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Human Sacrifice: Myth, Reality, and Representation

Date: Friday, May 18, 2007
Time: 8:30 a.m.–6:00 p.m.
Location: Getty Villa, Meeting Rooms
Admission: Free; reservations required. Call (310) 440-7300 or use the "Make Reservation" button below.

The most fascinating and horrifying variety of sacrifice remains human sacrifice. This ritual, which started in the prehistory of Homo sapiens, is hardly practiced any longer, yet its occurrence in contemporary horror movies demonstrates the continuing fascination it holds over many people. Its religious significance may have disappeared, but its emotional power still grips us and makes us shiver.

Serious studies are rare in this area, where sensation often rules supreme. Scholars are now coming to realize the necessity of being attentive to the discourse of our sources on the topic. Does the "evidence" present "facts," or is human sacrifice used "to think with," for example, as a means to stigmatize others? Moreover, to what extent can we isolate social, economic, and political factors that favor human sacrifice? Is there a correlation between the violent character of a society and the practice of human sacrifice? Is there an ecological basis? Human sacrifice is often analyzed in isolation from the larger issues of a society, and in this respect much work still remains to be done.

As part of the 2006–2007 research theme, "Religion and Ritual," this one-day scholarly program at the Getty Villa seeks to advance some answers to these questions by looking at the notion of sacrifice in the ancient Mediterranean cultures of Greece, Phoenicia, Etruria, and Rome; allegations made against the practices of Jews and peoples of Pre-Columbian Mexico; the persistence of the notion in 18th century France; and its representation in modern film.

Download the program schedule (PDF, 40KB)
—updated April 26, 2007.

For further information or to ask questions about this workshop, please e-mail

The Sacrifice of Isaac

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From Isaac to Iphigenia: Human Sacrifice in Antiquity (public lecture)

Date: Thursday, May 17, 2007
Time: 8:00 p.m.
Location: Getty Villa, Auditorium
Admission: Free; a ticket is required. Call (310) 440-7300 or use the "Get Tickets" button below.

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Classical art and mythology are filled with images and stories of human sacrifice. Especially poignant are tales of parents forced to offer the lives of their own children in extreme situations. Are these stories merely legends, or is there evidence that such episodes reflect actual ritual practices? Sarah Morris, a classicist and archaeologist at the University of California, Los Angeles, explores the visual, historical, and archaeological evidence for the offering of human victims in ancient Mediterranean cultures. Morris compares them to examples of human sacrifice recorded in other world cultures and considers the survival of such notions in world religions such as Judaism and Christianity.

How to Get Here
The Getty Villa is located at 17985 Pacific Coast Highway in Malibu, California, approximately 25 miles west of downtown Los Angeles. Parking is $8 per car. See Hours, Directions, Parking for directions and parking information.