Which ancient cults would cut out the hearts of live animals and offer them as sacrifices? The Mishnah (Avodah Zarah 2:3) mentions a concept called עורות לבובין which Maimonides and other commentators explain refers to the pagan practice of making an incision in live animals and removing their hearts for ritual purposes. Do we have any documentation as to which ancient cults were engaged in this practice?

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    Please don't double-post this question on MythologySE and here. mythology.stackexchange.com/questions/7562/… – Tom Sol Aug 7 '20 at 10:01
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    WIkipedia implies that the answer is Moloch "Leviticus 20:2 and Deuteronomy 18:10 specifically outlaw the giving of children to Moloch, making it punishable by stoning; the Tanakh subsequently denounces human sacrifice as barbaric customs of Moloch worshippers (e.g. Psalms 106:37ff)." but the implication is weak, and from my memory, we have scant documentation about Moloch worship. Question is perhaps more interesting than it appears; thank you. – MCW Aug 7 '20 at 10:09
  • @MarkC.Wallace Yes, but I'm asking about hearts of animals, not about human sacrifice. – Reb Chaim HaQoton Aug 7 '20 at 10:39
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    That is why I said the connection is weak. Judgement call, but I always err on the side of addressing the potential. Forgive me, I'm struggling to articulate why this question intrigues me so; it is narrow and precise, but it seems to hint a vast areas of knowledge that I don't have. Perhaps that is overly dramatic, and perhaps I could express it better if I had more caffeine. – MCW Aug 7 '20 at 10:48
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    Could it be the roman divination practice haruspicy? – user45361 Aug 7 '20 at 15:37

Likely widespread practice

First, we must establish some basic facts. There is a lot of proof that human sacrifice was widespread in region of Middle East and North Africa. Idea that Carthaginians sacrificed their children is not a Roman slander, there is hard archeological evidence for that. Sacrifice to Moloch and Baal is well known from Bible, but also mentioned in other sources (Greco-Roman) . Even episode of Binding of Isaac is now interpreted as a proof that ancient Jews did offer human sacrifice to their tribal god Yahweh but stopped and replace it at certain time with animal sacrifice. Strong rebuke in Old Testament against human (especially child) sacrifice is repeated several times (for example in Deuteronomy 12:30-31). Such strong rebuke would not be needed if even worshipers of Yahweh didn't indulge in such practice.

What about animal sacrifice ? Episode with Isaac tells us that animal sacrifice was some kind of substitute for human sacrifice. Of course, this was not unique for Jews, about same time all other civilizations in the region started to move away from something that more and more looked barbaric. Animal sacrifice persisted well into Roman times, for example in episode of Cleansing of the Temple, Jesus expels money changers and merchants of livestock ready for sacrifice. This supposedly happens somewhere around 30 A.D. Even if do not believe in story about Jesus, it is certain that writers of Gospels were familiar with the practice.

Question now arises, in a period between abolishing of human sacrifice and destruction of the Temple in 70 A.D. (which most likely ended animal sacrifice), in what manner were animals prepared for slaughter. There is a well known Jewish practice of Kosher Slaughter, or more precisely Shechita. According to Jewish tradition, these rules are ancient, given to Moses on Mount Sinai. However, it is a well known fact that compilation of Mishna happened in first and second century, before that laws about preparation of food and animal sacrifice were oral. Therefore, it safe to assume that existed period before Kosher Slaughter and Shechita were different rules (or no rules at all) existed concerning animal sacrifice. Sacrificing still beating hearts is not that uncommon in human history, Aztec did it on human captives, closer to Middle East there are still similar rituals in India etc ...

What is most likely in our case is that somewhere at the end of human sacrifice, there was a transitional period where animals were more and more offered instead of humans, but rules were not established yet. Therefore, they were often killed in sadistic or at least cruel manner. Again, this was not linked to particular cult, worshipers of Baal, Moloch, Yahweh and any other deity likely copied parts of ritual that were widespread. This is mentioned in the Old Testament, which often forbids exactly that : worship of Yahweh in a manner of other gods. When Judaism started to change from henotheism to strict monotheism all kinds of foreign influences were gradually suppressed, and this includes un-Kosher slaughter of sacrificial animals.

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    This is something i researched "extensively" in 2012. It frustrates me that i did not save my research anywhere, and cannot even remember what sites and what tags i used to obtain the information. However, at the time, i was quite convinced Moloch was actually a Crematorium, and dead children did indeed get cremated there. However religious opponents considered this sacfrifice, as many religious sects, including Catholicism, believed cremation to be equal to sending dead souls to hell – user45344 Aug 8 '20 at 2:33
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    @StevenIanGall Recent studies suggest that it was not crematorium, i.e. that the children in question were in most cases healthy and didn't die of natural causes. You have one link in my answer, and you could search the net for other sources. – rs.29 Aug 8 '20 at 7:25

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