In This Article Sacrifice

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Specific Sacrifices in the Hebrew Bible
  • Elements of Sacrificial Practice
  • Social-Scientific Approaches
  • René Girard’s Theory of Sacrifice and the Bible
  • Sacrifice and Meaning
  • Sacrifice, Sin, and Atonement
  • Human Sacrifice
  • Ancient Judaism
  • Early Christianity

Biblical Studies Sacrifice
by
William K. Gilders
  • LAST REVIEWED: 18 June 2015
  • LAST MODIFIED: 13 September 2010
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195393361-0109

Introduction

“Sacrifice” is a word that evokes multiple meanings and connotations in modern contexts. When dealing with the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament), early Judaism, and early Christianity, and their wider cultural worlds, “sacrifice” is best defined as the ritualized slaughter of animals and the processing of their bodies in relation to supernatural forces (especially gods). In some cases, human beings were the objects of ritualized slaughter and processing. Ritualized processing was also applied to nonmeat foods and drink, such as grain, olive oil, and wine. The English word “sacrifice” derives etymologically from a Latin term that means “make sacred.” This etymological meaning is quite appropriate for the rituals in the Hebrew Bible that are typically designated as “sacrifices,” since they involve the transfer of offerings from human beings to God, from the common to the sacred. In the Hebrew Bible, the primary Hebrew term is qorbān (something brought forward, offering), which indicates the basic ancient Israelite understanding of this activity. In the Hebrew Bible, Israel’s God, Yahweh, is always the designated or assumed recipient of legitimate Israelite sacrifice. In this bibliography, the primary focus will be on sacrifice in the Hebrew Bible. However, some attention will be given to resources related to postbiblical ancient Judaism and early Christianity, as those traditions drew on and interpreted the Hebrew Bible.

General Overviews

Anderson 1992 and Gorman 2009 are both useful entries to the study of sacrifice in the Hebrew Bible. They provide systematic overviews of the various types of sacrificial offerings that appear in the Hebrew Bible and of the various biblical texts that deal with sacrifice; both articles also address issues of scholarly methodology. Attention to theory and method is a special strength of Gorman’s article, which provides, for example, a clear exploration of the issues involved in dealing with ancient textual presentations of sacrifice. The most recent general treatment of sacrifice in the Hebrew Bible is Marx 2005, a work in French. Marx takes a fairly traditional textual and philological approach to explaining the forms and functions of sacrifices in the Hebrew Bible, with little consideration of the kinds of theoretical issues addressed by Anderson 1992 and Gorman 2009. A book-length English language survey work, which treats Hebrew Bible sacrifice in relation to recent discussions about the interpretation of sacrifice, is a desideratum.

  • Anderson, Gary A. “Sacrifice and Sacrificial Offerings (OT).” In The Anchor Bible Dictionary. Vol. 5. Edited by David Noel Freedman, 870–886. New York: Doubleday, 1992.

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    A well-organized and systematic presentation of the various offerings and biblical texts about sacrifice, along with clear and balanced discussion of scholarly interpretation, including issues of methodology.

  • Gorman, Frank H. “Sacrifices and Offerings.” In The New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible. Vol. 5. Edited by Katharine Doob Sakenfeld, Samuel E. Balentine, and Brian K. Blount, 20–32. Nashville: Abingdon, 2009.

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    This well-presented and sophisticated article provides information both on the biblical material on sacrifices and offerings and on how scholars have approached this material.

  • Marx, Alfred. Les systèmes sacrificiels de l’Ancien Testament: Formes et fonctions du culte sacrificial à YHWH. Vetus Testamentum Supplement 105. Leiden, The Netherlands: E. J. Brill, 2005.

    E-mail Citation »

    This concise and readable French work is the most recent comprehensive book-length treatment of sacrifice in the Hebrew Bible. Marx follows a traditional textual and philological approach, engaging with most of the major issues in recent interpretation but largely leaving aside theoretical issues in the study of sacrifice.

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