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Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible

Molech, Moloch

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MOLECH, MOLOCH. A deity worshipped by the Israelites, especially by the people of Judah, towards the close of the monarchy. Melech (‘king’) was evidently the title of this god; and the present form is due to the combination of the original consonants with the vowels of bôsheth (‘shame’). The passages in which reference to this divinity is probably found are Leviticus 18:21 ; Leviticus 20:2-5 , 1Ki 11:7 , 2 Kings 23:10 , Isaiah 30:33 ; Isaiah 57:9 , Jeremiah 32:35 . The chief feature of the worship seems to have been the sacrifice of children. Its special centre was just outside Jerusalem, at a place in the Valley of Hinnom called the Topheth (which see). The cult was introduced, according to 1 Kings 11:7 , by Solomon. If the reference here is an error (see below), Ahaz may have1 been the innovator ( 2 Kings 16:3 ). At any rate, it flourished in the 7th cent. b.c., as we gather from prophetic denunciation and the legislation of Deuteronomy. Manasseh sacrificed his son ( 2 Kings 21:6 ). Josiah suppressed the worship and defiled Topheth. But under Jehoiakim this worship revived, and continued till the Captivity.

As to the identity of Melech, there is an interesting question. Very ancient tradition identifies him with Milcom (wh. see), the national god of Ammon. But the only basis for this view which the Heb. text of the OT furnishes is 1 Kings 11:7 , and the Gr. VSS [Note: SS Versions.] offer evidence that the original reading in this passage may have been ‘Milcom,’ as in 1 Kings 11:5 and 1 Kings 11:3 . On the other hand, we are told that, while Melech was worshipped at Topheth, the sanctuary of Milcom was on the Mount of Olives ( 2 Kings 23:13 ). Moreover, this cult seems to have been regarded as Canaanitish in origin ( Deuteronomy 12:28-31 ; Deuteronomy 18:9-14 ). Again, we learn from many sources that the most atrocious child-sacrifice was a prominent feature in the public religion of the Phœnicians, both in their Palestinian homeland and in Carthage; and in this connexion we find constant reference to the pit of fire into which the victims were cast (see Topheth). Among other Semitic peoples also there are occasional instances of the offering of children, but not as a regular practice such as we are considering.

Melech is a title of many Semitic deities, and in the OT is frequently applied to Jahweh. We find that the object of this worship is also called Baal (‘master’) ( Jeremiah 19:5 ; Jeremiah 32:35 ). This is likewise a title of numerous Semitic divinities, and is sometimes used of Jahweh (see Baal). When the name ‘Baal’ is used in the OT with specific reference to a particular god, it means Melkarth of Tyre ( 1Ki 16:32 , 2 Kings 3:2 ; 2Ki 8:18 ; 2 Kings 8:27 ; 2 Kings 10:18-27 ; 2 Kings 11:18 ). The prophets undoubtedly regarded the cult as foreign, and as an apostasy to heathenism. But does this necessarily prove that Melech was a false god? Jeremiah’s protest that Jahweh had not required these sacrifices ( Jeremiah 7:31 ; Jeremiah 19:5 ; Jeremiah 32:35 ) would seem to imply that the people did not regard this as the worship of another god. Indeed, Ezekiel goes further, and claims that Jahweh Himself gave them these ‘statutes that are not good,’ and sacrifices of the firstborn, because they had rejected purer worship ( Ezekiel 20:25 f., Ezekiel 20:31 ). On the whole, the evidence seems to indicate that this cultus was due to Phœnician influence, and was introduced because of popular misunderstanding of the laws relating to the giving of the firstborn to Jahweh. The origin of such a cult, together with a possible more or less complete identification with Melkarth, would explain the constant use of the titles ‘Melech’ and ‘Baal’ rather than the name ‘Jahweh.’

W. M. Nesbit.

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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Molech, Moloch'. Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible. 1909.

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Thursday, June 4th, 2020
the Week of Proper 4 / Ordinary 9
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