(moh' lehk; king) Transliteration of Hebrew word related to word for “king” but describing a foreign god or a practice related to foreign worship. The meaning of “Molech” is debated. Two views generally are proposed. One suggestion is that “Molech” denotes a particular type of offering—a votive sacrifice made to confirm or fulfill a vow. This viewpoint is supported by the fact that some Carthaginian-Phoenician (Punic) inscriptions from the period 400-150 B.C. imply that the word mlk is a general form for “sacrifice” or “offering.” Such a meaning is possible in some passages (Leviticus 18:21;
2 Kings 23:10;
A second suggestion is that “Molech” is the name of a pagan deity to whom human sacrifices were made. This deity often is associated with Ammon (compare
1 Kings 11:7—) “the abomination of the children of Ammon.”
Leviticus 20:5 condemns those who “commit whoredom with Molech” (see also
2 Kings 23:10;
Jeremiah 32:35). Some recent archaeological evidence points to child sacrifice in ancient Ammon. Many scholars contend that all the biblical texts referring to Molech can be understood by interpreting it as a divine name.
The etymology of the term “Molech” is interesting. Scholars suggest that it is a deliberate misvocalization of the Hebrew word for king or for the related participle (molek), “ruler.” They propose that the consonants for the Hebrew word for king (mlk) were combined with the vowels from the word for shame (boshet). Thus, this title was a divine epithet expressing contempt for the pagan god.
In times of apostasy some Israelites, apparently in desperation, made their children “go through the fire to Molech” (Leviticus 18:21;
2 Kings 23:10; compare
2 Kings 17:31;
Jeremiah 32:35). It generally is assumed that references like these are to the sacrifices of children in the Valley of Hinnom at a site known as Topheth (“Topheth” probably means “firepit” in Syriac). See Hinnom; Tepheth. Precisely how this was done is unknown. Some contend that the children were thrown into a raging fire. Certain rabbinic writers describe a hollow bronze statute in the form of a human but with the head of an ox. According to the rabbis, children were placed in the structure which was then heated from below. Drums were pounded to drown out the cries of the children.
An alternate view contends that the expression “passed through Molech” refers not to human sacrifices but that parents gave up their children to grow up as temple prostitutes. Such a view appeals to
Leviticus 18:1 where throughout the chapter the writer is concerned with sexual intercourse (especially
Leviticus 18:19-23). Another view sees an original fire ceremony dedicating, but not harming children, that later was transformed into a burnt-offering ceremony.
The practice of offering children as human sacrifice was condemned in ancient Israel, but the implication is clear in the Old Testament that child—sacrifice was practiced by some in Israel (2 Kings 21:6;
2 Kings 23:10;
2 Chronicles 28:3;
Ezekiel 23:37,Ezekiel 23:39). The Exile seems to have put an end to this type of worship in Israel. However, it lingered on in North Africa and among the Carthaginian Phoenicians into the Christian era. See Gods, False; Ashtoreth; Molech; Sacrifice, Child.
Paul E. Robertson