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butchery but a regular custom, which with the growth of
more humane sentiments was afterwards softened into the
vicarious sacrifice of a lamb and the payment of a ransom
for each child. Here the reader may be reminded of another
Hebrew tradition in which the sacrifice of the firstborn child
is indicated still more clearly. Abraham, we are informed,
was commanded by God to offer up his firstborn son Isaac
as a burnt sacrifice, and was on the point of obeying the
divine command, when God, content with this proof of his
faith and obedience, substituted for the human victim a ram,
which Abraham accordingly sacrificed instead of his son.”
Putting the two traditions together and observing how
exactly they dovetail into each other and into the later
Hebrew practice of actually sacrificing the firstborn children
by fire to Baal or Moloch, we can hardly resist the conclusion
that, before the practice of redeeming them was introduced,
the Hebrews, like the other branches of the Semitic race,
regularly sacrificed their firstborn children by the fire or the
knife. The Passover, if this view is right, was the occasion
when the awful sacrifice was offered ; and the tradition of
its origin has preserved in its main outlines a vivid memory
of the horrors of these fearful nights. They must have been
like the nights called Evil on the west coast of Africa, in
Dahomey and Ashantee, when the people keep indoors,
because the executioners are going about the streets and the
heads of the human victims are falling in the king's palace.
But seen in the lurid light of superstition or of legend they
were no common mortals, no vulgar executioners, who did
the dreadful work at the first Passover. The Angel of
Death was abroad that night; into every house he entered,
and a sound of lamentation followed him as he came forth
with his dripping sword. The blood that bespattered the
lintel and door-posts would at first be the blood of the
firstborn child of the house; and when the blood of a lamb
was afterwards substituted, we may suppose that it was
intended not so much to appease as to cheat the ghastly
visitant. Seeing the red drops in the doorway he would
say to himself, “That is the blood of their child. I need
not turn in there. I have many yet to slay before the
! Genesis xxii. 1-13.

morning breaks gray in the east.” And he would pass on
in haste. And the trembling parents, as they clasped their
little one to their breast, might fancy that they heard his
footfalls growing fainter and fainter down the street. In
plain words, we may surmise that the slaughter was
originally done by masked men, like the Mumbo Jumbos
and similar figures of West Africa, who went from house to
house and were believed by the uninitiated to be the deity
or his divine messengers come in person to carry off the
victims. When the leaders had decided to allow the sacri-
fice of animals instead of children, they would give thc
people a hint that if they only killed a lamb and smeared
its blood on the door-posts, the bloodthirsty but near-sighted
deity would never know the difference.
If this be indeed the origin of the Passover and of the
sanctity of the firstborn among the Hebrews, the whole of
the Semitic evidence on the subject is seen to fall into line
at once. The children whom the Carthaginians, Phoenicians,
Canaanites, Moabites, Sepharvites, and probably other
branches of the Semitic race burnt in the fire would be
their firstborn only, although in general ancient writers
have failed to indicate this limitation of the custom. For
the Moabites, indeed, the limitation is clearly indicated, if
not expressly stated, when we read that the king of Moab
offered his eldest son, who should have reigned after him, as a
burnt sacrifice on the wall." For the Phoenicians it comes out
less distinctly in the statement of Porphyry that the Phoe-
nicians used to sacrifice one of their dearest to Baal, and in
the legend recorded by Philo of Byblus that Cronus sacrificed
his only-begotten son.” We may suppose that the custom
of sacrificing the firstborn both of men and animals was a
very ancient Semitic institution, which many branches of the
race kept up within historical times; but that the Hebrews,
while they maintained the custom in regard to domestic
cattle, were led by their lostier morality to discard it in
respect of children, and to replace it by a merciful law that
firstborn children should be ransomed instead of sacrificed.”
* 2 Kings iii. 27. born among modern Jews, see L. Lów,

* See above, p. 39. Pie Lebensalter in der judischen Liter* As to the redemption of the first- a tur (Szegedin, 1875), pp. 110-118.


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The conclusion that the Hebrew custom of redeeming the firstborn is a modification of an older custom of sacrificing them has been mentioned by some very distinguished scholars only to be rejected on the ground, apparently, of its extreme improbability." To me the converging lines of evidence which point to this conclusion seem too numerous and too distinct to be thus lightly brushed aside. And the argument from improbability can easily be rebutted by pointing to other peoples who are known to have practised or to be still practising a custom of the same sort. In some tribes of New South Wales the firstborn child of every woman was eaten by the tribe as part of a religious ceremony.” Amongst the people of Senjero in Eastern Africa we are told that many families must offer up their firstborn sons as sacrifices, because once upon a time, when summer and winter were jumbled together in a bad season, and the fruits of the earth would not ripen, the soothsayers enjoined it. At that time a great pillar of iron is said to have stood at the entrance of the capital, which in accordance with the advice of the soothsayers was broken down by order of the king, whereupon the seasons became regular again. To avert the recurrence of such a calamity the wizards commanded the king to pour human blood once a year on the base of the broken shaft of the pillar, and also upon the throne. Since then certain families have been obliged to deliver up their firstborn sons, who are sacrificed at an appointed time.” Among some tribes of South-Eastern Africa it is a rule that when a woman's husband has been killed in battle and she marries again, the first child she gives birth to after her second marriage must be put to death, whether she has it by her first or her second husband. Such a child is called “the child of the assegai,” and if it were not killed, death or an accident would be sure to befall the second spouse, and the woman herself would be barren. The notion is that the woman must have had some share in the misfortune that overtook her first husband, and that the only way of removing the malign influence is to slay “the child of the assegai.” The heathen Russians often sacrificed their firstborn to the god Perun.” The Kutonaqa Indians of British Columbia worship the sun and sacrifice their firstborn children to him. When a woman is with child she prays to the sun, saying, “I am with child. When it is born I shall offer it to you. Have pity upon us.” Thus they expect to secure health and good fortune for their families.” Among the Coast Salish Indians of the same region the first child is often sacrificed to the sun in order to ensure the health and prosperity of the whole family." The Indians of Florida sacrificed their firstborn male children.” Among the Indians of North Carolina down to the early part of the eighteenth century a remarkable ceremony was performed, which seems to be most naturally interpreted as a modification of an older custom of putting the king's son to death, perhaps as a substitute for his father. It is thus described by a writer of that period: “They have a strange custom or ceremony amongst them, to call to mind the persecutions and death of the kings their ancestors slain by their enemies at certain seasons, and particularly when the savages have been at war with any nation, and return from their country without bringing home some prisoners of war, or the heads

the idea being that this will give the

* J. Wellhausen, Prolesomena zur weak child the strength of the stronger

Geschichte Israe/s," p. 9o; W. Robert

son Smith, Aeligion of the Semites,” P. 464.

* Brough Smyth, Victoria, ii. 311. In the Luritcha tribe of Central Australia “young children are sometimes killed and eaten, and it is not an infrequent custom, when a child is in weak health, to kill a younger and healthy one and then to seed the weakling on its flesh,

Aborigines of

one" (Spencer and Gillen, Aative
7+ibes of Central Australia, p. 475).
* J. L. Krapf, Travels, Researches,
and Missionary Labours during an
eighteen years' A'esidence in Eastern
.4/rica (London, 1860), p. 69 sy. Dr.
Krapf, who reports the custom at
second hand, thinks that the existence
of the pillar may be doubted, but that
the rest of the story harmonises well
enough with African superstition.

* J. Macdonald, Light in Africa, p. 156. In the text I have embodied some fuller explanations and particulars which my friend the Rev. Mr. Macdonald was good enough to send me in a letter dated September 16th, 1899. Among the tribes with which Mr. Macdonald is best acquainted the custom is obsolete and lives only in tradition; formerly it was universally practised.

* F. J. Mone, Geschichte des Heidenthums im nordlichen Europa, i. 119.

* Fr. Boas, in “Fourth Annual

Report on the North-Western tribes of Canada,” Report of the British Association for 1888, p. 242 : id., in Fifth A’eport on the AVorth - Western Tribes of Canada, p. 52 (separate reprint from the Report of the British Association for 1889).

* Fr. Boas, in Fifth Aeport on the Morth-Western Tribes of Canada, p. 46 (separate reprint from the A’eport of the British Association for 1889).

* Strachey, Historie of traz'aille into Virginia Britannia (Hakluyt Society), p. 84.


of their enemies. The king causes as a perpetual remembrance of all his predecessors to beat and wound the best beloved of all his children with the same weapons wherewith they had been kill'd in former times, to the end that by renewing the wound, their death should be lamented afresh. The king and his nation being assembled on these occasions, a feast is prepared, and the Indian who is authorised to wound the king's son, runs about the house like a distracted person crying and making a most hideous noise all the time with the weapon in his hand, wherewith he wounds the king's son ; this he performs three several times, during which interval he presents the king with victuals or cassena, and it is very strange to see the Indian that is thus struck never offers to stir till he is wounded the third time, after which he falls down backwards stretching out his arms and legs as if he had been ready to expire; then the rest of the king's sons and daughters, together with the mother and vast numbers of women and girls fall at his feet and lament and cry most bitterly. During this time the king and his retinue are feasting, yet with such profound silence for some hours, that not one word or even a whisper is to be heard amongst them. After this manner they continue till night, which ends in singing, dancing, and the greatest joy imaginable.” In this account the description of the frantic manner assumed by the person whose duty it was to wound the king's son reminds us of the frenzy of King Athamas when he took or attempted the lives of his children.” The same feature is said to have characterised the sacrifice of children in Peru. “When any person of note was sick and the priest said he must die, they sacrificed his son, desiring the idol to be satisfied with him and not to take away his father's life. The ceremonies used at these sacrifices were strange, for they behaved themselves like mad men. They believed that all calamities were occasioned by sin, and that sacrifices were the remedy.” An early Spanish historian of the conquest of Peru, in

1 J. Bricknell, 7%e Matural History * See above, p. 35. of Morth Carolina (Dublin, 1737), p. 342 sq. I have taken the liberty * Herrera, The general history of the

of altering slightly the writer's some- vast continent and islands of America what eccentric punctuation. (translated by Stevens), iv. 347 sy.

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