Catholic Encyclopedia (1913)/Moloch

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(Hebrew Molech, king).

A divinity worshipped by the idolatrous Israelites. The Hebrew pointing Molech does not represent the original pronunciation of the name, any more than the Greek vocalization Moloch found in the LXX and in the Acts (vii, 43). The primitive title of this god was very probably Melech, "king", the consonants of which came to be combined through derision with the vowels of the word Bosheth, "shame". As the word Moloch (A.V. Molech) means king, it is difficult in several places of the Old Testament to determine whether it should be considered as the proper name of a deity or as a simple appellative. The passages of the original text in which the name stands probably for that of a god are Lev., xviii, 21; xx, 2-5; III (A. V. I) Kings, xi, 7; IV (II) Kings, xxiii, 10; Is., xxx, 33; lvii, 9; Jer., xxxii, 35. The chief feature of Moloch's worship among the Jews seems to have been the sacrifice of children, and the usual expression for describing that sacrifice was "to pass through the fire", a rite carried out after the victims had been put to death. The special centre of such atrocities was just outside of Jerusalem, at a place called Tophet (probably "place of abomination"), in the valley of Geennom. According to III (I) Kings, xi, 7, Solomon erected "a temple" for Moloch "on the hill over against Jerusalem", and on this account he is at times considered as the monarch who introduced the impious cult into Israel. After the disruption, traces of Moloch worship appear in both Juda and Israel. The custom of causing one's children to pass through the fire seems to have been general in the Northern Kingdom [IV (II) Kings, xvii, 17; Ezech. xxiii, 37], and it gradually grew in the Southern, encouraged by the royal example of Achaz (IV Kings, xvi, 3) and Manasses [IV (II) Kings, xvi, 6] till it became prevalent in the time of the prophet Jeremias (Jerem. xxxii, 35), when King Josias suppressed the worship of Moloch and defiled Tophet [IV (II) Kings, xxiii, 13 (10)]. It is not improbable that this worship was revived under Joakim and continued until the Babylonian Captivity.

On the basis of the Hebrew reading of III (I) Kings, xi, 7, Moloch has often been identified with Milcom, the national god of the Ammonites, but this identification cannot be considered as probable: as shown by the Greek Versions, the original reading of III (I) Kings, xi, 7, was not Molech but Milchom [cf. also III (I) Kings, xi, 5, 33]; and according to Deut., xii, 29-31; xviii, 9-14, the passing of children through fire was of Chanaanite origin [cf. IV (II) Kings, xvi, 3]. Of late, numerous attempts have been made to prove that in sacrificing their children to Moloch the Israelites simply thought that they were offering them in holocaust to Yahweh. In other words, the Melech to whom child-sacrifices were offered was Yahweh under another name. To uphold this view appeal is made in particular to Jer., vii, 31; xix, 5, and to Ezech., xx, 25-31. But this position is to say the least improbable. The texts appealed to may well be understood otherwise, and the prophets expressly treat the cult of Moloch as foreign and as an apostasy from the worship of the true God. The offerings by fire, the probable identity of Moloch with Baal, and the fact that in Assyria and Babylonia Malik, and at Palmyra Malach-bel, were sun-gods, have suggested to many that Moloch was a fire- or sun-god.

BAUDISSIN, Jahve et Moloch (Leipzig, 1874); SMITH, Religion of the Semites (London, 1894); SCHULTZ, Old Testament Theology, I (tr., Edinburgh, 1898); LAGRANGE, Etudes sur les Religions Semitiques (Paris, 1903).

FRANCIS E. GIGOT