Redeeming The Carthaginians? -- By: Henry B. Smith, Jr.

Journal: Bible and Spade (Second Run)
Volume: BSPADE 25:1 (Winter 2012)
Article: Redeeming The Carthaginians?
Author: Henry B. Smith, Jr.

Redeeming The Carthaginians?

Henry B. Smith, Jr.


The ancient city of Carthage, North Africa (modern Tunisia), began as a fledgling Phoenician colony, and grew into one of the most prosperous and prominent city-states of the ancient world. Its influence and role in central Mediterranean history is often obscured by the legacy of the Greeks and the Romans. Well known for exporting expensive purple dye, they are also known for resisting the Romans during the Punic Wars. Hannibal, the infamous Carthaginian military commander, was a nemesis of Rome for several decades. Most notably, Carthage has the ignominious reputation for performing large scale child sacrifice over a period of several centuries.

Carthage was settled by the Phoenicians in the middle of the ninth century BC. Exactly how they got to North Africa is somewhat obscure. More certain is their place of origin: the Lebanese coast of Canaan. This region was considered Canaanite during the second millennium BC. Near the beginning of the Iron Age (1200 BC), the Phoenicians had taken control of this region. Scholars call the Lebanese coast Phoenicia, the name given to the region by the Greeks, from their word for “purple.” The ancient world’s purple dye industry developed from extracting a fluid from a Mediterranean mollusk, the murex. Not only did the people of the Phoenician coast develop this industry, they specialized in shipping this very valuable commodity all over the Mediterranean world. There are many connections between Israel and the Phoenician territories, most notably, the cities of Tyre and Sidon.1

Like any nation which inhabits a new region, the Phoenicians brought their ancestral Canaanite beliefs and practices with them when they settled at Carthage. Several lines of evidence demonstrate that one of these distinctive practices was child sacrifice. Numerous biblical texts refer to this horrific Canaanite practice. One of the earliest references is found in Deuteronomy 12:31: “You shall not worship the LORD your God in that way, for every abominable thing that the LORD hates they [the Canaanites] have done for their gods, for they even burn their sons and their daughters in the fire to their gods.” Later, God condemns his people for sacrificing their own children to the gods of Canaan in the Hinnom Valley on the south side of Jerusalem (Jer 7:30–32).

The open air sanctuary was known as the Tophet, which is typically translated as “roaster” or “place of burning.” Modern scholars have given the name tophet to places where they believe child sacrifice took place around the Med...

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