Moloch, also known as Molech, Molekh, Molok, Molek, Melek, Molock, Moloc, Melech, Milcom, or Molcom (representing Semitic מלך m-l-k, a Semitic root meaning "king") is the name of an ancient god, possibly first worshiped in Ammon. Moloch worship was practiced by the Canaanites, Phoenicians, and related cultures in North Africa and the Levant.
As a god worshiped by the Phoenicians and Canaanites, Moloch had associations with a particular kind of propitiatory child sacrifice by parents. Moloch figures in the Book of Deuteronomy and in the Book of Leviticus as a forbidden form of idolatry (Leviticus 18:21: "And thou shalt not let any of thy seeds (children) pass through the fire to Moloch"). In the Old Testament, Gehenna was a valley by Jerusalem, where followers of various Baalim and Canaanite gods, including Moloch, sacrificed their children by fire (2 Chr. 28:3, 33:6; Jer. 7:31, 19:2–6).
Moloch has been used figuratively in English literature from John Milton's Paradise Lost (1667) to Allen Ginsberg's "Howl" (1955), to refer to a person or thing demanding or requiring a very costly sacrifice.
Forms and grammar
The Hebrew letters מלך (mlk) usually stand for melek "king" (Proto-Northwest Semitic malku) but when vocalized as mōlek in Masoretic Hebrew text, they have been traditionally understood as a proper name Μολοχ (molokh) (Proto-Northwest Semitic Mulku) in the corresponding Greek renderings in the Septuagint translation, in Aquila, and in the Middle Eastern Targum. The form usually appears in the compound lmlk. The Hebrew preposition l- means "to", but it can often mean "for" or "as a(n)". Accordingly, one can translate lmlk as "to Moloch" or "for Moloch" or "as a Moloch", or "to the Moloch" or "for the Moloch" or "as the Moloch", whatever a "Moloch" or "the Moloch" might be. We also once find hmlk "the Moloch" standing alone.
Because there is no difference between mlk "king" and mlk "moloch" in unpointed text, interpreters sometimes suggest molek should be understood in certain places where the Masoretic text is vocalized as melek, and vice versa.
Moloch has been traditionally interpreted as the name of a god, possibly a god titled the king, but purposely mispronounced as Molek instead of Melek using the vowels of Hebrew bosheth "shame".
Moloch appears in the Hebrew of 1 Kings 11:7 NIV (on Solomon's religious failings):
Then did Solomon build a high place for Chemosh, the abomination of Moab, in the hill that is before Jerusalem, and lmlk, the abomination of the Sons of Ammon.
In other passages, however, the god of the Ammonites is named Milcom, not Moloch (see 1 Kings 11.33; Zephaniah 1.5). The Septuagint reads Milcom in 1 Kings 11.7 instead of Moloch. Many English translations accordingly follow the non-Hebrew versions at this point and render Milcom. The form mlkm can also mean "their king" as well as Milcom, and therefore one cannot always be sure in some other passages whether the King of Ammon is intended or the god Milcom. It has also been suggested that the Ba‘al of Tyre, Melqart "king of the city" (who was probably the Ba‘al whose worship was furthered by Ahab and his house) was this supposed god Moloch and that Melqart/Moloch was also Milcom the god of the Ammonites and identical to other gods whose names contain mlk.
Amos 5:26 NIV reads in close translation:
- But you shall carry Sikkut your king,
- and Kiyyun, your images, the star-symbol of your god
- which you made for yourself.
- But you shall carry Sikkut your king,
- You have lifted up the shrine of Molech
- and the star of your god Rephan,
- the idols you made to worship.
- You have lifted up the shrine of Molech
Other references to Moloch use mlk only in the context of "passing children through fire lmlk", whatever is meant by lmlk, whether it means "to Moloch" or means something else. Though the Moloch sacrifices have traditionally been understood to mean burning children alive to the god Moloch, some have suggested a rite of purification by fire instead, though perhaps a dangerous one. References to passing through fire without mentioning mlk appear in Template:Bibleverse-nb; Template:Bibleverse; Template:Bibleverse, 31; 23.37. So this phrase is well documented in scripture, and similar practices of rendering infants immortal by passing them through the fire, are indirectly attested in early Greek myth, such as the myth of Thetis and the myth of Demeter as the nurse of Demophon. Some have responded to the proponents of this view of the Moloch sacrifices (being only a ritualized "pass between flame") by pointing out their failure to understand the Hebrew idiom le ha'avir ba'esh to imply "to burn" and their use of anthropological evidence of suspect relevance to draw parallels to early Hebrew religious practices.
The word here translated literally as 'seed' very often means offspring. The forms containing mlk have been left untranslated. The reader may substitute either "to Moloch" or "as a molk".
Do not give any of your children to be sacrificed to Molek, for you must not profane the name of your God. I am the LORD .
Say to the Israelites: 'Any Israelite or any foreigner residing in Israel who sacrifices any of his children to Molek is to be put to death. The members of the community are to stone him.
I myself will set my face against him and will cut him off from his people; for by sacrificing his children to Molek, he has defiled my sanctuary and profaned my holy name. If the members of the community close their eyes when that man sacrifices one of his children to Molek and if they fail to put him to death,I myself will set my face against him and his family and will cut them off from their people together with all who follow him in prostituting themselves to Molek.
And he defiled the Topheth, which is in the valley of the children of Hinnom, that no man might make his son or his daughter pass through the fire to Molech.
And 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 unto Molech; which I commanded them not, neither came it into my mind, that they should do this abomination, to cause Judah to sin.
Classical Greek and Roman accounts
Later commentators have compared these accounts with similar ones from Greek and Latin sources speaking of the offering of children by fire as sacrifices in the Punic city of Carthage, a Phoenician colony. Cleitarchus, Diodorus Siculus and Plutarch all mention burning of children as an offering to Cronus or Saturn, that is to Ba‘al Hammon, the chief god of Carthage. Issues and practices relating to Moloch and child sacrifice may also have been exaggerated for effect. After the Romans defeated Carthage and totally destroyed the city, they engaged in post-war propaganda to make their arch-enemies seem cruel and less civilized.
There stands in their midst a bronze statue of Kronos, its hands extended over a bronze brazier, the flames of which engulf the child. When the flames fall upon the body, the limbs contract and the open mouth seems almost to be laughing until the contracted body slips quietly into the brazier. Thus it is that the 'grin' is known as 'sardonic laughter,' since they die laughing.
Diodorus Siculus (20.14) wrote:
There was in their city a bronze image of Cronus extending its hands, palms up and sloping toward the ground, so that each of the children when placed thereon rolled down and fell into a sort of gaping pit filled with fire.
Diodorus also relates that relatives were forbidden to weep and that when Agathocles defeated Carthage, the Carthaginian nobles believed they had displeased the gods by substituting low-born children for their own children. They attempted to make amends by sacrificing 200 children of the best families at once, and in their enthusiasm actually sacrificed 300 children.
In the book The History of Sicily from the Earliest Times the author recounts the tale slightly differently. He states that the Carthaginian nobles had actually acquired and raised children not of their own for the express purpose of sacrificing them to the god. The author states that during the siege, the 200 high-born children were sacrificed in addition to another 300 children who were initially saved from the fire by the sacrifice of these acquired substitutes.
Plutarch wrote in De Superstitione 171:
... but with full knowledge and understanding they themselves offered up their own children, and those who had no children would buy little ones from poor people and cut their throats as if they were so many lambs or young birds; meanwhile the mother stood by without a tear or moan; but should she utter a single moan or let fall a single tear, she had to forfeit the money, and her child was sacrificed nevertheless; and the whole area before the statue was filled with a loud noise of flutes and drums took the cries of wailing should not reach the ears of the people.
Jewish rabbinic commentary
The 12th-century Rashi, commenting on Jeremiah 7:31 NIV stated:
Tophet is Moloch, which was made of brass; and they heated him from his lower parts; and his hands being stretched out, and made hot, they put the child between his hands, and it was burnt; when it vehemently cried out; but the priests beat a drum, that the father might not hear the voice of his son, and his heart might not be moved.
A rabbinical tradition attributed to the Yalkout of Rabbi Simeon, says that the idol was hollow and was divided into seven compartments, in one of which they put flour, in the second turtle-doves, in the third a ewe, in the fourth a ram, in the fifth a calf, in the sixth an ox, and in the seventh a child, which were all burned together by heating the statue inside.