Temple of Human Sacrifice: Amman Jordan

Temple of Human Sacrifice: Amman Jordan

Jephthah sacrifices his daughter
Jephthah sacrifices his daughter

In a recent post on my series “Violence in the Old Testament” I refer to the story of Jephthah from Judges 11 (The Moral Failure of Biblical Characters Part 7). In this article I noted that the stories of moral failure are not written for us to emulate, but are written as warnings when we stray from God’s Word. Jephthah is famous for sacrificing his daughter due to a foolish vow that he made (Judg. 11:30-40). In the article I suggested that Jephthah imitates his enemy, the Ammonites, (and Moabites as well), by offering a human sacrifice. Confirmation of this view may come in the most recent issue of BAR (Biblical Archaeology Review, vol 40, No. 5, 2014, pp. 6, 57), where editor Hershel Shanks speaks about what is believed by many to be the discovery of a temple of human sacrifice. This temple is situated in the city of Amman, Jordan near the airport. The city of Amman has retained the ancient name of the people that once occupied this area, the Ammonites.

This temple was first excavated in 1955 by Australian archaeologist John Basil Hennessy (a diagram of the temple, drawn by Hennessy, can be found in the BAR article mentioned above). He discovered an altar (stone pile), and most surprisingly, he discovered small bone fragments of which 90% were human! In 1976 Larry G. Herr carried out further excavation at the site and discovered many more human bone fragments. Herr concluded that the stone pile (altar) functioned as a pyre since the bones showed evidence of burning. Scholarly opinion is divided as to whether this site was an ancient crematorium or a temple of human sacrifice. Archaeologist Ami Mazar says that it is difficult to accept the suggestion that it was a crematorium since no such buildings have ever been discovered in the ancient Near East. However it must also be admitted that no temple of human sacrifice has ever been discovered either.

Artist's depiction of offering a child to Molech
Artist’s depiction of offering a child to Molech

Interestingly, the temple dates to roughly the same time as Jephthah (13th century BC–most consider Jephthah to have lived in the 12th century BC). Considering both the biblical evidence (Lev. 18:21; 1 Kgs. 11:7; Jer. 32:35), as well as Phoenician evidence (IVP Bible Background Commentary on the OT, pp. 132-133), there is no doubt that child sacrifice to Milcom (or, Molech), the god of the Ammonites, was practiced. Therefore, in my opinion, if one includes this written evidence, the scale is tipped in favour of this being a temple of human sacrifice. If it is, it would add further weight to the argument that Jephthah was influenced by the Ammonites’ practice of child sacrifice.

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