Mo'lech (Heb. Mo'lek, מֹלֶך, king, always with the art. הִמֹּלֶך, except in 1Ki 11:7; Sept. ἄρχων in Le 18:21; Le 20:2-4; Μελχών v.r. βασιλεύς in 1Ki 11:7; Μολὸχ ὁ βασιλεύς in Jer 32:35; and simply Μολόχ in 2Ki 23:10, as Aquila, Symmachus, and Theodotion everywhere render; Vulg. aMoloch), called also MOLOCH (Am 5:25; Ac 7:43), MILCOU (1Ki 1:5,33; 2Ki 23:13), MALCHAM (Zep 1:5), and MELCOMI (marg. Jer 49:1,3, text "their king"), is chiefly found in the Old Testament as the national god of the Ammonites, to whom children were sacrificed by fire.
1. The Name. — The root of the word Molech is the same as that of מֶלֶך, me'lek, or "king," and hence he is identified with Malcham (" their king") in 2Sa 12:30; Zep 1:5, the title by which he was known to the Israelites, as being invested with regal honors in his character as a tutelary deity, the lord and master of his people. Our translators have recognised this identity in their rendering of Am 5:26 (where "your Moloch" is literally "your king," as it is given in the margin), following the Greek in the speech of Stephen, in Ac 7:43. Dr. Geiger, in accordance with his theory that the worship of Molech was far more widely spread among the Israelites than appears at first sight from the Old Testament, and that many traces are obscured in the text, refers "the king," in Isa 30:33, to that deity: "For Tophet is ordained of old; yea, for the king it is prepared." Again, of the Israelitish nation, personified as an adulteress, it is said," Thou wentest to the king with oil" (Isa 57:9); Amaziah, the priest of Bethel, forbade Amos to prophesy there, "for it is the king's chapel" (Am 7:13); and in both these instances Dr. Geiger would find a disguised reference to the worship of Molech (Urschrift, etc., pages 299- 308).
Traces of the root from which Molech is derived are to be found in the Milichus, Aialica, and Malcander of the Phoenicians; with the last mentioned may be compared Adrammelech, the fire-god of Sepharvaim. The fire-god Molech, as the tutelary deity of the children of Ammon, was essentially identical with the Moabitish Chemosh. The Hebrew form, as an undoubted proper name, likewise occurs with some variety, as seen above. Solomon had in his harem many women of the Ammonitish race, who "turned away his heart after other gods," and, as a consequence of their influence, high places to Molech, "the abomination of the children of Ammon," were built on "the mount that is facing Jerusalem" — one of the summits of Olivet (1Ki 11:7). Two verses before, the same deity is called MILCOM, and from the circumstance of the two names being distinguished in 2Ki 23:10,13, it has been inferred by Movers, Ewald, and others, that the two deities were essentially distinct. Movers (Phonicier. 1:358) is probably correct in regarding the latter as merely an Aramaic pronunciation. It is true that in the later history of the Israelites the worship of Molech is connected with the valley of Hinnom, while the high place of Milcom was on the Mount of Olives, and that no mention is made of human sacrifices to the latter. But it seems impossible to resist the conclusion that in 1 Kings 11, Milcom the abomination of the Ammonites," in verse 5, is the same as "Molech the abomination of the children of Ammon," in verse 7. To avoid this Movers contends, not very convincingly, that the latter verse is by a different hand. Be this as it may, in the reformation carried out by Josiah, the high place of Milcom, on the right hand of the mount of corruption, and Tophet in the valley of the children of Hinnom were defiled, that "no man might make his son or his daughter to pass through the fire to Molech" (2Ki 23:10,13). In the narrative of Chronicles these are included under the general term "Baalim," and the apostasy of Solomon is not once alluded to. Tophet soon appears to have been restored to its original uses, for we find it again alluded to, in the reign of Zedekiah, as the scene of child-slaughter and sacrifice to Molech (Jer 32:35). Kimchi, following the Targum, takes the word Milcom as an appellative, and not as a proper name, while with regard to sikkuth (סכּוּת, A.V. "tabernacle") he holds the opposite opinion. His note is as follows: "Sikkuth is the name of an idol; and (as for) malkekem he speaks of a star which was made an idol by its name, and he calls it 'king,' because they thought it a king over them, or because it was a great star in the host of heaven, which was as a king over his host; and so 'to burn incense to the queen of heaven,' as I have explained in the book of Jeremiah." Gesenius compares with the "tabernacle" of Molech the sacred tent of the Carthaginians mentioned by Diodorus (20:65). Rosenmiller, and after him Ewald, understood by sikkuth a pole or stake on which the figure of the idol was placed. It was more probably a kind of palanquin in which the image was carried in processions, a custom which is alluded to in Isa 46:1; Epist. of Jeremiah 4 (Selden, De Dis Syr. synt. 1, c. 6).
There remains to be noticed one passage (2Sa 12:31) in which the Hebrew written text has מִלכֵּן, malken, while the marginal reading is מִלבֵּן, malben, which is adopted by our translators in their rendering "brick-kiln." Kimchi explains malken as "the place of Molech," where sacrifices were offered to him, and the children of Ammon made their sons to pass through the fire. Milcom and Malken, he says, are one. On the other hand, Movers, rejecting the points, reads מִלכָּן, malkan, "our king," which he explains as the title by which he was known to the Ammonites.
2. Biblical Account of this Deity. — There is some difficulty in ascertaining at what period the Israelites became acquainted with this idolatry; yet four reasons render it probable that it' was before the time of Solomon, the date usually assigned for its introduction. First, Molech appears — if not under that name, yet under the notion that we attach to it — to have been a principal god of the Phoenicians and Canaanites, whose other idolatries the Israelites confessedly adopted very early. Secondly, there are some arguments which tend to connect Molech with Baal, and, if they be tenable, the worship of Molech might be essentially as old as that of the latter. Thirdly, if we assume, as there is much apparent ground for doing, that, wherever human sacrifices are mentioned in the Old Testament, we are to understand them as being offered to Molech — the apparent exception of the gods of Sepharvaim being only a strong evidence of their identity with him — then the remarkable passage in Eze 20:26 (comp. verse 31) clearly shows that the Israelites sacrificed their firstborn by fire when they were in the wilderness. Fourthly, the rebuke contained in Am 5:26, as quoted in Ac 7:43, appears to imply that some idol similar to this was secretly worshipped as early as the exodus. SEE CHIUN. Moreover, those who ascribe the Pentateuch to Moses will recognise both the early existence of the worship of this god and the apprehension of its contagion in that express prohibition of his bloody rites which is found in the Mosaic law. The offender who devoted his offspring to Molech was to be put to death by stoning; and in case the people of the land refused to inflict upon him this judgment, Jehovah would himself execute it, and cut him off from among his people (Le 18:21; Le 20:2-5).
Nevertheless, it is for the first time directly stated that Solomon erected a high place for Molech on the Mount of Olives (1Ki 11:7); and from that period his worship continued uninterruptedly there, or in Tophet, in the valley of Hinnom, until Josiah defiled both places (2Ki 23:10,13). Jehoahaz, however, the son and successor of Josiah, again "did what was evil in the sight of Jehovah, according to all that his fathers had done" (2Ki 23:32). The same broad condemnation is made against the succeeding kings, Jehoiakim, Jehoiachin, and Zedekiah; and Ezekiel, writing during the captivity, says, "Do ye, by offering your gifts, and by making your sons pass through the fire, pollute yourselves with all your idols until this day, and shall I be inquired of by you?" (20:31). After the restoration, all traces of this idolatry disappear.
Molech, "the king," was the lord and master of the Ammonites; their country was his possession (Jer 49:1), as Moab was the heritage of Chemosh; the princes of the land were the princes of Malcham (Jer 49:3; Am 1:15). His priests were men of rank (Jer 49:3), taking precedence of the princes. So the priest of Hercules at Tyre was second to the king (Justin, 18:4, § 5), and like Molech, the god himself, Baal Chamman, is Melkart, "the king of the city." The priests of Molech, like those of other idols, were called Chemarim (2Ki 23:5; Ho 10:5; Zep 1:4).
Most of the Jewish interpreters, Jarchi (on Le 17:16), Kimchi, and Maimonides (Mor. Neb. 3:38) among the number, say that in the worship of Molech the children were not burned, but made to pass between two burning pyres, as a purificatory rite. But the allusions to the actual slaughter are too plain to be mistaken, and Aben Ezra, in his note on Le 18:21, says that "to cause to pass through" is the same as "to burn." "They sacrificed their sons and their daughters unto devils, and shed innocent blood, the blood of their sons and of their daughters, whom they sacrificed unto the idols of Canaan" (Ps 106:37-38). In Jer 7:31, the reference to the worship of Molech by human sacrifice is still more distinct: "They have built the high places of Tophet... to burn their sons and their daughters in the fire," as "burnt-offerings unto Baal," the sun-god of Tyre, with whom, or in whose character, Molech was worshipped (Jer 19:5). Compare the statements in De 12:31; Eze 16:20-21; Eze 23:37; the last two of which may also be adduced to show that the victims were slaughtered before they were burned. But the most remarkable passage is that in 2Ch 28:3, in which the wickedness of Ahaz is described: "Moreover, he burned incense in the valley of the son of Hinnom, and burned (וִיִּבעֵר) his children in the fire, after the abominations of the nations whom Jehovah had driven out before the children of Israel." Now, in the parallel narrative of 2Ki 16:3, instead of וִיִּבעֵר, "and he burned," the reading is הֶעֵַביר, "he made to pass through," and Dr. Geiger suggests that the former may be the true reading, of which the latter is an easy modification, serving as a euphemistic expression to disguise the horrible nature of the sacrificial rites. But it is more natural to suppose that it is an exceptional instance, and that the true reading is וִיִּעֲבֵר than to assume that the other passages have been intentionally altered. We may infer from the expression, "after the abominations of the nations whom Jehovah had driven out before the children of Israel," that the character of the Molech-worship of the time of Ahaz was essentially the same. as that of the old Canaanites, although Movers maintains the contrary.
The sacrifice of children is said by Movers to have been not so much an expiatory as a purificatory rite, by which the victims were purged from the dross of the body and attained union with the deity. In support of this he quotes the myth of Baaltis or Isis, whom Malcander, king of Byblus, employed as nurse for his child. Isis suckled the infant with her finger, and each night burned whatever was mortal in its body. When Astarte, the mother, saw this she uttered a cry of terror, and the child. was thus deprived of immortality (Plutarch, Is. and Os. chapter 16). But the sacrifice of Mesha, king of Moab, when, in despair at failing to cut his way through the overwhelming forces of Judah, Israel, and Edom, he offered up his eldest son a burnt-offering, probably to Chemosh, his national divinity, has, more of the character of an expiatory rite to appease an angry deity than of a ceremonial purification. Besides, the passage from Plutarch bears evident traces of Egyptian, if not of Indian influence.
The worship of Molech is evidently alluded to, though not expressly mentioned, in connection with star-worship and the worship of Baal in 2Ki 17:16-17; 2Ki 21:5-6, which seems to show that Molech, the flame god, and Baal, the sun-god, whatever their distinctive attributes, and whether or not the latter is a general appellation including the former, were worshipped with the same rites. Another argument might be drawn from Jer 3:24, in which Hab-bosheth, "the shame," is said to have devoured their flocks and herds, their sons and daughters. Now, as Bosheth is found, in the names Ishbosheth and Jerubbesheth, to alternate with Baal, as if it were only a contemptuous perversion of it, it would appear that human sacrifices are here again ascribed to Baal. Further, whereas Baal is the chief name under which we find the principal god of the Phoenicians in the Old Testament, and whereas only the two above- cited passages mention the human victims of Baal, it is remarkable that the Greek and Latin authors give abundant testimony to the human sacrifices which the Phoenicians and their colonies offered to their principal god, in whom the classical writers have almost always recognised their own Κρόνος and Saturn. Thus we are again brought to the difficulty, SEE BAAL, of reconciling Molech as Saturn with Baal as the sun and Jupiter. In reality, however, this difficulty is in part created by our association of classical with Shemitic mythology. When regarded apart from such foreign affinities, Molech and Baal may appear as the personifications of the two powers that give and destroy life, which early religions regarded as not incompatible phases of the same God of nature.
3. Information from other Sources. — Fire-gods appear to have been common to all the Canaanitish, Syrian, and other tribes, who worshipped the destructive element under an outward symbol, with the most inhuman rites. Among these were human sacrifices, purifications, and ordeals by fire, devoting of the first-born, mutilation, and vows of perpetual celibacy and. virginity. To this class of divinities belonged the old Canaanitish Molech, as well as Chemosh, the fire-god of Moab, Urotal, Dusares, Sair. and Thyandrites, of the Edomites and neighboring Arab tribes, and the Greek Dionysus, who were worshipped under the symbol of a rising flame of fire, which was imitated in the stone pillars erected in their honor (Movers, Phon. 1, c. 9). Tradition refers the origin of the fire-worship to Chaldaea. Abraham and his ancestors are said to have been fire- worshippers, and the Assyrian and Chaldaean armies took with them the sacred fire accompanied by the magi.
As the accounts of this idol and his worship found in the Old Testament are very scanty, the more detailed notices which Greek and Latin writers give of the bloody rites of the Phoenician colonies acquire peculiar value. Minter, has collected these testimonies with great completeness in his Religion der Karthager. Many of these notices, however, only describe late developments of the primitive rites. Thus the description of the image of Molech as a brazen statue, which was heated red hot, and in the outstretched arms of which the child was laid, so that it fell down into the flaming furnace beneath — an account which is first found in Diodorus Siculus, as referring to the Carthaginian Κρόνος, but which was subsequently adopted by Jarchi and others — is not admitted by Movers to apply to the Molech of the Old Testament.
According to Jewish tradition, from what source we know not, the image of Molech was of brass, hollow within, and was situated without Jerusalem. Kimchi (on 2Ki 23:10) describes it as "set within seven chapels, and whoso offered fine flour, they open to him one of them; (whoso offered) turtle-doves or young pigeons, they open to him two: a lamb, they open to him three; a ram, they open to him four; a calf, they open to him five; an ox, they open to him six; and to whoever offered his son, they open to him seven. And his face was (that) of a calf, and his hands stretched forth like a man who opens his hands to receive (something) of his neighbor. And they kindled it with fire, and the priests took the babe and put it into the hands of Molech, and the babe gave up the ghost. And why was it called Tophet and Hinnom? Because they used to make a noise with drums (tophim), that the father might not hear the cry of his child and have pity upon him, and return to him. Hinnom, because the babe wailed (מגהם, menahem), and the noise of his wailing went up." Another opinion (is that it was called) Hinnom, because the priests used to say — "May it profit (יהגה) thee! may it be sweet to thee! may it be of sweet savor to thee!" All this detail is probably as fictitious as the etymologies are unsound, but we have nothing to supply its place. Selden conjectures that the idea of the seven chapels may have been borrowed from the worship of Mithra, who had seven gates corresponding to the seven planets, and to whom men and women were sacrificed (De Dis Syr. synt. 1, c. 6). Benjamin of Tudela describes the remains of an ancient Ammonitish temple which he saw at Gebal, containing a stone image richly gilt seated on a throne. On either side sat two female figures, and before it was an altar on which the Ammonites anciently burned incense and offered sacrifice (Early Travels in Palestine, page 79, Bohn). By these chapels Lightfoot explains the allusion in Am 5:26; Ac 7:43, to "the tabernacle of Molech;" "these seven chapels (if there be truth, in the thing) help us to understand what is meant by Molech's tabernacle, and seem to give some reason why in the prophet he is called Sikkuth, or the Covert God, because he was retired within so many Cancelli (for that word Kimchi useth) before one could come at him" (Comm. on Acts 7:43). It was more probably a shrine or ark in which the figure of the god was carried in processions, or which contained, as Movers conjectures, the bones of children who had been sacrificed, and were used for magical purposes. The crown of Malcham, taken by David at Rabbah, is said to have had in it a precious stone (a magnet, according to Kimchi), which is described by Cyril on Amos as transparent and like the day-star, whence Molech has groundlessly been identified with the planet Venus (Vossius, De Orig. Idol. 2, c. 5, page 331). A legend is told in Jerome's Quaestiones Hebraicae (1Ch 20:2) that, as it was unlawful for a Hebrew to touch anything of gold or silver belonging to an idol, Ittai the Gittite, who was a Philistine, snatched the crown from the head of Milcom, and gave it to David, who thus avoided the pollution.
Many instances of human sacrifices are found in ancient writers; which may be compared with the descriptions in the Old Testament of the manner in which Molech was worshipped. The Carthaginians, according to Augustine (De Civit. Dei, 7:19), offered children to Saturn, and by the Gauls even grown-up person? were sacrificed, under the idea that of all seeds the best is the human kind. Eusebius (Prcep. Ev. 4:16) collected from Porphyry numerous examples to the same effect, from which the following are selected. Among the Rhodians, a man was offered to Kronos on the 6th of July; afterwards a criminal condemned to death was substituted. The same custom prevailed in Salamis, but was abrogated by Duphilus, king of Cyprus, who substituted an ox. According to Manetho, Amosis abolished the same practice in Egypt at Heliopolis sacred to Juno. Sanchoniatho relates that the Phoenicians, on the occasion of any great calamity, sacrificed to Saturn one of their relatives. Istrus says the same of the Curetes, but the custom was abolished, according to Pallas, in the reign of Hadrian. At Laodicea a virgin was sacrificed yearly to Athene, and the Dumatii, a people ,of Arabia, buried a boy alive beneath the altar each year. Diodorus Siculus (20:14) relates that the Carthaginians, when besieged by Agathocles, tyrant of Sicily, offered in public sacrifice to Saturn 200 of their noblest children, while others voluntarily devoted themselves to the number of 300. His description of the statue of the god differs but slightly from that of Molech, which has been quoted. The image was of brass, with its hands outstretched towards the ground in such a manner that the child, when placed upon them, fell into a pit full of fire.
4. Literature.— E.F. Rivinus, De τεκνοθυσίᾷ Judaeorum (Lips. 1735); M. F. Cramer, De Molocho (Viteb. 1720); N.W. Schroeder, De tabernac. Molochi et stella dei Remphan (Marb. 1745); P. Viret, Des sacrifices
d'enfans faits ὰ Moloch (in his Vraye et fausse religion, 1682, page 599); H. Witsius, De cultu Molochi (in his Miscell. sacr. 1:485); J. Braun, Selecta Sacra, page 449 sq.; Deyling, Observ. sacr. 2:444 sq.; Dietzsch and Ziegra, in Ugolini Thesaur. volume 23; Movers, Phonic. page 65 et al.; Creuzer, Symbol. 2:431 sq.; Buttmann, Mythol. 2:28 sq.; Buddei Histor. eccl. V.T. 1:609; Hug, in the Freib. Zeitschr. 7:82 sq.; Gesenius, Thes. Heb. page 794; J.G. Kotch, Molocholatria Judaeorum (Lips. 1689); C.T. Zieger De immolatione liberorum (Viteb. 1684); Schwab, De Moloch et Remphan (Viteb. 1667; also in the Thes. Theol. Philol. 2:444 sq.). SEE SATURN.