Sacrifice in History

In the affairs of men, little changes unless great masses of us have a change of heart



The practice of bloody sacrifice reaches far back in human history. For instance, archeologists recently dug up the bones of defective infants killed in Denmark 5,000 years ago. Perhaps the sacrifice was a primitive stab at eugenics; perhaps there is more to the story.

To keep its vast empire intact, the Romans often lined its roadways with crucified rebels to intimidate subjugated people. Also, any Roman phalanx that retreated in battle would be decimated (Latin for tenth). Lined up on a high aqueduct, every tenth soldier would be pushed over the edge to his death. Blood sacrifice was how Rome motivated its legions.

For thousands of years, warriors have pitted athletic and intellectual skills in serial wars. Such rituals required much sacrificial blood.

Blood sacrifice — willing or not — was used to invoke supernatural assistance for some greater cause. The Jews aimed to please God in the practice of animal sacrifice. They sprinkled the blood of a butchered goat on the Day of Atonement to unburden themselves of their nation’s grievous sins. Their ultimate “scapegoat” was to be Jesus of Nazareth. The Sanhedrin’s high priest Caiphas said, “It is better that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish (John 11:50).” The Romans crucified Christ for the Jews, spilling His Precious Blood, which was to atone for the guilt of all mankind so that blood sacrifices would no longer be needed.

But the Good News of salvation had not yet reached the Americas. In Louisiana, circa 1200 AD, indigent North American Natchez and Taensa tribes sacrificed their prisoners captured in battle. The early Central and South American civilizations of the Chimú, Mayans, Aztecs, and Inca did the same, practicing both child and adult human sacrifices to ingratiate their gods, hoping for survival in battle or a successful harvest. Innocent blood was required circa 1420 AD to appease a Chimú sun god because of a flood. Honored parents believed what they were told by their leaders, that it was for the common good. It would be better for their 140 children to die than to see the land ruined. The skeletons of their children were found facing the same direction on a Peruvian coastline.

Despite the Christian teaching to love thy neighbor as thyself, the American Revolution and the Civil War slaughtered 700,000 souls “that this nation shall not perish from the Earth.”

I watch the news about the Russian invasion of Ukraine and shake my head over the insanity. Why spill the precious blood of innocents? My friends attempt to convince me that Putin wears the black hat and Biden is guiltless. But I know from my 50 years of analyzing the machinations of men that it’s often not clear what the complex and hidden story is, despite appearances. Eventually, however, the truth will out.

In the affairs of men, little changes. Great masses of us must have a change of heart through concerted deep prayer or suffer another world war.

What has been will be again, and what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun (Eccles. 1:9).


Richard M. DellOrfano spent ten years on a cross-country pilgrimage following Christ’s instruction to minister without possessions. He is completing his autobiography: Path Perilous, My Search for God and the Miraculous.

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