We're So Much Better Than The Carthaginians (A Polemic On Child Sacrifice)

You only have I known of all the families of the earth; 
     therefore I will punish you for all your iniquities.

Which is worse, to die in the demon's maw, or in the machine?

Last month The Guardian published a story about the archaeological discovery of incontrovertible evidence that the Carthaginians sacrificed infants to the gods. Although everyone in antiquity knew the Carthaginians were baby-killers, this was not enough for modern researchers: the establishment dismissed the stories as "black propaganda" by ancient rivals. And although archaeological evidence to support ancient tales had been found during the 20th century, this still was not enough to satisfy academia.

Argument has raged on the subject since cemeteries known as tophets – after the biblical account of a place of sacrifice – were excavated in the early 20th century on the outskirts of Carthage in modern Tunisia, and then at other Carthaginian sites in Sicily and Sardinia. The graves held tiny cremated bones carefully packed into urns, buried under tombstones giving thanks to the gods. One has a carving which has been interpreted as a priest carrying the body of a small child. Some archaeologists and historians saw the finds as proving ancient accounts of child sacrifice; others insisted they showed tender respect for cherished children who died before or soon after birth.
Finally, what every Christian who has read the Bible and a history book or two knows was proven. It shouldn't have been that big of a deal. After all, the Carthaginians were the Punicians were the Phoenicians were the Philistines. And we know about the Philistines.
"The inscriptions are unequivocal: time and again we find the explanation that the gods 'heard my voice and blessed me'. It cannot be that so many children conveniently happened to die at just the right time to become an offering – and in any case a poorly or dead child would make a pretty feeble offering if you're already worried about the gods rejecting it." 
"Then there is the fact that the animals from the sites, which were beyond question sacrificial offerings, are buried in exactly the same way, sometimes in the same urns with the bones of the children." Although hundreds of remains were found, there were far too few to represent all the stillbirth and infant deaths of Carthage. According to Quinn, there were perhaps 25 such burials a year, for a city of perhaps 500,000 people. 
The Roman historian Diodorus and other ancient historians gave graphic accounts of Carthaginian child sacrifice: "There was in their city a bronze image of Cronus, extending its hands, palms up and sloping towards the ground, so that each of the children when placed thereon rolled down and fell into a sort of gaping pit filled with fire."
That last detail is particularly compelling. The Philistines might not have been listed as one of the nations to be extirpated from Canaan, but it is agreed that they were either Canaanites or absorbed the culture of Canaan, which they conquered. And why is it that the Canaanites were so terrible again? Oh, yeah, because they were baby killers. They, like so many others, built foundations on the bodies of sacrificed humans, and they offered up infants to the god Moloch. Moloch was the humanoid oven mentioned above, with a fire-pit for a belly and arms upon which you placed the baby so that it would roll into the fire.

A lot of Christians have trouble accepting the "genocides" that the Bible narrates in the conquest of Canaan. But it is easily explained, if perhaps not easily stomached. The twentieth chapter of Deuteronomy is devoted to rules of war, like leaving everyone alive if they surrendered, or not killing the women and the children if they refused. The exception to such rules was the Canaanites. Everything of theirs was to be killed. Because they were baby killers.
But in the cities of these peoples that the Lord your God is giving you for an inheritance, you shall save alive nothing that breathes, but you shall devote them to complete destruction, the Hittites and the Amorites, the Canaanites and the Perizzites, the Hivites and the Jebusites, as the Lord your God has commanded, that they may not teach you to do according to all their abominable practices that they have done for their gods, and so you sin against the Lord your God.
But the Israelites failed, and learned the abominable practices. More than once they fell into human sacrifice. Solomon himself gave up a child to Moloch. This practice is mentioned over and over in Ezekiel, for example.
With their idols they have committed adultery, and they have even offered up to them for food the children whom they had borne to me. Moreover, this they have done to me: they have defiled my sanctuary on the same day and profaned my Sabbaths. For when they had slaughtered their children in sacrifice to their idols, on the same day they came into my sanctuary to profane it. And behold, this is what they did in my house.
One of the principal narratives of the Old Testament, beginning with Abraham and Isaac, is Yahweh replacing what humanity had accepted as normal and good, that is, human sacrifice, with something else...a something else that would lead, ironically, to Jesus on the cross. But I must stop following this train of thought. Because this post is not supposed to be about the Israelites and Canaan.

It is very interesting that scholars for so long refused to believe something that throughout history has been very normal. This post is a little bit about that, but only a little. This post is really about us. You and me.

It's about the poverty of our society, the paucity of our imaginations, and the deep deep deeps of our evil.

Very intelligent people of our time were completely unable to process Carthaginian human sacrifices. Are you, dear reader, wrapping your mind around that one? An abortion society that can't process infant sacrifice. The disconnect can't be over baby-killing. That's something our sociologists are able to explain easily, and it doesn't have to be in utero. Exposure and abandonment are regarded as regrettable but justifiable responses to social ills. The disconnect is at the points of purpose and publicity.

The gods are a family affair; gods are for clans and peoples. When a Carthaginian killed a baby he was ostensibly doing it to gain favor for his family; when modern westerners kill their babies they are simply seeking individual comfort. That is the first disconnect, and it leads into the second, much more significant one.

An American abortion is a selfish thing, and therefore hidden. A Carthaginian sacrifice was a public affair. It had all the trappings of religion: oaths, debts, priests, blood, burials. Pomp and circumstance, if not in a grand style, then a solemn one. We do death in clinics.

I wonder if we understand the terribleness of this. We don't have vestal virgins in high temples; we have anorexic hook-up culture in back rooms. We don't have jihads; we have death camps. We don't have traditions of the elderly going off to die alone; we have nursing homes. We don't have pot-bellied idols; we have clinics.

The terrible efficiency with which humans were able to kill during the last century has little to do with technological changes. It has to do with purpose and publicity. We no longer kill to ensure a good harvest, or a prosperous journey, or a fertile wife. We kill so that the aliens won't take our things. And as much rhetoric as might go into the justification, we are very very quiet about it when it comes to the actual killing. Because if we killed the Jews and socialists and Bolsheviks in front of you, you might realize they're human.

This is why showing pictures of dismembered baby parts is not sporting to abortionists. By the rules of the game they're playing, we're supposed to keep the death part hidden. Death is not only to be feared or appeased or fled from. Death is obscene.
Jackson Free Press and Trip Burns.
We don't understand the Carthaginians because they weren't clinical and secretive. We need to be able to kill our babies without being called baby killers. We must hide behind words and doors. If you actually saw decapitated fetuses that looked like babies, you might realize they're babies.

I'm not under the illusion that men will stop killing men when they realize they're men. Not at all. That's how it's gone down throughout history. Murder and murderers will always be with us. Brothers kill brothers and make cities of their bones.

There is no true life outside the life of Christ. But let us look at two awfully wicked situations and ask which is worse. Let us do that three, yea, even four times.

One. An old man is given a luxurious oil bath and fed tender coconut water until he dies of renal failure, because his family "can't" take care of him. Two. An old man is left alone in a nursing home in Tampa because his family "can't" take care of him.

One. A beautiful young woman is taken by raiders from her village. She is sold in a marketplace to the highest bidder. Two. A beautiful young woman is taken from one dark room to another, poked and prodded and raped and filmed. She doesn't see the light of day until she's used up.

One. Your firstborn son is killed by a priest so that a wicked god will hear your plea. Two. Your firstborn son is killed by a technician (except where mandated by law that it be a physician) so that you are not inconvenienced.

It seems to me that there might be a tiny tiny bit of dignity in being killed for the gods. There is certainly none in being eliminated in a sanitized room, whether I be a traitor to the State or an unwanted child.

What we are doing is disgusting, and we think we are better than Carthage. We can't even see it because we hid it away many years ago, but the death god is there.

We need to take warning. And I say we meaning we. We are Americans. Christians belong to the Lord Jesus first, but when disaster befalls our city, we might very well still be in it. Because disaster is what befalls cities like ours. Carthage was famously razed and sowed with salt. Jericho was devoted to destruction, with only the prostitute-spy Rahab and her family spared. Then Jericho was cursed.
Joshua laid an oath on them at that time, saying, “Cursed before the Lord be the man who rises up and rebuilds this city, Jericho. “At the cost of his firstborn shall he lay its foundation, and at the cost of his youngest son shall he set up its gates.”
Some four hundred years later, in the midst of all of King Ahab's evils, a man rebuilt Jericho.
[In those days] Hiel of Bethel built Jericho. He laid its foundation at the cost of Abiram his firstborn, and set up its gates at the cost of his youngest son Segub, according to the word of the Lord, which he spoke by Joshua the son of Nun.
Mathew Henry, a biblical commentator and not an archaeologist, and therefore a tiny bit closer to being able to read texts with the true and beautiful eye of the poet, sees a thing in the death of the oldest and the youngest.
He began to build, in defiance of the curse well known in Israel, jesting with it perhaps as a bugbear, or fancying its force worn out by length of time, for it was above 500 years since it was pronounced. He went on to build, in defiance of the execution of the curse in part; for, though his eldest son died when he began, yet he would proceed in contempt of God and his wrath revealed from heaven against his ungodliness. How ill he sped. He built for his children, but God wrote him childless; his eldest son died when he began, the youngest when he finished, and all the rest (it is supposed) between. Note, Those whom God curses are cursed indeed; none ever hardened his heart against God and prospered. God keep us back from presumptuous sins, those great transgressions!
Who knows what other curses we are piling on ourselves even now. But we need not wait for them to strike our heads down before we see that already we are cursed. There is no salt on our fields...yet. But there is no one to work the fields anyway. We are killing our babies; we are killing ourselves. Hiel of Bethel set up the foundation at the cost of his oldest, and the gates at the cost of his youngest.

All our fruitfulness is gone, our fig tree withered. Lord, have mercy on us.



  1. Thank you for that Joffre.

    Every woman who seeks out an abortion is an anti-Madonna in even a more profound way than it seems.

    If Mary, as Ratzinger says, is free from original sin in her full embrace of the will of God, and is thus fittingly the Mother of God, she is able to cooperate in the transformation of human existence by bringing forth life into life (vis-a-vis resurrection), rather than life into death as any other mother must.

    On the other hand, the mother who seeks an abortion invites death into the very womb, and thus bringing forth into erasing, very birth into very death, and the womb is the burning pit of Moloch. She is the anti-Madonna, razing humanity down into nothingness. She unknowingly participates in the actualization of humanity making itself unto its own image, a cutting off, a refusal, a dumbing-down of animalistic self-preservation that is extinction.

    If only she knew that the deeper reality is a suicide, and a refusal of the self ... its true nature the paradox of emptiness/fulfillment.


  2. Great article. Here's a munchy nugget about Ahab's era you might find (or, perhaps, have already found) interesting:

    There's a good chance that Hiel didn't lose his sons by some accident, but rather by the (then) common practice of Foundation Sacrifice. I hear tell that there's been loads of archaeological testimony to the pagan practice of incorporating the body of a sacrificed child into the foundation of an important building. So it may be that he quite literally laid the foundations and raised the gates with the lives of his sons, and that this narrative is included in part to highlight the wickedness that characterized Ahab's reign. It is, after all, included immediately after the description of Ahab being the worst of all the kings so far in Israel.

    If this were true, it would underscore your point about the abhorrence of child sacrifice. But it would also, I think, suggest that child sacrifice is perhaps one of those sins that (like societal homosexuality) also constitutes a judgment. If God's curse on Jericho were fulfilled by Hiel's intentional killing of his own sons in pagan abomination, it sure adds a layer of both gravity and specificity to the curse (and to the warning we should take from the whole affair).

    1. That is certainly a possibility. The narrative in my post is Matthew Henry's. I think yours is simpler, but not necessarily more poetic. :-) Certainly child sacrifice returned in the time of the kings. Either way, curse fulfilled.

  3. It amazes me how hard sin makes us. We put our head down and walk or run through all the obstacles and warnings and pains of conscience God gives to the evil that we intend. In the end to find only turmoil and chaos waiting for us. Those who forget the past are condemned to repeat it. Thank you God and father of our Lord Jesus Christ that in your grace and mercy you give us a heart of flesh that we may see our sin, humble our selves, repent and call on the name of Jesus for forgiveness and new life in His service.


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