Moloch, Ba'al Moloch, Molech or Molekh, is the name of an evil god to whom child sacrifices were made throughout the ancient Middle East.
The name Moloch is the name he was known by among his worshippers, but is a Hebrew translation. (MLK has been found on stele at the infant necropolis in Carthage). The written form ????? Moloch (in the Septuagint Greek translation of the Old Testament), or Molech (Hebrew), is the word Melech or Hadad, the King, transformed by interposing the vowels of bosheth or 'shameful thing'. 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.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.
All 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. It has traditionally been understood to mean burning children alive to the god Moloch. References to passing through fire without mentioning mlk appear in Deuteronomy 12.31, 18.10–13; 2 Kings 21.6; Ezekiel 20.26,31; 23.37. So the existence of this practice is well documented.
Moloch has been identified with Milcom, with the Tyrian god Melqart, with the Carthaginian Ba‘al Hammon to whom children were purportedly sacrificed, with the Assyrian/Babylonian Malik, and at Palmyra Malach-bel and with any other god called 'Lord' (Ba‘al) or (Bel), the sun god of the Ammonites in old Palestine and the Sumerian Baal. These various suggested equations combined with the popular solar theory hypotheses of the day generated a single theoretical sun god Baal.s he was also identified . Moloch is also identified with Baal Hammon in religion.
Baal Moloch known as the Sacred Bull was conceived under the form of a calf or an ox or depicted as a man with the head of a bull. Nineteenth and early twentieth century suggested that such descriptions might be simply taken from accounts of the sacrifice to Cronus and from the tale of the Minotaur; No bull-headed Phoenician god was known. Milton wrote that Moloch was a frightening and terrible demon covered with mothers' tears and children's blood.
Moloch as devorous idol
According to legends, Moloch was represented as a huge bronze statue with the head of a bull. The statue was hollow, and inside there burned a fire which colored the Moloch a glowing red. Children were placed on the hands of the statue. Through an ingenious system the hands were raised to the mouth (as if Moloch were eating) and the children fell into the fire where they were consumed by the flames. The people gathered before the Moloch were dancing on the sounds of flutes and tambourines to drown out the screams of the victims.
The 12th century rabbi Rashi, commenting on Jeremiah 7.31 claimed that in the famous statue of Moloch, there were seven kinds of cabinets:
The first was for flour, the second for turtle doves, the third for an ewe, the fourth for a ram, the fifth for a calf, the sixth for a beef, and the seventh for a child. It is because of this, Moloch is associated with Mithras and his seven mysterious gates with seven chambers. When a child was sacrificed to Moloch, a fire was lit inside the statue. The priests would then beat loudly on drums and other objects so that the cries would not be heard.
- Moloch appears in the Hebrew of 1 Kings 11.7 (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 which suggests a scribal error in the Hebrew. 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.
Sacrificing children was not uncommon, but the practice died down around the time of Jeremiah when the King defiled Tophet, the place where Moloch was worshipped.
- He also defiled Topheth, which is in the valley of the son of Hinnom, that no man might make his son or his daughter pass through the fire for Molech. (2 Kings 23:10)
- Leviticus 18.21
- And you shall not let any of your seed pass through l'Molech, neither shall you profane the name of your God: I am the Lord.
- Leviticus 20.2–5:
Again, you shall say to the Sons of Israel: Whoever he be of the Sons of Israel or of the strangers that sojourn in Israel, that gives any of his seed l'Molech; he shall surely be put to death: the people of the land shall stone him with stones. And I will set my face against that man and will cut him off from among his people; because he has given of his seed l'Molech, to defile my sanctuary, and to profane my holy name. And if the people of the land do at all hide their eyes from that man, when he gives of his seed l'Molech, and do not kill him, then I will set my face against that man, and against his family, and will cut him off, and all that go astray after him, whoring l'Molech from among the people.
- Jeremiah 32.35:
For the sons of Judah have done that which is evil in My sight,' declares the LORD, "they have set their detestable things in the house which is called by My name, to defile it. They have built the high places of Topheth, which is in the valley of the son of Hinnom, to burn their sons and their daughters in the fire, which I did not command, and it did not come into My mind. Therefore, behold, days are coming,' declares the LORD, "when it will no longer be called Topheth, or the valley of the son of Hinnom, but the valley of the Slaughter; for they will bury in Topheth because there is no other place. (Jer 7: 30-32)
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, which was 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 overemphasized for effect. After the Romans finally defeated Carthage and totally destroyed the city, they engaged in post-war propaganda to make their archenemies seem cruel and less civilised.
Paul G. Mosca, in his thesis described below, translates Cleitarchus' paraphrase of a scholia to Plato's Republic as:
- 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 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.
Plutarch wrote in De Superstitiones 171:
- ... the whole area before the statue was filled with a loud noise of flutes and drums so that the cries of wailing should not reach the ears of the people.
Moloch as medieval demon
Like some other gods and demons found in the Bible, Moloch appears as part of medieval demonology, as a Prince of Hell. This Moloch finds particular pleasure in making mothers weep; he specialises in stealing their children. According to some 16th century demonologists, Moloch's power is stronger in October. It is likely that the motif of stealing children was inspired by the traditional understanding that babies were sacrificed to Moloch.
Moloch in Milton's Paradise Lost
In John Milton's Paradise Lost, Moloch is one of the greatest warriors of the rebel angels, vengeful and militant. He is listed among the chief of Satan's angels in Book I, and is given a speech at the parliament of Hell in Book 2:43 - 105, where he argues for immediate warfare against God. He later becomes revered as a pagan god on Earth.
- "First, Moloch, horrid King, besmeared with blood
- Of human sacrifice, and parents' tears;
- Though, for the noise of drums and timbrels loud,
- Their children's cries unheard that passed through fire
- To his grim idol. Him the Ammonite
- Worshiped in Rabba and her watery plain,
- In Argob and in Basan, to the stream
- Of utmost Arnon. Nor content with such
- Audacious neighbourhood, the wisest heart
- Of Solomon he led by fraud to build
- His temple right against the temple of God
- On that opprobrious hill, and made his grove
- The pleasant valley of Hinnom, Tophet thence
- And black Gehenna called, the type of Hell."
- - Paradise Lost, i. 391-405
Theories and analysis
Salammbô, a semi-historical novel about Carthage by Gustave Flaubert published in 1888, was extraordinarily successful. Flaubert created his own version of the Carthaginian religion, including the god Moloch, whom he made to be the god to whom the Carthaginians offered children. Flaubert described this Moloch mostly according to the Rabbinic descriptions, but with his own additions. From chapter 7:
Then further back, higher than the candelabrum, and much higher than the altar, rose the Moloch, all of iron, and with gaping apertures in his human breast. His outspread wings were stretched upon the wall, his tapering hands reached down to the ground; three black stones bordered by yellow circles represented three eyeballs on his brow, and his bull's head was raised with a terrible effort as if in order to bellow.
Chapter 13 describes luridly how, in desperate attempt to call down rain, the image of Moloch was brought to the center of Carthage, how the arms of the image were moved by the pulling of chains by the priests (apparently Flaubert's own invention), and then describes the sacrifices made to Moloch. First grain and animals of various kinds were placed in compartments within the statue (as in the Rabbinic account). Then the children were offered, at first a few, and then more and more.
The brazen arms were working more quickly. They paused no longer. Every time that a child was placed in them the priests of Moloch spread out their hands upon him to burden him with the crimes of the people, vociferating: "They are not men but oxen!" and the multitude round about repeated: "Oxen! oxen!" The devout exclaimed: "Lord! eat!" and the priests of Proserpine, complying through terror with the needs of Carthage, muttered the Eleusinian formula: "Pour out rain! bring forth!" The victims, when scarcely at the edge of the opening, disappeared like a drop of water on a red-hot plate, and white smoke rose amid the great scarlet colour. Nevertheless, the appetite of the god was not appeased. He ever wished for more. In order to furnish him with a larger supply, the victims were piled up on his hands with a big chain above them which kept them in their place. Some devout persons had at the beginning wished to count them, to see whether their number corresponded with the days of the solar year; but others were brought, and it was impossible to distinguish them in the giddy motion of the horrible arms. This lasted for a long, indefinite time until the evening. Then the partitions inside assumed a darker glow, and burning flesh could be seen. Some even believed that they could descry hair, limbs, and whole bodies. Night fell; clouds accumulated above the Baal. The funeral-pile, which was flameless now, formed a pyramid of coals up to his knees; completely red like a giant covered with blood, he looked, with his head thrown back, as though he were staggering beneath the weight of his intoxication.
Director Giovanni Pastrone's silent film Cabiria (1914) was largely based on Salammbo and included an enormous image of Moloch modeled on Flaubert's description. Elizabeth Dilling quoted Flaubert's descriptions as factual in her notorious anti-Semitic book The Plot Against Christianity, re-released under the title The Jewish Religion: Its Influence Today. Information from the novel and film still finds its way into serious writing about Moloch, Melqart, Carthage, and Ba‘al Hammon. A temple at Amman (1400-1250 B.C.) excavated and reported upon by J.B. Hennessey, shows possibility of animal and human sacrifice by fire.
Eissfeldt's theory: a type of sacrifice
In 1921 Otto Eissfeldt, excavating in Carthage, discovered inscriptions with the word MLK which in the context meant neither 'king' nor the name of any god. He concluded that it was instead a term for a particular kind of sacrifice, one which at least in some cases involved human sacrifice. A relief was found showing a priest holding a child. Also uncovered was a sanctuary to the goddess Tanit comprising a cemetery with thousands of burned bodies of animals and of human infants, dating from the 8th century BC down to the destruction of Carthage in 146 BC. Eissfeldt identified the site as a tophet, using a Hebrew word of previously unknown meaning connected to the burning in some Biblical passages. Most of the children's bodies appeared to be those of newborns, but some were older, up to about six years of age.
Eissfeldt further concluded that the Hebrew writings were not talking about a god Moloch at all, but about the molk or mulk sacrifice, that the abomination was not in worshipping a god Molech who demanded children be sacrificed to him, but in the practice of sacrificing human children as a molk. Hebrews were strongly opposed to sacrificing first-born children as a molk to Yahweh himself. The practice may have been conducted by their neighbors in Canaan. The relevant Scriptural passages depict Yahweh condemning Hebrews sacrificing their first-borns, those who did were stoned to death, and those who witnessed but did not prevent the sacrifice of a first-born were excommunicated.
Similar "tophets" have since been found at Carthage and other places in North Africa, and in Sardinia, Malta, Sicily . In late 1990 a possible tophet consisting of cinerary urns containing bones and ashes and votive objects was retrieved from ransacking on the mainland just outside of Tyre in the Phoenician homeland .
It was pointed out the phrase whoring after was elsewhere only used about seeking other gods, not about particular religious practices. And should one so casually turn aside from the Greek translation made by those who may have known far more about such things than we will ever know to say that lmlk must mean 'as a molk offering' and not 'to Moloch'.
Eissfeldt's use of the Biblical word tophet was criticized as arbitrary. Even those who believed in Eissfeldt's general theory mostly took tophet to mean something like 'hearth' in the Biblical context, not a cemetery of some kind.
John Day, in his book Molech: A God of Human Sacrifice in the Old Testament (Cambridge, 1989; ISBN 0-521-36474-4), again put forth the argument that there was indeed a particular god named Molech, citing a god mlk from two Ugaritic serpent charms, and an obscure god Malik/Malku from some god lists who in two texts was equated with Nergal, the Mesopotamian god of the underworld. A god of the underworld is just the kind of god one might worship in the valley of Ben-Hinnom rather than on a hill top.
- Grena, G.M. (2004). LMLK--A Mystery Belonging to the King vol. 1. Redondo Beach, California: 4000 Years of Writing History. ISBN 0-9748786-0-X.
- J.B. Hennessey, Palestine Exploration Quarterly (1966)