The words "child sacrifice" sound appalling to us know, but it was pretty common in the ancient world. Certain passages in Exodus sure do make it seem like God is directing the Israelites to give him their firstborn sons:
You shall not delay to make offerings from the fullness of your harvest and from the outflow of your presses. The firstborn of your sons you shall give to me. You shall do the same with your oxen and with your sheep: seven days it shall remain with its mother; on the eighth day you shall give it to me (22:29-30).
Sounds ugly, right? Check out 4:24-26, 22:29-30, 12:11-15, and 12:43-50 for more examples.
While child sacrifice isn't really controversial anymore—it's just a no-go—circumcision remains a touchy issue.
People who are pro-circumcision cite, among other things, religious freedom and the reduced chance of transmitting HIV. And those who are anti-circumcision highlight, among other things, the lack of choice on the part of the baby boy being circumcised and the potential damage done to the body.
Whatever your opinion, remember that this dates all the way back to Exodus. Talk about a lasting controversy.
Ever walk into a courthouse and see the Ten Commandments displayed on the wall? Well that's a pretty controversial move right there. Given the influence the Ten Commandments have had on Western culture and law, it's not surprising that some institutions choose to display them. But is this a violations of the separation of church and state?
On the one hand, the Commandments have enormous historical significance for law, so displaying them on a courthouse seems reasonable. On the other hand, how would you feel as an American Hindu walking into a courthouse with the Ten Commandments? It's a messy issue, that's for sure.
Two Supreme Court cases decided that the legality of publicly exhibiting the Ten Commandments depends on the context in which they are displayed. In McCreary County v. ACLU of Kentucky, the Court noted that because a sculpture of the Commandments had been unveiled with a pastor who asserted that God existed, it violated the separation of church and state. But in Van Orden v. Perry, the Court said the display was okay because the statue had been there for 40 years before any complaint was filed, and it had no role in promoting exclusionary or discriminatory practices.
The writers of Exodus probably would never have dreamed that their text would have gotten this far. But here it is, working its magic millennia later.