The unedited full-text of the 1906 Jewish Encyclopedia


—Biblical Data:

In the Masoretic text the name is "Molech"; in the Septuagint "Moloch." The earliest mention of Molech is in Lev. xviii. 21, where the Israelite is forbidden to sacrifice any of his children to Molech. Similarly, in Lev. xx. 2-5, it is enacted that a man who sacrifices his seed to Molech shall surely be put to death. Then, curiously, it is provided that he shall be cut off from the congregation. In I Kings xi. 7 it is said that Solomon built a high place for Molech in the mountain "that is before Jerusalem." The same passage calls Molech an Ammonite deity. The Septuagint as quoted in the New Testament (Acts vii. 43) finds a reference to Moloch in Amos v. 26; but this is a doubtful passage. In II Kings xxiii. 10 it is stated that one of the practises to which Josiah put a stop by his reform was that of sacrificing children to Molech, and that the place where this form of worship had been practised was at Topheth, "in the valley of the children of Hinnom." This statement is confirmed by Jer. xxxii. 35. From II Kings xxi. 6 it may be inferred that this worship was introduced during the reign of Manasseh. The impression left by an uncritical reading of these passages is that Molech-worship, with its rite of child-sacrifice, was introduced from Ammon during the seventh century B.C.

Nature of the Worship. —Critical View:

The name "Molech," later corrupted into "Moloch," is an intentional mispointing of "Melek," after the analogy of "bosheth" (comp. Hoffmann in Stade's "Zeitschrift," iii. 124). As to the rites which the worshipers of Molech performed, it has sometimes been inferred, from the phrase "pass through the fire to Molech," that children were made to pass between two lines of fire as a kind of consecration or februation; but it is clear from Isa. lvii. 5 and Jer. xix. 5 that the children were killed and burned. The whole point of the offering consisted, therefore, in the fact that it was a human sacrifice. From Jer. vii. 31 and Ezek. xx. 25, 26, it is evident that both prophets regarded these human sacrifices as extraordinary offerings to Yhwh. Jeremiah declares that Yhwh had not commanded them, while Ezekiel says Yhwh polluted the Israelites in their offerings by permitting them to sacrifice their first-born, so that through chastisement they might know that Yhwh was Yhwh. The fact, therefore, now generally accepted by critical scholars, is that in the last days of the kingdom human sacrifices were offered to Yhwh as King or Counselor of the nation and that the Prophets disapproved of it and denounced it because it was introduced from outside as an imitation of a heathen cult and because of its barbarity. In course of time the pointing of "Melek" was changed to "Molech" to still further stigmatize the rites.

Motive of Sacrifices.

The motive for these sacrifices is not far to seek. It is given in Micah vi. 7: "Shall I give my first-born for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?" In the midst of the disasters which were befalling the nation men felt that if the favor of Yhwh could be regained it was worth any price they could pay. Their Semitic kindred worshiped their gods with offerings of their children, and in their desperation the Israelites did the same. For some reason, perhaps because not all the priestly and prophetic circles approved of the movement, they made the offerings, not in the Temple, but at an altar or pyre called "Tapheth" (LXX.), erected in the valley of Hinnom (comp. W. R. Smith, "Rel. of Sem." 2d ed., p. 372). "Tapheth," also, was later pointed "Topheth," after the analogy of "bosheth." In connection with these extraordinary offerings the worshipers continued the regular Temple sacrifices to Yhwh (Ezek. xxiii. 39).

Babylonian Cylinder Representing Sacrifice of a Child.(From Menant, "Glyptique Orientale.")

From the fact that I Kings xi. 7 calls Molech the "abomination of the children of Ammon" it was formerly assumed that this worship was an imitation of an Ammonite cult. But so little is known of the Ammonite religion that more recent scholarship has looked elsewhere for the source. Because of the mention in II Kings xvii. 31 of Adrammelech (= Adar-malik) and Anammelech (=Anu-malik) as gods of Sepharvaim transplanted to Samaria, it has been inferred that this form of worship was borrowed from Babylonia (comp. Bäthgen, "Beiträge zur Semitischen Religionsgesch." pp, 238 et seq.). This view rests on the supposition that "Sepharvaim" is equal to "Sippar," which probably is not the case. Even if it were, Anu and Adar were not gods of Sippar; Shamash was god of that city. From this verse, therefore, a Babylonian or Assyrian origin can not be demonstrated.

Support for this view has been sought also in Amos v. 26. If, as is probable, Siccuth and Chiun in that passage are names or epithets of Babylonian deities (comp. Chiun), the use of "Melek" in connection with these affords no sound basis for argument. The whole passage may be, as Wellhausen and Nowack believe, a late gloss introduced on account of II Kings xvii. 31, and is in any case too obscure to build upon. Furthermore, there is noevidence that the sacrifice of the first-born was a feature of the worship of Babylonian deities. Because child-sacrifice was a prominent feature of the worship of the Phenician Malik-Baal-Kronos, Moore (in Cheyne and Black, "Encyc. Bibl.") seeks to prove that the worship of Moloch was introduced from Phenicia. The evidence of its existence in Phenicia and her colonies is especially strong. Diodorus Siculus (xx. 14) tells how the Carthaginians in a siege sacrificed two hundred boys to Kronos. Burning was an important feature of the rite.

  • W. R. Smith, Rel. of Sem. 2d ed., pp. 372 et seq.;
  • Bäthgen, Beiträge zur Semitischen Religionsgesch. 1888, pp. 237 et seq.;
  • Moore, The Image of Moloch, in Jour. Bib. Lit. 1897, xvi. 161 et seq.;
  • M. J. Lagrange, Etudes sur les Religions Sémitiques, 1903, pp. 99-109.
S. G. A. B.
Images of pages