Wednesday, February 17, 2010

New study debunks claims of systematic infant sacrifice in Carthage -- or does it?

This is the kind of thing that drives me crazy. A press release is put out making the claim that a new study "debunks millennia-old claims of systematic infant sacrifice in ancient Carthage." Sounds intriguing, right?

Then, you read the release. About half-way down is this very curious statement:
"The idea of regular infant sacrifice in Carthage is not based on a study of the cremated remains, but on instances of human sacrifice reported by a few ancient chroniclers, inferred from ambiguous Carthaginian inscriptions, and referenced in the Old Testament."
Ok, do you get that? Apparently, documentary evidence in written sources dating from thousands of years ago is now considered inferior to scant archaeological remains--at least by these guys.

For the record, here is one of the pieces of documentary evidence of Carthaginian child sacrifice, taken from Diodorus Siculus:
In their zeal to make amends for their omission, they selected two hundred of the noblest children and sacrificed them publicly; and others who were under suspicion sacrificed themselves voluntarily, in number not less than three hundred. There was in their city a bronze image of Cronus, extending its hands, palms up and sloping toward the ground, so that each of the children when placed thereon rolled down and fell into a sort of gaping pit filled with fire.
Child sacrifice is also mentioned in Sacred Scripture as being associated with the Caananite god, Moloch, for example:
"Thus shalt thou say to the children of Israel: If any man of the children of Israel, or of the strangers, that dwell in Israel, give of his seed to the idol Moloch, dying let him die: the people of the land shall stone him." Leviticus 20:2
Here is a list of references to Moloch in Scripture.

Carthage was a colony of the Caananite/Phoenician trading cities.

But there is a real zinger in this press release:
"Our results show that some children were sacrificed, but they contradict the conclusion that Carthaginians were a brutal bunch who regularly sacrificed their own children."
Did you get that? So far from debunking anything, the research actually confirms that the Carthaginians did practice child sacrifice. The best this research team can do is comfort themselves with the knowledge that it may not have been on a massive scale.

Good grief.

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