Molech for Carol Poisson

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Carol Poisson


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John W. Worley, Ph.D.


4891 מֹלֶךְ (molek):; ≡ Str 4432; TWOT 1199h—LN 12.23 (pagan god) Melech (Molech niv, rsv, nrsv, Tanakh ftn, njb): deity of the Ammonites (Lev 18:21; 20:2, 3, 4, 5; 1Ki 11:7; 2Ki 23:10; Jer 32:35+), note: for MT text at Isa 57:9, see 4889

12.23 εἴδωλονb, ου n: (a figurative extension of meaning of εἴδωλονa ‘idol,’ 6.97) an unreal supernatural being—‘false god.’ φυλάξατε ἑαυτὰ ἀπὸ τω̂ν εἰδώλων ‘keep yourselves away from false gods’ 1 Jn 5.21. A ‘false god’ may be rendered as ‘that which seems to be a god.’ In 1 Jn 5.21 one may speak of ‘those that seem to be gods but really are not.’ It is also possible, however, to interpret εἴδωλον in 1 Jn 5.21 as being simply an idol.

3434. Μολόχ Molóch; masc. proper noun transliterated from the Hebr. Mōlek (4432), king. Moloch (Acts 7:43), an idol–god worshiped by the Ammonites with human sacrifices, especially children. The rabbis tell us that the idol, having the head of a calf with a crown upon it, was made of brass and placed on a brazen throne. The throne and image were hollow, and a raging fire was kindled within it. The flames penetrated into the body and limbs of the idol, and when the arms were red–hot, the victim was thrown into them and almost immediately burned to death while its cries were drowned by the beat of drums. Although warned against this idolatry common to all the Canaanite tribes, though probably not of Canaanite origin, the Jews were repeatedly enticed to adopt it (Sept.: 2 Kgs. 23:10). In the Valley of Hinnom, they set up a tabernacle to Moloch and there they sacrificed their children to the idol.

MOLECH. The name of a deity, usually written Molech (Heb. mōlek, 2 Ki. 23:10; Je. 32:35), Melech (‘king’, meleḵ. Is. 57:9), Malcham (‘their king’, Je. 49:1, 3) or once Moloch (Am. 5:26 quoted Acts 7:43, Gk. moloch, av).

Molech was worshipped in the ancient Near East in the second millennium bc (Mari and Ugarit) and associated with death and the underworld. He may be attested in the element malik found in personal names. His cult was practised by the Ammonites (1 Ki. 11:7, 33) and probably by the Canaanites (Dt. 12:31). It was considered the equivalent of Baal worship, hence the definite article before the name in Lv. 18:21; 20:2–5; 2 Ki. 23:10; Je. 22:35. Weinfeld links it especially with death and the worship of the god Baal-Hadad as ‘king’. Solomon built a high place for Molech on the Mount of Olives, probably to please his foreign wives (1 Ki. 11:7).

The type and extent of the ritual associated with this deity is the subject of debate. The phrase ‘to pass (h˓br) the son/daughter through the fire to Molech’ (2 Ki. 16:3; 17:17; 23:10) could refer to a dedication or votive ceremony, possibly fire-walking. King Ahaz was condemned for this (2 Ch. 28:3) as were Manasseh (2 Ki. 21:6) and Samaria (2 Ki. 17:17). Eissfeldt compared this with molk, a dedicatory offering found from the 6th century onwards. However, no extant Phoenician inscription has mlk in connection with child-sacrifice (except later Sanchuniathon). Nor is child sacrifice common in OT or surrounding cultures. It was a rare and detested practice to the true Israelite, as shown in 2 Ki. 3:27; Ps. 106:37–38. This is also shown by the use of ‘sacrifice’ (zbh) or immolation (śrp) on occasions (Lv. 21:9; Dt. 12:31; 18:10). The majority of scholars, however, interpret all references to Molech as child sacrifice and compare it with later Phoenician-Carthaginian (Punic) practice in N Africa where mlk denotes the sacrifice. Whether death by child sacrifice or dedication through fire, both are abhorrent to God. They are associated with Topheth (2 Ki. 23:10; Je. 7:31–32; 19:11–12) and the smouldering rubbish dumps in the Hinnom valley outside Jerusalem. The reforms of Josiah in Judah were marked by the destruction of the high places dedicated to Molech (2 Ki. 23:10, 13) yet the ritual did not die out until after Ezekiel (16:20ff.; 20:26, 31; 23:27).

Bibliography. M. Weinfeld, ‘The Worship of Molech and the Queen of Heaven’, UF 4, 1972, pp. 133–154; G. C. Heider, The Cult of Moiek: A Reassessment, 1985; D. Edelman, ‘Biblical Moiek Reassessed’, JAOS 107, 1987, pp. 727–731; J. Day, Molech, a God of Human Sacrifice in the Old Testament, 1989; S. Brown, Late Carthaginian Child Sacrifice and Sacrificial Monuments in their Mediterranean Context, 1991.     d.j.w.

VOW. The idea of ‘vow’ in Semitic thought may well have been derived from the name of a deity. If so, it illustrates the fact that in biblical usage a vow is always used with reference to God and offers a new interpretation for such passages as Je. 32:35: they must then be construed as the sacrificing of children, not ‘to Molech’ (mōleḵ), but ‘as a mōleḵ, i.e. a votive or ‘vowed’ offering. On Jdg. 11:30f., see *Jephthah. A vow may be either to perform (Gn. 28:20ff.) or abstain from (Ps. 132:2ff.) an act in return for God’s favour (Nu. 21:1–3) or as an expression of zeal or devotion towards God (Ps. 22:25). It is no sin to vow or not to vow, but, if made—presumably uttered (Dt. 23:23)—a vow is as sacredly binding as an *oath (Dt. 23:21–23). Therefore, a vow should not be made hastily (Pr. 20:25); for the person vowing, e.g. to offer a sacrifice, then enters into ‘the sphere of the offering’ and is released only when the sacrifice is made (Pedersen). To have this fulfilment is the state of the happy man (Jb. 22:27), and the character of Israel’s future blessedness (Na. 1:15). On the other hand, to substitute a blemished animal for the one vowed reveals a sin and brings God’s curse (Mal. 1:14).

What is already the Lord’s (e.g. firstlings, tithes (Lv. 27:26)), or an abomination to the Lord (Dt. 23:18), cannot be vowed or consecrated; but since a first-born child might be redeemed (Lv. 27; Nu. 3:44ff.), it is proper for Hannah to give Samuel to the Lord as a *Nazirite (1 Sa. 1:11). A vow has no virtue in itself (Ps. 51:16ff.), and may be only the pious pretence of a treacherous (2 Sa. 15:7ff.) or immoral (Pr. 7:14) person. Thus, in the NT the religionist’s vow of Corban is condemned by Christ (Mk. 7:11). Paul’s (probably not Aquila’s) vow (euchē) no doubt was a temporary Nazirite vow—a sincere and proper expression of the ancient Hebrew faith (Acts 18:18, cf. 21:23).

Bibliography. A. R. Johnson, Sacral Kingship in Ancient Israel, 1955, p. 40 n.; J. Pedersen, Israel, Its Life and Culture, 4, 1959, pp. 265f., 324–330; R. de Vaux, Ancient Israel, 1961, pp. 465ff.

MOLECH mṑlek [Heb mōleḵ (Lev. 18:21; 20:2–5; 1 K. 11:7; 2 K. 23:10; Jer. 32:35), meleḵ (Isa. 57:9)]; AV also “king” (Isa. 57:9); NEB also “tresses” (Isa. 57:9); MILCOM milkōm [Heb milkōm (1 K. 11:5, 33; 2 K. 23:13), malkām (Jer. 49:1, 3; Zeph. 1:5)]; AV MALCHAM (Zeph. 1:5), “their king” (Jer. 49:1, 3); MOLOCH mṑlok [Gk Moloch] (Acts 7:43).

All OT references allude to an individual deity identified in specific instances with the Ammonite god Molech (cf. 1 K. 11:7), for whom Solomon built a shrine in Jerusalem. Elsewhere the Ammonite national deity was known as Milcom (1 K. 11:33), but it is incorrect to identify them uniformly since they were worshiped individually (cf. 1 K. 11:5, 33; 2 K. 23:13). Some scholars have thought that Molech was a combination of the consonants for “king” (m-l-k) and the vowels of the word “shame” (ō-e), since the title of king not infrequently forms part of the names of deities in Phoenician and Hebrew. See also Ashtoreth.

This association of kings and gods was not unusual in the Near East, because the king was regarded as the earthly representative of the national deity. He was also accorded certain quasidivine attributes by virtue of having supposedly been nursed in infancy by a goddess (cf. C. H. Gordon, Ugaritic Literature [1949], p. 122; T. H. Gaster, Thespis [1950], p. 179). Such a situation would account in part for the usage whereby a pagan god was called “king.” (Cf. Jer. 49:1, 3, where the RSV reads “Milcom,” and Am. 5:26, where the RSV has “their king,” but AV Moloch.) The LXX rendering of “ruler” e,g., Lev. 18:21) or “king” (basileús, e.g., 1 K. 11:5) in some instances may also reflect this understanding. It should be noted that the designation also occurs in lists of names from Mari (ca 1800 b.c.) in the forms malik and muluk, probably the Adrammelech and Anammelech of 2 K. 17:31.

Supporting the concept of Molech as a deity is the occurrence of Milkom with Baal in a list of gods recovered from Ugarit (C. H. Gordon, Ugaritic Literature, p. 108; UT, p. 434). J. Gray (IDB, III, 422) argued from the Mesha inscription, where the Moabite deity was described as Athtar (`Ashtar)-Chemosh, that Chemosh, regarded by Jephthah (Jgs. 11:26) as Moab’s national god, was in fact an astral deity Athtar, with Chemosh and Milcom constituting local titles. Alternatively, the reference in the Moabite Stone might well represent the fusion of two gods, following such notable combinations as Amon-Re of Egypt, or Kothar-and-Hasis from Ugarit.

There is also the possibility that Molech may not allude to a deity at all, but instead may designate some type of sacrifice, perhaps votive in nature. O. Eissfeldt and others have pointed to Punic inscriptions (Phoenician-Carthaginian) from ca 400-150 b.c. in which the term mlk occurs alone or in the compound expressions mlk’mr and mlk’dm. Their argument that mlk may mean “votive offering” is based on Latin inscriptions from Carthage dated ca a.d. 200 in which the Punic mlk’mr was vocalized as malchomor.

An even earlier inscription containing mlk’mr was found by Dussaud on a stele from Malta dated between the 7th and 6th cents b.c. (R. Dussaud, Comptes-rendus de l’Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres, I [1946], 376 f). No Phoenician inscription employing mlk in a sacrificial context has yet been recovered, but traditions ascribed to Sanchuniathon stated that the Phoenicians sacrificed children. Mlk occurs in Ugaritic texts, and has been interpreted by Gordon as a kind of sacrifice (C. H. Gordon, Ugaritic Handbook, [1947], p. 246, no. 1183; but cf. UT, pp. 433f, no. 1484, where Gordon did not cite any instances of mlk as a sacrifice — rather it is the divine name). A text discovered in 1956 contained the plural form mlkm, which was associated with cultic activities, but the nature of these activities is uncertain.

In speaking of Molech the OT clearly referred to a specific deity (cf. Am. 5:26 AV; quoted in Acts 7:43) whose cult flourished among the Ammonites (1 K. 11:7, 33). His regnal position may well be indicated by the appellative form in the MT of Lev. 18:21; 20:2–5; 2 K. 23:10; Jer. 32:35. In the last of these references Baal also appears with the definite article as an appellative, and is associated with the fire rituals in the valley of the son of Hinnom. Molech-worship was prohibited to the Israelites, partly because it was pagan but also because its abhorrent rites involved offering children to Molech (cf. Lev. 18:21; 20:2–5). Scholars have frequently inferred that instances of child sacrifice mentioned in the OT (cf. 2 K. 17:17; 21:6; Ps. 106:38; Ezk. 16:21; etc.) involved Molech-worship. Ahaz offered his children by fire (2 Ch. 28:3), and this example was followed by Manasseh (2 K. 21:6). Although Josiah destroyed the shrines of Molech in Judah (2 K. 23:10, 13), the memory of this detestable ritual was still alive in the 6th cent b.c. (cf. Ezk. 16:20f; 20:26, 31; 23:37).

Precisely how Molech-worship was conducted is uncertain. It is usually assumed that children were thrown into a furnace or fire as part of a ceremony, though whether they were killed or made insensitive is unknown. Among the Canaanites, Baal Melkart was offered human sacrifice at Tyre, a tradition that was also evident in Judah during the 7th cent b.c. (cf. Jer. 19:5). The name Topheth most probably comes from a root meaning “fireplace, incinerator,” and Jer. 7:31 makes it clear that Molech cult-worship involved the cremation of human victims rather than the presentation and subsequent withdrawal of live child offerings.

A divergent view suggesting that children were dedicated to Molech prostitution instead of being sacrificed by fire was based on the inclusion of a reference to the Molech cult (Lev. 18:21) in a section that otherwise dealt with sexual morality (cf. Snaith; cf. also Jub. 30:10). This opinion has the disadvantage of presupposing a late date for the Leviticus material, while at the same time introducing the concept of cultic prostitution, which was entirely foreign to Israelite life at the period when the Levitical material was promulgated by Moses. Furthermore, the antiquity and pervasiveness of Molech-worship was already well known long before the Mosaic period, and there is nothing inherently impossible about Moses being familiar with Ammonite cultic depravity.

The rabbinic writers described a bronze statue, human in form but with an ox’s head, hollow within and heated from below. Children were placed inside this structure and immolated while drums drowned out their cries, Cf. also Diodorus xx.14 for a similar description.

Bibliography.—O. Eissfeldt, Molk als Opferbegriff im Punischen und Hebräischen und das Ende des Gottes Moloch (Beiträge zur Religionsgeschichte des Altertums, III; 1935); J, Gray, JNES 8 (1949), 72–83; W. F. Albright, ARI (5th ed 1969), pp, 156–59; Yahweh and the Gods of Canaan (1968), pp. 235–242; E. Dhorme, Anatolian Studies, 6 (1956), 57: R, de Vaux, Studies in OT Sacrifice (Engtr 1964), pp. 73–90; Ancient Israel (Engtr 1961), pp. 444–46: N. H. Snaith, VT, 16 (1966), 123f



[1]Bromiley, G. W. (2001, c1979-1988). The International standard Bible encyclopedia. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans.

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