Child Sacrifice at Carthage?

Okay … so over the course of the day I’m idly checking my Twitter feed and I notice a pile of folks tweeting an article in Science Daily with the headline screaming Study Debunks Millennia-Old Claims of Systematic Infant Sacrifice in Ancient Carthage. Later, when I get home, I see an item from Eurekalert with the same headline. Before reading the articles, and while pondering whether ‘systematic’ is a word that is normally used in this context, I start to wonder if someone has managed to prove a negative somehow. Of course not.

Both articles are verbatim accounts of a press release from the University of Pittsburgh. Here’s what it says:

A study led by University of Pittsburgh researchers could finally lay to rest the millennia-old conjecture that the ancient empire of Carthage regularly sacrificed its youngest citizens. An examination of the remains of Carthaginian children revealed that most infants perished prenatally or very shortly after birth and were unlikely to have lived long enough to be sacrificed, according to a Feb. 17 report in “Proceedings of the Library of Science (PLoS) ONE.”

The findings-based on the first published analysis of the skeletal remains found in Carthaginian burial urns-refute claims from as early as the 3rd century BCE of systematic infant sacrifice at Carthage that remain a subject of debate among biblical scholars and archaeologists, said lead researcher Jeffrey H. Schwartz, a professor of anthropology and history and philosophy of science in Pitt’s School of Arts and Sciences and president of the World Academy of Art and Science. Schwartz and his colleagues present the more benign interpretation that very young Punic children were cremated and interred in burial urns regardless of how they died.

“Our study emphasizes that historical scientists must consider all evidence when deciphering ancient societal behavior,” Schwartz said. “The idea of regular infant sacrifice in Carthage is not based on a study of the cremated remains, but on instances of human sacrifice reported by a few ancient chroniclers, inferred from ambiguous Carthaginian inscriptions, and referenced in the Old Testament. Our results show that some children were sacrificed, but they contradict the conclusion that Carthaginians were a brutal bunch who regularly sacrificed their own children.”

Schwartz worked with Frank Houghton of the Veterans Research Foundation of Pittsburgh, Roberto Macchiarelli of the National Museum of Natural History in Paris, and Luca Bondioli of the National Museum of Prehistory and Ethnography in Rome to inspect the remains of children found in Tophets, burial sites peripheral to conventional Carthaginian cemeteries for older children and adults. Tophets housed urns containing the cremated remains of young children and animals, which led to the theory that they were reserved for victims of sacrifice.

Schwartz and his coauthors tested the all-sacrifice claim by examining the skeletal remains from 348 urns for developmental markers that would determine the children’s age at death. Schwartz and Houghton recorded skull, hip, long bone, and tooth measurements that indicated most of the children died in their first year with a sizeable number aged only two to five months, and that at least 20 percent of the sample was prenatal.

Schwartz and Houghton then selected teeth from 50 individuals they concluded had died before or shortly after birth and sent them to Macchiarelli and Bondioli, who examined the samples for a neonatal line. This opaque band forms in human teeth between the interruption of enamel production at birth and its resumption within two weeks of life. Identification of this line is commonly used to determine an infant’s age at death. Macchiarelli and Bondioli found a neonatal line in the teeth of 24 individuals, meaning that the remaining 26 individuals died prenatally or within two weeks of birth, the researchers reported.

The contents of the urns also dispel the possibility of mass infant sacrifice, Schwartz and Houghton noted. No urn contained enough skeletal material to suggest the presence of more than two complete individuals. Although many urns contained some superfluous fragments belonging to additional children, the researchers concluded that these bones remained from previous cremations and may have inadvertently been mixed with the ashes of subsequent cremations.

The team’s report also disputes the contention that Carthaginians specifically sacrificed first-born males. Schwartz and Houghton determined sex by measuring the sciatic notch-a crevice at the rear of the pelvis that’s wider in females-of 70 hipbones. They discovered that 38 pelvises came from females and 26 from males. Two others were likely female, one likely male, and three undetermined.

Schwartz and his colleagues conclude that the high incidence of prenate and infant mortality are consistent with modern data on stillbirths, miscarriages, and infant death. They write that if conditions in other ancient cities held in Carthage, young and unborn children could have easily succumbed to the diseases and sanitary shortcomings found in such cities as Rome and Pompeii.

So to summarize the press release:

  • there’s a millennia-old “conjecture” that Carthaginians “regularly” or “systematically” sacrificed their children
  • evidence for same is not based on examination of cremated remains, but on literary sources from various periods
  • the existence of ‘Tophet’ has led to a theory that they were the places reserved for the young victims of such sacrifices
  • examination of the remains in a fairly large number of Tophet burials suggests that there were some sacrifices, but that a much larger number of the burials were of children who died natural deaths (but that number seems to be small compared to a claimed one-instance sacrifice mentioned by Diodorus Siculus, below)

Okay, so let’s first see what Diodorus Siculus says (20.14 via Lacus Curtius) when Agathocles was beseiging Carthage:

Therefore the Carthaginians, believing that the misfortune had come to them from the gods, betook themselves to every manner of supplication of the divine powers; and, because they believed that Heracles, who was worshipped in their mother city, was exceedingly angry with them, they sent a large sum of money and many of the most expensive offerings to Tyre. Since they had come as colonists from that city, it had been their custom in the earlier period to send to the god a tenth of all that was paid into the public revenue; but later, when they had acquired great wealth and were receiving more considerable revenues, they sent very little indeed, holding the divinity of little account. But turning to repentance because of this misfortune, they bethought them of all the gods of Tyre. They even sent from their temples in supplication the golden shrines with their images, believing that they would better appease the wrath of the god if the offerings were sent for the sake of winning forgiveness. They also alleged that Cronus had turned against them inasmuch as in former times they had been accustomed to sacrifice to this god the noblest of their sons, but more recently, secretly buying and nurturing children, they had sent these to the sacrifice; and when an investigation was made, some of those who had been sacrificed were discovered to have been supposititious. When they had given thought to these things and saw their enemy encamped before their walls, they were filled with superstitious dread, for they believed that they had neglected the honours of the gods that had been established by their fathers. In their zeal to make amends for their omission, they selected two hundred of the noblest children and sacrificed them publicly; and others who were under suspicion sacrificed themselves voluntarily, in number not less than three hundred. There was in their city a bronze image of Cronus, extending its hands, palms up and sloping toward the ground, so that each of the children when placed thereon rolled down and fell into a sort of gaping pit filled with fire.

I don’t have a Greek text handy, but this literary account seems enough to take away my doubts about use of the words ‘regular’ and ‘systemic’. However, what I do not understand is why these burials from Carthage are identified as ‘Tophet’ burials (Tophet is a Biblical term, relating to this sort of sacrifice among the Canaanites … see the Wikipedia article if you’d like to track down references.). If they are ‘Tophet’ in the Biblical sense, the lack of large-scale sacrificial remains would suggest they aren’t ‘Tophet’, no? There’s some straw man/circularity lurking in here.  Or perhaps there is a technical definition being applied to something more general. Whatever the case,  near as I can tell, what has been proven is not the ‘non-existence’ of regular child sacrifice, but rather that these particular burials outside Carthage aren’t ‘Tophet’ in the Biblical sense.

Interestingly, the University of Pittsburgh press release links to the PLoS One article, which includes this abstract:

Two types of cemeteries occur at Punic Carthage and other Carthaginian settlements: one centrally situated housing the remains of older children through adults, and another at the periphery of the settlement (the “Tophet”) yielding small urns containing the cremated skeletal remains of very young animals and humans, sometimes comingled. Although the absence of the youngest humans at the primary cemeteries is unusual and worthy of discussion, debate has focused on the significance of Tophets, especially at Carthage, as burial grounds for the young. One interpretation, based on two supposed eye-witness reports of large-scale Carthaginian infant sacrifice [Kleitarchos (3rd c. BCE) and Diodorus Siculus (1st c. BCE)], a particular translation of inscriptions on some burial monuments, and the argument that if the animals had been sacrificed so too were the humans, is that Tophets represent burial grounds reserved for sacrificial victims. An alternative hypothesis acknowledges that while the Carthaginians may have occasionally sacrificed humans, as did their contemporaries, the extreme youth of Tophet individuals suggests these cemeteries were not only for the sacrificed, but also for the very young, however they died. Here we present the first rigorous analysis of the largest sample of cremated human skeletal remains (348 burial urns, N = 540 individuals) from the Carthaginian Tophet based on tooth formation, enamel histology, cranial and postcranial metrics, and the potential effects of heat-induced bone shrinkage. Most of the sample fell within the period prenatal to 5-to-6 postnatal months, with a significant presence of prenates. Rather than indicating sacrifice as the agent of death, this age distribution is consistent with modern-day data on perinatal mortality, which at Carthage would also have been exacerbated by numerous diseases common in other major cities, such as Rome and Pompeii. Our diverse approaches to analyzing the cremated human remains from Carthage strongly support the conclusion that Tophets were cemeteries for those who died shortly before or after birth, regardless of the cause.

Sounds like an interesting study, but it’s EXTREMELY interesting that the focus does not appear to be conclusions about the scale  of child sacrifice at Carthage, but rather, who were buried in the ‘Tophet’.  One might also wonder whether children who died ‘natural’ births might have been seen by the Carthaginians as ‘sacrificed’/taken by the god(s) even if they didn’t roll out of the hands of Moloch. In any event, in the coverage hitting the newspapers, it seems like someone along the line here is engaging in a bit of revisionary sensationalism …

Addenda: if you’re wondering about the dates of the ‘Tophet’ at Carthage, see: The Tophet of Carthage | Suite101 Archaeology

Addenda II: a conversation on the Classics list reminded me that we’ve dealt with this ‘child sacrifice’ downplaying before: Child Sacrifice in Carthage (2005) (see especially the link to the ‘online debate’)

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29 thoughts on “Child Sacrifice at Carthage?

  1. I’m new to this blog, so first off, thanks for this post. It seems very difficult to argue that the Phoenicians didn’t practice some kind of child sacrifice, and I agree that the claims of the new study appear to be sensationalized. However, in my opinion this study yet suggests something very important: that the Phoenicians were not monsters who would burn (or otherwise slaughter) live children. Your line that prematurely dead children “might have been seen by the Carthaginians as ’sacrificed’/taken by the god(s)” is appropriate. Obviously, the act of subsequently “offering” to Moloch, etc. is alien to us, but it doesn’t quite reach the level of abhorrence (that commentators, both classical and modern, try to portray).

    • In regard to the opinion of the moderator that the results of the study are “sensationalized”…

      First, please be aware that the press release you have posted contains a MISQUOTE of the chief researcher and author of the study, Jeffrey Schwartz. The press release incorrectly quotes Dr. Schwartz as saying, “Our results show that some children were sacrificed.” This is a shocking misrepresentation of Schwartz’ study. I alerted Dr. Schwartz to the misquote and received a written reply from him confirming that HE NEVER SAID THAT. How this mistake occurred has still to be determined (the same misquote has appeared on many online news sites and scientific blogs).

      If the headlines of news articles about the study seem sensationalized, this is not Jeffrey Schwartz’ fault. Unlike many other scholars, Schwartz has been extremely cautious in stating his opinion as to whether or not child-sacrifice was practiced in the ancient world. As there is no scientific means to definitively determine the cause of death of the infants at Carthage, he, as a scientist, leaves open the possibility of sacrifice, which is why he so carefully delimits his conclusions to denying “systematic” sacrifice.

      Moreover, please note that Schwartz’ study does not draw from a limited sample of the bones. Dr. Schwartz was the original osteologist on the Carthage dig from 1976-79, and went on to study the entire collection of bones for over 25 years. Extensive scientific testing was conducted on this entire collection prior to the current study.

      If anyone is to be called out for “sensationalism”, it should be Lawrence Stager, who had come to a predetermined conclusion prior to any scientific analysis of the bones. Immediately after the excavation ended, Stager took the unprecedented, irresponsible step of holding a public lecture to announce his conclusion that child-sacrifice was a standard practice at Carthage, and then he published a transcript of his lecture. His lecture and article also included his own wildly speculative opinion that the Carthaginians may have sacrificed their children to simplify the process of inheritance among wealthy families! In all his subsequent articles, television appearances, and public lectures, Stager has never deviated from his rigid stance in favor of child-sacrifice and, due to his position at Harvard University, he has had enormous influence on the public and on other American scholars. So, in my opinion, if the current news headlines seem sensationalized, perhaps the editors of these online publications and blogs are simply trying to offset decades of sensationalism in favor of the opposing view.

      • Lawrence Stager was the archeologist in charge of the 1976-79 excavation of the child cemetery of ancient Carthage, otherwise known as the Sanctuary of Tanit, or, as Stager called it before a single shovelful of dirt was removed from the site, the Carthaginian “tophet”. At the time the dig began, Stager was at the University of Chicago, but he accepted a position at Harvard soon thereafter. A chair was created for him by a non-profit foundation, I believe. For many years, he has been chief archeologist in charge of the excavation of Ashkelon.

  2. Well, no, the study doesn’t suggest that … it might imply that to a certain very limited extent, but this is based on a statistically small (I think) area of burial and it is being assumed that this is the ‘Tophet’. Something more ‘Tophet’ like may just not have been found yet … this study really can’t be used to comment on whether or not or even the degree to which child sacrifice was practiced in Carthage.

  3. If we get back to the more interesting question (in the sense that it might be ‘answerable’), do we know of any other contemporary society where the very young dead are buried in separate cemeteries from the rest? Intramural burial for neonates is one thing, their own cemetery seems to me unique. Or not?

  4. Ian Morris mentions this sort of thing in passing in his Burial and Ancient Society; e.g. on p. 84-85 (I’m using the limited preview googlebooks version; i have this book at home somewhere, i think), he mentions (inter alia, of course) the Ag. Pandeleimon cemetery which, it appears, became a ‘child cemetery’ at the end of the Late Geometric II period … there are scattered other references to ‘separate’ burial of infants and neonates throughout the book.

  5. The fact that charred animal remains were found indicates that the place is not a regular human cemetery but a sacrificial site. I can well imagine that healthy children were sacrificed to Moloch AND naturally dead children were also dedicated to the god. Other societies also have ceremonies to ease the psychological pain of a very high child mortality.

    The famous Tophet near Jerusalem, at the Valley of Ben Hinnon (“Gehennon”), was destroyed by the prophets several times. Should it be a peaceful, romantic cemetery of aborted and dead babies, there would be no reason for their ferocious hostility to those ceremonial sites.

    • Please see my reply to ‘Ajax’. No infant remains, or traces of a cemetery, have ever been found at the ‘Valley of Ben Hinnom’. And there may well have been other reasons for the ‘ferocious hostility’ toward the site by a few of the ancient prophets – i.e. the worship of any other god but YHWH.

  6. Just came across another limited preview item of interest … Marshall Becker’s article in Cohen and Rutter’s *Construction of Ancient Childhood* … it looks at Etruscan childhood … on p 284 ff is an extensive section on death/mortality etc. and p. 288 notes the development of a separate perinatal cemetery at Tarquinia in the 7th century b.c. …

    … there’s also a study mentioned in a note by Gowland and Chamberlain which looks like it might have applicability in this context …

  7. Thanks for the Marshall Becker reference. Very interesting. As far as I can see, though, he argues that the absence of evidence for separate perinatal cemeteries may be construed as indirect evidence for their existence. I’m not so sure, given the widespread archaeological evidence for their intramural disposal (meaning, buried within the household; usually under floors) or very nearby. I can’t see that even his Fig. 14.3 really represents a cemetery, rather than an area convenient for their disposal. Still, this paper is a very good start.

  8. Still poking around, it looks like Naomi Norman’s work at the Yasmina cemetery in Carthage might be worth looking at too … especially an article in the journal Mortality which I don’t have access to, but here’s the abstract:

    Roman social structure is complex and subtly nuanced and the place of children within it is distinct from that of adults. Children in literary sources, for example, are frequently characterized as being nearer to the world of the gods (e.g. they can deliver prophecies or themselves serve as portents); they may participate at public executions and they receive special protections under the law until the age of seven. In the archaeological record, children are often buried in ways that are distinct from those for adults, either in form or location, or both. This paper focuses on the evidence for children’s burials in the Yasmina cemetery at Carthage, excavated by the University of Georgia, where children are segregated in a distinct area of the necropolis, and places that evidence within a wider ritual and cultural context for Roman children. The paper also places the Yasmina material within its archaeological context by looking at evidence from some other Roman cemeteries in North Africa. Across the province the conceptualization of children is frequently reflected in the burial practices accorded them, practices that sometimes appear to allude to the Punic heritage of the region. These differences in burial ritual illuminate the general cultural distinctions that shaped the Roman concept of the child.

    http://www.informaworld.com/smpp/content~content=a713686112&db=all

  9. Does anyone know where the term “Tophet” for the Carthaginian burial-site originated? Was it introduced by modern scholars, possibly influenced by Jeremiah 7:31? Or is there an ancient source that references the site in Carthage and uses the term?

    • To Ajax: The term ‘tophet’ was mis-applied to the Carthaginian child cemetery by archaeologist Lawrence Stager back in 1976 when he was in charge of excavating this area of the ancient site. A neutral name for the cemetery, used by other archaeologists, is the “Sanctuary of Tanit”, referring to the most prominent goddess of the Carthaginians. This too might be a misnomer, but it at least it is not defamatory.

      The term ‘tophet’ is only found in the Hebrew Bible and its meaning and origin have been the subject of debate since biblical scholarship began. In the late 19th century, William Robertson Smith traced it through Arabic and wrote that it referred to a portable metal fireplace. If this is so, ‘tophet’ should never have been used by Stager as it is not applicable to Carthage. Jeffrey Schwartz proved long ago that the infants were cremated on funeral pyres, not in enclosed fireplaces or ovens.

      In the Bible, ‘tophet’ is a disparaging term used by some of the prophets to designate an area outside of Jerusalem known as the Valley of Ben Hinnom where children were “passed through the fire” to “Moloch”. The meaning of the phrase “passed through the fire” is also still a matter of debate (as is the term Moloch). No infant remains have ever been found at this Judean site, nor has any primitive fireplace, utensil or artifacts of burial.

  10. ajax, Carthagenians spoke Canaanite, which is practically identical to Hebrew. Their language and religion was the same as of its mother city, Tyre (Sidon). Tophet (pl tophatot) seems to come from the root t -f -t that refers to open something.

    • To “J”: The Carthaginians did not speak “Canaanite”. They spoke Punic, which, to this day, has not been deciphered. That monumental inscriptions from ancient Carthage can be understood at all is due to words common to all ancient Semitic languages. The reason that Punic has not been decoded is largely due to the fact that Punic Carthage was so completely destroyed by the Romans, its libraries razed to the ground. Some texts were taken back to Rome and translated by Punic speakers but they apparently are no longer extant. Other Punic literature was allegedly given by the Romans to “the seven African princes” but, if preserved in Africa, these records have not been found. Perhaps the large cache of written records found at Timbuktu (meaning “Book Town”) which date to the first Islamic conquest of North Africa may one day prove to be Arabic translations of Carthaginian literature. Unfortunately, the Timbuktu translation project is very underfunded.

      • Punic hasn’t been deciphered? Thats news to me and to all those who wrote Punic grammars (Segert, etc.). Anybody who can read ancient Phoenician script (or Hebrew, for that matter) can read Punic. Yes, most Punic texts have not survived, but 1000’s of inscriptions have, especially those originating from the precinct of Tanit in Carthage (lrbt ltnt pny b’l… to our lady to Tanit, face of [consort of] ba’al…)

  11. Viki proposes a different ethimology: Sh – F – T which is to burn and has parallels in other semitic languages.

    כל משמעויות המילה נובעות משמו של מקום בעמק גיא בן הינום שבו נהגו להקריב ילדים למולך: “וְטִמֵּא אֶת הַתֹּפֶת אֲשֶׁר בְּגֵי בני בֶן הִנֹּם לְבִלְתִּי לְהַעֲבִיר אִישׁ אֶת בְּנוֹ וְאֶת בִּתּוֹ בָּאֵשׁ לַמֹּלֶךְ” (מלכים ב, כג, י). ככל הנראה מקור המילה במילה שמית קדומה שעניינה שרפה או אש והמקבילה לשורש העברי שׁ־פ־ת. שרידים לה ניכרים גם בשפות שמיות נוספות: תְּפָיָא (אח בישול, ארמית), أُثْفِيَّة (אֻתְ’פִיָּה – אחת מאבני הבסיס של הקדֵרה, ערבית). כמו כן הייתה הצעה לקשר בין תֹּפֶת לבין המילה הסנסקריטית tapti (חוֹם), אך רוב החוקרים לא קיבלו אותה. האטימולוגיות של חלק מפרשני המקרא (ראו להלן), שלפיהן המילה גזורה מהשורש ת־פ־פ, לא התקבלו אף הן.

  12. j, thanks for your replies, but they’re kinda useless, because an etymology is only good for one thing: to further the intentions and/or agenda of its propagator. I was looking for the historical source of the term “tophet” for the site in Carthage, i.e. the historiographical origin, i.e. either (1) a modern publication or (2) received oral tradition or (3) an ancient source (historical writing, inscription etc.). If we don’t know the origin of that term, then should we apply it simply because some modern scientist used it in some publication, especially since we know that the term has specific Biblical connotations of child sacrifice?

    On the etymology we can only say one thing: the word Ταφεθ entered the Greek language relatively late, and it is only a general term for grave, tomb, burial-place. (It corresponds to Armenian damban, by the way, but it didn’t originate there.) Etymological dictionaries suppose that the Greek word doesn’t have a standard origin (Lydian, IE etc.) and is therefore a loan word. So it’s possible that it has a Semitic origin. But since we do know for sure that the word only had a general meaning in the Greek language (“tomb”), it is possible that a generalization also happened in the transmission from the Semitic origin to the Punic language of Carthage. In any case, we cannot conclude that a Carthaginian “tophet” was the same the Biblical “Topheth” near Jerusalem. (We don’t even know what the latter really meant. Origin from “to drum”? “to smite”? “to beat”? “to beat to death”? “to burn”? “to capture”? “to seize”? Relation to “contempt”? “spit”? All possible, according to my dictionaries (I have four), but the only thing I could not find is your reference to the meaning to open sth.”. Where did you get that from?

    (It should also be noted that tft as “place of cremation” is not rendered as “topheth”, but as “tophteh”.)

    • The word ‘tophet’ was not applied to the Punic sites by the Punes or their contemporaries. This moniker was attached by modern scholars.

      BTW, I am told that a new analysis of the osteological remains from the Carthage ‘tophet’ will “blow the revisionist notion out of the water.”

  13. “On the etymology we can only say one thing: the word Ταφεθ entered the Greek language relatively late, and it is only a general term for grave, tomb, burial-place.”

    I believe you mean “taphos” (τάφος)? “relatively late” isn’t specific so it could be interpreted differently (though the word is attested at least -since I’m going purely on memory here- as early as Thucydides “andron epiphanon pasa ge taphos” etc).

    “It corresponds to Armenian damban, by the way…Etymological dictionaries suppose that the Greek word doesn’t have a standard origin (Lydian, IE etc.) and is therefore a loan word.”

    If it “corresponds to Armenian damban” (corresponds in what way? semantically? that wouldn’t be a big deal and if that’s what you meant, you can ignore what follows), why is it not Indoeuropean? Or, rather, how did a word end up as “taphos” in Greek and “damban” in Armenian if it was a loanword in both languages?

    I’m also not sure what you mean by Lydian words being considered of “standard origin” in Greek so that wouldn’t actually make “taphos” a loanword, would you care to explain?

  14. TO BAALH WHO WROTE “Punic hasn’t been deciphered? Thats news to me and to all those who wrote Punic grammars (Segert, etc.). Anybody who can read ancient Phoenician script (or Hebrew, for that matter) can read Punic. Yes, most Punic texts have not survived, but 1000’s of inscriptions have, especially those originating from the precinct of Tanit in Carthage (lrbt ltnt pny b’l… to our lady to Tanit, face of [consort of] ba’al…)”

    1) I did say that it is because of words common to other Semitic languages that the inscriptions can be read, which you seem to agree with.

    2) The thousands of inscriptions on the monuments from the precinct of Tanit have been described by scholars as “brief”, “monotonous”, “banal”, “repetitive in the extreme”, “formulaic”, etc. and they consist mainly of proper names.

    • Sorry if I didn’t understand you completely. You wrote that Punic hasn’t been “deciphered” and hasn’t been “decoded”. My understanding of ancient languages is that if you can read the inscriptions, translate them, and interpret them, then they have been deciphered/decoded. Perhaps you should offer your definition of decipher/decode.

      Re your point (1): Has Phoenician been deciphered? We can read Phoenician inscriptions today because of similarities to other NW Semitic languages (especially Hebrew).

      Point (2): Yes, you have accurately described the Punic text corpus from the Sanctuary of Tanit. Does that have any bearing on whether the language has been deciphered or not?

      • Just that there isn’t much for scholars to go on, or so it would seem. But I’m not really up on the new grammars that are coming out, so maybe you’re right.

  15. The sacrifices that are described in the classical sources do not refer to Moloch, that is a biblical allegation in 2 Kings (it has been speculated that this Moloch is actually a kind of sacrifice (mlk) rather than a deity; these passages referring to Moloch where added by the Biblical authors to distance YHWH and the Israelites from this practice even though Moses calls for the sacrifice of the first born in Exodus). Diodorus Siculus and others claim that the sacrifices where made to Baal Hammon (the chief Phoenician deity) who Diodorus equated with Kronos/Saturn. I am writing a paper about this subject for my MA.

    • “…passages referring to Moloch were added by the Biblical authors to distance YHWH and the Israelites from this practice even though Moses calls for the sacrifice of the first born in Exodus…”

      this too is a theory, Sean….be sure to credit it

    • That’s Eissfeldt’s theory but we know Moloch is Melqart, the Phoenician Hercules. They share the same Semitic root (mlk) meaning king. Sort of similar to how El means “God” as in a title and Ba’al means Lord but they have also been used to refer to specific deities at times. They have also been used interchangeably at times. Diodorus Siculus makes a distinction between Melqart/Moloch (who he calls Hercules) and Cronus (among Phoenicians usually El aka Ilus but also like you say Baal Hammon) by mentioning Melqart/Moloch being the deity they used to send 10% of the public treasury to in Tyre. It doesn’t mean the theory is wrong, the sacrifice could very well be called Moloch. So was the deity though kind of like how some of the Egyptian kings are called “Pharaoh” in the bible. They sacrificed to Moloch, but whether they sacrificed children to Moloch or only reserved that for Cronus I guess we don’t know. Sacrificing the first born and Moloch seem to go hand in hand with Canaanite paganism and there are archeological sites which support that they did this, just not on the scale some had assumed. But maybe there is more evidence waiting to be dug up, who knows?

      I do think the later biblical authors were trying to distance themselves from the practice. As a non-religious person I can have an open mind about this stuff and what I see in the bible is bringing Persian-style monotheism to the Canaanites in order to turn them away from their barbaric Pagan ways. The parallels exist. The Israelites are constantly turning away and being punished severely. Some of these stories have a historical basis, some of them are just morality stories.

      The Phoenicians originally called themselves khna which is where Canaan comes from obviously. They traveled all over in their ships, quite possible even to Mexico and South America. They practiced child sacrifice there too. Actually, Phoenicians kinda had a monopoly on child sacrifice everywhere they had colonies or temples (at ports) or were rumored to have come from and traded with.

      I actually think some of these child sacrifice minimalists have an agenda. Since a lot of people hold the Phoenicians in high regard (for various reasons) and more than a few people claim to be partially (or mostly in the case of Lebanese) descended from them from Ireland, Spain, Morocco, Tunisia, Sicily, Greece, Egypt, Palestine, Lebanon, Turkey, Georgia, etc…. The child sacrifice aspect doesn’t fit their romanticized and idealized mythological history. That and I have no doubt that certain cults still practice it.

  16. Pingback: Sacrifices of children at Carthage – the sources at Roger Pearse

  17. Pingback: Infanticide in paradise? : Past Horizons Archaeology

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