Sacrifice is the offering of food, objects or the lives of animals to
a higher purpose, in particular divine beings, as an act of
propitiation or worship. While sacrifice often implies the ritual
killing of an animal, the term offering (Latin oblatio) can be used
for bloodless sacrifices of food or artifacts. For offerings of
liquids (beverages) by pouring, the term libation is used.
Scholars such as
René Girard have theorized that scapegoating may
account for the origins of sacrifice.
2 Animal sacrifice
Walter Burkert theory on origins of Greek sacrifice
3 Human sacrifice
4 By religion
5 See also
6 Further reading
The Latin term sacrificium (a sacrifice) derived from Latin sacrificus
(performing priestly functions or sacrifices), which combined the
concepts sacra (sacred things) and facere (to do or perform). The
Latin word sacrificium came to apply to the Christian eucharist in
particular, sometimes named a "bloodless sacrifice" to distinguish it
from blood sacrifices. In individual non-Christian ethnic religions,
terms translated as "sacrifice" include the Indic yajna, the Greek
thusia, the Germanic blōtan, the Semitic qorban/qurban, Slavic
The term usually implies "doing without something" or "giving
something up" (see also self-sacrifice). But the word sacrifice also
occurs in metaphorical use to describe doing good for others or taking
a short-term loss in return for a greater power gain, such as in a
game of chess.
Animal sacrifice offered together with libation in Ancient Greece.
Attic red-figure oinochoe, ca. 430–425 BC (Louvre).
Main article: Animal sacrifice
Animal sacrifice is the ritual killing of an animal as part of a
religion. It is practiced by adherents of many religions as a means of
appeasing a god or gods or changing the course of nature. It also
served a social or economic function in those cultures where the
edible portions of the animal were distributed among those attending
the sacrifice for consumption.
Animal sacrifice has turned up in
almost all cultures, from the
Hebrews to the Greeks and Romans
(particularly the purifying ceremony Lustratio), Egyptians (for
example in the cult of Apis) and from the
Aztecs to the Yoruba. The
religion of the ancient Egyptians forbid the sacrifice of animals
other than sheep, bulls, calves, male calves and geese.
Animal sacrifice is still practiced today by the followers of
Santería and other lineages of
Orisa as a means of curing the sick
and giving thanks to the
Orisa (gods). However, in Santeria, such
animal offerings constitute an extremely small portion of what are
termed ebos—ritual activities that include offerings, prayer and
deeds. Christians from some villages in Greece also sacrifice animals
to Orthodox saints in a practice known as kourbània. The practice,
while publicly condemned, is often tolerated.
Walter Burkert theory on origins of Greek sacrifice
According to Walter Burkert, a scholar of sacrifice, Greek sacrifices
derived from hunting practices. Hunters, feeling guilty for having
killed another living being so they could eat and survive, tried to
repudiate their responsibility in these rituals. The primary evidence
used to suggest this theory is the Dipolieia, which is an Athenian
festival, in limited circulation, during which an ox was sacrificed.
The protagonist of the ritual was a plough ox, which it had, at one
point, been a crime to kill in Athens. According to his theory, the
killer of the ox eased his conscience by suggesting that everybody
should participate in the killing of the sacrificial victim.
In the expansion of the Athenian state, numerous oxen were needed to
feed the people at the banquets and were accompanied by state
festivals. The hecatomb (“hundred oxen”) became the general
designation for the great sacrifices offered by the state. These
sacrificial processions of hundreds of oxen remove the original ties,
which the farmers of an earlier and smaller
Athens will have felt with
their one ox.
Aztec human sacrifice, from Codex Mendoza, 16th century (Bodleian
Main article: Human sacrifice
Human sacrifice was practiced by many ancient cultures. People would
be ritually killed in a manner that was supposed to please or appease
a god or spirit.
Some occasions for human sacrifice found in multiple cultures on
multiple continents include:
Human sacrifice to accompany the dedication of a new temple or bridge.
Sacrifice of people upon the death of a king, high priest or great
leader; the sacrificed were supposed to serve or accompany the
deceased leader in the next life.
Human sacrifice in times of natural disaster. Droughts, earthquakes,
volcanic eruptions, etc. were seen as a sign of anger or displeasure
by deities, and sacrifices were supposed to lessen the divine ire.
Human sacrifice was practiced by various
of Mesoamerica. The
Aztec in particular are known for the practice of
human sacrifice, though most popular estimates are over-estimations,
and sacrifice was practiced on a far larger scale in ancient
China. Current estimates of
Aztec sacrifice are
between a couple thousand and twenty thousand per year. Some of
these sacrifices were to help the sun rise, some to help the rains
come, and some to dedicate the expansions of the great temple at
Tenochtitlán (their capital). There are also accounts of captured
Conquistadores being sacrificed during the wars of the Spanish
invasion of Mexico.
In Scandinavia, the old
Scandinavian religion contained human
sacrifice, as both the Norse sagas and German historians relate. See,
Temple at Uppsala
Temple at Uppsala and Blót.
There is evidence to suggest Pre-Hellenic Minoan cultures practiced
human sacrifice Corpses were found at a number of sites in the citadel
Knossos in Crete. The north house at
Knossos contained the bones of
children who appeared to have been butchered. The myth of
Minotaur (set in the labyrinth at Knossos) suggests human
sacrifice. In the myth, we are told that
Athens sent seven young men
and seven young women to
Crete as human sacrifices to the Minotaur.
This ties up with the archaeological evidence that most sacrifices
were of young adults or children.
The Phoenicians of Carthage were reputed to practise child sacrifice,
and though the scale of sacrifices may have been exaggerated by
ancient authors for political or religious reasons, there is
archaeological evidence of large numbers of children's skeletons
buried in association with sacrificial animals.
Plutarch (ca. 46–120
AD) mentions the practice, as do Tertullian, Orosius, Diodorus Siculus
and Philo. They describe children being roasted to death while still
conscious on a heated bronze idol.
Human sacrifice is no longer officially condoned in any country, and
any cases which may take place are regarded as murder.
Aeneid by Virgil, the character
Sinon claims (falsely) that he
was going to be a human sacrifice to
Poseidon to calm the seas.
Artwork depicting the
Sacrifice of Jesus: Christ on the Cross by Carl
In Trinitarian Christianity,
God became incarnate as Jesus,
sacrificing his son to accomplish the reconciliation of
humanity, which had separated itself from
God through sin (see the
concept of original sin). According to a view that has featured
prominently in Western theology since early in the 2nd millennium,
God's justice required an atonement for sin from humanity if human
beings were to be restored to their place in creation and saved from
God knew limited human beings could not make
sufficient atonement, for humanity's offense to
God was infinite, so
God created a covenant with Abraham, which he fulfilled when he sent
his only Son to become the sacrifice for the broken covenant.[citation
needed] In Christian theology, this sacrifice replaced the
insufficient animal sacrifice of the Old Covenant; Christ the "Lamb of
God" replaced the lambs' sacrifice of the ancient
Korban Todah (the
Rite of Thanksgiving), chief of which is the Passover in the Mosaic
In the Roman Catholic Church, the Eastern Orthodox Churches and the
Methodist Churches, the
Eucharist or Mass, as well as the Divine
Liturgy of the
Eastern Catholic Churches
Eastern Catholic Churches and Eastern Orthodox Church,
is seen as a sacrifice. Among the Anglicans the words of the liturgy
make explicit that the
Eucharist is a sacrifice of praise and
thanksgiving and is a material offering to
God in union with Christ
using such words, as "with these thy holy gifts which we now offer
unto Thee" (1789 BCP) or "presenting to you from the gifts you have
given us we offer you these gifts" (
Prayer D BCP 1976) as clearly
evidenced in the revised Books of Common
Prayer from 1789 in which the
Eucharist was moved closer to the Catholic position.
Likewise, the United
Methodist Church in its Eucharistic liturgy
contains the words "Let us offer ourselves and our gifts to God" (A
Service of Word and Table I). The United
Methodist Church officially
teaches that "Holy Communion is a type of sacrifice" that re-presents,
rather than repeats the sacrifice of Christ on the Cross; She further
We also present ourselves as sacrifice in union with Christ (Romans
12:1; 1 Peter 2:5) to be used by
God in the work of redemption,
reconciliation, and justice. In the Great Thanksgiving, the church
prays: “We offer ourselves in praise and thanksgiving as a holy and
living sacrifice, in union with Christ’s offering for us . . .”
(UMH; page 10).
A formal statement by the USCCB affirms that "Methodists and Catholics
agree that the sacrificial language of the Eucharistic celebration
refers to 'the sacrifice of Christ once-for-all,' to 'our pleading of
that sacrifice here and now,' to 'our offering of the sacrifice of
praise and thanksgiving,' and to 'our sacrifice of ourselves in union
with Christ who offered himself to the Father.'" Roman Catholic
theology speaks of the
Eucharist not being a separate or additional
sacrifice to that Christ on the cross; it is rather exactly the same
sacrifice, which transcends time and space ("the Lamb slain from the
foundation of the world") (Rev. 13:8), renewed and made present, the
only distinction being that it is offered in an unbloody manner. The
sacrifice is made present without Christ dying or being crucified
again; it is a re-presentation to God, of the "once and for all"
sacrifice of Calvary by the now risen Christ, who continues to offer
himself and what he has done on the cross as an oblation to the
Father. The complete identification of the Mass with the sacrifice of
the cross is found in Christ's words at the last supper over the bread
and wine: "This is my body, which is given up for you," and "This is
my blood of the new covenant, which is shed...unto the forgiveness of
sins." The bread and wine, offered by
Melchizedek in sacrifice in the
old covenant (Genesis 14:18; Psalm 110:4), are transformed through the
Mass into the body and blood of Christ (see transubstantiation; note:
the Orthodox Church and
Methodist Church do not hold as dogma, as do
Catholics, the doctrine of transubstantiation, preferring rather to
not make an assertion regarding the "how" of the sacraments),
and the offering becomes one with that of Christ on the cross. In the
Mass as on the cross, Christ is both priest (offering the sacrifice)
and victim (the sacrifice he offers is himself), though in the Mass in
the former capacity he works through a solely human priest who is
joined to him through the sacrament of
Holy Orders and thus shares in
Christ's priesthood as do all who are baptized into the death and
resurrection of Jesus, the Christ. Through the Mass, the merits of the
one sacrifice of the cross can be applied to the redemption of those
present, to their specific intentions and prayers, and to the release
of the souls from purgatory.
A page from the Waldburg
Prayer Book illustrating the celebration of
Eucharist on Earth before the
Holy Trinity and the Virgin
Mary in Heaven
The concept of self-sacrifice and martyrs are central to Christianity.
Often found in Roman Catholicism is the idea of joining one's own
sufferings to the sacrifice of Christ on the cross. Thus one can offer
up involuntary suffering, such as illness, or purposefully embrace
suffering in acts of penance. Some Protestants criticize this as a
denial of the all-sufficiency of Christ's sacrifice, but it finds
support in St. Paul: "Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake,
and in my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ's afflictions for
the sake of his body, that is, the church" (Col 1:24). Pope John Paul
II explained in his
Apostolic Letter Salvifici Doloris (11 February
"In the Cross of Christ not only is the Redemption accomplished
through suffering, but also human suffering itself has been
redeemed...Every man has his own share in the Redemption. Each one is
also called to share in that suffering through which the Redemption
was accomplished...In bringing about the Redemption through suffering,
Christ has also raised human suffering to the level of the Redemption.
Thus each man, in his suffering, can also become a sharer in the
redemptive suffering of Christ...The sufferings of Christ created the
good of the world's redemption. This good in itself is inexhaustible
and infinite. No man can add anything to it. But at the same time, in
the mystery of the Church as his Body, Christ has in a sense opened
his own redemptive suffering to all human suffering" (Salvifici
Doloris 19; 24).
Some Protestants, excluding Methodists and many Anglicans, reject the
idea of the
Eucharist as a sacrifice, inclining to see it as merely a
holy meal (even if they believe in a form of the real presence of
Christ in the bread and wine, as
Lutherans do). The more recent the
origin of a particular tradition, the less emphasis is placed on the
sacrificial nature of the Eucharist. The Catholic/Orthodox response is
that the sacrifice of the Mass in the New Covenant is that one
sacrifice for sins on the cross which transcends time offered in an
unbloody manner, as discussed above, and that Christ is the real
priest at every Mass working through mere human beings to whom he has
granted the grace of a share in his priesthood. As priest carries
connotations of "one who offers sacrifice", some Protestants, with the
exception of Anglicans and Lutherans, usually do not use it for their
Protestantism emphasizes the importance of a
decision to accept
Christ's sacrifice on the Cross
Christ's sacrifice on the Cross consciously and
personally as atonement for one's individual sins if one is to be
saved—this is known as "accepting Christ as one's personal Lord and
The Orthodox Church sees the celebration of the
Eucharist as a
continuation, rather than a reenactment, of the Last Supper, as Fr.
John Matusiak (of the OCA) says: "The
Liturgy is not so much a
reenactment of the Mystical Supper or these events as it is a
continuation of these events, which are beyond time and space. The
Orthodox also see the Eucharistic
Liturgy as a bloodless sacrifice,
during which the bread and wine we offer to
God become the Body and
Jesus Christ through the descent and operation of the Holy
Spirit, Who effects the change." This view is witnessed to by the
prayers of the
Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, when the priest
says: "Accept, O God, our supplications, make us to be worthy to offer
unto thee supplications and prayers and bloodless sacrifices for all
thy people," and "Remembering this saving commandment and all those
things which came to pass for us: the cross, the grave, the
resurrection on the third day, the ascension into heaven, the sitting
down at the right hand, the second and glorious coming again, Thine
own of Thine own we offer unto Thee on behalf of all and for all," and
"… Thou didst become man and didst take the name of our High Priest,
and deliver unto us the priestly rite of this liturgical and bloodless
Main article: Yajna
The Sanskrit yajna (yajña, modern Hindi pronunciation: yagya) is
often translated as "sacrifice" (also "offering, oblation", or more
generically as "worship"). It is especially used to describe the
offering of ghee (clarified butter), grains, spices, and wood into a
fire along with the chanting of sacred mantras. The fire represents
Agni, the divine messenger who carries offerings to the Devas. The
offerings can represent devotion, aspiration, and seeds of past karma.
In Vedic times, yajna commonly included the sacrifice of milk, ghee,
curd, grains, and the soma plant—animal offerings were less
common. In modern times, yajna is often performed at weddings and
funerals, and in personal worship.
Hinduism can also
refer to personal surrender through acts of inner and outer
Main article: Dhabihah
An animal sacrifice in Arabic is called ḏabiḥa
Qurban (قُرْبَان) . The term may have
roots from the Jewish term Korban; in some places such as in Pakistan,
qurbani is always used for Islamic animal sacrifice. In the Islamic
context, an animal sacrifice referred to as ḏabiḥa
(ذَبِيْحَة) meaning "sacrifice as a ritual" is offered only
in Eid ul-Adha. The sacrificial animal may be a sheep, a goat, a
camel, or a cow. The animal must be healthy and conscious.
..."Therefore to the Lord turn in
Prayer and Sacrifice. " (Surat
Al-Kawthar) Quran, 108.2
Qurban is an Islamic prescription for the
affluent to share their good fortune with the needy in the community.
On the occasion of Eid ul Adha (Festival of Sacrifice), affluent
Muslims all over the world perform the Sunnah of Prophet Ibrahim
(Abraham) by sacrificing a cow or sheep. The meat is then divided into
three equal parts. One part is retained by the person who performs the
sacrifice. The second is given to his relatives. The third part is
distributed to the poor.
Qur'an states that the sacrifice has nothing to do with the blood
and gore (
Qur'an 22:37: "It is not their meat nor their blood that
reaches God. It is your piety that reaches Him..."). Rather, it is
done to help the poor and in remembrance of Abraham's willingness to
sacrifice his son Ishmael at God's command.
The Urdu and Persian word "Qurbani" comes from the Arabic word
'Qurban'. It suggests that associate act performed to hunt distance to
God and to hunt His sensible pleasure. Originally, the word
'Qurban' enclosed all acts of charity as a result of the aim of
charity is nothing however to hunt Allah's pleasure. But, in precise
non secular nomenclature, the word was later confined to the sacrifice
of associate animal slaughtered for the sake of God.
A similar symbology, which is a reflection of
Abraham and Ismael's
dilemma, is the stoning of the Jamaraat which takes place during
Main article: Korban
Further information: Shechita
Ritual sacrifice was practiced in Ancient Israel, with the opening
chapters of the book
Leviticus detailing parts of an overview
referring to the exact methods of bringing sacrifices. Although
sacrifices could include bloodless offerings (grain and wine), the
most important were animal sacrifices. Blood sacrifices were
divided into burnt offerings (Hebrew: עלה קרבנות) in which
the whole unmaimed animal was burnt, guilt offerings (in which part
was burnt and part left for the priest) and peace offerings (in which
similarly only part of the undamaged animal was burnt and the rest
eaten in ritually pure conditions).
After the destruction of the Second Temple, ritual sacrifice ceased
except among the Samaritans. Maimonides, a medieval Jewish
rationalist, argued that
God always held sacrifice inferior to prayer
and philosophical meditation. However,
God understood that the
Israelites were used to the animal sacrifices that the surrounding
pagan tribes used as the primary way to commune with their gods. As
such, in Maimonides' view, it was only natural that Israelites would
believe that sacrifice was a necessary part of the relationship
God and man.
Maimonides concludes that God's decision to allow
sacrifices was a concession to human psychological limitations. It
would have been too much to have expected the Israelites to leap from
pagan worship to prayer and meditation in one step. In the Guide for
the Perplexed, he writes:
"But the custom which was in those days general among men, and the
general mode of worship in which the Israelites were brought up
consisted in sacrificing animals... It was in accordance with the
wisdom and plan of God...that
God did not command us to give up and to
discontinue all these manners of service. For to obey such a
commandment would have been contrary to the nature of man, who
generally cleaves to that to which he is used; it would in those days
have made the same impression as a prophet would make at present [the
12th Century] if he called us to the service of
God and told us in His
name, that we should not pray to
God nor fast, nor seek His help in
time of trouble; that we should serve Him in thought, and not by any
action." (Book III, Chapter 32. Translated by M. Friedlander, 1904,
The Guide for the Perplexed, Dover Publications, 1956 edition.)
In contrast, many others such as
Nachmanides (in his
Leviticus 1:9) disagreed, contending that sacrifices are an ideal
in Judaism, completely central.
The teachings of the
Tanakh reveal the Israelites's
familiarity with human sacrifices, as exemplified by the
near-sacrifice of Isaac by his father
Abraham (Genesis 22:1-24) and
some believe, the actual sacrifice of Jephthah's daughter (Judges
11:31-40), while many believe that Jephthah's daughter was committed
for life in service equivalent to a nunnery of the day, as indicated
by her lament over her "weep for my virginity" and never having known
a man (v37). The king of Moab gives his firstborn son and heir as a
whole burnt offering, albeit to the pagan god Chemosh. In the book
of Micah, one asks, 'Shall I give my firstborn for my sin, the fruit
of my body for the sin of my soul?' (Micah 6:7), and receives a
response, 'It hath been told thee, O man, what is good, and what the
LORD doth require of thee: only to do justly, and to love mercy, and
to walk humbly with thy God.' (Micah 6:8) Abhorrence of the practice
of child sacrifice is emphasized by Jeremiah. See
Wikiquote has quotations related to: Sacrifice
Wikimedia Commons has media related to Sacrifice.
Davies, Nigel (1981). Human Sacrifice: In History and Today. Dorset
Press. ISBN 0-88029-211-3.
Lancaster, John (29 November 2003). "In India, case links mysticism,
murder". Washington Post.
Gunnar Heinsohn: "The Rise of Blood
Sacrifice and Priest Kingship in
Mesopotamia: A Cosmic Decree?" Religion, Vol. 22, 1992 
Sacrifice (Catholic Encyclopedia)
Bataille, Georges (1992). Theory of Religion. Zone Books.
Carter, Jeffrey (2003). Understanding Religious Sacrifice. Continuum.
Marcel Mauss (1981). Sacrifice: Its Nature and
Function. U of Chicago Press(reprint, orig 1898).
Adolf E. Jensen, Myth and Cult among Primitive Peoples, University of
Chicago Press, 1963
Bubbio, Paolo Diego (2014).
Sacrifice in the Post-Kantian Tradition:
Perspectivism, Intersubjectivity, and Recognition. SUNY Press.
^ Cowdell, Scott; Fleming, Chris; Hodge, Joel, eds. (2014). Violence,
Desire, and the Sacred. Violence, Desire, and the Sacred. 2: René
Sacrifice in Life, Love and Literature. Bloomsbury
Publishing. ISBN 9781623562557. Retrieved 2016-06-01.
^ Harper, Douglas. "sacrifice". Online Etymology Dictionary. Retrieved
^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 1 October 2009.
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^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 17 April 2009.
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^ Helm, Sarah (17 June 1997). "Amsterdam summit: Blair forced to
sacrifice powers on immigration". The Independent. London. Retrieved
23 May 2010.
^ introduction, Herodotus ; translated by Robin Waterfield ;
with an; Dewald, notes by Carolyn (2008). The histories (1a ed. 1998;
reimpr. 2008. ed.). Oxford:
Oxford University Press.
^ Dodds Pennock, Caroline, 2012. Mass murder or religious homicide?
Rethinking human sacrifice and interpersonal violence in Aztec
society. Historical Social Research 37(3):276-302.
^ Stager, Lawrence; Samuel. R. Wolff (1984). "
Child sacrifice in
Carthage: religious rite or population control?". Journal of Biblical
Archeological Review. January: 31–46.
^ a b c This Holy Mystery, Study Guide: A United Methodist
Understanding of Holy Communion. The General Board of Discipleship of
The United Methodist Church. 2004. p. 9.
^ Methodist-Catholic Dialogues. United States Conference of Catholic
Bishops and The General Commission on Christian Unity and
Interreligious Concerns of The United Methodist Church. 2001.
^ Losch, Richard R. (1 May 2002). A Guide to World Religions and
Christian Traditions. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing. p. 90.
ISBN 9780802805218. In the
Roman Catholic Church
Roman Catholic Church the official
explanation of how Christ is present is called transubstantiation.
This is simply an explanation of how, not a statement that, he is
present. Anglicans and Orthodox do not attempt to define how, but
simply accept the mystery of his presence.
^ Neal, Gregory S. (19 December 2014). Sacramental
Theology and the
Christian Life. WestBow Press. p. 111. ISBN 9781490860077.
For Anglicans and Methodists the reality of the presence of
received through the sacramental elements is not in question. Real
presence is simply accepted as being true, its mysterious nature being
affirmed and even lauded in official statements like This Holy
Mystery: A United Methodist Understanding of Holy Communion.
^ "act of worship or devotion, offering, oblation, sacrifice (the
former meanings prevailing in Veda, the latter in post-Vedic
^ Subramuniyaswami, Satguru Sivaya (2003). Dancing With Siva:
Hinduism's Contemporary Catechism. Himalayan Academy Publications.
ISBN 0-945497-96-2. p. 849.
^ "Indeed the offering of milk into the fire was more common than
animal offerings."Flood, Gavin (1996). An Introduction to Hinduism.
Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-43878-0. p. 359.
^ Subramuniyaswami, p. 849.
^ "Online Qurbani". 1 November 2012. Archived from the original on 4
^ Stoning of the Devil
^ Encyclopaedia Judaica second edition vol 17 sacrifice pg 641
Samaritans .com Archived 4 March 2006 at the Wayback Machine.
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