An essential part of Israelite and Jewish life and culture, as in other religions with which anthropological study has made interesting comparison. Although it is assumed (Gen. 1: 30) that humanity lived by eating vegetables, sacrifices involving consumption of meat were instituted. They were devised primarily as a means for dealing with sin. Offences which needed expiation were not necessarily those committed deliberately; they all still required the appointed ‘guilt offering’ (Lev. 5: 17–19). The animal sacrificed was killed as a substitute for the human transgressor who otherwise could have died. The offerer laid his hand on the head of the victim in order to identify himself with it (Lev. 1: 4) and offer himself to God. On the Day of Atonement (Lev. 16) the offering of a bull enabled Aaron to approach the mercy-seat in the holy place, and a goat was sacrificed for the sins of Israel; the goat was then dispatched into the wilderness—cleansed from the defilement of Israel's sins. Amos (5: 21–7) and Isaiah (1: 10–20) repudiate the practice of sacrifices if taken as easy means of access to God without obedience to his will. Animals sacrificed had to be free from injury and visible defects; the blood was drained out and there ensued a loss of consciousness (Deut. 12: 15 ff., Lev. 17: 14) after about two minutes.

The NT adopts the sacrificial principle in order to explain the death of Christ; he died to atone for our sins (1 Cor. 15: 3), by his blood (Rom. 3: 25), and ‘for our trespasses’ (Rom. 4: 25). Jesus' death is in Paul's mind when he writes that one man's act of righteousness leads to acquittal (Rom. 5: 18). Jesus, who was without sin (2 Cor. 5: 21; cf. Heb. 4: 15), took the place of sinful human beings (2 Cor. 5: 21; Rom. 8: 3). Paul does not, however, labour the sacrificial metaphors, and prefers to base a Christian's relationship with God on his theory of participation in Christ by sharing sacramentally in his death and resurrection. He means that because Christ shares the universal human experience of death, it is possible for believers to share his death.

During the Persian period (551–323 BCE) it would seem unlikely that the nominal requirement of 1,000 lambs and 100 bullocks could have been made available.