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The Sacrifice of the Firstborn in Hebrew Scriptures

Danam, Gnanadas (2018) The Sacrifice of the Firstborn in Hebrew Scriptures. PhD thesis, University of Sheffield.

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Abstract

This research examines the central question: what is the meaning of the demand that all that first opens the womb should be given to the God of the Hebrew Bible? The research studies in detail the concept of the firstborn in the Hebrew Bible and in the Ancient Near Eastern context. It concludes that the statement ‘all that opens the womb belongs to me’ has the function of opposing the existing practice of child sacrifice. Critical analysis of the Molech cult concludes that sacrifice of children to Molech was commonly practised. Molech is presented in the Hebrew Bible as the god of human sacrifice, a common practice amongst the people of the surrounding nations. The authors of the Hebrew Bible purposefully personified the sacrifice to Molech and presented it in a way to dissuade people from the continuing practice of human sacrifice. The writers explain that this practice is abhorrent to Yahweh. It is noticed that there was no demand for the firstborn specifically in the molech sacrifice. It is observed that the Book of Genesis, with a polemic view on child sacrifice, presents the story of the near-sacrifice of Isaac. This is to demonstrate that Abraham, the founding father of the nation of Israel, did not actually sacrifice his son Isaac because Yahweh himself provided a substitute, a lamb. The story is presented in this way not only to explain clearly that child sacrifice is not needed, but also to introduce the theme of substitution. The current study also found that the Passover story is presented as a way to show the origin of setting apart the firstborn. Here the word ‘consecrate’ or ‘give’ does not imply ‘sacrifice,’ but rather, ‘set apart.’ There is no demand for a firstborn as the Passover sacrifice. It is stated clearly in the text that a lamb is used as a substitute. The redemption of the firstborn of clean and unclean animals is also compared with the rules pertaining to human firstborn. It is stated that the concepts of redemption and substitution were emphatically promoted in order to stop the existing practice of child sacrifice. Thus, the research found that, the demand for ‘everything that opens the womb’ was a device used by the authors of the Hebrew Bible to remove the existing practice of child sacrifice. The writers were successful and child sacrifice totally eradicated from the religion of the Hebrew Bible.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Academic Units: The University of Sheffield > Faculty of Arts and Humanities (Sheffield) > Philosophy (Sheffield)
Identification Number/EthosID: uk.bl.ethos.755288
Depositing User: Dr Gnanadas Danam
Date Deposited: 15 Oct 2018 08:53
Last Modified: 25 Sep 2019 20:05
URI: http://etheses.whiterose.ac.uk/id/eprint/21729

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