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On Pagan Sacrifices
by [?]

Ask any well-informed man at random what he supposes to have been done with the sacrifices, he will answer that really he never thought about it, but that naturally he supposes the flesh was burnt upon the altars. Not at all, reader; a sacrifice to the Gods meant universally a banquet to man. He who gave a splendid public dinner announced in other words that he designed to celebrate a sacrificial rite. This was of course. He, on the other hand, who announced a sacrificial pomp did in other words proclaim by sound of trumpet that he gave a dinner. This was of necessity. Hence, when Agamemnon offers a hecatomb to Jupiter, his brother Menelaus walks in to dinner, [Greek: hachletost], without invitation. As a brother, we are told by Homer that no invitation was required. He had the privilege of what in German is beautifully called ‘ein Kind des Hauses,’ a child of the house. This dispensation from the necessity of a formal invitation Homer explains, but as to explanation how he knew that there was a dinner, that he passes over as superfluous. A vast herd of oxen could not be sacrificed without open and public display of the preparation, and that a human banquet must accompany a divine sacrifice–this was so much a self-evident truth that Homer does not trouble himself to make so needless an explanation.

Hence, therefore, a case of legislation in St. Paul’s Christian administration, which I will venture to say few readers understand. Take the Feast of Ephesus. Here, as in all cities of Asia Minor and Greece, the Jews lived in great numbers. The universal hospitality over all these regions was exhibited in dinners ([Greek: dehipna]). Now, it happened not sometimes, but always, that he who gave a dinner had on the same day made a sacrifice at the Great Temple; nay, the dinner was always part of the sacrifice, and thus the following dilemma arose. Scruples of eating part of sacrifices were absolutely unintelligible, except as insults to Ephesus. To deny the existence of Diana had no meaning in the ears of an Ephesian. All that he did understand was, that if you happened to be a hater of Ephesus, you must hate the guardian deity of Ephesus. And the sole inference he could collect from your refusing to eat what had been hallowed to Diana was–that you hated Ephesus. The dilemma, therefore, was this: either grant a toleration of this practice, or else farewell to all amicable intercourse for the Jews with the citizens. In fact, it was to proclaim open war if this concession were refused. A scruple of conscience might have been allowed for, but a scruple of this nature could find no allowance in any Pagan city whatever. Moreover, it had really no foundation. The truth is far otherwise than that Pagan deities were dreams. Far from it. They were as real as any other beings. The accommodation, therefore, which St. Paul most wisely granted was–to eat socially, without regard to any ceremony through which the food might have passed. So long as the Judaizing Christian was no party to the religious ceremonies, he was free of all participation in idolatry. Since if the mere open operation of a Pagan process could transform into the character of an accomplice one who with no assenting heart ate of the food, in that case Christ Himself might by possibility have shared in an idolatrous banquet, and we Christians at this day in the East Indies might for months together become unconscious accomplices in the foul idolatries of the Buddhist and Brahminical superstitions.

But so essentially were the convivial banquets of the Pagans interwoven with their religious rites, so essentially was a great dinner a great offering to the Gods, and vice versa–a great offering to the Gods a great dinner–that the very ministers and chief agents in religion were at first the same. Cocus, or [Greek: mageirost], was the very same person as the Pope, or presiding arbiter in succession to a Pope. ‘Sunt eadem,’ says Casaubon, ‘Cocus et Pope.’ And of this a most striking example is yet extant in Athenaeus. From the correspondence which for many centuries was extant between Alexander the Great, when embarked upon his great expeditions, and his royal mother Olympias, who remained in Macedon, was one from which we have an extract even at this day, where he, as we learn from the letter quoted, had been urging his mother to purchase for him a good cook. And what was made the test supreme of his skill? Why, this, that he should be [Greek: thysihon hempeirost], an artist able to dress a sacrificial banquet. What he meant is this: I do not want an ordinary cook, who might be equal to the preparation of a plain (or, what is the same thing, secular) dinner, but a person qualified or competent to take charge of a hecatomb dinner. His mother’s reply addresses itself to that one point only: [Greek: Peligua ton mageiron labe hapd thest metrost], which is in effect: ‘A cook is it that you want? Why, then, you cannot do better than take mine. The man is a reliable table of sacrifices; he knows the whole ritual of those great official and sacred dinners given by the late king, your father. He is acquainted with the whole cuisine of the more mysterious religions, the Orgiacs’ (probably from the neighbouring Thrace), ‘and all the great ceremonies and observances practised at Olympia, and even what you may eat on the great St. Leger Day. So don’t lose sight of the arrangement, but take the man as a present, from me, your affectionate mother, and be sure to send off an express for him at your earliest convenience.’

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[Professor Robertson Smith in his latest work has well pointed out that even with the Hebrews the sacrifices were eaten in common till the seventh century B. C., when the sin-offerings, in a time of great national distress, came to be slain before Jehovah, and ‘none but the priests ate of the flesh,’ a phase of sacrificial specialization which marks the beginning of the exclusive sacerdotalism of the Jews.–ED.]