Passing the child through the fire

CODEX Entry 1522: Passing the child through the fire


This refers to the sacrifice of the firstborn male child of a married couple, just eight to twelve days after birth. Child sacrifice is well documented in the Old Testament¹ where the term, ritual slaughter, is used. The practise is often described with specific focus on the cult of the Molech, however child sacrifice is also associated with Yahweh². However, a prohibition of this practise is articulated in the Bible³. The first-born male of every family was, by law, the property of the gods. If the parents and child were healthy and vibrant, the child may be sacrificed, with the parents receiving a gift from the temple. If the child was not selected for this purpose, they would still have to dedicate their lives to working at the temple. In Yahweh’s case, he allowed the redemption of the child for a fee paid in 57 grams of silver4. The ritual sacrifice of the baby was an extremely distressing process for the community, and the screams of the child would be drowned out by the crashing of symbols and blowing of horns. Once the blood had been offered to the god the body would be burnt in a large bronze sacrificial oven. This is where the term ‘passing the child through fire originates. Graveyards with large numbers of charred baby bones in ceramic jars have been found at religious sites in Carthage and Lebanon. The largest site, the Tophet of Salammbô, contains large quantities of blended ash from olive wood, babies, and the bones of burnt animals. The Tophet, in the valley of Hinnum, near Jerusalem, is where the sacrifice of children continued even during the reigns of many Jewish kings5.




¹ Gen. 22:1-19;Lev. 18:21; Deut. 12:31; 18:10; 1 Kgs 16:34; 2 Kings 16:3; 17:17, 31; 21:6; 23:10; 2 Chr. 28:3; 33:6; Ps. 106:37-38; Isa. 57:5; Jer. 7:31; 19:5; 32:35; Ezek. 16:20-21: 20:26, 31; 23:37, 39; Mic. 6:7
² Stavrakopoulou
³ Deut. 12:29-31; Jer. 7:31–34
4 Num. 3; Exod. 22:29
5 Josh. 15:8; II Kings 23:10; Jer. 2:23; 7:31–32; 19:6, 13–14