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Most scholars accept one of two meanings for “Molech.”

Some contend that molech is a generic noun denoting a particular type of sacrifice, “a votive offering.” This view is based primarily on the use of mlk in a number of Punic and Neo-Punic inscrs. dated roughly from the 4th to the 1st cent. b.c. from N Africa and engraved upon stelae which commemorated a sacrifice. The word mlk occurs alone or compounded with expressions, the most remarkable of which are mlk’mr and mlk’dm. Several stelae, dated from the end of the 2nd cent. or beginning of the 3rd cent. a.d., bear an analogous Latin inscr. vocalized molchomor which is evidently a transcription of the Punic mlk’mr. Thus one can reckon molk as the vocalization of the first element.

O. Eissfeldt then showed that the word had a ritual sense denoting a sacrifice made to confirm or acquit a vow. Probably mlk’mr and mlk’dm mean respectively “offering of lamb” and “offering of man,” and refer to the sacrifice of an infant, or of a lamb substitute. Furthermore, although these inscrs. and texts are of late date, R. Dussaud read mlk’mr on a stele from Malta of the 7th or 6th cent. b.c.

Moreover, Sanchuniathon as quoted by Porphyry through Philo (De Abstinentia, ii, 56), a text also taken up by Eusebius (Praep. Ev., iv, 16, 6), said that the Phoenicians sacrificed children at a much earlier date, and Quintus Curtius (His. IV., iii, 23, tr. H. Bardon in the Budé Collection) said explicitly that this rite was transmitted from Phoenicia to Carthage. Although mlk never appears with a sacrificial meaning in the Phoen. inscrs., this silence is explicable because Quintus Curtius also said the practice had been in abeyance for centuries before the founding of Carthage. The Ras Shamra texts, roughly contemporaneous with the period in which Philo places Sanchuniathon, may use mlk for a type of sacrifice but the texts are not decisive (cf. C. H. Gordon, glossary No. 1119). More compelling is the mention of mlkm at the end of a list of divinities among the first alphabetic tablets discovered in 1929. A tablet from excavations in 1956 contained the same list in syllabic Akkad. in which mlkm is represented by “the Maliks” (pl. form), and these mlkm come among a group of cult objects or actions which are divinized. It is possible, then, that the mlkm gods are divinized molk sacrifices.

The major objection to this view is the statement in Leviticus 20:5 which condemns those who “prostitute themselves by following Molech.” Here Molech must be a divinity and not a sacrifice. On the contrary the references to “Molech” in all the Biblical texts can be understood as a divine name.

The term traditionally has been explained and recently has been defended to be a deliberate misvocalization of the title “King,” “the King” (Melech, hammelek) for the god of the Ammonites by inserting the vowels of boshet “shame” (cf. Ashtoreth). This title is a divine epithet which enters into the composition of many Phoen. and Heb. names, where it changes places with proper names of divinities. The epithet is found also under the forms muluk and malik in the name lists of Mari at the beginning of the second millennium b.c. Accordingly, it may be construed as an alternate form of Milcom. J. Gray argued that the proper name of the god was Athtar, an astral deity.

The cult.

N. H. Snaith, however, contended that the disputed expression means the children were given up by the parents to grow up and be trained as temple prostitutes. His best evidence is that in Leviticus 18 the writer throughout the whole chapter is concerned with illegal sexual intercourse, and esp. so in vv. 19-23. Moreover, the phrase was so interpreted in the Talmud. The apparently foreign insertion in Leviticus 18:21 is difficult to explain (cf. R. de Vaux, Studies in Old Testament Sacrifice [1964], 87, n. 137). On the other hand, the rabbis also luridly describe a statue of Moloch according to the first view.


G. F. Moore, “The Image of Moloch,” JBL XVI (1897), 161-165; J. Carcopino, “Survivances par substitution des sacrifices d’enfants dans l’Afrique Romaine,” Révue de l’Histoire des Religions, CVI (1932-B), 592-599; O. Eissfeldt, “Molk als Opferbegriff im Punischen und Hebräischen und das Ende des Gottes Moloch,” Beiträge zur Religionsgeschichte des Altertums, III (1935); R. Dussaud, Comptes-rendus de l’Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres, I (1946), 376f.; W. Kornfeld, “Der Moloch,” Wiener Zeitschrift für die Kunde des Morgenlandes, LI (1948-1952), 287-313; W. F. Albright, Archaeology and the Religion of Israel (1953), 162-164; K. Dronkert, De Molochdienst in Het Oude Testament (1953); A. Berthier and R. Charlier, Le Sanctuaire punique d’El-Hofra à Constantine (1955); E. Dhorme, “Le Dieu Baal et le Dieu Moloch,” Anatolian Studies, VI (1956), 57; J. Hoftijzer, “Eine Notiz zum punischen Kinderopfer,” VT, VIII (1958), 288-292; J. G. Février, “Essai de reconstruction du sacrifice Molek,” JA (1960), 167-187; R. de Vaux, Studies in Old Testament Sacrifice (1964), 73-90; N. H. Snaith, “The Cult of Molech,” VT, XVI (1966), 123f.; J. Gray, I and II Kings: A Commentary (1970), 275ff.

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)

mo’-lek, mo’-lok (ha-molekh, always with the article, except in 1Ki 11:7; Septuagint ho Moloch, sometimes also Molchom, Melchol; Vulgate (Jerome’s Latin Bible, 390-405 A.D.) Moloch):

1. The Name

2. The Worship in Old Testament History

3. The Worship in the Prophets

4. Nature of the Worship

5. Origin and Extent of the Worship


1. The Name:

2. The Worship in Old Testament History:

3. The Worship in the Prophets:

4. The Nature of the Worship:

When we come to consider the nature of this worship it is remarkable how few details are given regarding it in Scripture. The place where it was practiced from the days of Ahaz and Manasseh was the Valley of Hinnom where Topheth stood, a huge altar-pyre for the burning of the sacrificial victims. There is no evidence connecting the worship with the temple in Jerusalem. Ezekiel’s vision of sun-worshippers in the temple is purely ideal (Eze 8). A priesthood is spoken of as attached to the services (Jer 49:3; compare Ze 1:4,5). The victims offered to the divinity were not burnt alive, but were killed as sacrifices, and then presented as burnt offerings. "To pass through the fire" has been taken to mean a lustration or purification of the child by fire, not involving death. But the prophets clearly speak of slaughter and sacrifice, and of high places built to burn the children in the fire as burnt offerings (Jer 19:5; Eze 16:20,21).

The popular conception, molded for English readers largely by Milton’s "Moloch, horrid king" as described in Paradise Lost, Book I, is derived from the accounts given in late Latin and Greek writers, especially the account which Diodorus Siculus gives in his History of the Carthaginian Kronos or Moloch. The image of Moloch was a human figure with a bull’s head and outstretched arms, ready to receive the children destined for sacrifice. The image of metal was heated red hot by a fire kindled within, and the children laid on its arms rolled off into the fiery pit below. In order to drown the cries of the victims, flutes were played, and drums were beaten; and mothers stood by without tears or sobs, to give the impression of the voluntary character of the offering (see Rawlinson’s Phoenicia, 113 f, for fuller details).

On the question of the origin of this worship there is great variety of views. Of a non-Sem origin there is no evidence; and there is no trace of human sacrifices in the old Babylonian religion. That it prevailed widely among Semitic peoples is clear.

5. Origin and Extent of the Worship:

While Milcom or Malcam is peculiarly the national god of the Ammonites, as is Chemosh of the Moabites, the name Molech or Melech was recognized among the Phoenicians, the Philistines, the Arameans, and other Semitic peoples, as a name for the divinity they worshipped from a very early time. That it was common among the Canaanites when the Israelites entered the land is evident from the fact that it was among the abominations from which they were to keep themselves free. That it was identical at first with the worship of Yahweh, or that the prophets and the best men of the nation ever regarded it as the national worship of Israel, is a modern theory which does not appear to the present writer to have been substantiated. It has been inferred from Abraham’s readiness to offer up Isaac at the command of God, from the story of Jephthah and his daughter, and even from the sacrifice of Hiel the Bethelite (1Ki 16:34), that human sacrifice to Yahweh was an original custom in Israel, and that therefore the God of Israel was no other than Moloch, or at all events a deity of similar character. But these incidents are surely too slender a foundation to support such a theory. "The fundamental idea of the heathen rite was the same as that which lay at the foundation of Hebrew ordinance: the best to God; but by presenting to us this story of the offering of Isaac, and by presenting it in this precise form, the writer simply teaches the truth, taught by all the prophets, that to obey is better than sacrifice--in other words that the God worshipped in Abraham’s time was a God who did not delight in destroying life, but in saving and sanctifying it" (Robertson, Early Religion of Israel, 254). While there is no ground for identifying Yahweh with Moloch, there are good grounds for seeing a community of origin between Moloch and Baal. The name, the worship, and the general characteristics are so similar that it is natural to assign them a common place of origin in Phoenicia. The fact that Moloch-worship reached the climax of its abominable cruelty in the Phoenician colonies of which Carthage was the center shows that it had found among that people a soil suited to its peculiar genius.


Wolf Baudissin, "Moloch" in PRE3; G. F. Moore, "Moloch" in EB; Robertson, Early Religion of Israel, 241-65; Robertson Smith, Religion of the Semites, 352 ff; Buchanan Gray, Hebrew Proper Names, 138 ff.

T. Nicol.