Sacrifice in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam” by David L. Weddle—The Practice and Philosophy of Sacrifice in Three Religious Traditions

Weddle, David L. “Sacrifice in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam”, NYU Press, 2017.

The Practice and Philosophy of Sacrifice in Three Religious Traditions

Amos Lassen

Many think that the purpose of Abraham being told by God to sacrifice his son, Isaac is to stop human sacrifices that existed at the time of the writing of the Five Books of Moses. This is certainly a valid explanation as to why would tell Abraham to kill his son and then stop him from doing so. The three major religions are bound by Abraham and they share a common admiration for him

The religious traditions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam also promote the practice of giving up human and natural goods to attain religious ideals. Each tradition deals differently with the moral dilemmas found in Abraham’s story while retaining the willingness to perform sacrifice as an identifying mark of religious commitment.

“Sacrifice in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam” looks at how Jews, Christians, and Muslims refer to “sacrifice”—not only as ritual offerings, but also as the donation of goods, discipline, suffering, and martyrdom (or in the case of Judaism, prayer). We also read of objections to sacrifice within these traditions as well and learn of the voices of dissent and protest in the name of ethical duty. “Sacrifice forfeits concrete goods for abstract benefits, a utopian vision of human community, thereby sparking conflict with those who do not share the same ideals”.

Weddle uses sacrifice as a means of examining similarities of practice and differences of meaning among these important world religions. He takes the concept of sacrifice across these three religions, and gives a cross-cultural approach to understanding its place in history and deep-rooted traditions. To do so, Weddle must struggle with a central dilemma in the study of religion and that is why believers so readily embrace and engage in practices that involve some form of self-denial and renunciation. We see the crucial interdependence between continual acts of sacrifice and formative religious beliefs. The book sheds new light on the practices and meanings of sacrifice.

Not only is this an introduction to sacrifice, it is also “a proposal for a theory of sacrifice, a nuanced moral critique of sacrifice, and a vibrant study of ideas and practices of sacrifice in the Abrahamic traditions.”  These dimensions come together to give us a cogent and compelling argument about the meaning and nature of sacrifice. If you have ever wondered why humans sacrifice and why sacrifice is at the heart of so many religions, this is certainly a book for you.