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February 06, 2012


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Stunning post -
Some thoughts on 'war' -
In the eastern lands of the feared Khampa Drokpa (nomads) who have seen and indulged in their fare share of bloody battles (including forcing Mongols on many occasions to reconsider completely their own strategy)locals have a saying about war and it's 'appeal' to heartstrings and bloodlust: "Always understand what you are fighting for, for otherwise it is only vanity leading you forward". Wise words me'thinks.

These are people whose philosophy in battle is typified by the philosophy of destroy completely or be completely destroyed, I think, more than most understood more of the brutal reality of war than most.

My facebook associate comments that、 "I've always wondered about the child-sacrifice supposedly practiced by the Carthaginians. The Hebrew Bible and the Prophets mention this cult specifically as one of the reasons G-d abhorred the Canaanite nations (to whom the Phonecians and, hence, the Carthaginians were related) and why the Israelites were commanded to extirpate them from Israel, lest they be tempted to follow their practices (which included sexual immorality and beastiality in addition to human sacrifice) and become cursed by G-d in their turn. Any real information on this? I know that Carthage had huge children's cemeteries filled with the cremated remains of very young children. Some have interpreted this as evidence of child sacrifice; others have said they were just cemeteries."


Well, it just so happens that I started Patrick Hunt's Hannibal Lectures on my iPod, and in the first lecture he covered at some length this issue of child sacrifice. I guess they have found thousands upon thousands of urns containing the bones of little boys. And, they think this is just the tip of the iceburg and only the top layer of one of the sites has been excavated...The reason the evidence seems in favor of sacrifice is that no pathogens were found and none of te bones were broken. If you are thinking that is tenuous, I would agree. However, it's the strong textual evidence. Many contemporary historians described the Carthiginian practice so to my mind that makes for a strong case if historians from the Levant to Rome are making similar claims.

The children were as old as 8.... (my son is almost 8!)


Part of the lecture, though really grabbed my attention. It was the part about the story of theSacrifice of Isaac. Hunt says that one interpretation of the story (and Wiki confirms this) is that this was the great rejection by the Jewish religion of the practice of child sacrifice which was practiced by surrounding cultures, like the Carthiginians. This from wikipedia under "the Jewish response":

Ibn Caspi writes "How could God command such a revolting thing?" But according to Rabbi J. H. Hertz (Chief Rabbi of the British Empire), child sacrifice was actually "rife among the Semitic peoples," and suggests that "in that age, it was astounding that Abraham's God should have interposed to prevent the sacrifice, not that He should have asked for it." Hertz interprets the Akedah as demonstrating to the Jews that human sacrifice is abhorrent. "Unlike the cruel heathen deities, it was the spiritual surrender alone that God required." In Jeremiah 32:35, God states that the later Israelite practice of child sacrifice to the deity Molech "had [never] entered My mind that they should do this abomination."

Speaking personally, I had only ever interpreted this story a la Kierkegaard. So, this interpretation was news to me.

I like it, though, and wonder where the Babylonians fit in. Because-- to come full circle in my response to your comment-- we can only conclude that the Bbaylonians were disparaged beyond any reality... so then perhaps the Carthiginians as well??

By the way, Mary Beard blogged on her experience being on the IOT Destruction of Carthage program here and I agree that it was really pretty unique having an all-women panel on such a "blokeish subject" as the Third Punic War!

My dear Jeffers,

Not surprisingly, your thoughts on war are my thoughts on war.
(Flag of the Benin Empire, etc., )

Hence, like your Nomads, in the Battle of Vienna (that I wrote about last time), one of the key points was that both sides knew that they had to fight to the finish. There would be no treaties to solve their problems and no robotic bombings to tip the sides... for after the 1st shot one side either had to take the city (or be killed) and the other side either had to defend the city (or be killed).

More significantly perhaps-- especially in thinking about Troy or Carthage versus Vietnam or Iraq is that the people who decided to wage war were often those same people who had to fight the wars... or at the very least, the generals making strategy went out to fight. (This is certainly what seems to be so impressive about Troy and Thermapolae?)

I often talk about the philosopher Tony Coady whose work on political violence I really have found interesting, but Coady says that one of the tenets to waging war is that those who wage war should be willing to die themselves for the cause. I mean it sounds so common-sensical and yet...

What is the interpretation of the Akeidah (the Binding of Isaac) a la Kierkegaard? I am only familiar with the traditional Jewish take on it. That is: G-d never intended that Isaac actually be killed, but that this was one of the Ten Trials of Avraham he had to undergo so that G-d would know whether or not he would always obey G-d's commands without question. As a modern person, I have also always read it as a metaphor, a personalization of the understanding by Avraham and his descendants that human sacrifice was precisely what G-d did not want. If child sacrifice was as rife among the Semites as some historians believe, then this realization was, indeed, revolutionary.

BTW, the 1st verse of Bob Dylan's "Highway 61" is, to me, a very deep midrash (investigation) of the Akeidah:

G-d said to Abraham: "Kill me a son"
Abe said "Man, you must be puttin' me on."
G-d say "No."
Abe say "What?"
G-d said "You can do what you want, Abe, but
The next time you see me comin' you better run".
So Abe said "Where do you want this killin' done?"
And G-d said "All down Highway 61".

(That is, the only way Avraham could possibly have agreed to something so outrageous is because he was afraid of G-d.)

Woody Allen, in his book "Without Feathers", has another midrash on it in the short story "The Scrolls", where, just as Avraham is about to kill Isaac, G-d says, essentially, "What's the matter, you can't take a joke? I can't believe you fell for it just because I have a deep, well-modulated voice."

(That is, G-d didn't mean it and Avraham was an idiot for even thinking that He could possibly have been serious.)

The interesting thing with both approaches is that they both seem to believe, essentially, that Avraham failed the test. The traditional Jewish take on it, though, is that however gruesome it may seem to us, Avraham passed the test by agreeing to do it. That is, he believed and did not question. Personally, I think G-d needed to know that whatever the sacrifice Avraham would follow G-d's will and would teach his descendants to do so, and that this very quality is what made him worthy of the covenant. That is, G-d needed to know that Avraham was, essentially, crazy enough (in modern terms) to follow G-d, no matter what might happen. I really think that if not for that, there would be no Jews today. Stiff-necked, indeed.

I remember discussing this with a friend. I said "I just don't see how Avraham could possibly have agreed to do this. I would have told G-d to just take a hike."

So he said "Well, that's why you're not Avraham".

True, that.

Earl, I have been thinking a lot about this idea of sacrifice (of no one in particular, you will understand!) But, there is such a contractual nature to it, don't you think? At least in the few in the sacrifices I have seen (of animals), everything seemed very material (not spiritual) or concrete: "I give You (God) this goat/lamb/son *in exchange* for your blessing..." And more: don't you think the blessings are usually quite specific? The true prayers of "pagans," for example: "if you guard us from our enemies the Romans, we will give you *in exchange* 500 boys as sacrifice." (This was said in the texts to have happened during one of the Punic battles, I think).

But when Abraham's God comes to him... he rejects the material exchange" and spares the victim. Because of course so many of the surrounding cultures did sacrifice victims (most commonly animals). So, in that sense probably to Ab it wasn't the sacrifice that was strange but the sparing of Isaac that came as "something different." (ie, our reigion is different from the others). Given the time and place, surely Ab would have expected to make this tremendous sacrifice. However, by sparing Isaaac, didn't the Hebrew God in fact bring faith to a far more profound place?

Indeed, God was in effect demanding a complete commitment (no more, "I sacrifice this goat for plentiful crops" type of thing...)
Anyway, I think this was Kierkegaard's emphasis.

Kierkegaard, of course, was coming at this from such a different time and place: Lutheran Denmark where most people were Christian "as a matter of course." So, Kierkegaard for the obvious reasons would have been drawn to this idea of an "overwhelming commitment that defines a person's entire life." The true "ULTIMATE commitment that defines a person's life; something they would live and die for. As a Lutheran too, the focus would be on a person's *individual* commitment and faith to God.

Several months ago, an existentialist friend of this blog Professor Ku and I had a very interesting discussion about Kierkegaard's "Knight of Faith" on his blog, in a post called Walking Betwixt Worlds... If you are interested, I found the discussion really thought-provoking. As I talked with Ku, I thought how fundamentally "human" this story of the Akeidah is (if you believe that humans are religous/imaginative/interetative creatures by nature).

Or maybe...on the other hand -- it was like Chaplin said, that in the end, everything was just a gag!

What are the theological implications of the fact that, for the Jews, G-d prevented Avraham from sacrificing his son, whereas for the Christians, G-d allowed his own son to be killed; and, indeed, if the fundamental premise of Christian theology is accepted, set up a situation where Jesus death absolutely had to happen?

And if he didn't really die, was it really a sacrifice at all?


I see where you are going, and it is very interesting, Earl.

--sacrifice as something different from offering--

Often described as the "Perfect Sacrifice" or the "Ultimate Sacrifice" all the issues that I raised just above concerning this element of "a bargain" between man and God is without a doubt present in the story of Jesus' sacrifice by God-- except for the significant (or not) difference that it is God who is the one making the sacrifice for humankind (ie, "God sacrificed his only Son in exchange for forgiveness of our sins...")

I am really curious as to what you think are the significant theological-- and practical-- implications this above and this below

“Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit.”


Coincidentally, Patrick Hunt in the first Hannibal lecture made a very interesting point about Beelzelbub-- and it speaks, I think, to this fascinating question of Jewish/Christian responses to ancient practices of ritual sacrifice.

Our man Hannibal, it seems, gets his name from "Baal"... (Hannibal= "favored by Baal") Baal being one of the main gods of the Phoencians and the god to which they sacrificed. Baal-- as you know-- is known as Ba‘al Zebub in Hebrew,aka Beelzebub, which roughly means "Lord of the flies." This was a very very pejorative term the Hebrews came up with-- to again-- reject sacrifice and "idoltry"-- as "idols" of Baal attracted huge hoards of flies; as the statues always had sacrificial meat places at their marble and terrcotta feet (hence the drawing of many flies).

The Christians also wanted to distance themselves from this god (who consumed humans). And in the New Testament, Baal (aka Ba‘al Zebub ; aka Beelzebub) was transformed into the Christian Satan (in the Canaanite areas Baal was worshipped as a ram and so the horns became the devil's horns). Looking at the various related wikipedia pages, it seems that the monotheistic religions of Jews, Christians and in Persian, sought to differentiate their religion from local "idols" or "ba'als"... (baal coming to stand in for any local idol).

In the Golding book, the statue referred to as Lord of the Flies, was thought to represent the evil or decayed aspects of humankind. Probably the great "Other" to the monotheistic relgions having long been this kind of "idol woshipping" involving human sacrifice...

And yet it wasn't at all a categorical rejection of sacrifice, was it?, as all three Abrahamic religions incorporated sacrifice into them literally and or metaphorically, didn't they?


Btw, my first "contact" with Lord Beelzebub was in the form of the kindly Grandfather Beelzebub in Gurdjieff's Beelzebub's Tales to His Grandson. Did you ever read it? The protagonist was an alien from a different planet but got his early name for his help in finally ridding earth from its unsavory practice of animal sacrice.


And, don't you think even most hardcore atheists if they are in a real pinch, will find themselves instinctively putting their hands together to try and make a bargain with god?
"I promise I'll never drink again if you God promise to......"....

I think the theological implications are very profound indeed. I'm not an expert by any means, but there are various kinds of sacrifices in ancient Hebrew religion: the daily sacrifices at the Temple (one lamb in the morning and one in the afternoon), guilt offerings, sin offerings, thanksgiving offerings, freewill offerings, etc., etc., and special offerings like the Pescah offering (the "Paschal Lamb"). Also, a lot of these sacrifices, especially freewill and thanksgiving offerings, if I've got it right, were offerings that were then eaten in a sort of communal barbecue. The priests at the temple were entitled to part of the sacrifice as their wage.

The guilt/sin offerings are what we're concerned with here, though, and in the Jewish understanding, the offering of a sacrifice was the end of a process of repentance that was only effective if the person bringing the sacrifice had already repented and had made proper restitution to the wronged party.

The significant thing, however, is that the person atoning for an error or a sin had to give up something of value of his own. That is, the person who has done the wrong has to do something concrete to make it right. This has consequences (it could get mighty expensive: if he's a real sinner he could run out of sheep pretty quickly). However, this does something very, very significant: it makes man an active partner is his own redemption and he can clearly see "the wages of sin"(in his dwindling flock, among other things).

The Christian understanding, however, turns the G-d/human relationship entirely on its head (or so it seems to me as an outsider). The sacrifice goes from G-d to man, not from man to G-d, and, as such, the relationship between man and G-d is completely inverted. First, leaving aside whether it is really possible for G-d to make a sacrifice at all (I mean, He's G-d, right?) since Christianity posits that man can do nothing to ensure his own salvation, the only thing man can do is wait passively for G-d to do it for him. The Jewish and Christian ideas of salvation are not the same, but still, it seems to me that in the Christian conception G-d is in the service of man and not the other way around.

Also, something else just occurred to me that I hadn't thought of before and it is your comments about Ba'al being a god "who eats people" that brought it to mind: in Ba'al worship the god ate his worshipers, but in Christianity it is the other way around: the worshipers eat their god. In Christianity, the Eucharist is, essentially, a meal where the worshiper eats the body of Jesus and drinks his blood, and it is this act itself that brings salvation (this is especially true for Catholics, I think, for whom this is literal and not symbolic).

I suppose if one has a choice, Christianity is certainly a better choice for the worshipers. Still, the idea of eating G-d is something that I find very difficult to understand, not being a Christian. Perhaps the idea has its roots in the Greek mystery religions, who also had dying and resurrecting gods.

To the disgust of his wife, who yelling insults at his cowardice leapt with her children into the fires.

This looks like a literary figure to me, intended to shame the cowardly Carthaginian who was trying to change the prescribed plot (fate). In storytelling about conquests the fate of the women and children is a vivid item, and my guess is that the way it's used tells us more about the story the author wants to tell than it does about what happened.

King Harald's Saga, the arrogant, sarcastic Danish princesses are led off in golden chains to become concubines, slaves, or wives. The wives and concubines of the last Ming heir properly kill themnelves just as these Carthaginians did. Genghis Khan married the wives and daughters of his defeated enemies or married them off to his sons, which I think was a way of appropriating the prestige of the defeated but still prestigious bloodlines.

One wonders about the nature of marriage in a world in which your husband might be the man who killed your father or your previous husband. The ambitious wife would see a powerful new husband as a great resource, whereas the affectionate wife might be distressed.

In the romance "Yvain" we have the narration of one of these transitions. Yvain, having killed a prince, pursues the prince's cohort into his castle. They close the gate behind him so that he's now outnumbered, but before they can finish him off he's offered a hiding place by someone in the palace. The queen finds out about this but holds off from avenging her husband, and within three days she's fallen in love with him. Keeping him secret, she calls a council and manipulates the elders into declaring that, since she needs a defender, she should marry this very man. SHe then sneaks him out and arranges for him to return to the castle in state to propose marriage.

The three day mourning period was what got me. Of course, the romances were not intended to be realistic and were set among the Bretons back around 600 AD, six centuries before the romance was written. Yet the French listeners must have found some plausibility in the tale.

Cato sounds very much like the historical echo of Demosthenes railing, in Athens, against Philip and Macedon. As for me, I wish I could have seen Carthage in its heyday. Spent some time in the agora with my gold card.

It was a different world indeed. Polybius is considered by many to be the greatest of the ancient historians and was known for his objectivity... but narrative and history were intertwined in the same way that marriage and politics/war/occupation were. I have thought the same thing as you reading stories of women being carted off to marry the men who murdered their husbands-- and sometimes the murderers of their fathers and sons too... but also- and then again-- marriage was not for love. So their first marriages were probably not for romantic reasoons either...

Still, like Sterling said, what a world it must have been. Carthage is one of my top time travel destinations... A room with a view, not far from the agora...

In Yvain, though, the widowed queen is definitely in command of the situation. The Chretien writes something like "So then she went to convince the council of what she had already decided she wanted herself".

Hello Peony!

I have been so busy at work that I neglected to read your post in a timely manner and am now a bit late to the party.

Many thanks for noting the Silk Road Gourmet in your post. But I must say that further research has led me to believe that Carthage was the inventor (at least in the mediterranean) of garum and that the Romans adopted the idea from them.

The photograph that you begin with is breathtakingly beautiful and illustrative of the dance that Carthage and Rome engaged in.

A lovely post - thank you!


Hi Laura!!! I am so happy to hear from you--and I really recommend the book by Miles. It is hands-down the best history on carthage I have ever read. Though, that said, there was not a lot of information about garum... I agree that it must have been a Carthiginean invented trade... because I think they were selling the sauce before Rome maybe grew into a real power--I just wasn't sure if it was originaly Phoencian or if it was truly a Carthage product. The Phoencians were the great merchants of purple dye that is kind of reminiscent of Garum in the way it is made...? I just loved your blog post on making garum... that post alone could be a book!! It was so inspiring. By the way, the other day, my mom accidentally made pan pepato. She was planning to make a different recipe (Umbrian bread) but followed the wrong recipe and WOW!! Did you read taste of conquest? It was one of the best books I read last year and it illuminated the way in which European food was quite spicy during the Middle Ages and into the Renaissance when Europe was very much taken up and part of the silkroad gourmet trail.... in the book the author desctibed ancient European food as being more like Indian curries--heavily spiced. Maybe this lives on in Goulashes? OR in the pan pepato... peppery and chocolatey--it was the best thing ever!! It was wonderful hearing from you--as always! xoxo

Hi Peony:

I have seen a lot of recipes and have noted for instance that dishes in Henry VIII's court had preserved lemons and olives in them and one sees all manner of fruits and spcies and meat combined. Until the dicoverey of chili peppers, there was lots of spice, but not a lot of heat (I don't consider black, green or pink peppercorns hot, but rather spicy, even in large amounts).

The panforte and panpepato are dated by literary references to the 13th Century - which means they likely existed before then. The panpepato has the large amount of black pepper in it, but is more or less similar to the panforte. The chocolate was obviously added much later.

These dishes have always reminded me of N. African bastilla (without meat) - I wonder if they are related. Today the bastilla are made from phyllo pastry, but I wonder if there are medieval versions that aren't more bread-like, like the panpepato. Perhaps a topic for a Silk Road Mystery post in the future?

As to garum, the Romans were buying it from the Carthaginians as far back as the 8th C BCE. The places they (the Romans) are reknown for making it in were all acquired from Carthage after its fall (or rather in subsequent defeats).

Anyway, lovely post. Going to get the book for my husband - he's heard of it and after reading your post wants to read it himself. (He is an avid historian who has published on WWII Codebreaking. His book is called, "Big Machines".)


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