerings can represent devotion, aspiration, and seeds of past karma. In Vedic times, Yajna commonly included the sacrifice of milk, ghee, curd, grains, and the soma plant—animal offerings were less common. In modern times, Yajna is often performed at weddings and funerals, and in personal worship. Sacrifice in Hinduism can also refer to personal surrender through acts of inner and outer worship.

Sacrifice by type of offering

Literally anything of some value may sacrificed in some religion's practices. The more valuable the offering, generally, the more highly the sacrifice is regarded but the more difficult to make. On a day-to-day basis, offerings may be quite simple indeed: flowers, incense, spilling some of the drink from a cup before drinking.

Commonly, the most valuable sacrifices have been that of lives, animal or human.

Animal sacrifice

Animal sacrifice is the ritual killing of an animal as part of a religion. It is practiced by many religions as a means of appeasing a god or gods or changing the course of nature. Animal sacrifice has turned up in almost all cultures, from the Hebrews to the Greeks and Romans (particularly the purifying ceremony Lustratio) and from the Aztecs to the Yoruba. However, the practice was a taboo among the Ancient Egyptians, and they tended to look down on cultures that practiced this custom. Animal sacrifice is still practiced today by the followers of Santería and other lineages of Orisa as a means of curing the sick and giving thanks to the Orisa (gods). However in Santeria, such animal offerings constitute an extremely small portion of what are termed ebos—ritual activities that include offerings, prayer and deeds. Some villages in Greece also sacrifice animals to Orthodox saints in a practise known as kourbània. The practise, while publicly condemned, is often tolerated for the benefits it provides to the church and the sense of community it engenders.

Human sacrifice

Human sacrifice was practiced by many ancient cultures. People would be ritually killed in a manner that was supposed to please or appease a god or spirit. While not widely known, human sacrifices for religious reasons still exist today in a number of nations.

Some occasions for human sacrifice found in multiple cultures on multiple continents include:

  • Human sacrifice to accompany the dedication of a new temple or bridge.
  • Sacrifice of people upon the death of a king, high priest or great leader; the sacrificed were supposed to serve or accompany the deceased leader in the next life.
  • Human sacrifice in times of natural disaster. Droughts, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, etc. were seen as a sign of anger or displeasure by deities, and sacrifices were supposed to lessen the divine ire.

Some of the best known ancient human sacrifices were those practiced by various Pre-Columbian civilizations of Mesoamerica. The Aztec were particularly noted for practicing this on an unusually large scale; a human sacrifice would be made every day to aid the sun in rising, the dedication of the great temple at Tenochtitlán was reportedly marked with the sacrificing of thousands, and there are multiple accounts of captured Conquistadores being sacrificed during the wars of the Spanish conquest of Mexico.

In Scandinavia, the old Scandinavian religion contained human sacrifice, and both the Norse sagas and German historians relate of this, see e.g. Temple at Uppsala and Blót.

There is evidence to suggest Pre-Hellenic Minoan cultures practised human sacrifice. Sacrificed corpses were found at a number of sites in the citadel of Knossos in Crete. The north house at Knossos contained the bones of children who appeared to have been butchered. It is possible they may have been for human consumption as was the tradition with sacrificial offerings made in Pre-Hellenic Civilization. The myth of Theseus and the Minotaur (set in the labyrinth at Knossos) provides evidence that human sacrifice was commonplace. In the myth, we are told that Athens sent seven young men and seven young women to Crete as human sacrifices to the Minotaur. This ties up well with the archaeological evidence that most sacrifices were of young adults or children.

Human sacrifice still happens today as an underground practice in some traditional religions, for example in muti killings. Human sacrifice is no longer officially condoned in any country, and these cases are regarded as murder.

In Hindu narratives, practising human sacrifice and eating human meat was a work of the demons (see Demon).

In the Aeneid by Virgil, the character Sinon claims that he was going to be a human sacrifice to Poseidon to calm the seas (of course, Sinon was lying).

Human sacrifice is a common theme in the religions and mythology of many cultures.

Other aspects

Self sacrifice

Self-sacrifice, the act of deliberately following a course of action that has a high risk or certainty of suffering or death (which could otherwise be avoided), in order to achieve a perceived benefit for certain others, is a powerful theme with a well-established place in many cultures, myths, and societies. Self-sacrifice may also be more broadly defined as selflessness, or the readiness to inflict pain upon yourself to save others; it is this definition which, for example, Leo Tolstoy embraced and espoused.

Sacrifice in games

Sacrifice is also used metaphorically to describe a number of plays in games. Sacrifices, in this sense, are plays that lose pieces or opportunities in order to obtain a more important advantage.

In chess, a number of exchanges are described as sacrifices: these typically involve losing a piece or a pawn to disrupt the opponent's formation and open up an attack. Chess openings that involve sacrifices are usually called "gambits" by chess players; in these gambits, usually a pawn is deliberately lost; gambits that lose a piece are rare and risky.

In contract bridge, a sacrifice is a deliberate higher level bid of a contract which is likely to fail, in the hope that the adverse cost of the failure will still be less than the opponents' likely successful scores would have been.

In baseball, a sacrifice fly is a play in which a batter hits a fly ball deep into the outfield for an out so as to enable a runner on any base, depending on the runner's speed, to score. Likewise, a sacrifice bunt in baseball is one in which a batter deliberately allows himself to be put out while advancing a teammate to second and/or third base, from where he has a greater chance to score. Players who commit either a sacrifice fly or bunt are not charged with a "time at bat," thus the out that they sacrificed is not charged against their batting average.

In a some role-playing games certain characters have the ability to give up their hit points for the benefit of their allies. In the game World of Warcraft a player of the Paladin class may sacrifice the life of their character in order to provide temporary invulnerability to another player.

See also

External links

Further reading

  • Davies, Nigel (1981). Human Sacrifice: In History and Today. Dorset Press. ISBN 0-88029-211-3.
  • Lancaster, John "In India, case links mysticism, murder". Washington Post, .
  • Heinsohn, Gunnar: "The Rise of Blood Sacrifice and Priest Kingship in Mesopotamia: A Cosmic Decree?" (also published in: Religion, Vol. 22, 1992)
  • Sacrifice (Catholic Encyclopedia)
  • Bataille, Georges (1992). Theory of Religion. Zone Books. ISBN 0-942299-09-4.
  • Carter, Jeffrey (2003). Understanding Religious Sacrifice. Continuum. ISBN 0-8264-4880-1.
  • Hubert, Henri; Marcel Mauss Sacrifice: Its Nature and Function. U of Chicago Press(reprint, orig 1898).

References

Search another word or see Ritual sacrificeon Dictionary | Thesaurus |Spanish
Copyright © 2014 Dictionary.com, LLC. All rights reserved.
  • Please Login or Sign Up to use the Recent Searches feature
FAVORITES
RECENT

;