Blood Sacrifice Was the Central Religous Ritual
Ritual sacrifice is the most clear-cut instance of violence made sacred. When the victim is nonhuman, the central act of violence is essentially a familiar and understandable one: the slaughter of animals for food. The fact that the simple act of butchery has so often been sacralized hints at a sinister side to the deities so honored and is suggestive, as we shall see, of an anxiety far older than either religion or war, and possibly central to both.
Few religions today openly practice blood sacrifice…. But contemporary historians of religion remind us of what religious practitioners often prefer to ignore or forget: that blood sacrifice is not just “a” religious ritual; it is the central ritual of the religions of all ancient and traditional civilizations. For thousands of years, the core religious ritual from the highlands of the Andes to the valley of the Ganges was the act of sacrificial killing. The temple that housed the altar, or the raised platform or stone circle that constituted a holy place, was also an abattoir….
“Animal sacrifice…was an all-pervasive reality in the ancient world.” Hebrew sacrificial ritual resembled that of the Greeks, which in turn resembled that of the Egyptians and Phoenicians, the Babylonians and Persians, the Etruscans, and the Romans. The names of the gods who were the recipients of the sacrifices varied from culture to culture, but the main elements of the ritual were everywhere recognizable and familiar to the ancients: the procession, the climactic throat-slitting or beheading, the butchering, the examination of entrails, the ritual uses of the fresh blood, the burning or cooking of the remains.
— Blood Rites, pp. 23, 28