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.

From commentator @SeverusSnape:

English Explanation of Mishnah Avodah Zarah 2:3:2 The following things belonging to [...] are forbidden [...] Hadrianic earthenware, skins pierced at the animal’s heart. [...] If one sees a cut in an animal skin at the place of the heart, it is a sign that the animal was used for idol worship and it is forbidden Reference

Do we have any documentation as to which ancient cults were engaged in this practice?

  • @SeverusSnape What do you mean by "add the verse"? Aug 10, 2020 at 7:18
  • Maimonides' exact words are: ולבובין גזור מלב לפי שהיו נוקבין על לבן ומוציאין אותו והוא מין מעבודת הבעלים (see he.wikisource.org/wiki/… ) Aug 10, 2020 at 18:33
  • 1
    Hi @Reb, did you mean the following line? English Explanation of Mishnah Avodah Zarah 2:3:2 The following things belonging to [...] are forbidden [...] Hadrianic earthenware, skins pierced at the animal’s heart. [...] If one sees a cut in an animal skin at the place of the heart, it is a sign that the animal was used for idol worship and it is forbidden Reference
    – user7149
    Aug 11, 2020 at 5:26
  • 1
    @SeverusSnape Yes. Aug 11, 2020 at 7:13
  • 1
    Kindly update your question. Include the citation.
    – user7149
    Aug 11, 2020 at 7:16

2 Answers 2


Out of interest of spreading information, I'm copying here the answer I wrote yesterday to this question on Judaism.SE, with a few alterations:

A possible answer:

Maimonides on the mishnah states that this was done as part of worship of Baalim. The city of Baalbek, which was originally a Baal center of worship, eventually became a center of Bacchus (Dionysus to the Greeks) worship. On this Richard C. Steiner wrote in the essay "On the Rise and Fall of Canaanite Religion at Baalbek: A Tale of Five Toponyms":

"Residual effects of the cult of Bacchus, with its wine-drinking rituals and competitions can perhaps be seen in a medieval descritption of Baalbek. In the introduction to his geographical treatise (tenth century C.E.), al-Muqaddasi writes: "There are no greater drinkers of wine(s) than the people of Baalbek and Egypt."...It is hard to imagine a closer phonetic match than that between Ba'labakku and Ba'al-Bacchus...Since Hadad-Baal and Bacchus-Dionysus are both fertility gods portrayed (frequently) with bull horns, syncretism between Hadad-Baal and Bacchus-Dionysus is by no means unnatural. Indeed, Julius Wellhausen seems to have viewed this syncretism as self-evident, speaking of "Baal-Dionysus" and "the Baal whom the Greeks identified with Dionysus."..."

It's possible that Maimonides was referring to this syncretism between the Baal of Baalbek and Bacchus.

About the Bacchian Mysteries worship, it says here:

"A metrical lex sacra of a Bacchic association in Smyrna prohibits people from eating the heart and the meat of an animal that has not been sacrificed."

From here it sounds like that indeed the heart was removed prior to sacrificing the animal.

A more detailed study of the text can be seen here. According to that study, there seems to have been a number of heart-related rituals. One may have been "the heart seems to have been cut out of the victim separately, placed on the altar, and sprinkled with fat or blood". Another perhaps was "a sacrifice of a ram and goat to Dionysos Zagreus, where the heart was not eaten, but taken away".

So it's possible that the mishnah was referring to a Bacchian or Dionysian ritual, which Maimonides related to Baalim, a later evolution/syncretism of that type of worship that was still known about circa Maimonides's time.


If the definition is "incision in live animals and removing their hearts for ritual purpose", then we find this in:

Ancient Egypt

enter image description here

Animals were mummified and their internal organs removed to be placed in canopic jars. Research by Richard Evershed, an expert on archaeological chemistry at the University of Bristol, found the same materials---including fine linen, beeswax, cedar resins, bitumen and pistacia---used in human mummies were also used in mummies of cats, ibises and hawks. The oldest-known animal mummies, dated to 2950 BCE, are dogs, lions and donkeys buried with kings in the 1st dynasty in their funeral complexes at Abydos, Symbols of the god Troth, ibises were mummified in greater numbers than any other animal. Some mummified animals were pets that their owners wanted with them in the afterlife, so we can assume they were alive when their owner died.

Ancient Greece

enter image description here

Worship in ancient Greek religion typically consisted of sacrificing domestic animals at the altar with hymn and prayer. The altar was outside any temple building, and might not be associated with a temple at all. The animal, which should be perfect of its kind, is decorated with garlands and the like, and led in procession to the altar, a girl with a basket on her head containing the concealed knife leading the way. After various rituals the animal is slaughtered over the altar, as it falls all the women present "must cry out in high, shrill tones". Its blood is collected and poured over the altar. The liver, lungs, heart, and other internal organs were roasted and shared by all the participants.

Ancient Rome

enter image description here

The most potent offering in Ancient Roman religion was animal sacrifice, typically of domesticated animals such as cattle, sheep and pigs. Each was the best specimen of its kind, cleansed, clad in sacrificial regalia and garlanded; the horns of oxen might be gilded. Sacrifice sought the harmonisation of the earthly and divine, so the victim must seem willing to offer its own life on behalf of the community; it must remain calm and be quickly and cleanly dispatched. The sacrificial fire consumed their proper portion, called exta, the innards. The exta were the entrails of a sacrificed animal, comprising in Cicero's enumeration the gall bladder (fel), liver (iecur), heart (cor), and lungs (pulmones). The exta were exposed for litatio (divine approval) as part of Roman liturgy, but were "read" in the context of the disciplina Etrusca. As a product of Roman sacrifice, the exta and blood are reserved for the gods, while the meat (viscera) is shared among human beings in a communal meal.


In Jewish tradition, Kosher slaughter imvolves offering parts of each slaughtered animal to the Abrahamic god, so we can consider it a ritual as well.

Kosher foods are those that conform to the Jewish dietary regulations of kashrut (dietary law), primarily derived from Leviticus and Deuteronomy. They require a ritual slaughter of the animal. Traditional Jewish thought has expressed the view that all meat must come from animals that have been slaughtered according to Jewish law. One of the main biblical food laws forbids consuming blood on account of "the life [being] in the blood". This ban and reason are listed in the Noahide Laws and twice in Book of Leviticus as well as in Deuteronomy.

To comply with this prohibition, a number of preparation techniques became practiced within traditional Judaism. The main technique, known as meliḥah, involves the meat being soaked in water for about half an hour, which opens pores. Meliḥah is not sufficient to extract blood from the liver, lungs, heart, and certain other internal organs, since they naturally contain a high density of blood, and therefore these organs are usually removed before the rest of the meat is salted. Roasting, on the other hand, discharges blood while cooking, and is the usual treatment given to these organs.


enter image description here

Human sacrifice was common in many parts of Mesoamerica, so the rite was nothing new to the Aztecs when they arrived at the Valley of Mexico, nor was it something unique to pre-Columbian Mexico. Other Mesoamerican cultures, such as the Purépechas and Toltecs, performed sacrifices as well and from archaeological evidence, it probably existed since the time of the Olmecs (1200–400 BC), and perhaps even throughout the early farming cultures of the region. However, the extent of human sacrifice is unknown among several Mesoamerican civilizations, such as Teotihuacán.1 What distinguished Maya and Aztec human sacrifice was the way in which it was embedded in everyday life and believed to be a necessity. These cultures also notably sacrificed elements of their own population to the gods. The victim's heart would be ripped from his body.


enter image description here

Christianity often depicts the heart of the Nazarene separate from the body. It is actually one of the most widely practiced and well-known Catholic devotions. Though not actually performed, it is depicted as such. In this context, Jesus is called "the Lamb of God", to be sacrificed.

The Sacred Heart is often depicted in Christian art as a flaming heart shining with divine light, pierced by the lance-wound, encircled by the crown of thorns, surmounted by a cross, and bleeding. Sometimes, the image is shown shining within the bosom of Christ with his wounded hands pointing at the heart. The wounds and crown of thorns allude to the manner of Jesus' death, while the fire represents the transformative power

  • Hello, very interesting answer, but in Ancient Greece the sacrifice of an animal to a deity of the 12 Olympians, let's say Zeus for instance would be like this: Blood, fat and bones for the god, the rest for humans. And that's because Prometheus fooled Zeus for a second time, to choose bones, fat and blood instead of the meat and the fur. And that was not a cult. It was a major religion at that time. I will not vote down, but do your research and see for yourself. :)
    – George Eco
    Aug 12, 2020 at 14:05
  • 1
    Historically speaking, the word cult refers to a specific collection of rites or worship practices within a religion. In the modern use of the word cult, every religion started as a cult, and most of its rituals stem from this.
    – Codosaur
    Aug 13, 2020 at 7:53
  • Oh that's what you meant. :) Pardon me, being a Greek makes it hard to understand how English words are used sometimes. Cheers.
    – George Eco
    May 14, 2021 at 8:48

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.