mo'-lek, mo'-lok (ha-molekh, always with the article, except in 1 Ki 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:
The name of a heathen divinity whose worship figures largely in the later history of the kingdom of Judah. As the national god of the Ammonites, he is known as "Milcom" (1 Ki 11:5,7), or "Malcam" ("Malcan" is an alternative reading in 2 Sam 12:30,31; compare Jer 49:1,3; Zeph 1:5, where the Revised Version margin reads "their king"). The use of basileus, and archon, as a translation of the name by the Septuagint suggests that it may have been originally the Hebrew word for "king," melekh. Molech is obtained from melekh by the substitution of the vowel points of Hebrew bosheth, signifying "shame." From the obscure and difficult passage, Am 5:26, the Revised Version (British and American) has removed "your Moloch" and given "your king," but Septuagint had here translated "Moloch," and from the Septuagint it found its way into the Acts (7:43), the only occurrence of the name in the New Testament.
2. The Worship in Old Testament History:
In the Levitical ordinances delivered to the Israelites by Moses there are stern prohibitions of Molech-worship (Lev 18:21; 20:2-5). Parallel to these prohibitions, although the name of the god is not mentioned, are those of the Deuteronomic Code where the abominations of the Canaanites are forbidden, and the burning of their sons and daughters in the fire (to Molech) is condemned as the climax of their wickedness (Dt 12:31; 18:10-13). The references to Malcam, and to David's causing the inhabitants of Rabbath Ammon to pass through the brick kiln (2 Sam 12:30,31), are not sufficiently clear to found upon, because of the uncertainty of the readings. Solomon, under the influence of his idolatrous wives, built high places for Chemosh, the abomination of Moab, and for Milcom, the abomination of the children of Ammon. See CHEMOSH. Because of this apostasy it was intimated by the prophet Ahijah, that the kingdom was to be rent out of the hand of Solomon, and ten tribes given to Jeroboam (1 Ki 11:31-33). These high places survived to the time of Josiah, who, among his other works of religious reformation, destroyed and defiled them, filling their places with the bones of men (2 Ki 23:12-14). Molech-worship had evidently received a great impulse from Ahaz, who, like Ahab of Israel, was a supporter of foreign religions (2 Ki 16:12 ff). He also "made his son to pass through the fire, according to the abominations of the nations, whom Yahweh cast out from before the children of Israel" (2 Ki 16:3). His grandson Manasseh, so far from following in the footsteps of his father Hezekiah, who had made great reforms in the worship, reared altars for Baal, and besides other abominations which he practiced, made his son to pass through the fire (2 Ki 21:6). The chief site of this worship, of which Ahaz and Manasseh were the promoters, was Topheth in the Valley of Hinnom, or, as it is also called, the Valley of the Children, or of the Son of Hinnom, lying to the Southwest of Jerusalem (see GEHENNA). Of Josiah's reformation it is said that "he defiled Topheth .... that no man might make his son or his daughter to pass through the fire to Molech" (2 Ki 23:10).
3. The Worship in the Prophets:
Even Josiah's thorough reformation failed to extirpate the Molech-worship, and it revived and continued till the destruction of Jerusalem, as we learn from the prophets of the time. From the beginning, the prophets maintained against it a loud and persistent protest. The testimony of Amos (1:15; 5:26) is ambiguous, but most of the ancient versions for malkam, "their king," in the former passage, read milkom, the national god of Ammon (see Davidson, in the place cited.). Isaiah was acquainted with Topheth and its abominations (Isa 30:33; 57:5). Over against his beautiful and lofty description of spiritual religion, Micah sets the exaggerated zeal of those who ask in the spirit of the Molech-worshipper: "Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?" (Mic 6:6 ff). That Molech-worship had increased in the interval may account for the frequency and the clearness of the references to it in tile later Prophets. In Jeremiah we find the passing of sons and daughters through the fire to Molech associated with the building of "the high places of Baal, which are in the Valley of the Son of Hinnom" (32:35; compare 7:31 ff; 19:5 ff). In his oracle against the children of Ammon, the same prophet, denouncing evil against their land, predicts (almost in the very words of Amos above) that Malcam shall go into captivity, his priests and his princes together (Jer 49:1,3). Ezekiel, speaking to the exiles in Babylon, refers to the practice of causing children to pass through the fire to heathen divinities as long established, and proclaims the wrath of God against it (Ezek 16:20 f; 20:26,31; 23:37). That this prophet regarded the practice as among the "statutes that were not good, and ordinances wherein they should not live" (Ezek 20:25) given by God to His people, by way of deception and judicial punishment, as some hold, is highly improbable and inconsistent with the whole prophetic attitude toward it. Zephaniah, who prophesied to the men who saw the overthrow of the kingdom of Judah, denounces God's judgments upon the worshippers of false gods (Zeph 1:5 f). He does not directly charge his countrymen with having forsaken Yahweh for Malcam, but blames them, because worshipping Him they also swear to Malcam, like those Assyrian colonists in Samaria who feared Yahweh and served their own gods, or like those of whom Ezekiel elsewhere speaks who, the same day on which they had slain their children to their idols, entered the sanctuary of Yahweh to profane it (Ezek 23:39). The captivity in Babylon put an end to Molech-worship, since it weaned the people from all their idolatries. We do not hear of it in the post-exilic Prophets, and, in the great historical psalm of Israel's rebelliousness and God's deliverances (Ps 106), it is only referred to in retrospect (Ps 106:37,38).
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 (Ezek 8). A priesthood is spoken of as attached to the services (Jer 49:3; compare Zeph 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; Ezek 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 (1 Ki 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.