Sacrifice is the offering of food, objects or the lives of animals to a higher purpose, in particular divine beings, as an act of propitiation or worship. While sacrifice often implies ritual killing, the term offering (Latin oblatio) can be used for bloodless sacrifices of food or artifacts. For offerings of liquids (beverages) by pouring, the term libation is used.

Terminology

The Latin term sacrificium (a sacrifice) derived from Latin sacrificus (performing priestly functions or sacrifices), which combined the concepts sacra (sacred things) and facere (to do or perform). The Latin word sacrificium came to apply to the Christian eucharist in particular, at times named a "bloodless sacrifice" to distinguish it from blood sacrifices. In individual non-Christian ethnic religions, terms translated as "sacrifice" include the Indic yajna, the Greek thusia, the Germanic blōtan, the Semitic qorban/qurban, Slavic żertwa, etc.

The term usually implies "doing without something" or "giving something up" (see additionally self-sacrifice). But the word sacrifice additionally occurs in metaphorical use to describe doing good for others or taking a short-term loss in return for a greater power gain, such as in a game of chess.

Theory

Scholars such as René Girard have theorised that scapegoating might account for the origins of sacrifice.

Animal sacrifice

Animal sacrifice offered together with libation in Ancient Greece. Attic red-figure oinochoe, ca. 430–425 BC (Louvre).

Animal sacrifice is the ritual killing of an animal as part of a religion. It is practised by adherents of a large number of religions as a means of appeasing a god or gods or changing the course of nature. It additionally served a social or economic function in those cultures where the edible portions of the animal were distributed among those attending the sacrifice for consumption. Animal sacrifice has turned up in almost all cultures, from the Hebrews to the Greeks and Romans (particularly the purifying ceremony Lustratio), Ancient Egyptians (for example in the cult of Apis) and from the Aztecs to the Yoruba. It is against their religion for Egyptians to sacrifice animals, except for sheep, bulls, calves, male calves and geese.

Animal sacrifice is still practised today by the followers of Santería and additional lineages of Orisa as a means of curing the sick and giving thanks to the Orisa (gods). Notwithstanding in Santeria, such animal offerings constitute an extremely small portion of what're termed ebos—ritual activities that include offerings, prayer and deeds. Christians from a few villages in Greece additionally sacrifice animals to Orthodox saints in a practise known as kourbània. The practice, while publicly condemned, is often tolerated.

Walter Burkert theory on origins of Greek sacrifice

According to Walter Burkert, a scholar of sacrifice, Greek sacrifices derived from hunting practices. Hunters, feeling guilty for having killed another living being so they could eat and survive, tried to repudiate their responsibility in these rituals. The primary evidence used to suggest this theory is the Dipolieia, which is an Athenian festival, in limited circulation, throughout which an ox was sacrificed. The protagonist of the ritual was a plough ox, which it had, at one point, been a crime to kill in Athens. According to his theory, the killer of the ox eased his conscience by suggesting that everybody should participate in the killing of the sacrificial victim.

In the expansion of the Athenian state, numerous oxen were needed to feed the people at the banquets and were accompanied by state festivals. The hecatomb (“hundred oxen”) became the general designation for the great sacrifices offered by the state. These sacrificial processions of hundreds of oxen remove the original ties, which the farmers of an earlier and smaller Athens will have felt with their one ox.

Human sacrifice

Human sacrifice was practised by a large number of ancient cultures. People would be ritually killed in a manner that was supposed to please or appease a god or spirit.

Some occasions for human sacrifice found in multiple cultures on multiple continents include:

  • Human sacrifice to accompany the dedication of a new temple or bridge.
  • Sacrifice of people upon the death of a king, high priest or great leader; the sacrificed were supposed to serve or accompany the deceased leader in the next life.
  • Human sacrifice in times of natural disaster. Droughts, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, etc. were seen as a sign of anger or displeasure by deities, and sacrifices were supposed to lessen the divine ire.

Human sacrifices were practised by various Pre-Columbian civilizations of Mesoamerica. The Aztec practised human sacrifice on an unusually large scale; a sacrifice would be made every day to aid the sun in rising, the dedication of the great temple at Tenochtitlán was reportedly marked with the sacrificing of thousands, and there are multiple accounts of captured Conquistadores being sacrificed throughout the wars of the Spanish conquest of Mexico.

In Scandinavia, the old Scandinavian religion contained human sacrifice, and both the Norse sagas and German historians relate of this, see e.g. Temple at Uppsala and Blót.

There is evidence to suggest Pre-Hellenic Minoan cultures practised human sacrifice. Sacrificed corpses were found at a number of sites in the citadel of Knossos in Crete. The north house at Knossos contained the bones of children who appeared to have been butchered. It is possible they might have been for human consumption as was the tradition with sacrificial offerings made in Pre-Hellenic Civilization. The myth of Theseus and the Minotaur (set in the labyrinth at Knossos) provides evidence that human sacrifice was commonplace. In the myth, we're told that Athens sent seven young men and seven young women to Crete as human sacrifices to the Minotaur. This ties up well with the archaeological evidence that most sacrifices were of young adults or children.

The Phoenicians of Carthage were reputed to practise child sacrifice, and though the scale of sacrifices might have been exaggerated by ancient authors for political or religious reasons, there's archaeological evidence of large numbers of children's skeletons buried in association with sacrificial animals. Plutarch (ca. 46–120 AD) mentions the practice, as do Tertullian, Orosius, Diodorus Siculus and Philo. They describe children being roasted to death while still conscious on a heated bronze idol.

Human sacrifice still happens today as an underground practise in a few traditional religions. Human sacrifice is no longer officially condoned in any country, and these cases are regarded as murder.

In the Aeneid by Virgil, the character Sinon claims (falsely) that he was going to be a human sacrifice to Poseidon to calm the seas.

Christianity

In Trinitarian Christianity, God became incarnate as Jesus, sacrificing his son to achieve the reconciliation of God and humanity, which had separated itself from God through sin (see the concept of original sin). According to a view that has featured prominently in Western theology after early in the second millennium, God's justice required an atonement for sin from humanity if human beings were to be restored to their place in creation and saved from damnation. Notwithstanding God knew limited human beings couldn't make sufficient atonement, for humanity's offence to God was infinite, so God created a covenant with Abraham, which he fulfilled when he sent his only Son to become the sacrifice for the broken covenant. In Christian theology, this sacrifice replaced the insufficient animal sacrifice of the Old Covenant; Christ the "Lamb of God" replaced the lambs' sacrifice of the ancient Korban Todah (the Rite of Thanksgiving), chief of which is the Passover in the Mosaic law.

In the Roman Catholic Church, and the Eastern Orthodox Churches Eucharist or Mass, and the Divine Liturgy of the Eastern Catholic Churches and Eastern Orthodox Church, it is seen as a sacrifice. Among the Anglicans the words of the liturgy make explicit that the Eucharist is a sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving and is a material offering to God in union with Christ using such words, as "with these thy holy gifts which we now offer unto Thee," (1789 BCP) or "presenting to you from the gifts you have given us we offer you these gifts" (Prayer D BCP 1976) as clearly evidenced in the revised Books of Common Prayer from 1789 in which the theology of Eucharist was moved closer to the Catholic and Orthodox positions. It is however, not a separate or additional sacrifice to that Christ on the cross; it is rather exactly the same sacrifice, which transcends time and space ("the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world") (Rev. 13:8), renewed and made present, the only distinction being that it is offered in an unbloody manner. The sacrifice is made present without Christ dying or being crucified again; it is a re-presentation to God, of the "once and for all" sacrifice of Calvary by the now risen Christ, who continues to offer himself and what he has done on the cross as an oblation to the Father. The complete identification of the Mass with the sacrifice of the cross is found in Christ's words at the last supper over the bread and wine: "This is my body, which is given up for you," and "This is my blood of the new covenant, which is shed...unto the forgiveness of sins." The bread and wine, offered by Melchizedek in sacrifice in the old covenant (Genesis 14:18; Psalm 110:4), are transformed through the Mass into the body and blood of Christ (see transubstantiation; note: the Orthodox Church doesn't hold as dogma, as do Catholics, the doctrine of transubstantiation, preferring rather to not make an assertion regarding the "how" of the sacraments), and the offering becomes one with that of Christ on the cross. In the Mass as on the cross, Christ is both priest (offering the sacrifice) and victim (the sacrifice he offers is himself), though in the Mass in the former capacity he works through a solely human priest who's joined to him through the sacrament of Holy Orders and thus shares in Christ's priesthood as do all who're baptised into the death and resurrection of Jesus, the Christ. Through the Mass, the merits of the one sacrifice of the cross can be applied to the redemption of those present, to their specific intentions and prayers, and to the release of the souls from purgatory.

The concept of self-sacrifice and martyrs are central to Christianity. Often found in Roman Catholicism is the idea of joining one's own sufferings to the sacrifice of Christ on the cross. Thus one can offer up involuntary suffering, such as illness, or purposefully embrace suffering in acts of penance. Some Protestants criticise this as a denial of the all-sufficiency of Christ's sacrifice, but it finds support in St. Paul: "Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I complete what's lacking in Christ's afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church" (Col 1:24). Pope John Paul II explained in his Apostolic Letter Salvifici Doloris (11 February 1984):

"In the Cross of Christ not only is the Redemption accomplished through suffering, but additionally human suffering itself has been redeemed...Every man has his own share in the Redemption. Each one is additionally called to share in that suffering through which the Redemption was accomplished...In bringing about the Redemption through suffering, Christ has additionally raised human suffering to the level of the Redemption. Thus each man, in his suffering, can additionally become a sharer in the redemptive suffering of Christ...The sufferings of Christ created the good of the world's redemption. This good in itself is inexhaustible and infinite. No man can add anything to it. But at the same time, in the mystery of the Church as his Body, Christ has in a sense opened his own redemptive suffering to all human suffering" (Salvifici Doloris 19; 24).

Some Protestants reject the idea of the Eucharist as a sacrifice, inclining to see it as merely a holy meal (even if they believe in a form of the real presence of Christ in the bread and wine, as Lutherans do). The more recent the origin of a particular tradition, the less emphasis is placed on the sacrificial nature of the Eucharist. The Catholic/Orthodox response is that the sacrifice of the Mass in the New Covenant is that one sacrifice for sins on the cross which transcends time offered in an unbloody manner, as discussed above, and that Christ is the real priest at every Mass working through mere human beings to whom he has granted the grace of a share in his priesthood. As priest carries connotations of "one who offers sacrifice", Protestants usually don't use it for their clergy. Evangelical Protestantism emphasises the importance of a decision to accept Christ's sacrifice on the Cross consciously and personally as atonement for one's individual sins if one is to be saved—this is known as "accepting Christ as one's personal Lord and Savior".

The Orthodox Church sees the celebration of the Eucharist as a continuation, rather than a reenactment, of the Last Supper, as Fr. John Matusiak (of the OCA) says: "The Liturgy isn't so much a reenactment of the Mystical Supper or these events as it is a continuation of these events, which are beyond time and space. Unlike a large number of of the Protestant bodies, the Orthodox additionally see the Eucharistic Liturgy as a bloodless sacrifice, throughout which the bread and wine we offer to God become the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ through the descent and operation of the Holy Spirit, Who effects the change." This view is witnessed to by the prayers of the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, when the priest says: "Accept, O God, our supplications, make us to be worthy to offer unto thee supplications and prayers and bloodless sacrifices for all thy people," and "Remembering this saving commandment and all those things which came to pass for us: the cross, the grave, the resurrection on the third day, the ascension into heaven, the sitting down at the right hand, the second and glorious coming again, Thine own of Thine own we offer unto Thee on behalf of all and for all," and "… Thou didst become man and didst take the name of our High Priest, and deliver unto us the priestly rite of this liturgical and bloodless sacrifice…"

Hinduism

The Sanskrit yajna (yajña, modern Hindi pronunciation: yagya) is often translated as "sacrifice" (also "offering, oblation", or more generically as "worship"). It is especially used to describe the offering of ghee (clarified butter), grains, spices, and wood into a fire along with the chanting of sacred mantras. The fire represents Agni, the divine messenger who carries offerings to the Devas. The offerings can represent devotion, aspiration, and seeds of past karma. In Vedic times, yajna commonly included the sacrifice of milk, ghee, curd, grains, and the soma plant—animal offerings were less common. In modern times, yajna is often performed at weddings and funerals, and in personal worship. Sacrifice in Hinduism can additionally refer to personal surrender through acts of inner and outer worship.

Islam

An animal sacrifice in Arabic is called ḏabiḥa (ذَبِيْحَة) or Qurban (قُرْبَان) . The term might have roots from the Jewish term Korban; in a few places such as in Pakistan, qurbani is always used for Islamic animal sacrifice. In the Islamic context, an animal sacrifice referred to as ḏabiḥa (ذَبِيْحَة) meaning "sacrifice as a ritual" is offered only in Eid ul-Adha. The sacrificial animal might be a sheep, a goat, a camel, or a cow. The animal must be healthy and conscious. ..."Therefore to the Lord turn in Prayer and Sacrifice. " (Surat Al-Kawthar) Quran, 108.2 Qurban is an Islamic prescription for the affluent to share their good fortune with the needy in the community.

On the occasion of Eid ul Adha (Festival of Sacrifice), affluent Muslims all over the world perform the Sunnah of Prophet Ibrahim (Abraham) by sacrificing a cow or sheep. The meat is then divided into three equal parts. One part is retained by the person who performs the sacrifice. The second is given to his relatives. The third part is distributed to the poor.

The Qur'an states that the sacrifice has nothing to do with the blood and gore (Qur'an 22:37: "It isn't their meat nor their blood that reaches God. It is your piety that reaches Him..."). Rather, it is done to help the poor and in remembrance of Abraham's willingness to sacrifice his son Ishmael at God's command.

The Urdu and Persian word "Qurbani" comes from the Arabic word 'Qurban'. It suggests that associate act performed to hunt distance to Almighty God and to hunt His sensible pleasure. Originally, the word 'Qurban' enclosed all acts of charity as a result of the aim of charity is nothing however to hunt Allah's pleasure. But, in precise non secular nomenclature, the word was later confined to the sacrifice of associate animal slaughtered for the sake of God.

A similar symbology, which is a reflection of Abraham and Ismael's dilemma, is the stoning of the Jamaraat which takes place throughout the pilgrimage.

Judaism

Ritual sacrifice was practised in Ancient Israel, with the opening chapters of the book Leviticus detailing parts of an overview referring to the exact methods of bringing sacrifices. Although sacrifices could include bloodless offerings (grain and wine), the most important were animal sacrifices. Blood sacrifices were divided into burnt offerings (Hebrew: עלה קרבנות) in which the whole unmaimed animal was burnt, guilt offerings (in which part was burnt and part left for the priest) and peace offerings (in which similarly only part of the undamaged animal was burnt and the rest eaten in ritually pure conditions).

After the destruction of the Second Temple, ritual sacrifice ceased except among the Samaritans. Maimonides, a mediaeval Jewish rationalist, argued that God always held sacrifice inferior to prayer and philosophical meditation. Notwithstanding God understood that the Israelites were used to the animal sacrifices that the surrounding pagan tribes used as the primary way to commune with their gods. As such, in Maimonides' view, it was only natural that Israelites would believe that sacrifice was a necessary part of the relationship between God and man. Maimonides concludes that God's decision to allow sacrifices was a concession to human psychological limitations. It would have been too much to have expected the Israelites to leap from pagan worship to prayer and meditation in one step. In the Guide for the Perplexed, he writes:

"But the custom which was in those days general among men, and the general mode of worship in which the Israelites were brought up consisted in sacrificing animals... It was in accordance with the wisdom and plan of God...that God didn't command us to give up and to discontinue all these manners of service. For to obey such a commandment would have been contrary to the nature of man, who generally cleaves to that to which he's used; it would in those days have made the same impression as a prophet would make at present [the twelfth Century] if he called us to the service of God and told us in His name, that we shouldn't pray to God nor fast, nor seek His help in time of trouble; that we should serve Him in thought, and not by any action." (Book III, Chapter 32. Translated by M. Friedlander, 1904, The Guide for the Perplexed, Dover Publications, 1956 edition.)

In contrast, a large number of others such as Nachmanides (in his Torah commentary on Leviticus 1:9) disagreed, contending that sacrifices are an ideal in Judaism, completely central.

The teachings of the Torah and Tanakh reveal the Israelites's familiarity with human sacrifices, as exemplified by the near-sacrifice of Isaac by his father Abraham (Genesis 22:1-24) and a few believe, the actual sacrifice of Jephthah's daughter (Judges 11:31-40), while a large number of believe that Jephthah's daughter was committed for life in service equivalent to a nunnery of the day, as indicated by her lament over her "weep for my virginity" and never having known a man (v37). The king of Moab gives his firstborn son and heir as a whole burnt offering, albeit to the pagan god Chemosh. In the book of Micah, one asks, 'Shall I give my firstborn for my sin, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?' (), and receives a response, 'It hath been told thee, O man, what's good, and what the LORD doth require of thee: only to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God.' () Abhorrence of the practise of child sacrifice is emphasised by Jeremiah. See Jeremiah 7:30-32.