|Noah Webster's Dictionary|
(n.) The fire god of the Ammonites, to whom human sacrifices were offered; Moloch.
Int. Standard Bible Encyclopedia
mo'-lek, mo'-lok (ha-molekh, always with the article, except in 1 Kings 11:7; Septuagint ho Moloch, sometimes also Molchom, Melchol; Vulgate (Jerome's Latin Bible, 390-405 A.D.) Moloch):
1. The Name
2. The Worship in Old Testament History
3. The Worship in the Prophets
4. Nature of the Worship
5. Origin and Extent of the Worship
1. The Name:
The name of a heathen divinity whose worship figures largely in the later history of the kingdom of Judah. As the national god of the Ammonites, he is known as "Milcom" (1 Kings 11:5, 7), or "Malcam" ("Malcan" is an alternative reading in 2 Samuel 12:30, 31; compare Jeremiah 49:1, 3; Zechariah 1:5, where the Revised Version margin reads "their king"). The use of basileus, and archon, as a translation of the name by the Septuagint suggests that it may have been originally the Hebrew word for "king," melekh. Molech is obtained from melekh by the substitution of the vowel points of Hebrew bosheth, signifying "shame." From the obscure and difficult passage, Amos 5:26, the Revised Version (British and American) has removed "your Moloch" and given "your king," but Septuagint had here translated "Moloch," and from the Septuagint it found its way into the Acts (7:43), the only occurrence of the name in the New Testament.
2. The Worship in Old Testament History:
In the Levitical ordinances delivered to the Israelites by Moses there are stern prohibitions of Molech-worship (Leviticus 18:21; Leviticus 20:2-5). Parallel to these prohibitions, although the name of the god is not mentioned, are those of the Deuteronomic Code where the abominations of the Canaanites are forbidden, and the burning of their sons and daughters in the fire (to Molech) is condemned as the climax of their wickedness (Deuteronomy 12:31; Deuteronomy 18:10-13). The references to Malcam, and to David's causing the inhabitants of Rabbath Ammon to pass through the brick kiln (2 Samuel 12:30, 31), are not sufficiently clear to found upon, because of the uncertainty of the readings. Solomon, under the influence of his idolatrous wives, built high places for Chemosh, the abomination of Moab, and for Milcom, the abomination of the children of Ammon. See CHEMOSH. Because of this apostasy it was intimated by the prophet Ahijah, that the kingdom was to be rent out of the hand of Solomon, and ten tribes given to Jeroboam (1 Kings 11:31-33). These high places survived to the time of Josiah, who, among his other works of religious reformation, destroyed and defiled them, filling their places with the bones of men (2 Kings 23:12-14). Molech-worship had evidently received a great impulse from Ahaz, who, like Ahab of Israel, was a supporter of foreign religions (2 Kings 16:12). He also "made his son to pass through the fire, according to the abominations of the nations, whom Yahweh cast out from before the children of Israel" (2 Kings 16:3). His grandson Manasseh, so far from following in the footsteps of his father Hezekiah, who had made great reforms in the worship, reared altars for Baal, and besides other abominations which he practiced, made his son to pass through the fire (2 Kings 21:6). The chief site of this worship, of which Ahaz and Manasseh were the promoters, was Topheth in the Valley of Hinnom, or, as it is also called, the Valley of the Children, or of the Son of Hinnom, lying to the Southwest of Jerusalem (see GEHENNA). Of Josiah's reformation it is said that "he defiled Topheth.... that no man might make his son or his daughter to pass through the fire to Molech" (2 Kings 23:10).
3. The Worship in the Prophets:
Even Josiah's thorough reformation failed to extirpate the Molech-worship, and it revived and continued till the destruction of Jerusalem, as we learn from the prophets of the time. From the beginning, the prophets maintained against it a loud and persistent protest. The testimony of Amos (1:15; 5:26) is ambiguous, but most of the ancient versions for malkam, "their king," in the former passage, read milkom, the national god of Ammon (see Davidson, in the place cited.). Isaiah was acquainted with Topheth and its abominations (Isaiah 30:33; Isaiah 57:5). Over against his beautiful and lofty description of spiritual religion, Micah sets the exaggerated zeal of those who ask in the spirit of the Molech-worshipper: "Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?" (Micah 6:6). That Molech-worship had increased in the interval may account for the frequency and the clearness of the references to it in tile later Prophets. In Jeremiah we find the passing of sons and daughters through the fire to Molech associated with the building of "the high places of Baal, which are in the Valley of the Son of Hinnom" (32:35; compare 7:31;; 19:5;). In his oracle against the children of Ammon, the same prophet, denouncing evil against their land, predicts (almost in the very words of Amos above) that Malcam shall go into captivity, his priests and his princes together (Jeremiah 49:1, 3). Ezekiel, speaking to the exiles in Babylon, refers to the practice of causing children to pass through the fire to heathen divinities as long established, and proclaims the wrath of God against it (Ezekiel 16:20; Ezekiel 20:26, 31; 23:37). That this prophet regarded the practice as among the "statutes that were not good, and ordinances wherein they should not live" (Ezekiel 20:25) given by God to His people, by way of deception and judicial punishment, as some hold, is highly improbable and inconsistent with the whole prophetic attitude toward it. Zephaniah, who prophesied to the men who saw the overthrow of the kingdom of Judah, denounces God's judgments upon the worshippers of false gods (Zechariah 1:5). He does not directly charge his countrymen with having forsaken Yahweh for Malcam, but blames them, because worshipping Him they also swear to Malcam, like those Assyrian colonists in Samaria who feared Yahweh and served their own gods, or like those of whom Ezekiel elsewhere speaks who, the same day on which they had slain their children to their idols, entered the sanctuary of Yahweh to profane it (Ezekiel 23:39). The captivity in Babylon put an end to Molech-worship, since it weaned the people from all their idolatries. We do not hear of it in the post-exilic Prophets, and, in the great historical psalm of Israel's rebelliousness and God's deliverances (Psalm 106), it is only referred to in retrospect (Psalm 106:37, 38).
4. The Nature of the Worship:
When we come to consider the nature of this worship it is remarkable how few details are given regarding it in Scripture. The place where it was practiced from the days of Ahaz and Manasseh was the Valley of Hinnom where Topheth stood, a huge altar-pyre for the burning of the sacrificial victims. There is no evidence connecting the worship with the temple in Jerusalem. Ezekiel's vision of sun-worshippers in the temple is purely ideal (Ezekiel 8). A priesthood is spoken of as attached to the services (Jeremiah 49:3; compare Zephaniah 1:4, 5). The victims offered to the divinity were not burnt alive, but were killed as sacrifices, and then presented as burnt offerings. "To pass through the fire" has been taken to mean a lustration or purification of the child by fire, not involving death. But the prophets clearly speak of slaughter and sacrifice, and of high places built to burn the children in the fire as burnt offerings (Jeremiah 19:5 Ezekiel 16:20, 21).
The popular conception, molded for English readers largely by Milton's "Moloch, horrid king" as described in Paradise Lost, Book I, is derived from the accounts given in late Latin and Greek writers, especially the account which Diodorus Siculus gives in his History of the Carthaginian Kronos or Moloch. The image of Moloch was a human figure with a bull's head and outstretched arms, ready to receive the children destined for sacrifice. The image of metal was heated red hot by a fire kindled within, and the children laid on its arms rolled off into the fiery pit below. In order to drown the cries of the victims, flutes were played, and drums were beaten; and mothers stood by without tears or sobs, to give the impression of the voluntary character of the offering (see Rawlinson's Phoenicia, 113, for fuller details).
On the question of the origin of this worship there is great variety of views. Of a non-Sem origin there is no evidence; and there is no trace of human sacrifices in the old Babylonian religion. That it prevailed widely among Semitic peoples is clear.
5. Origin and Extent of the Worship:
While Milcom or Malcam is peculiarly the national god of the Ammonites, as is Chemosh of the Moabites, the name Molech or Melech was recognized among the Phoenicians, the Philistines, the Arameans, and other Semitic peoples, as a name for the divinity they worshipped from a very early time. That it was common among the Canaanites when the Israelites entered the land is evident from the fact that it was among the abominations from which they were to keep themselves free. That it was identical at first with the worship of Yahweh, or that the prophets and the best men of the nation ever regarded it as the national worship of Israel, is a modern theory which does not appear to the present writer to have been substantiated. It has been inferred from Abraham's readiness to offer up Isaac at the command of God, from the story of Jephthah and his daughter, and even from the sacrifice of Hiel the Bethelite (1 Kings 16:34), that human sacrifice to Yahweh was an original custom in Israel, and that therefore the God of Israel was no other than Moloch, or at all events a deity of similar character. But these incidents are surely too slender a foundation to support such a theory. "The fundamental idea of the heathen rite was the same as that which lay at the foundation of Hebrew ordinance: the best to God; but by presenting to us this story of the offering of Isaac, and by presenting it in this precise form, the writer simply teaches the truth, taught by all the prophets, that to obey is better than sacrifice-in other words that the God worshipped in Abraham's time was a God who did not delight in destroying life, but in saving and sanctifying it" (Robertson, Early Religion of Israel, 254). While there is no ground for identifying Yahweh with Moloch, there are good grounds for seeing a community of origin between Moloch and Baal. The name, the worship, and the general characteristics are so similar that it is natural to assign them a common place of origin in Phoenicia. The fact that Moloch-worship reached the climax of its abominable cruelty in the Phoenician colonies of which Carthage was the center shows that it had found among that people a soil suited to its peculiar genius.
Wolf Baudissin, "Moloch" in PRE3; G. F. Moore, "Moloch" in EB; Robertson, Early Religion of Israel, 241-65; Robertson Smith, Religion of the Semites, 352;; Buchanan Gray, Hebrew Proper Names, 138;.
Molech (16 Occurrences)
Acts 7:43 and ye took up the tabernacle of Moloch, and the star of your god Remphan -- the figures that ye made to bow before them, and I will remove your dwelling beyond Babylon. (See NIV)
Leviticus 18:21 "'You shall not give any of your children to sacrifice to Molech; neither shall you profane the name of your God: I am Yahweh. (WEB KJV JPS ASV BBE DBY WBS YLT NAS RSV NIV)
Leviticus 20:2 "Moreover, you shall tell the children of Israel,'Anyone of the children of Israel, or of the strangers who live as foreigners in Israel, who gives any of his seed to Molech; he shall surely be put to death. The people of the land shall stone him with stones. (WEB KJV JPS ASV BBE DBY WBS YLT NAS RSV NIV)
Leviticus 20:3 I also will set my face against that person, and will cut him off from among his people because he has given of his seed to Molech, to defile my sanctuary, and to profane my holy name. (WEB KJV JPS ASV BBE DBY WBS YLT NAS RSV NIV)
Leviticus 20:4 If the people of the land all hide their eyes from that person, when he gives of his seed to Molech, and don't put him to death; (WEB KJV JPS ASV BBE DBY WBS YLT NAS RSV NIV)
Leviticus 20:5 then I will set my face against that man, and against his family, and will cut him off, and all who play the prostitute after him, to play the prostitute with Molech, from among their people. (WEB KJV JPS ASV DBY WBS YLT NAS RSV NIV)
1 Kings 11:5 For Solomon went after Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians, and after Milcom the abomination of the Ammonites. (See NIV)
1 Kings 11:7 Then did Solomon build a high place for Chemosh the abomination of Moab, on the mountain that is before Jerusalem, and for Molech the abomination of the children of Ammon. (WEB KJV JPS ASV BBE DBY WBS YLT NAS RSV NIV)
1 Kings 11:33 because that they have forsaken me, and have worshiped Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians, Chemosh the god of Moab, and Milcom the god of the children of Ammon. They have not walked in my ways, to do that which is right in my eyes, and to keep my statutes and my ordinances, as David his father did. (See NIV)
2 Kings 23:10 He defiled Topheth, which is in the valley of the children of Hinnom, that no man might make his son or his daughter to pass through the fire to Molech. (WEB KJV JPS ASV BBE DBY WBS YLT NAS RSV NIV)
2 Kings 23:13 The high places that were before Jerusalem, which were on the right hand of the mountain of corruption, which Solomon the king of Israel had built for Ashtoreth the abomination of the Sidonians, and for Chemosh the abomination of Moab, and for Milcom the abomination of the children of Ammon, did the king defile. (See NIV)
Isaiah 57:9 And you went to Melech with oil and much perfume, and you sent your representatives far off, and went as low as the underworld. (See RSV NIV)
Jeremiah 32:35 They built the high places of Baal, which are in the valley of the son of Hinnom, to cause their sons and their daughters to pass through the fire to Molech; which I didn't command them, neither did it come into my mind, that they should do this abomination, to cause Judah to sin. (WEB KJV JPS ASV BBE DBY WBS YLT NAS RSV NIV)
Jeremiah 49:1 Of the children of Ammon. Thus says Yahweh: Has Israel no sons? has he no heir? why then does Malcam possess Gad, and his people well in its cities? (See NIV)
Jeremiah 49:3 Wail, Heshbon, for Ai is laid waste; cry, you daughters of Rabbah, dress yourself in sackcloth: lament, and run back and forth among the fences; for Malcam shall go into captivity, his priests and his princes together. (See NIV)
Zephaniah 1:5 those who worship the army of the sky on the housetops, those who worship and swear by Yahweh and also swear by Malcam, (See NIV)