When I think of illiterate first-century tribals, I often visualize them huddled around a fire and quaking at the sound of thunder, or murdering animals in bizarre ways on stone altars. Anyone who has muscled through Leviticus in the Old Testament knows of the frequency with which God demands an “offering”, as well as the unsanitary sprinkling of its blood here and there. Today, many people understand animal sacrifice for what it is: a mindless ritual performed by people who were comically ignorant of, well, just about everything.
If you search for a satisfying reason for why a monotheistic religion’s holy texts would read like pagan rituals, you will be disappointed. This has not deterred Christian apologists from attempting to explain away the idiosyncratic nature of God’s commands. Here is one explanation I encountered, amusing in its total lack of logical cohesion.
It took not one, but two authors to come up with this tripe. Their main argument is that animal-sacrifice and blood-letting was familiar to ancient peoples, so God chose to demand its continuation among his followers because the killing of an animal and the draining of its “life” was his best way to explain the gravity of human sin. The authors ignore the uncomfortable thought that this is (in a nutshell) the whole point of animal sacrifice. In ancient times, an animal might have been offered to a variety of gods by the fearful as a way to masochistically beg an otherwise wrathful deity to not utterly screw up their immediate plans. Whether one offers a goat to Zeus, Poseidon or Yahweh is irrelevant. The important thing is that the all-powerful Christian god lacks original ideas.
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Special thanks to Andrew Hall who runs the Patheos blog Laughing in Disbelief!