Bible History Online
International Standard Bible Encyclopedia
ke'-mosh (kemosh; Chamos):
1. Moabites, the People of Chemosh
2. Solomon and Chemosh Worship
3. Josiah Putting Down Chemosh Worship
4. Chemosh and Ammonites
5. Moabite Stone
6. Mesha's Inscription and the Old Testament
7. Chemosh in the Inscription
8. Parallels between Inscription and Old Testament Record
9. Ethical Contrast
1. Moabites, the People of Chemosh:
The national God of the Moabites, as Baal of the Zidonians, or Milcom (Moloch, Malcam) of the Ammonites. The Moabites are apostrophized in an old Hebrew song as the "people of Chemosh" (Nu 21:29). Jeremiah in his oracle of doom upon Moab has recourse to the same old song and calls the people "the people of Chemosh." The impotence of the god to deliver his people is described by the prophet in figures representing him as going into captivity with them, his priests and princes together, and Moab is to be ashamed of him as Israel was of the Golden Calf of Bethel, which did not avail to save the Northern Kingdom from the conquering Assyrian power (Jer 48:7,13,16).
2. Solomon and Chemosh Worship:
For Chemosh, "the abomination of Moab," as for Moloch, "the abomination of the children of Ammon," Solomon, under the influence of his idolatrous wives, built a high place in the mount before Jerusalem (1 Ki 11:7). It was natural that they should desire to worship still after the manner of the gods of their native land, but although the effect of all this was seen in the moral and spiritual deterioration of Solomon himself there is no indication that the immoralities and cruelties associated with such worship were then practiced in Jerusalem. In the days of Ahaz and Manasseh, even as early as the days of Abijam of Judah, they were (1 Ki 15:12,13).
3. Josiah Putting Down Chemosh Worship:
Josiah found these abominations of alien worship, which had been introduced by Solomon and added to by Ahaz and Manasseh, flourishing when he came to the throne. Moved by the prohibitions of the Book of the Law (Dt 12:29-31; 18:10), Josiah pulled down and defiled the high places and the altars, and in order to make a clean sweep of the idolatrous figures, "he brake in pieces the pillars," or obelisks, "and cut down the Asherim," or sacred poles, "and filled their places with the bones of men" (2 Ki 23:1-20).
4. Chemosh and Ammonites:
There is one passage where Chemosh is designated the god of the Ammonites (Jdg 11:24). Jephthah is disputing the right of the Ammonites to invade territory which belongs to Israel because Yahweh has given it to them by conquest. And he asks: `Shouldst thou not possess the territory of those whom Chemosh, thy god, dispossesses, and we the territory of all whom Yahweh, our god, dispossesses?' It may be that he is called here the god of the Ammonites by a mere oversight of the historian; or that Moab and Ammon being kindred nations descended from a common ancestor, Lot, Chemosh may in a sense belong to both. We notice, however, that Jephthah's argument in meeting the claim preferred by the king of Ammon passes on to Israel's relation to the Moabites and makes mention only of well-known Moabite cities. Chemosh is accordingly named because of his association with Moab, the cities of which are being spoken of, although strictly and literally Milcom should have been named in an appeal addressed as a whole to the Ammonites (Jdg 11:12-28; compare Moore at the place).
5. Moabite Stone:
The discovery of the Moabite Stone in 1868 at Dibon has thrown light upon Chemosh and the relations of Moab to its national god. The monument, which is now one of the most precious treasures of the Louvre in Paris, bears an inscription which is the oldest specimen of Semitic alphabetic writing extant, commemorating the successful effort made about 860 or 850 BC by Mesha, king of Moab, to throw off the yoke of Israel. We know from the Old Testament record that Moab had been reduced to subjection by David (2 Sam 8:2); that it paid a heavy tribute to Ahab, king of Israel (2 Ki 3:4); and that, on the death of Ahab, Mesha its king rebelled against Israelite rule (2 Ki 3:5). Not till the reign of Jehoram was any effort made to recover the lost dominion. The king of Israel then allied himself with the kings of Judah and Edom, and marching against Moab by the way of the Red Sea, inflicted upon Mesha a defeat so decisive that the wrath of his god, Chemosh, could be appeased only by the sacrifice of his son (2 Ki 3:6 ff).
6. Mesha's Inscription and the Old Testament:
The historical situation described in the Old Testament narrative is fully confirmed by Mesha's inscription. There are, however, divergences in detail. In the Book of Kings the revolt of Mesha is said to have taken place after the death of Ahab. The inscription implies that it must have taken place by the middle of Ahab's reign. The inscription implies that the subjection of Moab to Israel had not been continuous from the time of David, and says that `Omri, the father of Ahab, had reasserted the power of Israel and had occupied at least a part of the land.
7. Chemosh in the Inscription:
It is with what the inscription says of Chemosh that we are chiefly concerned. On the monument the name appears twelve times. Mesha is himself the son of Chemosh, and it was for Chemosh that he built the high place upon which the monument was found. He built it because among other reasons Chemosh had made him to see his desire upon them that hated him. It was because Chemosh was angry with his land that `Omri afflicted Moab many days. `Omri had taken possession of the land of Medeba and Israel dwelt in it his days and half his son's days, but Chemosh restored it in Mesha's days. Mesha took `Ataroth which the king of Israel had built for himself, slew all the people of the city, and made them a gazing-stock to Chemosh and to Moab. Mesha brought thence the altar-hearth of Dodo, and dragged it before Chemosh in Kerioth. By command of Chemosh, Mesha attacked Nebo and fought against Israel, and after a fierce struggle he took the place, slaying the inhabitants en masse, 7,000 men and women and maidservants, devoting the city to `Ashtor-Chemosh and dragging the altar vessels of Yahweh before Chemosh. Out of Jahaz, too, which the king of Israel had built, Chemosh drove him before Mesha. At the instigation of Chemosh, Mesha fought against Horonaim, and, although the text is defective in the closing paragraph, we may surmise that Chemosh did not fail him but restored it to his dominions.
8. Parallels between Inscription and Old Testament Record:
Naturally enough there is considerable obscurity in local and personal allusions. Dodo may have been a local god worshipped by the Israelites East of the Jordan. Ashtor-Chemosh may be a compound divinity of a kind not unknown to Semitic mythology, Ashtor representing possibly the Phoenician Ashtoreth. What is of importance is the recurrence of so many phrases and expressions applied to Chemosh which are used of Yahweh in the Old Testament narratives. The religious conceptions of the Moabites reflected in the inscription are so strikingly like those of the Israelites that if only the name of Yahweh were substituted for that of Chemosh we might think we were reading a chapter of the Books of Kings. It is not in the inscriptions, however, but in the Old Testament narrative that we find a reference to the demand of Chemosh for human sacrifice. "He took his eldest son," says the Hebrew historian, "that should have reigned in his stead, and offered him for a burnt-offering upon the wall. And there was great wrath against Israel: and they departed from him, and returned to their own land" (2 Ki 3:27). This appears to indicate that the Israelites had to give up their purpose to fasten the yoke of bondage again upon Mesha and that they returned empty-handed to their own land. But this fortunate result for Moab was due to the favor of Chemosh, and in particular to the human sacrifice by which he was propitiated.
9. Ethical Contrast:
If we find in these representations of Chemosh in the Old Testament narrative and in Mesha's inscription a striking similarity to the Hebrew conception of Yahweh, we cannot fail to notice the lack of the higher moral and spiritual elements supplied to the religion of Israel by the prophets and indeed from Moses and Abraham downward. "Chemosh," says W. Baudissin, "is indeed the ruler of his people whom he protects as Yahweh the Israelites, whom he chastises in his indignation, and from whom he accepts horrible propitiatory gifts. But of a God of grace whose long-suffering leads back even the erring to Himself, of a Holy God to whom the offering of a pure and obedient heart is more acceptable than bloody sacrifices, of such a God as is depicted in Israel's prophets and sweet singers there is no trace in the Moabite picture of Chemosh. While Mesha is represented as offering up his own son in accordance with the stern requirements of his religion, Old Testament law-givers and prophets from the beginning condemned human sacrifice" (RE3, article "Kemosh").
RE3, article "Kemosh"; Cooke, Text-Book of North-Semitic Inscriptions, "Moabite Stone," 1-14; W. Robertson Smith, Prophets of Israel, 49 ff; Sayce, Sayce, Higher Criticism and the Monuments, 364 ff.
Orr, James, M.A., D.D. General Editor. "Definition for 'CHEMOSH'". "International Standard Bible Encyclopedia". bible-history.com - ISBE
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