In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Sacrifice in the Bible

  • Introduction
  • Sacrifice After 70 ce

Jewish Studies Sacrifice in the Bible
Henrietta Wiley
  • LAST REVIEWED: 25 February 2016
  • LAST MODIFIED: 25 February 2016
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199840731-0121


Sacrifice has traditionally been conceived of as an act of devotion, performed by a human devotee and offered to a divine or otherwise superior being. Sacrifice may refer to the surrender of any valuable object but most often signifies the ritual slaughter of an animal (sometimes human) victim as a service to the divine. The Hebrew Bible provides the most ancient descriptions of Jewish sacrificial practice, and subsequent Jewish thought about sacrifice has always turned first to the authority of biblical law. Indeed the ancient religion of Israel focused on the daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly rhythms of sacrifice performed at local and national shrines. Over time legitimate rites of sacrifice were restricted to the Temple in Jerusalem, until the Romans destroyed it in 70 CE, and the Jewish practice of animal sacrifice came to an end. From that time sacrifice in Judaism was a matter for reflection on past practices, reinterpretation for religious observance in the present, and expectation of renewed sacrificial worship in the future. Biblical analysis makes up the majority of scholarship on Jewish sacrificial traditions, and will therefore make up the majority of this bibliography. In addition, attention will go to examinations of Second Temple sources, rabbinic literature, and later sources, as well as social science methods and ritual theory.

General Overview

The literature on theories of ritual in general and sacrifice in particular is vast and inconsistent in quality. Carter 2003 is an excellent place to begin surveying general studies and theories of sacrifice, because it includes excerpts from nearly all of the major scholars in this area. Below are theoretical works from the social sciences, the study of religion in general, and literary theory. These are not specific to Jewish studies but are fundamental to wider scholarly discussions about the nature and purpose of sacrifice. These are routinely cited in more specialized studies and are necessary background even if one is not using a comparative approach that examines sacrifice from different traditions together. Girard is a special case for Jewish studies because his work is highly controversial and widely criticized as supersessionist and anti-Semitic. Familiarity with his work is necessary for understanding the issues at stake.

  • Carter, Jeffrey, ed. Understanding Religious Sacrifice: A Reader. London: Continuum, 2003.

    A useful collection of readings on the general subject of sacrifice. Includes selections from many of the works cited in this bibliography including W. Robertson Smith, Durkheim, J. Z. Smith, Burkert, Girard, Jay, Levenson, and others.

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