Capital Punishment As Human Sacrifice: A Societal Ritual as Depicted in George Elliot’s Adam Bede

By Roberta M. Harding / Buffalo Law Review 48, 175-248, on 1 January 2000

The ritual slaughter of humans for sacrificial purposes has an ancient provenance. Few members of modern society would be inclined to believe that killing humans for sacrificial purposes continues. Of those, most probably envision it only being practiced by individuals who belong to “uncivilized,” or non-“First-World” cultures. Upon closer scrutiny, however, it becomes apparent that this is a misconception because the past and present practice of capital punishment includes a thinly disguised manifestation of the ritualized killing of people, otherwise known as human sacrifice. The purpose of this article is to identify, describe, and analyze the historic and contemporary connection between the practices of capital punishment and human sacrifice. After describing how human sacrifice constitutes an integral component of capital punishment, it will be argued that the institutionalization of this antiquated barbaric ritual, vis-a-vis the use of capital punishment, renders the present use of the death penalty in the United States incompatible with “the evolving standards of decency that mark the progress of a maturing society”; and that consequently, this facet of capital punishment renders the penalty at odds with the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against the infliction of “cruel and unusual” punishments.

  • Document type Article
  • Countries list United States
  • Themes list Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment and Punishment,