1902 Encyclopedia > Molloch


MOLOCH, or MOLECH—in Hebrew, with the doubtful exception of 1 Kings xi. 7, always ^Éèn with the article— is the name or title of the divinity which the men of Judah in the last ages of the kingdom were wont to propitiate by the sacrifice of their own children. The phrase employed in speaking of these sacrifices is "to make one's son or daughter pass through fire to the Moloch " (2 Kings xxiil 10; Jer. xxxii. 35, and so without the words "through fire" Lev. xviii. 21); but it appears from Ezek. xvi. 20, 21 that this phrase denotes a human holocaust, and not, as sometimes has been thought, a mere consecration to Moloch by passing through or between fires, as in the Roman Palilia and similar rites elsewhere. Human sacrifices were com-mon in Semitic heathenism, and at least the idea of such sacrifices was not unknown to Israel in early times (Isaac, Jephthah's daughter), though in the sunny days of the nation, when religion was a joyous thing, there is no reason to think that they were actually practised. It was otherwise in the neighbouring nations, and in par-ticular we learn from 2 Kings iii. 27 that the piacular sacrifice of his son and heir was the last offering which the king of Moab made to deliver his country. Even the Hebrew historian ascribes to this act the effect of rousing divine indignation against the invading host of Israel; it is not, therefore, surprising that under the miseries brought on Palestine by the westward march of the Assyrian power, when the old gladness of Israel's faith was swallowed up in a crushing sense of divine anger, the idea of the sacrifice of one's own son, as the most powerful of atoning rites, should have taken hold of those kings of Judah (Ahaz and Manasseh, 2 Kings xvi. 3, xxi. 6) who were otherwise prone, in their hopelessness of help from the old religion (Isa. vii. 12), to seek to strange peoples and their rites. Ahaz's sacrifice of his son (which indeed rests on a somewhat late authority) must have been an isolated act of despair; human sacrifices are not among the corruptions of the popular religion spoken of by Isaiah and Micah. But in the 7th century, when the old worship had sustained rude shocks, and all religion was transformed into servile fear (Micah vi. 1 sq. belongs to this period; see MICAH), the example of Manasseh spread to his people; and Jeremiah and Ezekiel make frequent and indignant reference to the " high places " for the sacrifice of children by their parents which rose beneath the very walls of the temple from the gloomy ravine of Hinnom or Tophet (Jer. vii. 31, xix., xxxii. 35; Ezek. xvi. 20, xxiii. 37). It is with these sacrifices that the name of "the Moloch" is always connected; sometimes "the Baal" (lord) appears as a synonym. At the same time, the horrid ritual was so closely associated with Jehovah worship (Ezek. xxiii. 39) that Jeremiah more than once finds it necessary to protest that it is not of Jehovah's institution (vii. 31, xix. 5). So too it is the idea of sacrificing the firstborn to Jehovah that is discussed and rejected in Micah vi. It is indeed plain that such a sacrifice—for we have here to do, not with human victims in general, but with the sacrifice of the dearest earthly thing—could only be paid to the supreme deity; and Manasseh and his people never ceased to acknowledge Jehovah as the God of Israel, though they sought to make their worship more efficacious by the adoption of foreign rites. Thus the way in which Jeremiah, and after him the legislation of Leviticus and the author of Kings, seem to mark out the Moloch or Baal as a false god, distinct from Jehovah, is precisely parallel to the way in which Hosea speaks of the golden calves or Baalim. In each case the people thought themselves to be worshipping Jehovah under the title of Moloch or Baal; but the prophet refuses to admit that this is so, because the worship itself is of heathenish origin and character. " The Moloch," in fact, like "the Baal," is not the proper name of a deity, but a honorific title, as appears from the use of the article with it. According to the Hebrew consonants, it might simply be read " the king," which is a common appellation for the supreme deity of a Semitic state or tribe. And so the LXX., except in 2 Kings xxiii. 10, and perhaps Jer. xxxii. 35, actually treat the name as an appellative ("ruler," "rulers"). The traditional pronuncia-tion, which goes back as far as the LXX. version of Kings (MOAOY_), appears to mean "the kingship"—an unsuitable sense, which lends probability to the conjecture that the old form was simply "the king," and that the later Jews gave it the vowels of TVffZ, the contemptuous name for Baal (G. Hoffman in Z.f. AT.W., 1883, p. 124).

From these arguments it would appear that the rise of Moloch worship does not imply the introduction into the religion of Judah of an altogether new deity, but only a heathenish development of Jehovah worship, in the familiar fashion of religious syncretism, and under that sense of the inadequacy of the old popular ritual to divert the wrath of the Godhead which was inspired by the calamities of the nation in the 7th century B.C., and led to more than one new development of atoning ritual. The key to the phenomenon is to be found in Micah vi., not in any vein of mythological speculation as to the forces of nature, such as is supposed in Movers's theory that Moloch represents the fiery destructive power of the sun. Moloch, in fact, in the Old Testament has no more to do with fire than any other deity. The children offered to him were not burned alive ; they were slain and burned like any other holocaust (Ezek. ut supra; Isa. lvii. 5); their blood was shed at the sanctuary (Jer. xix. 4 ; Ps. cvi. 38). Thus the late Rabbinical picture of the calf-headed brazen image of Moloch within which children were burned alive is pure fable, and with it falls the favourite comparison between Moloch and the Carthaginian idol from whose brazen arms children were rolled into an abyss of fire, and whom Diodorus (xix. 14) naturally identifies with the child-eater Kronos, thus leading many moderns to make Moloch the planet Saturn. On the other hand, the Massoretic text of 1 Kings xi. 7 makes Moloch (without the article) the name of the god of the Ammonites, elsewhere called Milcom or Malcam. But in this place the LXX. translators certainly found the longer form Data in their MSS. ( the Hebrew still reads in verse 33), while it is plain from 2 Kings xxiii. 10, 13 that the worship of Milcom at the shrine set up by Solomon was distinct from the much later Moloch worship of Tophet. In the usual printed text of the LXX., indeed, this distinction is not made in 2 Kings xxiii.; but this is an error of the Roman edition, the Vatican MS. really reading MOAXOA in verse 13.
(w. E. s.)


In 2 Chron. xxviii. 3 (parallel to 2 Kings xvi. 3) a single letter is transposed in thephrase, changing the sensefrom "caused topass through the fire "to " caused to burn with fire." Geiger (TJrschrift unci Ueber-setzung, p. 305) very unnecessarily supposes that this is everywhere the original reading, and has been changed to soften the enormity ascribed to the ancient Hebrews. The phrase "to give one's seed to Moloch," Lev. xx. 2 sq., and the fact that these victims were (like other sacrifices) regarded as food for the deity (Ezek. xvi. 20) explain and justify the common reading.
In Hosea xiii. 2 the interpretation "they that sacrifice men" is improbable, and 2 Kings xvii. 17 and Lev. xviii., xx. are of too late date to prove the immolation of children to Moloch in old Israel. The "ban" (Din), which was a religious execution of criminals or enemies, was common to Israel with its heathen neighbours (stone of Mesha), but lacked the distinctive character of a sacrifice in which the victim is the food of the deity, conveyed to him through fire.
The etymology of the word Tophet is obscure ; its meaning
appears from iophteh, "pyre," Isa. xxx. 33.

4 Compare the Tyrian Melkart (king of the city) and the two names compounded with melek, "king," in 2 Kings xvii. 31. These latter cases are specially instructive, because Adrammelech and Anna-melech were also worshipped by the sacrifice of children.

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