Child sacrifice as a Phoenician/Punic religious rite is a well accepted fact amongst professional scholars; but, remains a bone of contention amongst some interest groups. Particularly in Lebanon, some people resent their ancestors described as baby killers. It is seen as a continuation of the disparagement leveled by ancient Greeks and Romans. The evidence from Tophet sites and other archaeological evidence prove that children really were sacrificed. But, the evidence does not explain how they came up with the idea to burn living babies to death. However, there are historical events which are likely candidates for explaining the Tophet phenomenon. Identifying historical events in the Levant which inspired this religious practice should help alleviate sensations of ethnic disparagement.
Human sacrifice occurred in many ancient cultures; however, the Tophet phenomenon was unique to Phoenician/Punic religion and is exceptionally shocking. Simply describing the agricultural myth of the grain cycle as the basis for the rite is not adequate, because every ancient culture held the same basic religious concepts. There is no evidence that the Dumuzi myth of the dying and resurrecting grain god inspired human sacrifice in Mesopotamia. The only evidence of Mesopotamian human sacrifice was in the rich mortuary site from the Ur III period. A whole retinue of servants were poisoned and enclosed in the tomb of their dead queen (or priestess), to serve her in the afterlife. The same practice of killing royal attendants was found in Egypt. But, that practice was not the basis for the Tophet ritual. Occasionally, substitute kings were killed due to bad omens in Mesopotamia; but, that does not explain the murder specifically of children at the Tophet. Only the ancient people of the Levant and their close cousins around the Mediterranean burnt children alive and sustain that practice over many centuries. The explanation for this rite must be found within the historical experience unique to this region.
The people of the Levant were no more cruel or barbaric than every other ancient culture. Every ancient religion manifested itself in bizarre rituals. (Some of my ancestors were Vikings; so, I certainly don’t point fingers at other people’s ancestors and call them barbarians.) Also, none of these ancient religions should be described as “folk” religions. As explained, ethnicity simply was not a driving force in Bronze Age and Iron Age culture. The early cults described in this book were specifically not ethnic phenomenon. These cults were “king” cults, designed by politically ambitious priests. “The people” of the Levant did not collectively decide to burn babies. It was a priesthood who devised an awesome ritual, to advance their political power in the region. The baby burning ritual was the idea of a few sadistic priests, not the collective ancestors of today’s Lebanese. The only fair criticism of the general public of this ancient culture is that they believed in their religion, as defined by these sadistic priests. They were hoodwinked by some rotten leaders, who mesmerized them with mumbo jumbo. The Tophet ritual is the saddest example which fits the quote by physicist Steven Weinberg:
“Good people will do good things, and bad people will do bad things. But for good people to do bad things -- that takes religion.”
History is full of examples of leaders using religion to mislead people. But, the Tophet ritual was inspired by a specific set of circumstances. The political organization of the Levant under the Egyptians during the Late Bronze Age created a unique experience for the Canaanite ancestors of Phoenician/Punic culture. That situation is the probable inspiration behind the Tophet. The Egyptian method of managing their Canaanite provinces gave a unique status to a specific class of children, the same class as were later sacrificed at the Tophet. The collection of letters found at Amarna in Egypt provides some clues to the Tophet. In Amarna letter 180, a 14th century BCE Canaanite headman exclaimed:
“I have sent my son to the king, my lord, my god, my sun!”
This headman probably never saw his son again. Sending his son as a hostage to Egypt was the price he paid to the god-king, in exchange for power. As a mayor over a pharaoh’s town in Canaan, the headman followed the same rules as the mayors in Egypt: swearing allegiance to the pharaoh and sending his own children as hostages to Egypt
198). This headman was most likely sent to Egypt
when he was a boy too. The practice was
established during the century prior to the headman’s letter, by Thutmose III, as the pharaoh states:
“Now the children of the chiefs and their brothers were brought to be hostages in Egypt; and as for any of these chiefs that died, His Majesty used to have his son assume his post.”
(Redford 1992, 198)
Although the headman’s son was as good as dead to his father, he did have hope that the boy would return after his death, to take over his political duties. In Egypt, these boys were often guards of the pharaoh and ran before his royal chariot
198). Those destined to return to Canaan were educated and indoctrinated to serve as
loyal administrators for the pharaoh.
The children were quite young when they were sent to Egypt; so, they
left home as Canaanite children and returned as Egyptian god-like men.
Canaanite girls were also sent as hostages to Egypt; but, their experience is
less clear. Perhaps some of them
returned to Canaan as the brides of the returning headmen.
The children’s experience in Egypt was mostly brainwashing. The children ate well, were relatively well educated, and physically trained for military duty. But, they spent their childhood within the sphere of the most politically powerful man on earth. Not only was the pharaoh powerful on earth, he was thought to be a god and able to transcend death. No doubt, the children became well acquainted with Egyptian religion. It is very likely that the boys were ceremonially circumcised. Circumcision was already practiced in Egypt for at least 1,000 years before Thutmose III. Even if Canaanites were already practicing circumcision, for these particular boys the rite was performed in Egypt. One can imagine that circumcision was a traumatic ceremony for adolescent boys. They were ritually dedicated to the pharaoh in a very personal and physical manner, which could not be undone. They lived with the mark for the rest of their life, which defined them as headmen of the pharaoh.
Circumcision was also a dangerous procedure, sometimes resulting in death. The most ridiculous proposal is that circumcision was performed for cleanliness. The risk of infection far outweighed any imaginable physical benefits. In later Judaism, the Talmud created an exemption from circumcision for infant males who had two brothers who died, due to complications caused by circumcision. Far from being a healthful benefit, circumcision was a cause of death for boys. It served purely religious functions.
There are at least two reasons to believe that the hostage Canaanite boys were ritually circumcised in Egypt. One is that the other area of Egyptian expansion during this time period was Ethiopia. Circumcision also became a regular practice in Ethiopia. Most likely, circumcision was introduced amongst both Canaanites and Ethiopians at this time, by the returning hostage children. The other reason is that Queen Hatshepsut rebuilt the Mut temple at Luxor, next to the temple of Khonsu, just prior to the beginning of hostage ordeal of Canaanite children. Thutmose III took credit for her patronage at Luxor and continued its use. The current Khonsu temple was built later by Ramses III; but, on the site of the earlier temple. Its wall sculptures contain one of the rare depictions of circumcision in Egypt
(Wikimedia Commons 2010). It seems that initiation into the cult
included circumcision. Khonsu was at
his height of popularity during this period, called: "Greatest God of
the Great Gods". He was often
depicted as a boy sarcophagus. In Egypt,
circumcision was associated with a dead boy-god. However, there is no evidence of human
sacrifice rituals associated with Khonsu in Egypt.
Queen Hatshepsut’s elevation of the cult makes sense in her artistic portrayals as a man. Most speculation about why Hatshepsut was portrayed as a man focuses on assumed sexism by Egyptians. Since the pharaoh was supposed to be a man, Hatshepsut portrayed herself as a man in art. However, hermaphrodites were considered by ancient people with exceptional religious awe. Hatshepsut portrayed herself like a living Ishtar. She was like the goddess who changed from female to male, as the morning and evening star, Venus. She associated herself with the lioness goddess Sekhmet, who was Anat in West Asia. She liked her self-image as a magical hermaphrodite. Circumcision was a method of creating hermaphrodites.
The best explanation so far for the circumcision ritual is that it created hermaphrodites. Circumcising a pubescent boy gave him genital bleeding, like a girl reaching menarche. It was a more effective method of creating a hermaphrodite than castration, which left most males without the ability to have an erection. A circumcised boy bled like a girl; but, retained the sexual abilities of a male too. It is not surprising that the gender bending Hatshepsut elevated the circumcision cult of Khonsu. Thutmose III built another temple in honor Khonsu in the south at Kom Ombo. The Khonsu cult was politically important to Thutmoses III, whose priority was expanding territories and securing the provinces. So, it makes sense that the hostage children were initiated into this cult.
Thutmose III’s method of training up loyal headmen was very successful. The letters in the Amarna archive show headmen who have a deep sense of subservience to the pharaoh, imbued with religious reverence and fear. The whole of Canaanite society learned a deep respect for their Egyptian overlord. They watched their neighbors deported and the children of the elite class taken hostage. They experienced the horrors of war in the successful Egyptian campaign against the Mitanni, fought in their hometowns. The pharaoh was god-like, in their experience. But, the net result of loyalty to the pharaoh was a period of peace and prosperity. For 65 years, there were no military actions in Canaan and trade goods moved along the Canaanite trade routes
166). This was remembered as a good time in
Canaan. It was a period longed for,
after things turned desperately bad, during the economic collapse at the end of
the Bronze Age.
It takes very little stretch of the imagination to assume that Canaanites interpreted the departure of the children and their return as the ruling class, religiously. The initiation of the hostage practice struck at the heart of Canaanite agricultural rituals. Thutmose III’s invasion of 1476 BCE coincided with the harvest
158). The first shipment of Canaanite children to
accompanied by massive quantities of grain, wine, and fruit. The successive payments of tribute and
shipments of children to Egypt also occurred at the death of the grain
god. The weeping for Tammuz ceremonies coincided with children leaving
Canaan to go to
the pharaoh, a self-proclaimed god.
And, the pharaoh wasn’t just any god. He was the sun, Ra. The weeping for Tammuz ceremony was presided over by the burning sun of the summer solstice. It was represented in the sky by the Arrow constellation. The image of the arrow was depicted as a bird on a perch, with the gender-bending Ishtar standing on one side and the hermaphrodite True Shepherd of Anu on the other. This all occurs in the zodiac sign of Cancer. Because of the precession of the zodiac, the location of the stars is a bit askew on the star chart. However, even in their current locations, they are very close to the south axis, which forms a cross with the east-west axis of the spring equinox and autumn equinox. 1,500 years before Christianity, Canaanites watched princes depart for the realm of god, with the promise that they would return as kings. And, their departure coincided with an imaginary cross in the sky.
The remnants of Canaanite mythology also have themes remarkably symbolic of the hostage children’s experience. In the Ugarit story of Aqhat, Danel was like the Canaanite headmen kings, whose political power came from Egypt. The story even has an Egyptian link, because Kothar-and-Khasis (the lords of Memphis) bestowed their bow and arrows on Aqhat’s father, Danel (Aqhat, 24). Kothar and Khasis became one as Kothar wa Hasis, the craftsmen deity; in other words: a carpenter. He was later identified as Hephaestus by the Greeks and the father of Eshmun, the boy god of Sidon. And, in Christian myth, he was Joseph the carpenter. With the bow and arrows of Kothar and Khasis, Aqhat’s father, Danel, was an equivalent of Resheph. Resheph was the “lord of arrow” and god of plagues and war. He was the Apollo of Canaanite myth. And, Phoenicians said that Apollo was the real father of Eshmun, not Hephaestus. Danel was called “the healer’s man” and his name meant “judge.” These terms made him one of the Rephaim, the panel divine judges. The panel was composed of dead kings in the ancestor worship of Canaanites.
The death of Danel’s son, Aqhat, and his sister’s rescue of him were symbolic of the children’s sojourn in Egypt. Aqhat’s death was the result of disobedience to Anat. Aqhat refused to give the goddess the Egyptian bow and arrows of his father and she killed him. This is a star story, referring to the goddess as the Bow constellation and Aqhat beside her as the Arrow of the summer solstice. It is similar to the Mesopotamian Dumuzi story, in which his sister, Geshtianna, rescued her brother, by taking his place in the underworld. Aqhat’s sister plays a similar role. Aqhat also comes back to life, after a seven year drought. The seven years symbolized the seven stars of Ursa Major, which makes up the constellation of the Wagon. The seven stars plus the dead boy also make up the eight spokes of the wagon wheel, which composed the double-cross. The Wagon constellation crossed the south axis of the celestial cross at the summer solstice. In Hebrew, “wheel” is gilgal, which was transliterated in Greek as Golgotha. Golgotha was not a place on earth, where Jesus was crucified. His death was represented in the Wheel of heaven.
It doesn’t matter whether Canaanite myths like Aqhat were already in currency in 1476 BCE or were written after Thutmoses III. The parallels between the stories and the events are suggestive of how the Canaanites viewed the hostage children, from a religious perspective. Aqhat was modeled on the age old story in the sky, originally told for Dumuzi/Tammuz. But, it became a real life story for the Canaanite boys sent to Egypt.
Since Ugarit had such a close relationship with Egypt, it is not surprising to find their political ties echoed in their mythology. However, every pharaoh’s town in Canaan was undergoing the same Egyptian management of the elite class. The religious interpretation of the hostage children can be assumed as similar to that of Ugarit, throughout Canaan. The mythology of Ugarit echoed down through the ages, to be repeated by Philo of Byblos, in the 2nd century CE. Their stories are also very similar to Bible tales. Ugarit mythology represents the religious worldview in the region, which survived from the Bronze Age and through the period of Tophet practice. By the time of Philo, Phoenician mythology had lost its Egyptian political overtones; but, still retained evidence of Egyptian influence. The Hellenized 2nd century Sanchuniathon, by Philo of Byblos, contains a father sacrificing his son:
"Cronus offered up his only begotten son as a sacrifice to his father Ouranus, and circumcised himself ...”
Even as late as the 2nd century CE, Phoenician myth linked child sacrifice with a religious practice inherited from Egypt: circumcision.
The departure of the Canaanite children was no doubt traumatic and likely accompanied with religious ceremony. The return of the boys as Egyptian grown men must have been impressive as well. These returning sons must have looked like gods to the Canaanites. They were physically fit from military service and dressed in Egyptian costume, just like the gods in Canaanite temples. After a childhood in Egypt, the returning headmen were foreigners in their homeland; so, portraying themselves as messiah-like saviors was useful for legitimizing their rule. To the Egyptians, the headmen were just mayors, administering their rule and taxation over the Canaanite provinces. But to the Canaanites, the headman filled the West Asian traditional role of priest-king, the human link to the divine order.
The other unique characteristic of these headmen is that they were members of the elite maryannu class. The maryannu were a warrior caste of charioteers. They often practiced cremation, rather than the interment burial practices of the lower classes
(Redford 1992, 136). Cremation carried a different concept of the type of
afterlife in store for the dead than interment. An interred dead person was
headed for the underworld as a hungry ghost. Only special people were worthy of
cremation, particularly heroes.
Cremation transported heroes to the realm of the gods: their spirits
were taken up with the smoke. Smoke was
imagined to actually be the spirit of god.
These beliefs were best preserved in the literature of the other
charioteer culture, the Greeks. They
believed that cremated warriors were headed for the Elysian Fields for a glorious afterlife, very unlike the
dreary afterlife in Hades. Cremation became fashionable during the Late
Bronze Age, continuing into the Archaic Period in the Eastern Mediterranean. However, it remained a common practice in
later Phoenician/Punic culture. This is
another indication that the Bronze Age historical experience of Canaanites was formative in the later religious practices
of their descendents.
For Canaanites, the religious symbolism of children played out in reality. Their agricultural myth of the dying grain god truly came to life. In other cultures, kings made political hay of the myths with grandiose ceremonies, such as in Mesopotamia and Egypt. Legends about kings were regularly concocted to draw parallels between their lives and the gods. But in Canaan, the sons of kings really did appear to die, travel to the realm of the gods, and come back to life as the new king. The whole lifecycle of the headman was rife with religious meaning. This life story, which was so unique to Late Bronze Age Canaanites, is the likely inspiration of the Tophet practice.
There is no evidence for the Tophet phenomenon during the Bronze Age. It began sometime after 1200 BCE, as the Phoenician city-states recovered from the tumult of the Dark Age, when Egypt lost control of the Levant
(G. E. Markoe 1990, 13). The archaeological evidence suggests that the
Canaanite cities, such as Tyre, continued to be occupied; but, in an
impoverished state (Brody 2002,
Again from Ugarit, literature provides some insight into their cultic practices in 1200 BCE. KTU1.161 is a liturgy, initiating the cult of the dead king, Niqmadu III. The text calls on the Rephaim, who were divine past kings, as protectors of the city
(Levine 1984). As a divine council, numbers were symbolic,
such as the eight member panels of judges. So, the symbolism of the eight-spoke
wheel was relevant to their concepts of the Rephaim. His funeral was cremation
ritual. The Wagon constellation represented his bier, carrying his smoky
spirit to the afterlife. Their form of
ancestor worship carried the notion that the dead of the elite class could help
the living and continued to have interest in their city. So, by killing the sons of the elite class,
they imagined they were creating savior gods, as tutelary deities for
cities. The dead child’s purpose was
political, creating a locus of worship unique to each city. The political nature of the boy-gods is
evident in their rather secretive names.
Their names do not identify them as nature deities. They all carry titles describing them as
members of a royal household. Philo of
Byblos gave an explanation for child sacrifice, which
fits with the ancestor worship of Ugarit:
“It was the custom among the ancients, in times of great calamity, in order to prevent the ruin of all, for the rulers of the city or nation to sacrifice to the avenging deities the most beloved of their children as the price of redemption: they who were devoted this purpose were offered mystically. For Cronus, whom the Phoenicians call Il, and who after his death was deified and instated in the planet which bears his name, when king, had by a nymph of the country called Anobret an only son, who on that account is styled Ieoud, for so the Phoenicians still call an only son: and when great dangers from war beset the land he adorned the altar, and invested this son with the emblems of royalty, and sacrificed him.” (Eusebius, History of the Church, I:10.-IV)
Philo’s account of the son invested with emblems of royalty, prior to his sacrifice, is understandable in the context of the Rephaim of Ugarit. Their belief that dead royalty became divine meant that the son could become influential over the interests of the city-state in the supernatural realm. However, the concept that a child was useful in the divine realm came from the experience of sending children to the sun-god of Egypt as hostages. For generations, the headmen of the pharaoh’s towns in Canaan appealed to the pharaoh to send troops, when threatened by war. Many of the self-abasing letters of the headmen in the Amarna Archive are just such appeals. With the economic collapse at the end of the Bronze Age and Egypt’s withdrawal from Canaan, memories of the good ole days of the Egyptian imperial period became myth. They began sending their appeals and hostage children to the divine realm, rather than Egypt. They began practicing child sacrifice.
All of the most shocking elements of the Tophet rites follow with religious logic from a basis in a unique historical experience. The Tophet children were burned alive; so, they were not considered dead and going to the underworld. They were taken up alive with the smoky spirit of god. This was a conflation of the cremation rite and a memory of the children sent as hostages to the sun-god in Egypt. The children were not really sacrificial, in the more common sense of burnt sacrifices as food for the gods. For that purpose, the children of enemies or the lower classes would suffice. But, the Phoenicians sacrificed the children of the elite class. These children were well loved and continued to be honored, after the burning ordeal at the Tophet. At Carthage, the parents of the children continued to make offerings at the Tophet, such as baby bottles of milk. The pottery bottles were shaped with a spout for suckling and decorated with religious symbols. The babies lived on in the imaginations of their parents with messiah-like qualities. They were considered to have influence over the well-being of their cities.
This rite was not the result of a barbaric, exceptionally cruel culture. No ancient culture survives scrutiny without a dark side being exposed. Rather, the Tophet phenomenon derived from an extreme religious sense of inferiority and subservience to the gods, and the high religious status of the elite class children, fostered under Egyptian rule. It was a concept that political power and the well-being of a Phoenician city came at the enormous price of giving their most precious children as hostages to the gods.
It is during the early stages of Iron Age I that what is termed Phoenician culture emerged. They were politically independent of Egypt and the other major players of the internationalism, which characterized the Bronze Age. The Phoenicians began a rapid expansion into the Mediterranean establishing trade colonies. They also expanded to the east and south, taking over the old land trade routes. Literary and archaeological evidence of human sacrifice turn up along all of their trade routes. Wherever there was smoke from child sacrifice, there was a Phoenician.
The cult of Melqart appeared suddenly at Tyre in the 10th century BCE
1990, 57). His name, “City King” suggests that the cult
originated as a king-cult, similar to that described at Ugarit. But, with the distinct difference that it was
founded on the sacrifice of the king’s son, rather than the dead kings of
old. Eshmun of Byblos, Adonis of Sidon, and Melqart of Tyre were all
savior gods, with youthful characters and associated with the royal house of
each city (Clifford
1990, 57). They were all cults founded with child
The Tyrians built a temple to Melqart at Gades, now called Cadiz, in Southwestern Spain. The striking feature to Greeks about the sanctuary was that it had no cult statue. The focus of worship was an altar, with a continuously fed fire. As stated before, “Melqart” simply translates as “king of the city.” He was not a nature deity, like the storm god, grain god, etc. He was a political god. The other Phoenician city gods were similar. And as Philo recounts, these gods were also called Ieoud, which means “only son.” Greeks identified Melqart as Hercules. Their imagery of the Phoenician boy-gods borrowed artistic themes from the boy-gods of Egypt. Particularly Hercules was portrayed with the lion skin of Khonsu. Khonsu was a manifestation of Horus, portrayed wearing a lion skin, the sidelock Egyptian haircut for boys, and as a sarcophagus. Another form of Horus was Iunmutef, portrayed as a boy with a sidelock, wearing a panther skin. These Egyptian boy-gods were no doubt part of the inspiration for the new gods, which emerge in the Levant at the beginning of the Iron Age.
Unique to the Levant and in the Phoenician colonies was more aniconism than in neighboring cultures. Aniconic worship is defined by the use of standing stones, baetyls, obelisks, pillars, or poles, as objects of worship, rather than cult statues. It became very common amongst the Nabataeans of Transjordan, with the best evidence dating from the Roman Period
(Wenning 2001). And, of course Judaism, with its proscription
against graven images, evolved from this local emphasis on aniconism. The Muslim taboo about representing gods in
human form is also a direct descendent from this tradition of aniconism in the
Neither the Mesopotamians nor Egyptians considered their cult statues to be graven images. Mesopotamian statues went through a ceremony in which it was born by the river, and enlivened with an opening of the mouth ritual
(Hurowitz 2003). The ritual birth and endowing the statue with
spirit was very similar to baptism.
Egyptian statues of gods went through similar rites in which the spirit
of the god entered the statue. But, the
savior gods of the Levant created
through human sacrifice, became the least likely to be represented by a statue,
particularly in the holy of holies of their temples. But, some savior gods also were treated to
the baptism ritual. The aniconic statue
of the savior at Hierapolis (Bambyce) was taken twice a year for a baptism.
Another good example of aniconism is Tikulti-Ninurta’s altar of Nusku, which was just a throne. The king was represented artistically on the throne; but, not the god. Nusku was never represented with a statue and his symbol was a lamp. And, his altar dates to the end of the Bronze Age-beginning of the Iron Age, contemporary with the beginning of child sacrifice. There isn’t any evidence of human sacrifice associated with Iron Age Nusku in Mesopotamia. But, the concept of Nusku as a formless god suggests his inspiration for the taboo against representing the boy-gods with statues.
There was a Bronze Age precedent for the dying-resurrecting gods in particular to not be represented with images. One curious thing about the Sumerian Dumuzi is that he and the stories about him do not seem to be represented in Mesopotamian art
Few cult statues have survived of any deity; but, most of the pantheon is well
represented on cylinder seals. Inanna appears
on seals quite frequently and in other mediums of art as well. The famous
“Warka head” that was stolen during the looting of the Iraqi museum following
the American invasion, is likely the remains of Inanna’s cult statue at Uruk. But Dumuzi doesn’t appear in any medium.
There are several possible reasons the absence of Dumuzi in art; however, they are sheer speculation. One reason is that he might be represented but not recognized or representations have simply not been found. These reasons seem unlikely because he was a relatively important god. Another possibility is that most of the sexually explicit material from Mesopotamia remains unpublished
(Black 2004, 151). Museums and educational institutions have long
been dominated by a Victorian sense of propriety. Much of what the public knows about ancient
people has been sanitized, so as not to upset the “moral authorities.” So, the material most likely to depict Dumuzi
has yet to be thoroughly interpreted. The Sumerians may
have had some prohibition against representing Dumuzi. However, it is hard to
imagine such a prohibition being maintained over the millennia, during which
Dumuzi was considered a god. Such religious prohibitions have turned out to be
a recurrent fad rather than a well maintained rule for all time. The taboo against representing savior gods
was certainly not translated into Greek, where his various incarnations were popular
in art. Even Islam went through periods
which violated the taboo against the human form.
The best explanation is that Dumuzi was so strongly associated with the divine status of kingship, that representations of real kings were sufficient representation of Dumuzi. His identification with living kings may have constituted a prohibition against his image, independent of the king. Kings are well represented in art, often depicted with Inanna and her later interpretations. Like in the New Year’s love poem in which lines about Inanna/Dumuzi and the queen/king are arranged in couplets; art depicting the king and Inanna may have been parallel with depicting Inanna/Dumuzi.
In the Levant, Dumuzi was called Tammuz and was represented by a pole or a pillar. The Phoenician form of Ishtar worship was a temple with an altar and some type of pole erected next to the altar. The holes for these pillars have been found in the remains of her temples. It is not known whether the poles were wooden, stone, metal, or varied from temple to temple. They were a phallic symbol, like the poles erected in Egypt for Min. The pole erected during the festival of Min was used as some sort of sport competition. There is a relief showing young men climbing the pole from ropes suspended from the top of the pole.
This tendency to represent savior gods symbolically also shows up in the star chart. The Arrow constellation of the summer solstice was represented as a bird on a high perch, or pole. The mythical deaths of the savior gods all occur with the Arrow constellation. The actual deaths of the children appear to have been at any time the ritual was considered necessary. But, the commemoration of their deaths occurred on the “weeping for Tammuz” holiday, with the Arrow constellation.
The earliest archaeological evidence for a Tophet is from 9th century BCE in Tyre
(Seeden 1991). The poorly preserved remains from Tyre do not
indicate infant sacrifice. One of the identifiable samples was from a youth of
about 14 years old. The age of the
victim is comparable with circumcision rituals.
Early Egyptian circumcision was performed on adolescent boys and the
latter Jewish rite on infants. If the
early Tyrian Tophet with the remains of youths is
contrasted with the latter Carthaginian and other Mediterranean sites, it appears that the rite underwent a
similar transition as circumcision. Over
time, it changed from older to younger victims.
The tombs of Khaldeh, which are contemporary with
the Tyrian Tophet, are a mix of interment burials and
cinerary urns, some within the same tomb (Ward 1994). Perhaps this is an example of the evolution
of ancestor worship, with cremated sacrificial victims added to the tombs of
A Phoenician inscription from Incirli in Anatolia shows that they were actively spreading the practice along their trade routes
(G. E. Markoe
2000, 135). The late 8th century BCE
inscription explicitly describes child sacrifice. It states that a priest from Tyre recommended to the King of Cilicia (the Adana plain
region in southern Turkey) that burning his son (or perhaps grandson) would
give relief from a plague. The king
preformed a molk sacrifice of a lamb, along with burning the
boy. This inscription is hard evidence
that Phoenicians really did practice human sacrifice.
A mid-seventh century Greek krater was illustrated with a girl burned alive
(Vermeule 1971). The krater (a type of Greek pottery vessel
used to mix wine) survives only as a fragment; but, clearly shows a live girl
carried over a fire by several men.
Phoenicians and Greeks had lots of interaction.
Phoenicians settled in Greece and Greeks lived in the Coastal Levant. There are several stories of human sacrifice
in Greek literature and evidence of the ritual performed in Greece too.
The most relevant story is the Archaic Greek Period Hymn to Demeter. The Demeter myth unites the old agricultural myth of Dumuzi and Geshtianna with the baby burning ritual. In the first portion of the Demeter myth, the goddess’ daughter, Persephone, was kidnapped by the god of the underworld. The daughter was an agricultural fertility deity, like Geshtianna and Dumuzi. The baby burning ritual occurs later in the Demeter myth, with the goddess holding a baby prince over a fire to transform him into a god. The Demeter story illuminates an important difference between the Tophet ritual and other forms of sacrifice. Sacrificial animals were usually thought of as food for the god, not the animal’s transport to becoming a god. Human sacrificial victims became members of the divine realm, not food for the gods. Their purpose was to become a deity, sympathetic to the people who killed them. Their purpose was to be a savior.
Ortheia, and the rest of the Greek Peloponnese, was heavily influenced by their trade with Phoenicians and Phoenicians also settled in the region. There is plenty of evidence of the Phoenician inspiration behind Artemis worship from her sanctuary at Ortheia, during the 6th century BCE. The virgin goddess, Artemis, had her West Asian counterpart in Anat, later called Tanit. The Archaic Period Artemis of Ortheia was much more like the Phoenician Tanit, than the later Classical Period virgin huntress. And, her rituals included human sacrifice.
The obvious Phoenician link found at Ortheia are the remains of more than 600 masks, which are artistically similar to the masks found at the Tophet site in Carthage and other Phoenician locales
(Carter 1987). In general, masks were for funerary use,
placed on the face of the deceased. However,
funeral masks were usually attractive; but, some of these masks are downright
scary. Some of the masks are handsome,
depicting hero like characters. Others
are female, probably depicting the goddess.
The scary ones have deeply furrowed faces, bared teeth, and frightful
hollows for the eyes. Some of these
masks may depict elderly people who were poisoned to death. However, the scary masks are smaller than adult
life-size. The masks are baby size. They look like the face of a burning
baby. At Motya in Sicily, one of the most frightful masks was
found at the Tophet site, directly associated with burning babies (Carter 1987). That mask has an unforgettable, haunting
grimace (Wikimedia Commons 2010).
A mask similar to the grotesque varieties found in Ortheia and the Tophet sites was found in Akhziv, just north of Haifa, Israel. That mask was a bit older than the Ortheia masks, dating to 800-650 BCE. Some of the grotesque masks share an affinity with Bronze Age portrayals of Humbaba. Humbaba’s decapitated head was part of the Dead Man constellation and he was the monster slain by Gilgamesh and Enkidu in the cedar forests, presumably in Lebanon. The story of Gilgamesh was known in the Levant during the Late Bronze Age. Fragments of Gilgamesh were found at Megiddo. The masks also share similarities with the Egyptian god Bes. Bes was a household protector god, based on a cat; but, also a dwarf with an erect penis. He was sort of a gross little baby god; but, rather cute. Regardless of the artistic inspirations for the masks, the ritual associated with them during the Iron Age was human sacrifice.
No physical evidence of human sacrifice was found at Ortheia; but, the circumstantial evidence suggests that the earliest rituals included the rite. Pausanias, the ancient expert on Greek religious sites, claimed that human sacrifice was practiced in early Artemis worship of the region. He said that the legendary Spartan King, Lycurgus, replaced blood sacrifice with a ritual of whipping young men on the altar
(Carter 1987). An
accumulation of over 600 masks at Ortheia suggests that it was once a pretty
In Pozo Moro, Spain, a cremation tower was decorated with a two headed monster with a bowl full of baby parts in front of him
(Wikimedia Commons 2010). The Pozo Moro relief dates to about 500 BCE
and is in another region settled by Phoenicians. The relief probably does owe some inspiration
from the Phoenician practice (Rundin 2004). However, the relief portrays the child as an
offering, a concept of the sacrifice as food for the god. It is not the original concept of the Phoenician
sort of offering did not create a savior; but, pacified angry gods. Evidence of this type of sacrifice also
increases with the spread of the Tophet.
The victim was dissected, similar to the butchering of animal
sacrifices. A unique symbol in
Phoenician art was a hand, like a body part of a dissected victim. Standing stones were decorated with reliefs
in the shape of a hand and little hand models were included in cremation
urns. At Kadesh in the Galilee, a Greco-Roman period burial
contained a baby, with its hands and feet chopped off (S. C. Berlin 2003, 25).
The earliest evidence of the Mother Goddess of Anatolia’s boy, Attis, is from the Phrygian Period of the 8th-6th centuries BCE
(Roscoe 1996, 198). Similar to the Phoenician boy-gods, Attis was
from a royal family too. He was also a
dying and rising god. An archaic period
Tophet site on Cyprus was destroyed during the building of a beachfront hotel;
so, little information was gathered from the site (Herscher 1998, 313). But, it is clear that child sacrifice spread
to Cyprus, which was culturally very similar to mainland Phoenicia. This brief overview does not include all of
the evidence of the human sacrifice rituals which began in the Iron Age. However, I think you get the picture: a lot
of children were killed.
Phoenician concepts of the boy-god spread south along the trade route too. According to Israel Finkelstein, the first kingdom to emerge in 9th century BCE Israel was with the Omrides. King Omri founded the dynasty in Samaria. The Omrides are the earliest kings of this region named in inscriptions from the time. The Mesha stele of Moab mentions Omri as oppressing Mesha’s kingdom, east of the Jordan, and dates to the 9th century BCE
2001, 70). Omri’s son, Ahab, was mentioned by the Assyrian Shalmaneser III, noting Ahab’s great chariot force at the
battle of Qarqar in 853
BCE. Ahab is famous from the Bible,
along with is infamous wife, Jezebel, the Phoenician princess.
It really does look like Omri founded a dynasty, built his capital in Samaria, and built several other fortified towns. The Omrides are the earliest known kings attested to archaeologically with theophoric names based on Yahweh. Like Melqart, Eshmun, and Adonis, Yahweh was a new god, not known prior to the Iron Age. The Omrides are the earliest known devotees of Yahweh and they are the most likely inventors of his cult. Of the four Omride kings known from the Bible, only Omri and Ahab are securely known from inscriptions. Jehoram may be mentioned in one of the two Tel Dan inscriptions. Ahaziah is not known outside of the Bible.
Of the four Omride kings, only Ahab does not contain “Yahweh” in his name. His name means “father’s brother.” Uncle is a strange name for a kid. Actually, kings chose their names when they ascended the throne. It was almost a rule during this period that West Asian kings chose names containing the name of their city’s patron deity. So, Ahab’s name should have something to do with Yahweh too. If Omri sacrificed Ahab’s brother when he founded his city in Samaria; then, Ahab was the brother of the father of the city – Yahweh. In this context, Ahab could state that he was his father’s brother. Omri’s name is translated by modern scholars as “pupil of Yahweh.” But, the root word means to bind sheaves of wheat together. Omri chose a name which symbolized his binding people together in worship of Yahweh. This type of name makes very good religious sense, following from the Phoenician method of establishing a king and city with child sacrifice.
Everything known from the legends about the Omrides in the Bible describes them as practicing Phoenician religion, and they are the earliest known Yahweh worshippers. The unique features of Yahweh worship also fit the Phoenician concepts of their city gods. Yahweh didn’t have a cult statue; but, an altar. His ark contained tablets, which is reminiscent of the Nusku altar featuring the scribe’s stylus. Nusku and Nabu were in charge of the tablets of destinies. The Yahweh temple at Elephantine, perhaps built under the Assyrians in Egypt, had an Asherah pillar, during the Persian Period. A pillar beside an altar was the central feature of Phoenician temples. Also, it should be remembered that these southern cities in the Levant were also pharaoh’s towns during the Bronze Age. They had the same culture as their neighbors to the north, during the Bronze Age. So, the same type of religion should be expected throughout the Levant, during the Iron Age. Actually, archaeologists concluded that there was a unity in culture throughout Palestine during the entire Iron Age, including the region of Judah
(E. Stern 2001).
They describe the cult in Jerusalem and throughout Judah as “Yahwistic
paganism” with no material indicating any significant difference from the rest
of the region.
The contemporary kingdom of Moab on the other side of the Jordan was also practicing this same type of religion. Chemosh or Kemosh and Moloch, the gods east of the Jordan, were consistently associated with a child sacrifice in the Bible. King Mesha, who mentioned Omri in his stele, stated that he took the altar of dwdh from Ataroth put it in front of his god, Kemosh. Mesha explained that Ataroth was a city built by the king of Israel (aka the Omrides) for the men of Gad. Gad means “troop” and Ataroth means “crown.” If the Mesopotamian practices of kings settling troops on crown land can serve as an example, Ataroth sounds like a fortress built by the Omrides with soldiers settled to farm the land. Dwdh has the same meaning as David, which is “beloved.” But, dwdh was not used as a proper name by Mesha; he referred to dwdh (david) as an object, not a person
(Lemche 1998, 45). The david altar was object placed in the cult
site at Ataroth by the Omrides. It referred
back to the patron deity of their capital city, Yahweh. The
Omrides did the same as the Tyrians, who set up temples to Melqart with an
altar in their colonies, such as Gades. Mesha
also claimed that he invaded and took over Nebo from
the Israelites. Nebo, probably a town in
the vicinity of Mount Nebo, was named after the scribal god, Nabu. Mesha was proud of killing all the people of
Nebo and dedicating the town to Ashtar Kemosh, his version of Ishtar. He
also seized vessels dedicated to Yahweh from Nebo and gave them to his god,
Kemosh. So, it is clear that the Omrides
established cult sites for Yahweh in their fortress towns and colonies.
Jerusalem was one of the many pharaohs’ towns during the Bronze Age in the Levant. Even under the Egyptians, Jerusalem was a minor pharaoh’s town. But, after the abandonment of the Canaanite territories by the Egyptians, Jerusalem and the surrounding territory of Judea slipped into decline. The archaeological surveys of Israel Finkelstein show that early Iron Age Judea was very sparsely populated, while Israel to the north was increasingly densely populated under the Omrides. From an agricultural perspective, the northern lands of Israel, the coastal plain, and the Shephalah of western Judea are absolutely gorgeous. By contrast, most of Judea was not as good for farming. Jerusalem was also was not on a major trade route. Mesha’s central base on the other side of the Jordan was somewhat better for agriculture and he was on a major trade route. However, Jerusalem had one thing going for it, best expressed by a Bible verse I sang in school as a teenager:
“Beautiful for situation, the joy of the whole earth, is mount Zion, on the sides of the north, the city of the great King.” Psalms 48:2
No one goes to Jerusalem, they go up. Jerusalem really was beautiful for situation, from an Iron Age military perspective. Omri’s capital city of Samaria was in the middle of everything. Jerusalem was on a mountain on the edge of nowhere. But, it was between the kingdom of Omri and the kingdom of Mesha. The Mesha stele shows that there was military conflict between the two kingdoms and that the Omrides built defensive fortresses, surrounding their territory. Jerusalem was a logical location for an Omride fortress. An archaeology expedition is under way in Jerusalem. Excavators are fervently seeking an early Iron Age heavily fortified city. Some are anxious to undermine Finkelstein’s assertion that the Omrides were the primary Iron Age power base, not the fabled kingdom of David. If anything is left of Early Iron Age Jerusalem, I think they will find a fortified city…built by the Omrides. It was the City of david (small “d”) very much like the fortress town of Ataroth. It is very likely that the Omrides took advantage of the strategic location of Jerusalem as a fortress and built a stronghold. Just like Ataroth, they placed a david altar (small “d”) dedicated to Yahweh in Jerusalem.
Phoenician city-states were already feeling pressure from the Assyrians during the earliest period of their expansion, with Tiglath-Pileser I (1114-1076 BCE) extracting tribute from Arwad, Byblos, and Sidon
(Stieglitz 1990, 10). But, the kingdom of Aram-Damascus in Syria helped keep the Assyrians at bay for awhile. The kingdoms of the Levant formed alliances in defense against the
Assyrians. Ahab’s Phoenician alliance turns
up in the archaeological record. His cities show Phoenician artistic influences
in architecture and Cypro-Phoenician pottery is found throughout Omride kingdom (Finkelstein
2001, 193). The Omrides also cooperated with Damascus in defense
against the Assyrians. King Shalmaneser
III (858-823 BCE) describes fighting a coalition
of Syrian and Palestinian kings (Lemche 1998,
Assyrian domination of the Levant progressed with their regular campaigns. Phoenicia and Syria were eventually organized into an Assyrian province by Esarhaddon
227). It is during the 9th – 7th
centuries BCE that the oldest known direct references to ritually burning children
are found in Assyrian texts. As
punishment for a breach of contract, the violator was to burn his own children
as sacrifices to Adad and Belet-Seri (Smith 1975,
479). The storm god, Adad, and Belet-Seri were
known later in Judea as Abram and Sarai, aka Abraham and Sarah. The Assyrians had numerous gruesome methods
for subjugating cities. But, they
realized that this particular practice of burning children was meaningful to
their western neighbors. The Assyrians
didn’t establish the practice, they just exploited it. By forcing conquered Western kings to
sacrifice their children to Adad and Belet-Seri, the Assyrians were taking the
children hostage, like the Bronze Age Egyptians; but, in the realm of the
super-natural. The other indication that
the Tophet practice was attacked and exploited by the
Assyrians is that the destruction of cult sites in Palestine, which was traditionally
credited to the reforms of Hezekiah and Josiah, actually happened at the
hands of the Assyrians (Fried 2002). So, the Assyrians destroyed high places,
called bamot in Hebrew.
The destruction of the cult sites as told in the Biblical tale of Josiah includes destruction of the Tophet. Since it was the Assyrians destroyed the cult sites, it looks like they made good on their threat to burn children as offerings to Adad and Belet-Seri. The Josiah story includes a huge human sacrifice event, burning the priests on their own altars. Since these were king-cults, the royal family was the priesthood. If a Judean king named Josiah had anything to do with the destruction of cult sites, he was acting as the agent of the Assyrians.
The same difficulty exists for understanding the religious practices of the Iron Age inland Levant as exist for Phoenicia proper and the coast: the literary evidence was written much later as Hellenized mythology and legend. Just as Melqart became the hero Heracles, an altar of Yahweh called dwdh became King David. An incense altar was a very likely object to become personified. As explored in the earlier chapter about incense use, drugs were a method of communicating with the divine. Since Yahweh was a king-cult, his incense altar was the spirit of a sacrificed boy. David was like the Pharaoh’s ka, he was the spirit of kingship.
Even through the Hellenistic veil created by the authors of the Old Testament stories of David, it is possible to glean some of what the earlier myths were like. David’s competition with Saul is very much like the Contenting between Set and Horus. There is even a hint of homosexuality, with the love between David and Jonathan (Saul’s son). Their story is reminiscent of Gilgamesh and Enkidu. However, David and Jonathan also look very Greek, much like Achilles and Patroklos of the Iliad. All of these cultures were united with the spread of chariot warfare and trade. The evidence that the story of David was written during the Hellenistic Period is not that the story looks “Greek.” It is because the story is a euhemerized myth, which turned a religious term for an altar into a legendary king.
The practice of child sacrifice in the David stories is thinly veiled as well. David’s first child with Bathsheba died from the curse of a prophet. The baby was unnamed. David fasted while the child was alive, and sacrificed at the temple when the baby died. Then, David had a feast. This story was about a sacrificed baby. David’s second son died too, caught up in a tree (2nd Samuel 18:9). David erected a pillar which was … called unto this day, Absalom’s place (2nd Samuel 18:18). Absalom was caught up in the tree in the Wood of Ephraim, near Jabbok, the same place as Jacob-Israel’s groin injury. David erected a monument to Absalom in Jerusalem, in the “king’s dale.” The site of the monument was usually considered to be at the foot of the Mount of Olives. The Tophet associated with Chemosh and Moloch was at the Mount of Olives. It is also where Jesus had the Last Supper, descended to the Garden of Gethsemane, and was arrested in Mark.
There is plenty of evidence in the stories of David and his son, Solomon, which unites the culture of Jerusalem with the rest of the Levant. The divine triad of the Storm God, Love Goddess, and the Boy God were all worshiped in Jerusalem. The Boy-God was Yahweh and Solomon built his temple. He also built the Millo for the goddess, called “pharaoh’s daughter.” Solomon built a palace for himself, which was bigger than Yahweh’s temple. If Yahweh and “Pharaoh’s daughter” were deities, there is only one character missing from the usual West Asian triad of gods: Baal. Just as Abraham was the Baal of Hebron, Solomon was the Baal of Jerusalem.
So, what was built in Jerusalem was a temple complex. It was very similar to the complex of Baalbek (Heliopolis) in the Bekaa valley of Lebanon. The remains of Baalbek are Roman Period; so, the architectural style is different. But, the complex still exhibited some West Asian notions about the appropriate shapes and sizes of the temples for the triad. The largest temple was dedicated to Baal Hadad (Jupiter) and a smaller temple to a youthful male fertility figure (Bacchus). And, the shrine of Dea Syria-Atargatis (Astarte/Aphrodite/Venus) was a small, lovely, round building. These shapes and size relationships match Solomon’s buildings.
The clues for why the Baal of Jerusalem was called Solomon are found in the name of the city. Jerusalem is composed of the words yarah and shalam. Yarah means to throw out, pour, shoot arrows, or rain. Baal was a rain god and thunderbolts were his arrows. Shalam means peace, as does Solomon. It also means to be in a covenant, or peace agreement. All of the stories about Solomon revolve around him as the king of peace and prosperity. The Old Testament claims that Jerusalem was previously called Jebus, which means “threshing place.” Threshing was a communal activity, usually at a windy site, outside of a village. The name change of the town indicates that the threshing floor of a small Judean town was turned into a fortress, through a peace agreement.
In myth, Solomon and his father, David, compose the most ancient of West Asian concepts of ideal kingship and personifications of the aspects of Baal. David was king of summer, the time of war. The biggest threat to his life was Saul, the god Nergal/Ninurta, lord of the underworld. In Mesopotamian myth, the sun god was lord of the underworld and the ruler of the summer period of war. Like Baal’s descent to the underworld at the beginning of summer, David was driven into the wilderness because of Saul. Solomon represented the winter king, when the storm god turned from war to agriculture. The goddess also transformed from her war aspect of summer to her peaceful loving aspect in the winter. She was Baal’s other self as Salome, the feminine version of Solomon.
If Solomon was a god, then who was the human who built the temple complex in Jerusalem? There is a level on which the story of David and Solomon were modeled on real kings, named Omri and Ahab. Israel Finkelstein established that the “Stables of Solomon” were actually structures built by the Omride dynasty. And, the structures were not stables. However, the Omrides were famous during the Iron Age for their chariot horses. Whatever stories were known about the Omrides were updated and added to during the Hellenistic Period. Precisely when Omri and Ahab were turned into David and Solomon is hard to determine. However, the Hellenistic Period Jerusalem priesthood’s hatred for the Samaritans is a likely reason for inventing David and Solomon as kings of Jerusalem. They turned the Omrides into bad guys and gave David and Solomon credit for the achievements of the Samaritan kings.
Hiram of Tyre figures prominently in Solomon’s temple building tales. There is no archaeologically acquired evidence for Hiram as a contemporary of the mythical Solomon. But in legend, Jezebel was a princess of Tyre and wife of Ahab. The worship style of Yahweh was very similar to that of Melqart of Tyre. Both were forbidden to have cult statues. Strabo describes Melqart’s temple at Gades (Cadiz) with two bronze pillars, each eight cubits high (Strabo, Geographica, 3.5.5–6). Yahweh’s temple also featured two bronze pillars. The legendary 10th century BCE Hiram I is also credited with building several other temples to Melqart and with beginning the theology of egersis, also known as resurrection
(Bonnet 2007). The annual rituals of Melqart revolved around
the god dying and being resuscitated with the help of Astarte. According to
Cicero and Philo of Byblos, Melqart was the son of Baal and Astarte, who was killed by
Typhon. Astarte brought the god back to
life with the smell of roasted quails (Bonnet 2007). Quails also featured in Jewish myth, as food
given to the Israelites by Yahweh, during the Exodus. Typhon also made an appearance
in the quail story, as Yam, the god of the sea. In Numbers 11:31, Yahweh brought the quails to the Israelites from the sea. Quails are not a marine bird. They are terrestrial and make their homes in
grain fields. The quails are just one of
many examples of euhemerized myth, most likely derived from a story similar to
The description of Yahweh’s temple is very detailed in the Old Testament; but, the Millo and Solomon’s palace are obscure. The Jerusalem temple’s architectural style, described in the Old Testament, does sound rather like Assyrian Iron Age buildings, with the winged cherubim lining the walls. Assyrian monumental buildings featured winged, human headed bulls as wall décor. However, Persian Period architecture had the same features. The “brazen sea” of the Yahweh temple also sounds very Persian in style, mounted on twelve kneeling bulls. Kneeling bulls played supporting roles in Persian art, such as the capitals of pillars, supporting roof beams. It is quite possible that the temple description is from the Persian Period temple, not the Iron Age. It could be that Darius (550-486 BCE) involved Tyrians in building the second temple. There was also Hiram III (551-532 BCE), who became king of Tyre under the Persians. So, the description of Solomon’s building projects may have nothing to do with the Iron Age.
There is no archaeological evidence for human sacrifice in the Levant from Persian Period sites. There are a few good reasons to think that child sacrifice was not common in the Jerusalem Temple during the Persian Period. The city no longer had a king, so neither the Sacred Marriage rite nor sacrificing royal babies was possible. The human sacrifice rite was strongly associated with kingship, which makes a ban on the practice in Jerusalem under the Persians logical. The reasons given for human sacrifice in ancient texts were either in response to a plague or war, or in establishing a new city monarch. Leviticus provided other methods for dealing with religious concerns. The concept of sin offerings was a way to deal with disease issues. Performing human sacrifice in the Jerusalem Temple to establish a monarchy would have been a declaration of revolt against the Persians.
There is a possible reference to human sacrifice in the Jerusalem Temple during the Persian Period, found in Josephus. Josephus picks up the history of the Jerusalem priests where the Bible leaves off, with the high priest Eliashib, and makes him a contemporary of Artaxerxes (464 BCE to 424 BCE.) He has nothing to say about the next high priest, Judas, other than mentioning his name. For the next high priest, John, Josephus has an interesting story. He said that the Persian General, Bagoses, imposed taxes on the temple at this time
(Josephus n.d., XI: VII). Josephus’ estimation that the Jerusalem
priesthood didn’t like the tax is no doubt correct. But, his explanation of their reaction to it
is intriguing. He states that after the
imposition of tax on the priests, the high priest, John, killed his brother,
Jesus, in the temple.
The Persian General then clamped down on the temple and:
“…punished the Jews for seven years for the murder of Jesus.”
(Josephus n.d., XI: VII)
The Persian military response to the death of Jesus looks very much like a response to a revolt, led by the high priest, John. Given that human sacrifice was a known rationale for establishing a dynasty of kings, it looks like John killed Jesus to establish himself as king and lead a revolt. It is also curious that Josephus wrote this story of John killing Jesus during the 1st century CE, at exactly the same time that early Christianity was forming. Obviously, there were Jewish stories in circulation about a priest named John, a Jesus killed in Jerusalem, and a revolt over money changing hands in the temple. This story creates a “chicken and egg” dilemma over how to interpret Josephus’ story, in relation to Christianity.
Worship of the boy-god Melqart of Tyre did continue to include child sacrifice through the Persian Period in Carthage, until the demise of the city, with the Roman destruction. The legend of the foundation of Carthage included queen Dido sacrificing herself, burning on a pyre. Use of the ritual actually increased over time at Carthage. Although there is evidence of the ritual at other sites where Phoenicians colonized, Carthage stands out as the place with the greatest evidence, with hundreds of cinerary urns containing the remains of babies, often mixed with the remains of an animal sacrifice. The small altar on which the babies were burned was also found at Carthage and a stele decorated with a priest carrying a live baby to the altar. The only evidence of human sacrifice at Tyre in Phoenicia is from the earlier Iron Age; however, there is little archaeological evidence from the Persian Period in Tyre. There is literary evidence of child sacrifice in Phoenicia coinciding with Alexander the Great’s invasion. Since Tyre and Gaza were the only places which resisted Alexander, they were the most likely people to sacrifice some babies at the time. The ritual was most often used during times of distress and the battles with Alexander were a stressful time.
Outside of Carthage and the possible use of the ritual at the end of the Persian Period with Alexander, it appears that the use of human sacrifice within official cults decreased, replaced with less extreme rituals during the Persian Period. The new rituals were better suited to the economic conditions of temples within the Persian Empire, because they provided income to the temples. The Egyptian dummy mummies, the baby figurines of Sidon, and the sacrifice of lambs during Passover of Jerusalem, were all rituals that the priests sold to the general public. The Sacred Marriage rite was also converted into temple prostitution, which provided income for the temples. These are all examples of rituals which originated for political uses within king cults, converted into money making services in the capitalistic environment of the Persian Empire.
There is an early Hellenistic reference to Jews practicing human sacrifice, written sometime during the first few decades after the death of Alexander, by Hecateaus. The quote remains only in the later reference by Diodorous. There is some speculation that the quote was really written by a Jewish redactor of Hecateaus. Either Hecateaus or a Jewish redactor believed Jews sometimes practiced human sacrifice. Josephus’ story about Shelomit’s family was also derived from human sacrifice theology, as discussed in an earlier chapter. Josephus also used this mythic formula of killing princes for a story about King Herod. Josephus claimed that Herod killed his wife’s brother by drowning him in Jericho. He also claimed that Herod strangled his own two sons in Sebaste, the biggest city in Samaria at the time
(Josephus n.d., XVI:11). All three boys were buried at Alexandraum,
a fortress in Samaria. The stories about
Herod killing princes may be fiction; however, they demonstrate that myths
about dead princes were in circulation in the 1st century CE. They also indicate that there was some sort
of cult site at Alexandraum dedicated to dead youths. Herod also built a tower in honor of his
wife, Miriamne. So, there was a monument
in Jerusalem during the 1st century CE which shared the same name as
later given to the mother of Jesus.
There are several indications that Herod’s personal religious beliefs
owed more to the age old religion of Palestine than to the reformed Judaism of
the Jerusalem Temple. Herod was
particularly dedicated to Apollo and there was a legend that his father was a
temple slave of Apollo in Ashkelon (Jacobson
2001). Apollo was identified with Qos, the primary
deity of the Idumeans (Edomites) and he was also the old Resheph of the
Canaanites. The overall picture of the 1st
century CE is that most Palestinians held religious views more similar to the
rest of the Levant than to the minority group of Pharisees, who later defined
Isaiah is a fascinating Old Testament book, because it shows how the old mythology of Bronze Age Ugarit evolved with the Iron Age practice of human sacrifice into the savior theology. The book is confusing, because of interpolations of historical events, told as prophecy. Past wars and the political vicissitudes of Jerusalem are told as if they were foretold by Isaiah. But, the base outline of the story is instructions for creating a savior with child sacrifice. Isaiah means "Yahweh has saved" and the central theme of the book is savior theology. The triad of deities of savior mythology is in Isaiah, including the Storm God, Astarte, and the divine child judge. There are references to the same myths as found in the Ugarit tales. The Storm God battles the Leviathan, like Baal battled the Leviathan (Isaiah 27:1). Anat mourning for her dead brother is also in Isaiah. She is called Ariel, which means lioness of Yahweh (Isaiah 29:1). The lioness was a very common symbol of the goddess. In Isaiah, she represents the city of Jerusalem. Then, there is the child, Immanuel, who will be the savior (Isaiah 7:14, 8:8). The human sacrifice ritual for creating a savior is also in Isaiah.
The creation of the savior begins when the prophet entered the smoke filled temple and was given a live coal from the altar by an angel (Isaiah 6:6). This puts him in a drug induced state, which allows him to prophecy and become an agent of the god. He has sex with a prophetess and they produce the child (Isaiah 8:3). Isaiah tells all the wonderful things which will happen, when the boy becomes the supernatural judge. But first, he tells about all the terrible wars and about the defilement of Jerusalem. Then he says:
“For Tophet is ordained of old; yea, for the king it is prepared; he hath made it deep and large: the pile thereof is fire and much wood; the breath of the LORD, like a stream of brimstone, doth kindle it.” (Isaiah 30: 33)
It is the ordeal of the Tophet which will allow the spirit of the Lord to be poured upon them from on high. It is only after the verse about the Tophet, that good things start to happen. The child must be sacrificed to turn him into a savior.
Much of the mythology and ritual of Isaiah is reminiscent of the Ugarit tale of Danel and the agricultural year described in the Baal cycle. But, it is the Iron Age invention of the Tophet ritual which changed the story from a simple myth of the agricultural year, into a linear notion of a savior god. The old Bronze Age myths of the death and return of Baal and Dumuzi simply reflected the death and rebirth cycle of agriculture. In Egypt, the Osiris/Horus myth built on that agricultural cycle to provide an afterlife concept. But, it was the Phoenician/Palestinian practice of human sacrifice which was the basis for creating a new god as a resurrected savior.
One of the counter-arguments used by Christian apologists against the notion that the Jesus myth was derived from Adonis, Attis, Osiris, et al, is that they don’t believe that those gods were considered saviors until the 3rd Century CE, after Christianity had already developed. Yet, Isaiah provides ample evidence that the savior boy, Immanuel, was derived from the Tophet practice of human sacrifice. Christians themselves use Isaiah as the prophecy foretelling Jesus. Adonis, Attis, Yahweh, Melqart, etc. were all based on the human sacrifice rites, which began during the early Iron Age. All of the literary and archaeological evidence about human sacrifice rites indicates that it was meant for providing a savior. It was preformed when founding a city, during times of epidemics, and in times of war. The sacrificial victim was meant to become a supernatural caretaker, i.e. a savior.
However, there is another prophetic book of the Old Testament corpus which outright refutes Isaiah. Whereas Isaiah looks for a savior to be produced using human sacrifice, Jeremiah condemns the practice. Jeremiah claims that the Tophet was not Yahweh’s idea; but, a foreign practice. The book claims that Yahweh wants a new covenant with his people, based on following his law:
“But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the LORD, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people.” (Jeremiah 31:33)
It was this difference of opinion that caused a division in Palestinian religion. Some people followed Judaism and the Law, and others continued to hope for a savior. It was the cult of the dead child which became Christianity. The first Palestinian Christians were extremely anti-Jewish. Their hatred of the Jerusalem priesthood is loud and clear, throughout the New Testament. They resented the reforms made to their religion by the Jerusalem priesthood. They wanted that ole time religion of sex, drugs, and human sacrifice.
Every aspect of the Jesus myth was part of Phoenician child sacrifice theology. The child was resurrected to join the divine realm. His character was as a divine judge and healer. And someday, he would return to be king, like the hostage boys sent to Egypt. His father was a god, a conflation of the storm god or the sun god. He also had an adoptive carpenter father in Kothar wa Hasis. He was loved by a goddess, who was sometimes a virgin, sometimes a prostitute, and sometimes a man. His star story incorporated the life cycle of Dumuzi and the Storm God. Jesus was like all of the savior gods which originated in Syria-Palestine. But, he was most closely modeled on Yahweh, the boy-god who originated at a Tophet in Samaria. Christians today have no right to be critical of the horrid rituals of ancient Canaanite-Phoenician religion, because they believe in exactly the same thing as the ancient Palestinian creators of their faith. The central tenet of Christianity is that Jesus died for your sins. It really is the most evil of religious beliefs, which resulted in the deaths of many children.