Documents Cited in the Supreme Court Ruling - 20
The Encyclopedia of Religion, Vol. 12
The Encyclopedia of Religion
Mircea Eliade, ed.

SACRIFICE. The term sacrifice, from the Latin sacrifcium (sacer, "holy"; facere, "to make"), carries the connotation of the religious act in the highest, or fullest sense; it can also be understood as the act of sanctifying or consecrating an object. Offering is used as a synonym (or as a more inclusive category of which sacrifice is a subdivision) and means the presentation of a gift. (The word offering is from the Latin offerre, "to offer, present"; the verb yields the noun oblatio.) The Romance languages contain words derived from both the Latin words. The German Opfer is generally taken as derived from offerre, but some derive it from the Latin operari ("to perform, accomplish"), thus evoking once again the idea of sacred action.

    Distinctions between sacrifice and offering are variously drawn, as for example, that of Jan van Baal: "I call an offering every act of presenting something to a supernatural being, a sacrifice an offering accompanied by the ritual killing of the object of the offering" (van Baal, 1976, p. 161). The latter definition is too narrow, however, since "killing" can be applied only to living beings, human or animal, and thus does not cover the whole range of objects used in sacrifice as attested by the history of religions. A truly essential element, on the other hand, is that the recipient of the gift be a supernatural being (that is, one endowed with supernatural power), with whom the giver seeks to enter into or remain in communion. Destruction, which can apply even to inanimate objects, is also regarded as essential by [12 Encyclopedia of Religion 545] some authors but not by all; thus, according to the Encyclopaedia Britannica, a sacrifice is "a cultic act in which objects were set apart or consecrated and offered to a god or some other supernatural power" (1977, vol. 16, p. 128b). On the other hand, it is indeed essential to the concept that the human offerer remove something from his own disposal and transfer it to a supernatural recipient. The difference between the broad concept of offering and the narrower concept of sacrifice may be said to reside in the fact that a rite, a more or less solemn external form, is part of sacrifice.

    Sacrifice differs from other cultic actions. The external elements of prayer are simply words and gestures (bodily attitudes), not external objects comparable to the gifts of sacrifice. Eliminatory rites, though they may include the slaying of a living being or the destruction of an inanimate object, are not directed to a personal recipient and thus should not be described as sacrifices. [See Scapegoat.] The same is true of ritual slayings in which there is no supernatural being as recipient, as in slayings by which companions are provided for the dead (joint burials) or that are part of the dramatic representation of an event in primordial time.

    According to some theories, the conception of sacrifice as gift-giving is the result of a secondary development or even of a misunderstanding of rites that originally had a different meaning. (On this point, see "Theories of the Origin of Sacrifice," below.)

Morphology (Typology) of Sacrifice

    The various forms of sacrifice show some common elements that respond to the following questions: (1) Who offers the sacrifice? (2) What is offered? (3) What external forms belong to the act of offering? (4) In what places and at what times are sacrifices offered? (5) Who is the recipient of the sacrifice? (6) For what reasons are sacrifices offered? The classifications implied by these questions often overlap (e.g., the type of material used for the sacrifice may determine the rite).

    The Sacrificer.  Most religions allow not only sacrifices offered by a group or community but also individual sacrifices for entirely personal reasons; in unstratified societies, therefore, everyone is in principle able to offer sacrifices. In fact, however, such purely personal sacrifices are rare, and as soon as sacrifices become connected with a group, however small, not every member of the group but only a representative may offer them. The sacrificer may be the head of a family or clan, an elder, or the leader of a band of hunters; in matrilinear societies, the sacrificer may be a woman. This is true especially of hunting and food-gathering cultures as well as nomadic pastoral cultures; even when these include individuals with specific ritual functions (medicine men, sorcerers, soothsayers, shamans), the function of offering sacrifice is not reserved to them. (In pastoral cultures we can sometimes see that only at a secondary stage do shamans replace family heads for certain sacrifices.) Food-planting cultures, on the other hand, commonly have cultic functionaries to whom the offering of sacrifice is reserved (e.g., the "earth-chiefs" in West African cultures). In sacrifices occasioned by some public endeavor or concern (e.g., an epidemic, or before or after a military campaign) the head of the tribe or larger group is the natural offerer of sacrifice. In archaic high cultures the function often goes with the kingly office; frequently, however, it decreases in importance in the course of further development and is then discernible only in vestigial form.

    The more fully articulated the divisions in a society, the more often there is a class of cultic ministers to whom the offering of sacrifice is reserved. In this situation, tensions and changing relations of power can arise between king and priests, as in ancient Egypt. When a special priestly class exists, membership is either hereditary or must be earned through a consecration that is often preceded by lengthy training, or both may be required: descent from a certain family, class, or caste and training that leads to consecration. The consecrated functionary who is an offerer of sacrifice often must then submit to further special preparation (through purificatory rites, etc.) before exercising his office. A priest may have other cultic or magical functions in addition to that of offering sacrifice; he may, for example, act as oracle, exorcist, healer, or rainmaker, he may be a source of tradition and knowledge, and he may have noncultic functions as well.

    Myths sometimes speak of the gods themselves as offering sacrifice. Sacrifice by human beings is then simply an imitation of the primal sacrifice that played a role in the establishment of the cosmic order.

    Material of the Oblation. Scholars often generalize, as for example: "If we look about in the history of religion, we find there are very few things that have not, at some time or in some place, served as offering" (van Baaren, 1964, p. 7). Others will say that everything which has a value for human beings can be the material of sacrifice; the value may be symbolic and not necessarily inherent (as seen, for example, in the firstlings sacrifices of food-gatherers). Perhaps we may say that originally what was sacrificed was either something living or an element or symbol of life; in other words, it was not primarily food that was surrendered, but life itself. Yet inanimate things were also included in the material for sacrifice. (But do not archaic cultures regard a great deal as living that to the modern scientific mind is inanimate? Some scholars emphasize not the life but the [12 Encyclopedia of Religion 546] power of the object.) Only by including inanimate objects is it possible to establish a certain classification of sacrificial objects, as for example, on the one hand, plants and inanimate objects (bloodless offerings), and, on the other, human beings and animals (blood offerings). But such a division is not exhaustive, since a comprehensive concept of sacrifice must include, for example, a bloodless consecration of human beings and animals.

    Bloodless offerings.  Bloodless offerings include, in the first place, vegetative materials. Thus food-gatherers offer a (symbolic) portion of the foodstuffs they have collected. Cultivators offer to higher beings (whom they may regard as in need of nourishment) sacrifices of food and drink: fruits, tubers, grains, and the foods that are made from these plants (meal, baked goods, oil), along with drinks, especially beer and other alcoholic beverages, that are poured out as libations. Among herders milk and milk products (e.g., koumiss, a drink derived from milk and slightly fermented, used in Inner Asia) play a similar role, especially in firstlings sacrifices (see below). In the ritual pouring (and especially in other ritual uses) of water, the intention is often not sacrifice but either some other type of rite (lustration, purification, or expiation) or sympathetic magic (e.g., pouring water in order to bring on rain). The offering of flowers or of a sweet fragrance otherwise produced (as in the widespread use of incense, or, among the American Indians, of tobacco smoke) also serves to please the gods or other higher beings.

    Inanimate objects used in sacrifice include clothing, jewelry, weapons, precious stones and precious metals, sacrificial vessels made of metal, and, in more advanced civilizations, coins (especially as substitutes). Also used in sacrifice are all sorts of objects that are offered as votive gifts and are kept in a sanctuary, though it is possible that sympathetic magic also plays a role here, as for instance when one seeks deliverance from illnesses by depositing likenesses of the diseased organs.

    Blood offerings. When animals or human beings serve as the sacrificial gift, the shedding of blood may become an essential part of the sacrificial action. Thus ritual slaying makes its appearance among cultivators and herders. (The practice is generally not found in hunting cultures, where a small but symbolically important part of the animal slain during the hunt is offered; thus the slaying is not part of the sacrificial action but precedes it. The slaying by the Ainu of a bear raised for the purpose is perhaps not really a sacrifice but a "dismissal" rite.)

    The most extensive development of ritual slaying is found among cultivators. Here blood plays a significant role as a power-laden substance that brings fertility; it is sprinkled on the fields in order to promote crop yield. [See Blood.] Head-hunting, cannibalism, and human sacrifice belong to the same complex of ideas and rites; human sacrifice is also seen as a means of maintaining the cosmic order. [See Cannibalism and Human Sacrifice.] The combination of blood rites with magical conceptions of fertility is found more among tuber cultivators than among grain cultivators (but it is also found among maize growers, as in Mesoamerica). The assumption that all blood sacrifices originated among food cultivators and then were adopted at a later stage by nomadic herders is one-sided; ritual slaying probably made its appearance independently among the latter.

    Blood sacrifices consist primarily of domesticated animals: among cultivators, sheep, goats, cattle, pigs, fowl; among nomads, also reindeer, horses, and camels (whereas pigs are regarded as unclean animals and not used, while fowl would not usually be kept). Dogs too may serve as sacrificial animals; they are especially sacrificed to provide companions for the dead. The offering of fish, birds other than domesticated fowl or doves, and wild animals is rarer. The characteristics of the sacrificial animal are often determined by the recipient; thus brightly colored animals are offered to the divinities of the sky, black animals to the divinities of the underworld and the dead or to feared demonic beings.

    Sacrificial animals are not always killed by the shedding of their blood; they are sometimes throttled (especially in Inner Asia) or drowned in water or a bog. Furthermore, there is also the bloodless consecration of an animal, in which the animal is not killed but transferred alive into the possession of the divinity or other higher being, after which it often lives out its life in a sacred enclosure. Such animals can best be described as offerings, not as victims.

    Substitutes.  Blood sacrifices, especially those in which human beings were offered, were often replaced at a later stage by other sacrificial gifts, as, for example, "part-for-the-whole" sacrifices, like the offering of fingers, hair, or blood drawn through self-inflicted wounds. Some authors would thus classify so-called chastity sacrifices and include under this heading very disparate and sometimes even opposed practices such as, on the one hand, sexual abandon (sacral prostitution) and, on the other, sexual renunciation, castration, and circumcision.

    Animal sacrifices can replace human sacrifices, as seen in well-known examples from Greek myth, epic, and history and in the Hebrew scriptures (Old Testament; Gn. 22:1-19). This shift may also be due to the suppression of an older religion (e.g., of the Bon religion of Tibet by Buddhism) or to measures taken by a colo- [12 Encyclopedia of Religion 547] nial regime (e.g., the British rule in India) against human sacrifice. Substitute gifts for human beings or animals may also be of a vegetative kind (e.g., sacrificial cakes) or may consist of payments of money. Another form of substitution is that by representations, such as the clay figure substitutes for human beings that were buried with a high-ranking dead person and sent into the next world with him. Such figurines accompanying the dead are known from ancient Egypt and China; however, it is not certain that the practice was preceded by actual human sacrifices in these countries or that these practices are best described as sacrifices. Other kinds of pictorial representations have also been used, including objects cut from paper. Many votive offerings should probably be listed under this heading.

    That human sacrifices were replaced by other kinds of sacrifices is certain in many instances, as in the late stage of Punic religion, when under Roman rule human sacrifices were replaced by other gifts (for example, lambs), as is attested by votive inscriptions; in other instances it is simply a hypothesis that certain rites replaced human sacrifice. Thus the so-called hair sacrifice is often a rite of initiation, sacralization, or desacralization (a rite of passage) in which the hair is not really a sacrificial gift and need not have replaced any human sacrifice. Sacral prostitution may also be understood as a magical rite of fertility or as a symbolic act of union with a divinity, rather than as a substitute for human sacrifice.

    Divine offerings. In the examples given under the previous heading, a sacrificial gift is replaced by another of lesser value. The opposite occurs when the sacrificial gift itself is regarded as divine. This divine status may result from the idea that the sacrificial action repeats a mythical primordial sacrifice in which a god sacrificed either himself or some other god to yet a third god. In other cases the sacrificial object becomes divinized in the sacrificial action itself or in the preparation of the gifts. Thus among the Aztec the prisoner of war who was sacrificed was identified with the recipient of the sacrifice, the god Tezcatlipoca; moreover images of dough, kneaded with the blood of the sacrificed human, were identified with the sun god Huitzilopochtli and ritually eaten. In the Vedic religion divinity was assigned to the intoxicating drink soma, and in Iranian religion to the corresponding drink haoma or to the plant from which it was derived. For Christians who regard the celebration of the Eucharist as a rendering present of Christ's death on the cross, Christ himself is both offerer and sacrificial gift.

    Rite (Manner and Method) of Sacrifice.  Sacrifice involves not only a visible gift but an action or gesture that expresses the offering. This may consist of a simple deposition or a lifting up of the gift, without any change being effected in the object. The external form of the offering is already determined in many cases by the material of sacrifice; in the case of fluids, for example, the natural manner of offering them is to pour them out (libation), which is a kind of destruction. If the gift is a living being (animal or human), the destruction takes the form of killing. It is doubtful, however, whether destruction can be regarded as an essential element of any and every sacrificial rite. It is true that in many sacrifices the offering is in the form of slaughter or ritual killing; in others, however, the slaughter is only a necessary presupposition or technical requirement for the act of offering as such. Thus, among the Israelites, Levitical law prescribed that the slaughtering not be done by the priest; the latter's role began only after the slaughtering and included the pouring of sacrificial blood on the altar.

    When food as such is in principle the real object offered, slaughter is a necessary first step if the animal sacrificed is to be in a form in which it can be eaten. When it is thought that the divinity (or, more generally, the recipient) does not eat material food but simply receives the soul or life of the sacrificial animal, burning may be used as a way of letting the soul rise up in the form of smoke ("the odor of sacrifice"; see also, on the burning of incense, below). When blood in particular is regarded as the vehicle of life, the pouring out of the blood, or the lifting up of bleeding parts of the victim, or even the flow of blood in the slaughtering may be the real act of offering. Another category of blood rites serves to apply the power in the blood to the offerers, their relatives, and the sphere in which they live their life (dwelling, property); this application may take the form of, for example, smearing.

    The conception that the offerers have of the recipient and of his or her location also helps determine the form of the rite. If the recipient is thought to dwell in heaven, then the smoke that rises from a burning object becomes an especially appropriate symbol. The offerers will prefer the open air and will choose high places, whether natural (mountains, hills) or artificial (roofs, temple towers), or else they will hang the sacrificial gift on a tree or stake. Sacrifices to chthonic or underworld beings are buried, or the blood is allowed to flow into a hole. For water divinities or spirits the sacrifice is lowered into springs, wells, streams, or other bodies of water (although the interpretation of prehistoric burials in bogs as "immersion sacrifices" is not undisputed), or the offerers fill miniature boats with sacrificial gifts. Sacrifices offered to the dead are placed on the graves of the latter, or the blood of the victims is poured onto these graves.

[12 Encyclopedia of Religion 548]
    Finally, the intention of the offerers or the function of the sacrifice also influences the form of the rite. If the sacrifice establishes or renews a covenant or, more generally, if it promotes the communion or community of recipient and offerer, then a sacrificial meal is usually an indispensable part of the rite. This meal can be understood as sharing a meal with the god or, the recipient, or more rarely, as ingesting the god; in this second case, the communion has a mystical character. In the first case, acceptance by the recipient removes the sacrificial gift from the profane sphere and sanctifies it; the recipient now becomes a host and celebrates a banquet with the offerer, who thereby receives back the sacrificial gift (or at least a part of it) as a vehicle now laden with higher powers. Thus understood, the sacrificial meal can be called a sacrament. The meal also establishes or strengthens the communion of the offerers with one another when it is a group that makes the offering. More rarely, people have believed that they eat the god himself in the flesh of the sacrificial animal (as in some Greek mysteries) or in images of dough (which were sometimes mixed with the blood of sacrificed human beings, as among the Aztec). (For the Christian conception of the Eucharist as a sacrificial meal, see below.)

    Other rituals also express communion. For example, part of the sacrificial blood is poured on the altar, while the participants are sprinkled with the rest (as in the making of the covenant at Sinai, according to Ex. 24: 38). Or a person walks between the pieces of a sacrificial animal that has been cut in half.

    In other cases the victim is completely destroyed, as in a burnt offering, or holocaust, which may express homage or complete submission to the divinity on which the offerers consider themselves dependent. Total destruction often also characterizes an expiatory sacrifice, in which a sacrificial meal is antecedently excluded by the fact that the sacrificial animal becomes the vehicle of sin or other uncleanness and must therefore be eliminated or destroyed (e.g., by being burned outside the camp).

    The ritual of sacrifice can take very complicated forms, especially when professionals (priests) do the offering; part of their training is then the acquisition of a precise knowledge of the ritual. The sacrificial action is in stages: the sacrificial animal is often chosen some time in advance, marked, and set aside; before the sacrificial act proper, it is ritually purified and adorned; next comes the slaughter of the animal, then the offering proper or consecration or transfer from the profane to the sacred sphere or condition. At times, signs are heeded that are thought to show acceptance of the gift by the recipient. The division of the sacrificed animal can take various forms: an uncontrolled tearing apart of the victim by the participants, in imitation of a dismemberment reported in myth, or a careful dissection, as when the condition of specific organs yields omens (divination). In some sacrifices the bones may not be broken. A special form of division is cutting in two, which is practiced not only in sacrifices proper but also in rites of purification and expiation. (See Henninger, 1981, pp. 275-285.) A sacrificial meal may conclude the sacrifice, but there may also be special concluding rites for releasing the participants from the realm of the sacred. It is sometimes also prescribed that nothing is to be left of the sacrificial gift and nothing carried away from the sphere of the sacred; any remnants must be buried or burned (though this last action is not the same as a burnt offering).

    Place and Time of Sacrifice. The place of offering is not always an altar set aside for the purpose. Thus sacrifices to the dead are often offered at their graves, and sacrifices to the spirits of nature are made beside trees or bushes, in caves, at springs, and so on. Artificial altars in the form of tables are relatively rare; they become the normal site of sacrifice only in the higher civilizations, where they are usually located in a temple or its forecourt and are sometimes specially outfitted, as for example with channels to carry away the sacrificial blood. Far more frequently, natural stones or heaps of stones or earthen mounds serve as altars. A perpendicular stone is often regarded as the seat of a divinity, and sacrifice is then offered in front of the stone, not on it. Flat roofs and thresholds can also be preferred locations for sacrifice.

    With regard to time, a distinction must be made between regular and extraordinary (occasional or special) sacrifices. The time for regular sacrifices is determined by the astronomical or vegetative year; thus there will be daily, weekly, and monthly sacrifices (especially in higher cultures in which service in the temple is organized like service at a royal court). Sowing and harvest and the transition from one season to the next are widely recognized occasions for sacrifice; in nomadic cultures this is true especially of spring, the season of birth among animals and of abundance of milk. The harvest season is often marked by first-fruits sacrifices that are conceived as a necessary condition for the desacralization of the new harvest, which may only then be put to profane use. The date of the New Year feast is often established not astronomically but in terms of the vegetative year. [See New Year Festivals.] In the life of the individual, birth, puberty, marriage, and death are frequently occasions for sacrifices. The annual commemoration of a historical event may also become a set part of the calendar and thus an occasion for sacrifice. [See Seasonal Ceremonies.]

    Extraordinary occasions for sacrifice are provided by [12 Encyclopedia of Religion 549]  special occurrences in the life of the community or the individual. These occurrences may be joyous, as, for example, the erection of a building (especially a temple), the accession of a new ruler, the successful termination of a military campaign or other undertaking, or any event that is interpreted as a manifestation of divine favor. Even more frequently, however, it is critical situations that occasion extraordinary sacrifices: illnesses (especially epidemics or livestock diseases) and droughts or other natural disasters. Many expiatory sacrifices also have their place in this context, whether offered for individuals or the community (see below).

    Van Baal (1976, pp. 168-178) distinguishes between low-intensity and high-intensity rites; the former occur in normal situations, the latter in disasters and misfortunes, which are taken as signs that relations with higher beings have been disturbed. This division is to a great extent the same as that between regular and extraordinary sacrifices, but it pays insufficient heed to the fact that joyous occasions may also lead to extraordinary sacrifices.

    Recipient of Sacrifice.  Many definitions of sacrifice specify divine beings (in either a monotheistic or a polytheistic context) as the recipients of sacrifice, but this is too narrow a view. All the many kinds of beings to whom humans pay religious veneration, or even those whom they fear, can be recipients of sacrifice. Such recipients can thus be spirits, demonic beings, and even humans, although sacrifice in the proper sense is offered to humans only when they have died and are considered to possess a superhuman power. The dead to whom sacrifice is offered include especially the ancestors to whom is attributed (as in Africa and Oceania) a decisive influence on human beings. Care for the dead (e.g., by gifts of food and drink) need not always indicate a cult of the dead; a cult exists only when the dead are regarded not as helpless and in need (as they were in ancient Mesopotamia), but rather as possessing superhuman power.

    Intentions of Sacrifice.  Theologians usually distinguish four intentions of sacrifice. praise (acknowledgment, homage), thanksgiving, supplication, and expiation; but several or even all four of these intentions may be combined in a single sacrifice. From the standpoint of the history of religions this schema must be expanded somewhat, especially with regard to the third and fourth categories.

    Praise (homage). Pure sacrifices of praise that express nothing but homage and veneration and involve no other intention are rarely found. They occur chiefly where a regular sacrificial cult is practiced that resembles in large measure the ceremonial of a royal court.

    Thanksgiving. Sacrifices of thanksgiving are more frequent. According to the best explanation of firstlings sacrifices, these, in the diverse forms they have taken in various cultures, belong to this category. (For divergent interpretations, see "Theories of the Origin of Sacrifice," below.) Votive sacrifices likewise belong here, insofar as the fulfillment of the vow is an act of thanksgiving for the favor granted.

    Supplication. Yet more commonly found are sacrifices of supplication. The object of the petition can range from purely material goods to the highest spiritual blessings (forgiveness of sins, divine grace). The line of demarcation between these sacrifices and sacrifices of expiation and propitiation is often blurred.

    Sacrifices of supplication include all those sacrifices that, in addition to establishing or consolidating the link with the world of the sacred (which is a function of every sacrifice), are intended to have some special effect. Such effects include the maintenance of the cosmic order; the strengthening of the powers on which this order depends (e.g., by the gift of blood, as in the human sacrifices of the Aztec); and the sacralization or consecration of places, objects, and buildings (construction sacrifices, dedication of boundary stones, idols, temples), of individual human beings, and of human communities and their relationships (ratification of treaties). Construction activities are often thought to be an intrusion into the sphere of superhuman beings (spirits of earth and water, or divinities of earth and water) who may resent them; for this reason, scholars speak in this context of sacrifices intended to appease or placate. These come close to being expiatory sacrifices (in the broadest sense of the term), insofar as the offerers intend to forestall the anger of these higher beings by a preventive, apotropaic action (protective sacrifices).

    Sacrifices are also offered for highly specialized purposes, for example, in order to foretell the future by examining the entrails of the sacrificial animal.

    Expiation. In the narrow sense, expiatory sacrifices presuppose consciousness of a moral fault that can be punished by a higher being who must therefore be placated by suitable acts on the part of the human beings involved. [See Atonement.] But the concept of expiation (purification, lustration) is often used in a broader sense to mean the removal or prevention of every kind of evil and misfortune. Many authors assume that the ethical concept of sin was a late development and therefore consider rites of purification and elimination for the removal ~f all evils (in which no relation to higher personal beings plays a part) to be the earliest form of expiation. Furthermore, when there is a human relationship to personal beings, a distinction must be made. These beings (spirits, demons, etc.) may be regarded as indifferent to ethical considerations, unpredictable, and capricious, or even malicious, envious, cruel, and bloodthirsty. In this case expiation means simply the removal [12 Encyclopedia of Religion 550] of what has roused (or might rouse) the anger of these beings, so that they will leave humans in peace; no relationship of goodwill or friendship is created or sought. On the other hand, the higher beings may be regarded as inherently benevolent, so that any disturbance of a good relationship with them is attributed to a human fault; the normal good relationship must therefore be restored by an expiatory sacrifice or other human action; in these cases we speak of atonement, conciliation, or propitiation. The human fault in question may be moral, but it may also be purely ritual, unintentional, or even unconscious.

    Certain facts, however, render questionable the overly schematic idea of a unilinear development from a nonethical to an ethical conception that is connected with general theories on the evolution of religion. Even very "primitive" peoples have ideas of higher beings that approve and keep watch over moral behavior. Furthermore, not only in the high cultures but in primitive religions as well, expiatory sacrifice is often accompanied by a confession of sins. A more highly developed form of the ideas underlying expiatory sacrifice may be linked to the concept of representation or substitution, especially when the role of substitute is freely accepted (self-sacrifice). This, however, is not the proper context for speculative theories (developed especially by James G. Frazer and those inspired by him) on the ritual slaying of the king, who may be replaced by a substitute; Frazer is speaking of the magical influence of the king in his prime on the general welfare of the community, and not of disturbances of the communal order by faults for which amends must be made.

Theories of the Origin of Sacrifice

    Very different answers have been given to the question of which of the various forms of sacrifice presented above is to be regarded as the oldest and the one out of which the others emerged either by development to a higher level or by degeneration. In each case, theories of sacrifice have been heavily influenced by their authors' conceptions of the origin and development of religion. Scholars today generally approach all these explanations with some skepticism. A brief review of the various theories is nonetheless appropriate, since each emphasizes certain aspects of the phenomenon and thus contributes to an understanding of it.

    Sacrifice as Gift.  Before the history of religions became an independent discipline, the conception of sacrifice as gift was already current among theologians; it was therefore natural that the history of religions should initially make use of this concept. [See Gift Giving.] In this discipline, however, the conception acquired two completely different applications: the sacrificial gift as bribe and the sacrificial gift as act of homage.

    The gift as bribe.  The gift theory proposed by E. B. Tylor (1871) supposes that higher forms of religion, including monotheism, gradually developed out of animism as the earliest form. Since the spirits resident in nature are indifferent to moral considerations and have but a limited sphere of power, they can be enriched by gifts and thereby influenced; in other words, they can be bribed. Sacrifice was therefore originally a simple business transaction of do ut des ("I give so that you will give in return"), an activity without moral significance. Sacrifice as homage and as abnegation or renunciation developed only gradually out of sacrifice as bribe; but even when it did, the do ut des idea continued to be operative for a long time in the later stages of religion, especially wherever sacrifice was conceived as supplying the recipient with food.

    Critics of this view have stressed that in archaic cultures the giving of a gift, even between human beings, is not a purely external transaction but at the same time establishes a personal relation between giver and recipient. According to some scholars, the giving of a gift also involves a transfer of magical power for which, in a very generalized sense, they often use the term mana. This personal relation is even more important when a gift is presented to superhuman beings. Thus it is understandable that sacrificial gifts of little material value can be quite acceptable; such gifts need not be interpreted as efforts to circumvent the higher beings and their influence. In light of this consideration, later theories of sacrifice gave the do ut des formula a deeper meaning and regarded the commercial understanding of it as a degenerate version.

    The gift as homage. Wilhelm Schmidt (1912-1955, 1922) understood the sacrificial gift in a way completely different from Tylor. He took as his point of departure the principle that the original meaning of sacrifice can be seen most clearly in the firstlings sacrifices of primitive hunters and food-gatherers. These are sacrifices of homage and thanksgiving to the supreme being to whom everything belongs and who therefore cannot be enriched by giftsósacrifices to the giver of foods that human beings do not produce but simply appropriate for themselves through hunting and gathering. These sacrifices consist in the offering of a portion of food that is often quantitatively small but symbolically important. In nomadic herding cultures this sacrifice of homage and thanksgiving takes the form of an offering of the firstlings of the flocks (young animals) or of the products of the flocks (e.g., milk). In food-growing cultures the fertility of the soil is often attributed to the dead, especially the ancestors; they, therefore, become [12 Encyclopedia of Religion 551] the recipients of the first-fruits sacrifice. When this happens, however, the character of the sacrifice is altered, since the recipients now have need of the gifts (as food) and can therefore be influenced. According to Anton Vorbichler (1956), what is offered in firstlings sacrifices is not food but life itself, but since life is seen as deriving from the supreme being as creator, the basic attitude of homage and thanksgiving remains unchanged.

    Schmidt's historical reconstruction, according to which firstlings sacrifices are the earliest form of sacrifice, has not been sufficiently demonstrated. From the phenomenological standpoint, however, this kind of sacrifice, in which the gift has symbolic rather than real value and is inspired by a consciousness of dependence and thanksgiving, does exist and must therefore be taken into account in any general definition of sacrifice.

    Sacrifice as a (Totemic) Communal Meal.  W. Robertson Smith (1889) developed a theory of sacrifice for the Semitic world that he regarded as universally applicable. He saw the weakness of Tylor's theory, which paid insufficient heed to the sacral element and to the function of establishing or maintaining a community. Under the influence of J. F. McLennan, who had done pioneer work in the study of totemism, Smith proposed a theory of sacrifice whereby the earliest form of religion (among the Semites and elsewhere) was belief in a theriomorphic tribal divinity with which the tribe had a blood relationship. Under ordinary circumstances, this totem animal was not to be killed, but there were rituals in which it was slain and eaten in order to renew the community. In this rite, recipient, offerer, and victim were all of the same nature; sacrifice was thus originally a meal in which the offerers entered into communion with the totem. As a vivid example of such a ceremony, Smith cites a story told by Nilus of a camel sacrifice offered by the bedouin of the Sinai. It was the transition to a sedentary way of life and the social changes effected by this transition that gave rise to the conception of sacrifice as a gift comparable to the tribute paid to a sovereign, the latter relationship being taken as model for the relation to the divinity. The burnt offering, or holocaust, was likewise a late development.

    Smith's theory is valuable for its criticism of the grossly mechanistic theory of Tylor and for its emphasis on the communion (community) aspect of sacrifice; as a whole, however, it is unacceptable for a number of reasons. First, the idea of sacrifice as gift is already present in the firstlings sacrifices offered in the egalitarian societies of primitive hunters and food-gatherers; it does not, therefore, presuppose the model of the offering of tribute to a sovereign. Second, it is doubtful that totemism existed among the Semites; furthermore, totemism does not occur universally as a stage in the history of human development, as was initially supposed in the nineteenth century when the phenomenon was first discovered, but is rather a specialized development. Third, the intichiuma ceremonies (increase ceremonies) of central Australian tribes are magical rites aimed at multiplying the totem animal species. They were used by early theorists of totemism, but they do not in fact match the original model of sacrifice postulated by Smith. Finally, the supposed account by Nilus is not a reliable report from a hermit living in the Sinai Peninsula but a fiction whose author is unknown; it shares with the late Greek novel certain cliches used in depicting barbarians and cannot be regarded as a reliable historical source (see Henninger, 1955). Smith's theory of sacrifice also contributed to Freud's conception of the slaying of the primal father, which Freud saw as the origin of sacrifice and other institutions, especially the incest taboo; this conception is therefore subject to the same criticisms.

    As Link between the Profane and Sacral Worlds. Henri Hubert and Marcel Mauss (1899) rejected Tylor's theory because of its mechanistic character. They also rejected Smith's theory because it arbitrarily chose totemism as a universally applicable point of departure and reconstructed the development of the forms of sacrifice solely by analogy and without adequate historical basis and, further, because offering is an essential element in the concept of sacrifice. Hubert and Mauss themselves begin with an analysis of the Vedic and Hebraic rituals of sacrifice and, in light of this, define sacrifice as "a religious act which, by the consecration of a victim, modifies the condition of the moral person who accomplishes it, or that of certain objects with which he is concerned" (Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1977, vol. 16, p. 129a). The victim is not holy by nature (as it is in Smith's theory); the consecration is effected by destruction, and the connection with the sacral world is completed by a sacred meal. Implied here is the view (which goes back to Emile Durkheim) of the French sociological school that the sacral world is simply a projection of society. "Gods are representations of communities, they are societies thought of ideally and imaginatively.... Sacrifice is an act of abnegation by which the individual recognizes society; it recalls to particular consciences the presence of collective forces, represented by their gods" (Evans-Pritchard,1965, p.70).

    The objection was raised against this explanation that conclusions universally valid for the understanding of sacrifice as such, especially in "primitive" societies, cannot be drawn from an analysis of two highly developed forms of sacrifice, even if the two differ among themselves. Thus E. E. Evans-Pritchard, having called the work of Hubert and Mauss "a masterly analysis of [12 Encyclopedia of Religion 552] Vedic and Hebrew sacrifice," immediately adds: "But masterly though it was, its conclusions are an unconvincing piece of sociologistic metaphysics.... They are conclusions not deriving from, but posited on a brilliant analysis of the mechanism of sacrifice, or perhaps one should say of its logical structure, or even of its grammar" (Evans-Pritchard, 1965, pp. 70-71).

    Sacrifice as Magic. Hubert and Mauss considered the recipient of sacrifice to be simply a hypostatization of society itself. Other authors have gone even further, regarding the idea of a recipient as not essential to the concept of sacrifice. They more or less explicitly presuppose that the idea of an impersonal force or power, to which the name mana is given more frequently than any other, is older than the idea of soul or spirit as understood in animism. For this reason, the idea of sacrifice as a purely objective magical action (the triggering of a magical force that is thought to be concentrated especially in the blood), accomplished by destruction of a sacrificial gift (e.g., the slaying of an animal), must be the basic form, or at least one of the basic forms, of sacrifice. Sacrifices of this kind are said to be "predeistic." Expressions such as this, which imply a temporal succession, are also used by phenomenologists, who claim in principle to be simply describing phenomena and not asserting any kind of development. In this view the concept of sacrifice as gift is a secondary development in which gifts to the dead played an important role (Loisy, 1920). According to Gerardus van der Leeuw (1920-1921), sacrifice conceived as gift constitutes a transfer of magical force; the do ut des formula describes not a commercial transaction but the release of a current of force (do ut possis dare, "I give power to you so that you can give it back to me"). The recipient is strengthened by the gift; the two participants, deity and human beings, are simultaneously givers and receivers, but the central role belongs to the gift itself and to the current of force that it sets in motion. This theory, then, combines to some extent the gift theory and the communion theory, but it does so from the standpoint of magic.

    There do in fact exist rituals of slaying and destruction in which no personal recipient is involved and that are regarded as operating automatically; there is no evidence, however, that such rituals are older than sacrifice in the sense described earlier. The examples constantly adduced come to a very great extent from high cultures (e.g., Roman religion). An especially typical form occurs in Brahmanic speculation, where sacrifice is looked upon as a force that ensures the continuation of a cosmic process to which even the gods are subject. Other examples come from food-growing peoples. When human beings contribute by their own activity to the production of food, their consciousness of dependence on higher powers is less than in an economy based on the appropriation of goods not produced by humans. Thus it is easier to adopt the idea that the higher powers can be influenced and even coerced by sacrifices and other rites. For this reason, the firstlings sacrifices of hunters and food-gatherers do not fit in with speculations that give priority to magic, nor do such speculations take account of such sacrifices, and thus the full extent of the phenomenon of sacrifice is lost from view. Sacrifice and magic should rather be considered as phenomena that differ in nature; they have indeed influenced each other in many ways, but neither can be derived from the other. The personal relation that is established by a gift is fully intelligible without bringing in an element of magic (see van Baal, 1976, pp. 163ó 164, 167, 177-178). [See Magic.]

    Sacrifice as Reenactment of Primordial Events. According to Adolph E. Jensen (1951), sacrifice cannot be understood as gift; its original meaning is rather to be derived from certain myths found in the cultures of cultivators, especially in Indonesia and Oceania. These myths maintain that in primordial time there were as yet no mortal human beings but only divine or semidivine beings (dema beings); this state ended with the killing of a dema divinity from whose body came the plants useful to humans. The ritual slaying of humans and animals, headhunting, cannibalism, and other blood rites are ceremonial repetitions of that killing in primordial time; they affirm and guarantee the present world order, with its continuous destruction and re-creation, which would otherwise be unable to function. Once the myth had been largely forgotten or was no longer seen to be connected with ritual, rites involving slaying were reinterpreted as a giving of a gift to divinities (who originally played no role in these rites, because the primordial divine being had been slain); blood sacrifices thus became "meaningless survivals" of the "meaningful rituals of killing" of the earlier foodgrowing cultures. Magical actions are likewise degenerate fragments of the originally meaningful whole formed by the mythically based rituals of killing.

    This theory has some points in common with Freud's theory of the murder of the primal father and with the theory according to which sacrifice originated in the self-sacrifice of a divine being in the primordial time of myth. The common weakness of all these theories, is that they take account only of blood sacrifices. These, however, developed only in food-growing and even later cultures, whereas in the firstlings sacrifices of hunters and food-gatherers there is no ritual killing, and bloodless offerings are widespread in many other cultures as well.

[12 Encyclopedia of Religion 553]
    Sacrifice as Anxiety Reaction.  In the theories discussed thus far, except for the theory of sacrifice as a gift in homage, firstlings sacrifices receive either inadequate attention or none at all. Vittorio Lanternari (1976), on the other hand, provides a formal discussion of these, but gives an interpretation of them that is completely different from that of Schmidt. Lanternari's point of departure is the analysis of a certain form of neurosis provided by some psychologists; according to this analysis, this kind of neurosis finds expression in the undoing of successes earlier achieved and is at the basis of certain religious delusions. Lanternari maintains that a similar psychic crisis occurs among "primitives" when they are confronted with success (hunters after a successful hunt, food cultivators after the harvest) and that this crisis leads them to undertake an at least symbolic destruction of what they had gained. For Lanternari, then, a firstlings sacrifice is the result of anxiety, whereas for Schmidt it is an expression of gratitude. Hunters feel the slaying of the animal to be a sacrilege, which explains the rites of Siberian peoples that seek a reconciliation with the slain animal and a repudiation of the killing. For cultivators the sacrilege consists in the violation of the earth, which is the dwelling of the dead, by the cultivation of the soil; they feel anxiety at the thought of the dead and worry about future fertility, even if the harvest is a good one. It is a secondary matter whether the symbolic destruction of the gain is accomplished by offering food to a higher being or by simply doing away with a portion of it.

    Critics of the psychopathological explanation have pointed out the essential differences between the behavior of neurotics and the religious behavior exhibited in firstlings sacrifices. In the psychically ill (those who are defeated by success), efforts at liberation are purely individual; they are not part of a historical tradition, are not organically integrated into a cultural setting, and do not lead to inner deliverance. In religious life, on the contrary, efforts to surmount a crisis are organically inserted into tradition and culture, tend to restore psychic balance, and in fact achieve such a balance. For this reason the "primitive" peoples in question are not defeated by life, as neurotics are; on the contrary, their way of life has stood the test of ages. Whatever judgment one may pass on the value or nonvalue of the underlying religious views and modes of behavior of these peoples, one cannot characterize them as pathological; for this reason a psychopathological explanation of sacrifice must also be rejected. This is not to deny that fear or anxiety plays a significant part in certain forms of sacrifice; such feelings result primarily from the ideas of the offerers about the character of the recipient in question (see Henninger, 1968, pp. 176-180).

    Sacrifice as a Mechanism for Diverting Violence. Whereas Jensen derived rituals involving killing, which were subsequently reinterpreted as "sacrifices," from certain myths of food-growing cultures, Rene Girard (1977, 1978) has proposed a more comprehensive theory that explains not only sacrifice but the sacred itself as resulting from a focusing of violent impulses upon a substitute object, a scapegoat. According to Girard, the peaceful coexistence of human beings cannot be taken for granted; when the desires of humans fasten upon the same object, rivalries arise and with them a tendency toward violence that endangers the existing order and its norms. This tendency can be neutralized, however, if the reciprocal aggressions are focused on a marginal object, a scapegoat. The scapegoat is thereby rendered sacred: it is seen as accursed but also as bringing salvation. Thus the focusing of violence on an object gives rise to the sacred and all that results from it (taboos, a new social order). Whereas the violence was originally focused on a randomly chosen object, in sacrifice the concentration takes a strict ritual form; as a result, internecine aggressions are constantly being diverted to the outside and cannot operate destructively within the community. At bottom, therefore, sacrifice lacks any moral character. Eventually it was eliminated by the critique of sacrifice that began in the Hebrew scriptures and, most fully, by the fact that Jesus freely made himself a "scapegoat" and in so doing transcended the whole realm of sacrifice. Girard supports his thesis by appealing to the phenomenon of blood sacrifice, which (especially in the form of human sacrifice) is a constant in the history of religions, and by citing the evidence of rivalry and violence, leading even to fratricide, that is supplied by the mythical traditions (especially myths of the origin of things) and also by history (persecution of minorities as scapegoats, etc.).

    A critique of this theory can in part repeat the arguments already advanced against Jensen. Apart from the fact that it does not distinguish between sacrifice and eliminatory rites, Girard's concept of sacrifice is too narrow, for he supports it by reference solely to stratified societies and high cultures. It could at most explain blood sacrifices involving killing, but not sacrifice as such and certainly not the sacred as such, since the idea of the sacred exists even among peoples (e.g., in Australia) who do not practice sacrifice. As was pointed out earlier, firstlings sacrifices (of which Girard does not speak) have intellectual and emotional presuppositions far removed from Girard's key concepts of "primal murder" and "scapegoat mechanism."

    The value of the theories here reviewed is that each of them highlights a certain aspect of sacrifice. It is unlikely that we will ever have a sure answer to the ques- [12 Encyclopedia of Religion 554] tion of whether there was a single original form of sacrifice or whether, on the contrary, various forms developed independently.

Sacrifice in History

    It will never be possible to write a complete history of sacrifice. In any case, sacrifice is found in most of the religions known to us. The extent to which the human mind has taken the phenomenon of sacrifice for granted is clear, for example, from the role it plays in many myths dealing with primordial time. Probably to be grouped with these sacrifices is the sacrifice that Utanapishtim, the hero of the Mesopotamian flood story, offers after the flood, as well as the one that Noah offers in the biblical flood story (Gn. 9:20-21). Even earlier, the Bible tells of the sacrifices offered by Cain the farmer and Abel the shepherd (Gn. 4:3-5); these are expressly said to be firstlings sacrifices. Aristotle, too, was of the opinion that the sacrifice of firstlings (of field and flock) is the oldest form of sacrifice. As we know today, these sacrifices were also performed by peoplesóhunters and food-gatherersówhose economy was of a purely appropriative kind.

    Archaic Cultures.  Scholars disagree on whether there are unambiguous indications of sacrifice in the Paleolithic period. On the basis of a comparison with the practices of more recent hunting peoples, various authors have interpreted the burial of the skulls and long bones of cave bears as part of firstling sacrifices; this view, however, has met with strong criticism. Nonetheless, Hermann Muller-Karpe (1966, pp.224-229) insists that there is clear evidence of sacrifice in the early Paleolithic period. There is undisputed evidence of sacrifice in the Neolithic period (Muller-Karpe, 1968, pp. 334-348; see also pp. 348-371 on the treatment of the dead).

    Sacrifice is also found in all the types of nonliterate cultures made known to us by ethnologists. It is not detectable, however, among some primitive hunters and food-gatherers, for example, in Australia; whether it was present there at an earlier time is uncertain. On the other hand, it is amply attested among nomadic shepherds in both Asia and Africa, and among food-growing peoples, from primitive tuber cultivators down to the most highly developed grain growers, who themselves mark a transition to the high cultures (as for instance the ancient rice-growing cultures of Japan and China). It is typical of many food-growing cultures (e.g., in Africa) that, while they believe in a supreme creator god, they assign him hardly any role in cult. Sacrifices are offered primarily or even exclusively to lesser divinities, spirits of nature, and ancestors who in some instances are regarded as mediators and intercessors with the supreme creator god.

    Historical High Cultures.  In Shinto, the ancient nature religion of Japan, sacrifices were offered to the divinities of nature and to the dead; these were in part regularly recurring sacrifices determined by the rhythm of the agricultural year and in part sacrifices of supplication or sacrifices in fulfillment of vows made under extraordinary circumstances. While originally offered simply by individuals, sacrifice eventually became the concern of the community and was therefore offered by the emperor or by priests commissioned by him. Human sacrifices also occurred.

    In China the sacrifice that the emperor offered to heaven and earth at the time of the winter solstice had an important function. In addition to sacrifices determined by the agricultural year, sacrifices especially to the ancestors played a large part in the life of the people. These were offered at the graves of the dead, in the clan's hall of the ancestors, or before the family's ancestral tablets. The emperor sacrificed to his ancestors in temples erected especially in their honor.

    For ancient Egypt, the archaeological, epigraphical, and literary evidence points to a strictly ritualized sacrificial cult, administered by a highly organized priesthood and including daily sacrifices in the temples, where the divinity was treated like a sovereign in his palace.

    The same was true of ancient Mesopotamia, where the Sumerians already had a professional priesthood and a rather full calendar of feasts with accompanying obligatory sacrifices. Both priesthood and calendar were to a very large extent taken over and developed still further by the invading Semites. The ritual and therefore the sacrificial cult of the Hittites were strongly influenced by the pre-Indo-European population of Anatolia (whose language also continued to be largely used in ritual), but were also influenced by Mesopotamia. Mythological and ritual texts from Ugarit give evidence of a sacrificial cult that in part was influenced by Mesopotamia and in part showed peculiarly Canaanite characteristics; some of the terms connected with sacrifice are related to Hebrew terms.

    The evidence for the other Semites is sketchy. In the high cultures of southern Arabia, which are known to us from inscriptions dating from as far back as the first millennium BCE, the sacrificial cult was administered by a professional priesthood and was offered mainly to the three major astral divinities (Sun, Moon, Venus). Documentation for northern and central Arabia begins at a later time; apart from rock inscriptions containing scattered details about religion, the chief sources are literary, mostly from the Islamic period, and provide rather sparse information about pilgrimages, to the shrines of local divinities and the sacrifices offered there.

[12 Encyclopedia of Religion 555]
    In Vedic and later Hindu religion, sacrifice, which was controlled by the brahmans, was ritualized down to the smallest detail and given a comprehensive speculative theological explanation. In the horse sacrifice (the Asvamedha) and in other cultic practices, as, for example, the sacrifice of butter and of the sacred intoxicating drink soma, there are elements common to the Indo-Iranian world, but after the immigration of the Aryans into India, these were to some extent amalgamated there with pre-Aryan rites. Buddhism, on the other hand, rejected sacrifice in principle; tendencies to a spiritualization of sacrifice and its replacement by asceticism are also found in some currents of Hinduism.

    Animal sacrifices were also practiced in the oldest form of Iranian religion, where they were inherited from the Indo-Iranian period. During his reform, Zarathushtra (Zoroaster) abolished these practices. In later times such sacrifices again made their appearance to some extent; they were offered, however, not to Ahura Mazda but to subordinate heavenly beings. Bloodless sacrifices, involving especially the sacred intoxicating drink haoma, remained especially important.

    Historical Greek religion combined the religion of the Indo-European invaders with that of the pre-Indo-European population; the same combination marked the sacrificial cult. There were bloodless sacrifices of food and drink. In blood sacrifices a distinction was made, as far as objects and ritual were concerned, between those offered to the ouranic gods (hiereia, thusiai), which culminated in a sacrificial meal, and those offered to the chthonic gods (sphagia), in which there was no sacrificial meal and the victim was often completely cremated or buried (sacrifices of destruction). Pigs and cattle were sacrificed to the ouranic gods, while inedible animals (horses, asses, dogs) were the chief offerings to the chthonic gods. Human sacrifice was later replaced by other sacrifices. The sacrificer was the ruler in the earliest period; later on there were professional priests.

    In its earliest form, before intensive contact with Greek religion, Roman religion was pronouncedly agrarian. Occasions for sacrifices were therefore determined primarily by the agricultural year, and only later by special occasions in civic life. Etruscan influence shows in the divination (haruspicia) that was connected with sacrifice; the animals sacrificed were chiefly pigs, sheep, and cattle (suevetaurilia). Like Roman religion generally, the sacrificial cult had a marked juridical character.

    The sacrifices known from the Hebrew scriptures (Old Testament) are, in their external form, largely the same as those found in the surrounding world, especially among the Canaanites. As far as ritual was concerned, a distinction was made chiefly between the burnt offering, or holocaust ('olah), in which the sacrificial animal was completely burned up, and the sacrifice of salvation or peace (zevah shelamim). In the latter, only certain parts of the sacrificial animal were burned; the blood, regarded as the vehicle of life and therefore not to be consumed by humans, was poured out (in many sacrifices it was smeared on the altar), and the rite ended with a sacrificial meal. Expiatory sacrifices constituted a special category comprising ashram, "guilt sacrifice," and hatís, "sacrifice for sin," the distinction between which is not entirely clear. In these sacrifices the animal had to be burned up, probably because it had become the vehicle of impurity. Minhah meant a bloodless sacrifice (of vegetables), but the term was also used in a broader sense. There were, in addition, incense sacrifices and libations. The sacrificial cult was ritualized in great detail, especially in the period after the Babylonian exile. In this ritual the three major feasts, those involving a prescribed pilgrimage to the central sanctuary, were marked by extensive sacrifices. In addition, there were daily sacrifices in the temple. There were also individual occasions for sacrifice, some of them prescribed, others inspired by freely made vows. After the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE, the sacrificial cult ceased and was replaced by other religious activities.

    Islam is in principle opposed to sacrifice. "It is not their flesh and blood [i.e., that of sacrificial animals] that reaches God but the piety of your heart" (Qur'an, surah 22:38). Sacrifice thus has no place in official worship. Pre-Islamic blood sacrifices live on, in external form, in the great slaughters that take place as part of the pilgrimage ritual at Mount Arafat near Mecca, and similarly in almost all the countries of the Islamic world, on the tenth day of the month Dhu al-Hijjah. These are interpreted, however, as commemorations of the sacrifice of Abraham and as almsgiving, inasmuch as the flesh is given to the poor or to anyone who wants it. Blood sacrifices (and bloodless ones as well) are also part of popular piety, especially of veneration of the saints; but these are not sanctioned by orthodox Islam.

    According to New Testament teaching, which is developed especially in the letter to the Hebrews, the sacrifices of the Old Testament were only provisional and had to cease under the new covenant. The self-giving of Jesus in his death on the cross is understood as the definitive and perfect sacrifice that has the power in itself to effect expiation and redemption and that therefore makes all earlier sacrifices superfluous. In the Roman Catholic church and the Eastern churches the celebration of the Eucharist is regarded as a rendering present (not a repetition) of the sacrifice of the cross, and therefore itself constitutes a real sacrifice in which Jesus [12 Encyclopedia of Religion 556] Christ the high priest, using the ministry of the ordained priests who represent him, offers himself as the perfect sacrificial gift. The sixteenth-century reformers rejected the official priesthood and the sacrificial dimension of the Eucharist (Calvin took the most radical position on this point); the celebration of the Lord's Supper thus became simply a commemoration of Jesus and, though a sacrament, had no sacrificial character. In recent times, there has been a tendency in the Lutheran church to confer to some degree a sacrificial character on the Lord's Supper. Even more explicit however is the emphasis placed on the sacrificial character of the Lord's Supper by the Anglican church. In Protestantism generally the term sacrifice refers to a purely interior attitude.


    In the course of its history, which can be traced through several millennia, sacrifice has undergone many changes, and this in all its aspects: changes in the material of sacrifice (occasioned by economic changes but also by ethical considerations, e.g., in the suppression of human sacrifice); changes with regard to place and time (centralization of cult, regulation of feasts and thereby of the occasions for sacrifice); changes in the offerer (the rise of classes of official sacrificers); and changes in ritual and motivation. These developments do not, however, reflect a one-directional "advance." Egoistic and magical motives were not always eliminated by higher motives; in fact, they often asserted themselves even more strongly in connection with manifestations of religious degeneration. In the same context a quantitative increase in sacrifices is also often to be seen; thus in some late cultures the number of human sacrifices became especially extensive (e.g., among the Punics and the Aztec).

    Disapproval and criticism of sacrifice might spring from a skeptical, antireligious attitude that condemned sacrifice as meaningless waste. However, it could also be motivated by a more profound reflection on the meaning of sacrifice in the light of religious interiority, leading to an emphasis on inner conviction, the self-giving of the human being to the divinity, which finds symbolic expression in sacrifice, and without which the external rite has no religious value. This cast of mind could lead to the complete abolition of the external rite, but also to a consciously established accord between external action and interior attitude.

    Tendencies to the spiritualization and ethicization of sacrifice were already present in Indian religion, where they produced a mysticism of sacrifice; in the philosophers of classical antiquity, who regarded ethical behavior as of highest value; and above all in the biblical religions. Early in the Hebrew scriptures the idea was expressed that obedience to God's commandments is better than sacrifice (1 Sm. 15:22), and the prophetic criticism of sacrifice was directed at an outward cult unaccompanied by interior dispositions and ethical behavior. The wisdom literature, too, repeatedly stresses the superior value of religious dispositions and moral behavior. This outlook became even more pronounced in postbiblical Judaism, once the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE had put an end to the sacrificial cult. From the beginning, Christianity emphasized not only the continuance of cultic sacrifice in the celebration of the Eucharist but also the necessity of a self-surrender that finds external expression in other ways as well; thus, even in the New Testament, prayers, hymns of praise, good works, and especially love of neighbor are described as "sacrifices." These tendencies became particularly strong in Protestantism, which no longer acknowledged the Eucharist to be a sacrifice.

    Finally, the idea of renunciation, which is connected with the offering of a gift, was especially emphasized in Christianity, so that every kind of asceticism and selfabnegation came to be called sacrifice (there is a similar development in Buddhism). A one-sided emphasis on this aspect led finally to a very broad and metaphorical use of the term sacrifice. Thus an abandonment of possessions and a personal commitment to an idea or to the attainment of certain goals, especially if this commitment demands costly effort, is described as sacrifice in the active sense of the term. We also speak of the victims of wars, epidemics, natural disasters, and so on with a sense that they are, in a passive sense, sacrificial victims. Thus the word sacrifice ultimately became very much a secular term in common usage; yet the origins of sacrifice in the religious sphere remain evident.


Baal, Jan van. "Offering, Sacrifice and Gift." Numen 23 (December 1976): 161-178.

Baaren, Th. P. van. "Theoretical Speculations on Sacrifice." Numen 11 (January 1964): I-12.

Bertholet, Alfred. Der Sinn des kultischen Opfers. Berlin, 1942.

Closs, Alois. "Das Opfer in 0st und West.'' Kairos 3 (1961):153-161.

Evans-Pritchard, E. E. Theories of Primitive Religion. Oxford, 1965.

Faherty, Robert L. "Sacrifice." In Encyclopaedia Britannica. 15th ed. Chicago, 1974.

Girard, Rene. Violence and the Sacred. Translated by Patrick Gregory. Baltimore, 1977.

Girard, Rene. Des choses cachees depuis la fondation du monde.  Paris, 1978.

Gray, Louis H., et al. "Expiation and Atonement." In Encyclo- [12 Encyclopedia of Religion 557] pacdia of Religion and Ethnics, edited by James Hastings, vol. 5. Edinburgh, 1912.

Heiler, Friedrich. Erscheinungsformen und Wesen der Religion. Vol. I of Die Religionen der Menschheit. Stuttgart, 1961.

Henninger, Joseph. "Ist der sogenannte Nilus-Bericht eine brauchbare religionsgeschichtliche Quelle?" Anthropos 50 (1955): 81-148.

Henninger, Joseph. "Primitialopfer und Neujahrsfest." In Anthropica. Studia Instituti Anthropos, vol. 21. Sankt Augustin, West Germany, 1968.

Henninger, Joseph. Les fetes de printemps chez les Semites et la Paque israelite. Paris, 1975.

Henninger, Joseph. Arabica Sacra: Aufsatze zur Religionsgeschichte Arabiens und seiner Randgebiete. Fribourg, 1981.

Hubert, Henri, and Marcel Mauss. "Essai sur la nature et la fonction du sacrifice." L'annee sociologique 2 (1899): 29-138. An English translation was published in 1964 (Chicago): Sacrifice: Its Nature and Function.

James, E. O. Sacrifice and Sacrament. London, 1962.

James, E. O., et al. "Sacrifice." In Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics, edited by James Hastings, vol. 11. Edinburgh, 1920.

Jensen, Adolf E. Myth and Cult among Primitive Peoples. Translated by Marianna Tax Choldin and Wolfgang Weissleder. Chicago, 1963.

Kerr, C. M., et al. "Propitiation." In Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics, edited by James Hastings, vol. 10. Edinburgh, 1918.

Lanternari, Vittorio. 'La Grande Festa': Vita rituale e sistemi di produzione nelle societa tradizionali. 2d ed. Bari, 1976.

Leeuw, Gerardus van der. "Die do-ut-des-Formel in der Opfertheorie." Archiv fur Religionswissenschaft 20 (1920-1921): 241-253.

Leeuw, Gerardus van der. Religion in Essence and Manifestation (1938). 2 vols. Translated by J. E. Turner. Gloucester, Mass., 1967.

Loisy, Alfred. Essai historique sur le sacrifice. Paris, 1920.

Muller-Karpe, Hermann. Handbuch der Vorgeschichte. 2 vols. Munich, 1966-1968.

Le sacrifice, I-V. Nos. 2-6 of Systemes de pensee en Afrique noire. Ivry, France, 1976 - 1983.

Schmidt, Wilhelm. Der Ursprung der Gottesidee. 12 vols. Munster, 1912-1955. See especially volume 6, pages 274-281, 444-455; volume 8, pages 595-633; and volume 12, pages 389-441, 826-836, and 845-847.

Schmidt, Wilhelm. "Ethnologische Bemerkungen zu theologischen Opfertheorien." In Jahrbuch des Missionshauses St. Gabriel, vol. 1. Modling, 1922.

Smith, W. Robertson. Lectures on the Religion of the Semites: The Fundamental Institutions (1889). 3d ed. Reprint, New York, 1969.

Tylor, E. B. Primitive Culture (1871). 2 vols. Reprint, New York, 1970.

Vorbichler, Anton. Das Opfer auf den uns heute noch erreichbaren altesten Stufen der Menschheitsgeschichte: Eine Begriffsstudie. Modling, 1956.

Widengren, Geo. Religionsphanomenologie. Berlin, 1969.

Additional literature is found in the works cited in the article, especially those by Hubert and Mauss, Loisy, Schmidt, Bertholet, van der Leeuw, Henninger, Lanternari, Heiler, James, and Widengren, as well as in Le sacrifice, especially volume 1.

JOSEPH HENNINGER Translated from German by Matthew J. O'Connell

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Encyclopedia of Religion, Vol. 13
Encyclopedia Judaica, Vol. 14
Concise Encyclopedia of Islam
Biblical Quotations
Webster's 3rd International Dictionary
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