Inscribed By Steven, Isaiah, and Solomon (SIS)
Hey there! Welcome to our blog post. Our group consists of Isaiah, Steven and Solomon!
Our topic is on the differences in sacrificial events across the ancient civilisations. Why did we choose such a topic? It is simply because we felt that there was a stark contrast between what can be considered a “sacrifice” in our modern society, and back then, thousands of years ago. Furthermore, there were differences between the sacrificial events that took place during ancient civilisations, and we wanted to explore between them!
To start off with, what do we understand when it comes to the word “sacrifice”? It is the year 2016, and the word has probably formed a modern collage of impressions in our minds, contextualised based on the experiences we have been through in our daily lives or have heard of in the news and/or through social media platforms. For example, in a recent article by the CNN, sacrifice can be seen through parental sacrifice in terms of money, time, and emotional support for the children who spent years training for the Winter Olympics. “Sacrifice”, as defined by Cambridge Dictionary, is “to give up something that is valuable to you in order to help another person”. However, in ancient civilisations, the term “sacrifice” probably had a greater meaning. To be straight-forward, lives were put on the balance between an honourable death and a greater purpose towards a ritual.
Hence, the different forms of sacrifices performed in “ancient” civilisations are significant to us because of comparison purposes to what we consider as sacrifices in modern day context. Continue on reading, we promise a good read! (If not, drinks are on Steven).
ABRAHAM AND THE SACRIFICING OF HIS SON
Let us shift our focus to 2,000 B.C (4,016 years ago), to the era of Abram, or otherwise known as Abraham, where sacrificial worship was largely an important tradition. Animals were normally used for sacrificial purposes, rather than human sacrifice. However, what piqued our interest in the literature was that there was a certain form of human sacrificial aspect involved during Abraham’s story.
As you already know, Abraham was known to be Abram before his God agreed to bless him with a child of his own. This happened approximately 4016 years ago, where sacrifices were played out to be of a huge significance. So why were sacrifices of such significance? Sacrifice is a universal expression of religion, and it dates back to many different cultures. The sacrificial rites were seen more as a way to give back to God. However, Jews stopped offering sacrifices in today's context due to the law against such practices.
However, the point in time where Abraham was supposedly told to sacrifice his only son at the point in time. This came as a twist as Abraham’s only son Isaac, who was gifted to Abraham at an old age, was now to be made as a sacrifice. However, Abraham had no qualms or hesitation. Also, Abraham’s God was seen to doubt Abraham’s faith, so he gave Abraham a test of whether faith still played a bigger part in his life than his only son.
This is significant to history as to be willing to sacrifice a human being, let alone his very own son, shows the weight of this sacrifice. The symbol of sacrifice though, was not for the giving up of food, or just to placate God, rather the blood of the sacrifice which signified purification, rejuvenation and more importantly, life. The blood of the animals sacrifice is actually to signify that the person has done wrong, and that the blood lost of sacrifices are to show the blood lost by their God, to pay for their sins.
God wanted Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac, was just for the sake of ensuring the faith that Abraham has, will not falter. Abraham passed the test and Isaac was spared from the sacrifice.
ANCIENT EGYPT, WHERE ONCE YOUR KING IS DEAD, SO ARE YOU
In Ancient Egyptian civilisation during the First Dynasty, which dated back to approximately 2890 B.C (4,906 years ago), sacrificial rituals depicted a much more extreme measure, where human sacrifices were thought to be largely normal, especially so during the funerals of important or rich people. Slaves who were buried with their masters were thought to be have been given the ultimate honor.
Human sacrifice in Egypt dated back to the Predynastic Period (5,500 - 3,100 BC) and there was also evidence it was present in the 1st Pharaonic Dynasty (3,000 BC). The earliest sign of human sacrifice was found in Predynastic burials at the south of Egypt, during the Naqada II Period (3600-3200 BC). The bodies were discovered with slits on the throat before they were decapitated. There were two main forms of sacrifice in ancient Egypt - mainly ritual killings as part of offerings to the Gods, or retainer sacrifice where servants are buried along with their master in death.
Ritual sacrifices are parallel to Abraham’s situation above whereby it showed God-fearing men; the sacrifices were an offering to the Gods to appease them and in return, would bless the Egyptians with a prospering river Nile which at that point of time was an instrumental in the survival of the agricultural society they have established. The other form of sacrifice, retainer sacrifice, has a different purpose and was practised to allow the souls of the slaves to protect their master and slay evil spirits in the afterlife.
Retainer sacrifice is significant to history as it shows that the Egyptians have formed the concept of an afterlife whereby the spirits of humans will traverse after death. This belief extends to many religions in the present where death is not the ending point of existence, and that people do live on spiritually even after their physical bodies cease to function.
GILGAMESH AND THE MOST EPIC SACRIFICE TILL DATE
Moving towards Gilgamesh’s era, which occurred around 2700 B.C (4,706 years ago), it was agreed by our group that Gilgamesh’s sacrifice was the most epic (pun intended). Like, how cool was it of Gilgamesh to kill the Bull of Heaven? Who even does that nowadays?
The Bull of Heaven (also known as Gugalanna) appeared in the Epic of Gilgamesh as a form of destruction because of Gilgamesh's actions. As seen in Tablet VI in The Epic of Gilgamesh, “they butchered and bled the bull and then cut out its heart to offer as a sacrifice before Shamash”. Shamash, the Sun-God as represented in the literature, was always helping and giving advice to Gilgamesh. As a form of offering, it seemed that Gilgamesh and Enkidu slayed The Bull of Heaven and presented the heart of the bull to Shamash as a form of thanksgiving or offering to thank her for her guidance.
Furthermore, as seen in Tablet VI again, “And that is what Gilgamesh brought as potion to the altar of Lugalbanda, his special protector, he carried the horns and enshrined them in a palace”. Gilgamesh brings the horns of The Bull of Heaven to offer as a sacrifice, only this time to his holy father, Lugalbanda.
Albeit a piece of literature, it was interesting to us that Gilgamesh, a part-god himself, was accustomed to the ritual of offering sacrifices to other spiritual beings above him in the “spiritual-hierarchy”. The significance in this is that despite Gilgamesh being a higher-being himself, he still worshipped spirits and deities. Of course in ancient Mesopotamia, it was also noted that sacrifices such as food and beverages were daily rituals/sacrifices to the spirits of those who no longer exist on the earth.
The difference in sacrificial rituals in these 3 different time periods was indeed an interesting discovery for us, both from an exploratory point of view, as well as a minute form of dark humor. The type of sacrifices ranged from only somewhat acceptable animal sacrifices (and a mildly absurd almost-violating-human-rights-sacrificing-of-his-only-son) in Abraham’s time, to including human sacrifice as an honour in the Egyptian culture and finally to even sacrificing demon-god-like-things.
It shows how people in power, or people of status have the ability to dictate or set out their cultural norms. People who also listen and are persuaded to follow these norms may not have been given the proper education or intellectual stimulation to allow them to think through their cultural norms. Also, in some cases, it may be that they have no power to control their own life, let alone what they choose to do.
Nevertheless, it was interesting to compare between the different forms of sacrificial rituals, and we are glad that no form of live sacrifice is going on here in Singapore.
We do sacrifice sleep for grades, though.