The question in question is Why does the Bible call for child sacrifice?. (See the OP's original version here).

It's been downvoted (I recently reversed my upvote after reflection, following a flag on the answer that has been deleted). The mods had a long discussion about deleting that answer, and we've decided to bring the option of deleting the entire question to meta as it seems that the root cause of the problems lie with the question itself.

The specific issue with the question is whether it is genuinely arising from the text, or from a doctrine/concept (in the case perhaps something like 'the God of the Hebrew Scriptures is cruel'). If the latter it would be off-topic according to the rules of the site.

What should we do with this question? Is there a way to fix it so that it is more likely to generate constructive answers? Should it simply be removed? How should we proceed?

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    This is completely absurd--- the question was rewritten! If you are going to debate the content, at least debate the content I had written, not the content truncated to seem like a crazy rant. I was stunned when I read Exodus 22:28, I read it, and re-read it, just to make sure I was reading it correctly, and it just changed the entire tone of the rest of the book, and Genesis. I placed this as part of a series of questions regarding issues that came up during translation, it's sincere, and it is genuinely arising from the text (it can't come from anywhere else, I didn't use any other source). – Ron Maimon Mar 12 '13 at 4:27
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    The downvotes came from the rewrite, and to be fair, I would downvote the rewritten question myself! I do not endorse this text, it is one-sided and not faithful to my intent. – Ron Maimon Mar 12 '13 at 4:28
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    I know edits are a sensitive issue and I guess we didn't end up being faithful to your intent (not knowing exactly what your intent was, I wasn't sure about that). You might not appreciate the distinction, but I generally favour editing questions quite liberally but the opposite approach for answers: questions really shape the site and if there is a problem with an answer voting usually takes care of it so there is no need to risk offence to the OP. I'm currently torn between favouring the edited question or deleting: I think you have the option of having it disassociated if the former. – Jack Douglas Mar 12 '13 at 9:16
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    The current wording is nuanced, and fine, it gets the idea across. – Ron Maimon Mar 12 '13 at 21:17
  • @Ron excellent, thanks for bearing with us on this. – Jack Douglas Mar 12 '13 at 21:31
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    Given his profile and his original question it seems that he is asking an honest question that never was rooted in doctrinal bias. Apparently he has cooperated with the process by clearly expressing his honest feelings about what the question was turning into. I marked his answer here as helpful as it seems he gave helpful feedback on what was bothering him so it could be fixed. Such cooperation is honorable. Sure, we could do without the "What's wrong with you people" but we won't wonder how he felt! Congratulations on coming to something that he is OK with that suits the site better. – user2027 Mar 13 '13 at 5:05

If it were edited so that the textual conflict was at the forefront, would that make this decision easier? Here is my one idea of what might be done for the question.

In Genesis, we see a motif of first-born sons being overly aggressive and ambitious. Kain slays Abel out of a jealous wrath. Firstborn Esau and Jacob have a long-running rivalry that ends with Jacob fleeing in fear of his life. Jacob's fear of Esua is so great that 20 years do not diminish it. Rueben attempts to usurp his father's authority by sleeping with the concubines.

At other times, the slights on the firstborn are more subtle. When Jacob/Israel blesses the sons of Joseph, he intentionally chooses the younger to receive the blessing. Genesis even points out that this was unexpected and displeased Joseph.

The theme culminates in the final plague of the Exodus when God slays the first born of Egypt. Shortly thereafter, God gives the commands for how the people are to live in the Land. One of those commands is quite surprising in light of the rest of the Bible. Exodus chapter 22:28 (with leading and trailing context) is not ambiguous:

You will not curse God, and a prince of your people, you will not smear. For your goods and your wine-pressings do not be late, your eldest son offer to me. Thus you will do for your oxen and your sheep: seven days it will be with its mother, on the eighth day, give to me. And a holy people thou shalt be to me, and predated carcasses in the field you will not eat, you shalt throw it to the dogs.—Exodus 22:27-29 (Wikiproject Wiki Bible, emphasis added)

The context makes "give to me" clear—it means sacrifice. Placed parallel with "offer," this is a call for child sacrifice. Although this interpretation is, of course, impossible in the context of the rest of the Bible. However, child sacrifice is documented in the religions of the Ancient Near East.

However, later on in Exodus, one reads:

All that breaks opens a womb, and all your livestock remember, first birth a bull and a sheep. And first birth of donkeys you will redeem with a sheep, and if you will not redeem it, break its neck. All your firstborn sons, redeem, and they will not see my face devoid of these.—Exodus 34:19-20 (Wikiproject Wiki Bible)

The call is to kill all that is firstborn of animals. The exceptions are donkeys, which one may redeem with a sheep, and sons which must be "redeemed." One can interpret this verse as saying that an animal sacrifice must be substituted for a human male.

Does Exodus 22:28 call for killing firstborn sons in ritual child sacrifice?

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    I like this. I removed the first line, which I don't think is needed anymore. Would you mind making this edit? – Jon Ericson Mod Mar 7 '13 at 21:31
  • It's in there now. – Frank Luke Mar 7 '13 at 22:07
  • Awesome. Thanks. – Jon Ericson Mod Mar 7 '13 at 23:59
  • -1: What the heck are you doing? You are making me sound crazy! The new question omits the context of the rest of the books, to show how out of place this verse is. It's something strange, and weird, and it doesn't show up so great in most translations because it is so weird. – Ron Maimon Mar 12 '13 at 4:30
  • @Jon, Frank does Ron's comment make sense to you and is a further edit called for (regardless of whether we disassociate the question from Ron's account)? – Jack Douglas Mar 12 '13 at 9:01
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    @RonMaimon, does this better express your intention to show the theme against firstborns? Disclosure: I, also, am a firstborn. I wondered about a couple of others, but it turned out the text was ambiguous. I thought Nahor was older than Abram and Japeth was the eldest of Noah's three. I can find nothing on Nahor being older and the elder reference on Japeth is debated as to whom it refers (Gen 10:21). – Frank Luke Mar 12 '13 at 14:48
  • @JackDouglas, I can see what he is saying. We do not want the question to be contrary to the OP's intentions. I made some changes. – Frank Luke Mar 12 '13 at 14:49
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    @FrankLuke: This version is very good, it's actually better than my original. – Ron Maimon Mar 12 '13 at 21:17
  • @RonMaimon, thank you. – Frank Luke Mar 12 '13 at 21:22

I believe the original version reads too much like a rant to be a constructive question. That version should not stand.

In it's place, I see several potential resolutions.

  1. The OP could rewrite the question in a way that brings up the textual issue without as much baggage and is more readily understood as a constructive question by people new to the site.

  2. We could rewrite it as a community into something constructive. I think Frank Luke's suggested edit would be one way this question could stand.

    • The OP could go along with this version and let it play out.

    • The OP could choose to be disassociated from this question.

  3. We could delete it entirely. Any community member still wishing to see a question on that topic could frame one in their own words and we could start fresh on its own merits.

My personal suggestion would be for 2a, but if that is not agreeable to the OP, as a moderator I'd be ready to support any of these options.

  • I was going to go "combative", but I think the current edit is pretty good. – Ron Maimon Mar 12 '13 at 21:10
  • @RonMaimon I'll pretend I didn't see that. And I'm off to cleanup comments on the main question now that we have a direction... – Caleb Mar 12 '13 at 21:13

I think the presenting question should not by "Why does the Bible call for child sacrifice " but rather "Does the Bible call for child sacrifice" as when it comes right down to it at the end that is what He asks.

I also recommend the following changes highlighted in bold:

Delete the last line of the following paragraph. Perhaps it is part of your communicating with each other about the text, but if not, it is unnecessary and confusing from what I can tell):

The theme culminates in the final plague of the Exodus when God slays the first born of Egypt. Shortly thereafter, God gives the commands for how the people are to live in the Land. One of those commands is quite surprising in light of the rest of the Bible. Exodus chapter 22:28 (with leading and trailing context) is not ambiguous:

In the following paragraph, I think "seem to mean" is more appropriate than "clear . . . " If it were clear, then he would not be asking the question. What is clear is that this is something He wonders about and that is why he asks.

The context makes "give to me" seem to mean sacrifice. Placed parallel with "offer," this is a call for child sacrifice. Although this interpretation is, of course, impossible in the context of the rest of the Bible. However, child sacrifice is documented in the religions of the Ancient Near East.


What the heck is wrong with you people? I wrote a considered, thoughtful, question regarding something that I noticed that bothered me, and I prefaced it with a discussion to make it clear that it is out of place in the Bible, that it really doesn't fit with the rest of the text, which is against the practice.

Instead, you removed the introductory text, and turned it into a ridiculous rant, which makes it seem that I am unaware of the anti-child-sacrifice texts in the Pentateuch, and that this is an atheist's gotcha.

I wrote it in a considered way to place the text calling for first-born sacrifice in context--- the context is that there is a narrative, the J narrative (J only, not E), which is hostile to firstborn males, it has story after story of firstborn males being overly masculine, murderous, uncontrollable, subject to passion, etc, then it talks about killing firstborns in Egypt, and then there are hints (hints only) at the end of Exodus of firstborn child sacrifice. The naive interpretation makes the text more consistent within itself, and this means that I tend to read the Hebrew in this most straightforward way, although this reading is obviously doctrinally impossible for any denomination of any religion.

Instead, you took the text, removed the parts which are considered and place things in context, and left only text which, in context, is discussing the detailed word use in one particular passage, and made it seem that I have misinterpreted the whole of these passages! When I say "but Leviticus 22:28 is unambiguous", I am comparing it's ambiguity level regarding this to other verses, which are more ambiguous. Obviously, the whole thing is ambiguous to a certain extent, since it is contradicting an explicit injunction which appears elsewhere. But the injunction is E, which people say looks like later stuff, perhaps 600 BC.

The question has been downvoted a bunch since it was reworded, and it was completely fine in it's original formulation. You have essentially reworded a carefully worded honest sentiment about ambiguous passages to make it sound like I have some sort of agenda, when I don't. I didn't even know there was a scholarly investigation into this when I suggested it, I thought I was the only person to ever notice this! I wasn't sure though.

Anyway, I would appreciate having the text be the one that I wrote, since it's my picture next to it, and the deletions make me sound illiterate and ignorant (deliberately), as if I didn't close-read the entire text. It's offensive, really, and it's a political move that I think is quite disgraceful.

Note that I can't even access old versions at the moment, to copy and paste here to show what the original said, but the gist of it was that there is a strong anti-sacrifice sentiment, but it follows a narrative which seems to set up a first-born sacrifice tradition, and then, when the sacrifice comes, it is miraculously prevented. Is this a sign of textual evolution from an earlier version where firstborn sacrifice is required? Perhaps yes, perhaps no. It is something one must investigate, not censor.

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    You've based your argument here off an incorrect timeline of events. I for one would have downvoted the original and have refrained from voting on the current edit. The discussion of this meta post started out about your original version and whether it should be deleted. The general feeling was that it needed to go, until somebody suggested it could be fixed. Your original version will not stand. Our options seem to be A) roll back to your preferred version then delete the whole mess. B) keep this version and let it run it's course C) keep this version but remove your name from it. Your call – Caleb Mar 12 '13 at 8:53
  • "Note that I can't even access old versions at the moment, to copy and paste here to show what the original said": Here is the original for reference. – Jack Douglas Mar 12 '13 at 8:59
  • @Caleb: I didn't make a timeline of events, I don't know what you mean--- if you mean that I placed Exodus 22 after Exodus 34, I didn't mean them to be ordered temporally, just in order of clarity regarding what to do with firstborns. The intention of the question is completely captured by the current text, perhaps the way I wrote it wasn't optimal, but I can't see anything terribly wrong with it. – Ron Maimon Mar 13 '13 at 1:22
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    Ron, perhaps you figured this out already or it was explained to you. By timeline of events, I believe he meant the order in which events regarding your question (and what to do with it) occurred, not with your handling the timeline of Scripture. – user2027 Mar 13 '13 at 5:21
  • @Sarah: No, I didn't get it, I was just being thick. Thanks. – Ron Maimon Mar 13 '13 at 23:46
  • No problem. Glad I could help. – user2027 Mar 13 '13 at 23:53

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