What is Child Sacrifice?

Bethney Foster

Child sacrifice is the killing of an infant or child as an offering to a deity or deities. It may be conducted as part of a religious observance, ritual, or service. The sacrificing of children and adults to the gods has been practiced since ancient times as part of some cultural and religious observances. There are several references to child sacrifice in the Bible, with one of the most prominent examples being God commanding Abraham to sacrifice his son, Isaac, in Genesis 22.

Woman with hand on her hip
Woman with hand on her hip

Among the earliest forms of child sacrifice was the killing of children in an effort to bring divine protection to buildings or to passages through dangerous areas. Evidence of such sacrifices has been found in Asia, Europe, and Africa. Children were sealed into walls or foundations as buildings were constructed because it was believed their spirits would offer protection. Children were also sacrificed at border crossings to appease foreign deities before entering into new lands.

One of the best-documented examples of human sacrifice was among the pre-Columbian Incan culture of Peru and Aztec culture of Mexico. As part of the human sacrifice practiced in these societies, child sacrifice was prevalent, especially among the Incans. Cannibalism of sacrificed victims among the Aztecs is also believed to have been part of the rituals.

In the Judeo-Christian scriptures, Isaac is spared as a victim of sacrifice because of the appearance of a lamb that God instructs Abraham to kill in place of his son. In the book of Judges, however, Jephthah makes a burning sacrifice of his daughter after victory in battle. This sacrificing of a child in the Judeo-Christian tradition, however, is seen by most scholars as a tragic transgression on the part of Jephthah.

The Bible does contain several accounts of child sacrifice practiced by other societies. Carthage and Phoenicia were known in the ancient world as places where infants and children were sacrificed. Some sources suggest that the infants and children were burned alive so that parents could fulfill vows they had made to the gods.

Most scholars and investigators agree that human sacrifice in general, and child sacrifice in particular, rarely occurs in the modern world. There are occasional accounts that suggest that a human sacrifice may have been made. These are most often found to be the work of a person who was mentally unstable and not one who killed as part of a religious ritual.

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Discussion Comments


I shuddered when I read about the child sacrifices of the ancient Carthaginians. When they used to ask for something from their deities, they would pledge their children for it and sacrifice them if it came true. Or if there was some disaster or calamity, they would try to appease the deities again by child sacrifice.

Scientists have found so many bones of infants and children in the lands where Carthaginians lived. It's just so horrible.


I've witnessed a lot of discussion and confusion about Genesis 22 and God's commandment to Abraham to sacrifice his son. Even people who have no doubt about the authenticity of the Bible can be confused by how God can condone, even command child sacrifice in any circumstance.

Some people even go far enough to say that maybe this ancient practice is not as unethical as we accept it to be, since it is mentioned in the Bible.

I don't interpret Genesis 22 in this way. I think that the example of Abraham and Isaac does not imply anything about the acceptability or the ethics of sacrificing children. I think that this was God's way of testing Abraham, his belief and devotion to God. By willing to carry out such a horrible deed because God commanded it, he proved his devotion.

I think Genesis 22 actually shows us what a terrible thing child sacrifice is and tells us that God doesn't want this to happen.

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