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Statue of the god Moloch, Turin Cinema Museum.

Was Moloch really Ba’al, the Ancient God Who Demanded Child Sacrifice?

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Moloch, or Molech, is well known in the Bible for being the god to whom child sacrifices appear to have been made in a shrine outside the city of Jerusalem. Although Moloch is well known in the Bible, he is less well-known in the archaeological and historical records leading to disagreements over the identity of the god as well as the exact nature of the cult of Moloch.

Origin of the Name

The name “Molech” or “Moloch” most likely comes from the Hebrew word Melekh, meaning king. For a long time, it was believed that Moloch was another name for Milcom, the chief deity of the Ammonites, but this view has fallen out of favor because of more recent research.
The name of Molech was most likely a title or epithet for a deity rather than an actual name. It is common in Phoenician and Canaanite inscriptions for deities to be referred to as king of something. Malkandros, another name for El, the head of the Canaanite pantheon, for example, translates to “King of Man.”

Moloch – followers sacrificed children to the idol. Source: Jonund / Public Domain.

Moloch – followers sacrificed children to the idol. Source: Jonund / Public Domain .

Moloch and Ba’al-Hadad

One suggested identity for Molech is the Canaanite deity, Ba’al-Hadad or Hadad. Hadad was considered the king of the gods by the ancient Canaanites. Evidence that Moloch can be identified with him comes from the fact that the pagan alters in the valley of Ben-Hinnom where children were sacrificed are also described as altars to Ba’al by the prophet Jeremiah. Furthermore, Assyrian texts state that child sacrifices were made to Adad, the Assyrian equivalent of the Canaanite Hadad. This makes it reasonable to suggest that child sacrifices may have also been made to Hadad and that a cult of child sacrifice may have been related to him.

Hadad, God of Weather, Hurricanes, Storms, Thunder, and Rain - Assyrian soldiers carrying a statue of Adad. (Lindert / Public Domain)

Hadad, God of Weather, Hurricanes, Storms, Thunder, and Rain - Assyrian soldiers carrying a statue of Adad. (Lindert / Public Domain )

Cult of Moloch

In the Biblical account, children are said to have been sacrificed or “passed through the fire” to Moloch at a shrine outside the city walls of Jerusalem called Topheth, in the valley of Ben-Hinnom. Although it is most likely that this practice was due to the introduction of a foreign deity, it has also been suggested that the Judahites believed that that they were making sacrifices to Yahweh, the national deity of the ancient Judahites and Israelites. Either way, the prophets harshly condemn this practice as being offensive to Yahweh whether it be a corruption of Yahweh worship or worship of a foreign deity such as Ba’al-Hadad.

The practice of child sacrifice is attested in other sources throughout the ancient Mediterranean world, particularly in Carthage. In the city, a sacred grove and a temple were dedicated to one such cult.

Moloch’s sacrifice altar. (Archivist / Adobe)

Moloch’s sacrifice altar. ( Archivist / Adobe)

Carthage was founded by Phoenician colonists which gives them a connection to the Canaanites. It has been suggested that there is also a connection between the child sacrifices practiced in Carthage and similar practices in Canaan and Judah such as the cult of Moloch.
Some scholars dispute this suggestion saying that the Carthaginian practices differed from the cult of Moloch. It is commonly believed that child sacrifice at Carthage was usually only done during times of extreme crisis, in accordance with Classical sources, whereas child sacrifice is said to have been a regular part of the cult of Moloch.

On the other hand, it is isn’t necessarily clear from the Biblical text that child sacrifice was as regular as it has been suggested in the cult of Moloch. The cult of Moloch may also have only involved sacrifice of children in times of crisis, or it may have occurred only on special occasions such as annual festivals or at the birth of a first-born child. These practices are attested in other parts of the ancient Mediterranean. As a result, there isn’t necessarily a reason to think that one cult involved regular sacrifices while the other one did not.

Child Sacrifice or Initiation?

Another major point of contention in the study of Moloch is whether or not children were sacrificed at all. Some scholars as well as ancient Rabbis have suggested that “pass through the fire” meant passing between rows of fire in an initiation rite. In this view, the “abomination of Moloch” condemned by the Hebrew prophets was Jewish children being initiated into paganism. Thus, children were not actually sacrificed at all and it was the initiation ceremony that alarmed the prophets.

There are some problems with this view, however. Although there are some cases where the text could be referring to something like this initiation rite, there are also cases where passing through fire is clearly referring to burning. Furthermore, ancient Near Eastern texts give good reason to believe that actual child sacrifice occurred.

Uncertainty Remains

There is a lot of uncertainty regarding Moloch, though a few things can be said with relative confidence. It is clear from Biblical and ancient Near Eastern sources that Moloch was probably a title or epithet used for a prominent Canaanite deity to whom children were at least occasionally sacrificed. This deity was either a foreign deity or he may have been a mischaracterization of Yahweh himself, though this is one of the less likely explanations. Beyond this, there is still much to learn.

Top image: Statue of the god Moloch, Turin Cinema Museum. (Stella / CC BY-SA 4.0 )

By Caleb Strom

References

Gigot, Francis. 1911.  Moloch. New Advent. [Online] Available at: http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/10443b.htm
Singer, Isidore and Barton, George. Moloch (Molech) . Jewish Encyclopedia. [Online] Available at: http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/10937-moloch-molech
Smith, Morton. 1975. A Note on Burning Babies . Journal of the American Oriental Society. [Online] Available at: https://www.jstor.org/stable/i225276
The Group Gale. 2008. Ancient Jewish History: The Cult of Molech . Jewish Virtual Library. [Online] Available at: ttps://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/the-cult-of-moloch

Comments

Hello Caleb,

I really enjoyed reading your article on this subject; all I can say is in my case I've been an Christian since I waa Little, I believe in The Bible and what The Bible says on those subjects about Ba'al, Chemosh, Dagon, an Molech.

Oh by the way that image of molech or Ba'al is there anyway to enhance the picture a little bit? I need to examine the wings it has to do with The deep Study I am partaking of in the Cast Out Bible Book's of Enoch. Moving right along to the discussion of God's anger with Israel and Judah worshipping these graven images.

To understand why The Living God of Abraham got so livid over Israel then Judah worshipping these gods designed by Human Hands; one must go back to the beginning okay maybe not too far back how about Moses an Mt. Sinai does that sound cool?

After Israel is Miraculously delivered from Egyptian Bondage which Israel suffered for 430 years Moses led them to Mt. Sinai for a Special purpose, remember Moses appeal to Pharoah? Thus saith The Lord God of Israel "Let My People, Go; My First Born Son Go, that they may worship Me."

The purpose behind Mt. Sinai where all The Children of Israel were to converge on Mt. Sinai was to A: re-affirm The Covenant of God and B: to receive The Laws of God ( most people including myself often stopped with The Ten Commandments and figure that's all), but what does A Covenant have to do with the worship of Ba'als and Molechs?

A Covenant is a Contract between two and more parties they meet each other make pledges to one another and in theory both sides work in favor to honor these Pledges.

In The Bible it's the same principle but, one slight difference The Covenant that Israel was to re-affirm with The God of Their Father's, Abraham, Isaac, Israel an Joesph was a Spiritual Marriage Contract with God.

God even took the time out to come all the way from His Country too Greet His Chosen People, who were to be His Peculiar Treasure amongst the inhabitants of Earth; much the same way Christians are supposed to In Theory be a Peculiar People for Christ, the this works we're to be in The World but not act or behave in the manner of or ways that's contradictory to God's Laws and His Commandment's.

I'm Seventh Day Adventist and we're pretty big on The Ten Commandments we even hold Ten Commandments Day Revivals and during that time different Pastor's preach on one of the Ten Commandment's followed by an intense Bible study of these Commandments of God. Okay where was I? Oh right...

So in Exodus God again Pledges to Israel the same Covenant that He made with Abraham at Mt. Sinai 630 years before The Children of Israel's Time.

To which Israel as an Nation Agreed to the Terms set by God.

All God says He'll do we'll do for God the same.

Of course We all know less than 48 hours in to this Spiritual Marriage with God on their Honeymoon with God that all of Israel with the exception of a Few people... Committed Adultery with the graven Bull Calf image from Egypt, and to add insult to God they even declared that The Bull-Calf was the god who brought them out from Egypt.

God was so enraged by their behavior He wanted to blot them from the whole Earth and start a whole New Nation with Moses, too which Moses wisely turned down if the whole Nation of Israel fell apart after two an a half months of being absent from their presence due to the fact Moses was in the Presence of the Almighty then Moses suspected his own bloodline would have done the same.

See that's the thing with The Bible it is repetitive lesson that is shown time and time again throughout The Bible on how Israel cheated on God by worshipping those other gods such as Ba'al, Ba'al-Peor, Chemosh, Dagon Ethl-baal an Molech.

Time and Time again Prophets were sent to wrestle the People's attention from those gods to The God of their Father's.

The idol worship was cured after The Babylonian Captivity; but, then they turned around and made All New Mistakes that is where I'll end the lesson of the Covenant.

One more thing recently I've been studying a Bible Book I tend to call Cast Out Bible Book's of The Prophet Enoch, it's giving me a pause to re-think what I've previously been learning from Bible Study.

The origins of who Ba'al and Molech came from is truly horrific to me however Enoch does answer the reason for why the Children were even Sacrifice to these idol's for it seems Ba'al an Molech has an origin story too.

I'll stop it there and ah thank you once again Caleb for sharing your article Goodbye!

Hello Caleb,

I really enjoyed reading your article on this subject; all I can say is in my case I've been an Christian since I waa Little, I believe in The Bible and what The Bible says on those subjects about Ba'al, Chemosh, Dagon, an Molech.

To understand why The Living God of Abraham got so livid over Israel then Judah worshipping these gods designed by Human Hands one must go back to the beginning I'll start with Moses an Mt. Sinai.

After Israel was Miraculously delivered from Egyptian Bondage which Israel suffered for 430 years Moses led them to Mt. Sinai remember Moses appeal to Pharoah? Thus saith The Lord God of Israel "Let My People, Go; My First Born Son Go, that they may worship Me."

The purpose that all The Children of Israel were to converge on Mt. Sinai was to A: re-affirm The Covenant of God and B: to receive The Laws of God ( most people including myself often stop with The Ten Commandments and figure that's all), but what does A Covenant have to do with the worship of Ba'als and Molechs?

A Covenant is a Contract between two and more parties they meet make pledges to each other and in theory both sides work in favor to honor these Pledges. In The Bible it's the same principle but, one slight difference The Covenant that Israel waa to re-affirm with The God of Their Father's you know Abraham, Isaac, Israel an Joesph was a Spiritual Marriage Contract with God.

So in Exodus God again Pledges to Israel the same Covenant that He made with Abraham at Mt. Sinai 630 years before The Children of Israel's Time.

To which Israel as an Nation Agreed to the Terms set by God.

All God says He'll do we'll do for God the same. We all know less than 48 hours in to this Spiritual Marriage with God that all of Israel with the exception of a Few people committed Adultery with the graven Bull Calf image from Egypt, and to add insult to God they even declared that The Bull-Calf was the god who brought them out from Egypt.

God was so enraged by their behavior He wanted to blot them from the whole Earth and start a whole New Nation with Moses too which Moses wisely turned down if the whole Nation of Israel fell apart that bad then Moses suspected his own bloodline would have done the same.

See that's the thing with The Bible it is repetitive lesson that is shown time and time again throughout The Bible how Israel cheating on God by worshipping those other gods such as Ba'al, Ba'al-Peor, Chemosh, Dagon Ethl-baal an Molech.

Time and Time again Prophets were sent to wrestle the People's attention from those gods to The God of their Father's.

The idol worship was cured after The Babylonian Captivity; but, then they turned around and made Brand New Mistakes that is where I'll end the lesson of the Covenant.

One more thing recently I've been studying a Bible Book I tend to call Cast Out Bible Book's of The Prophet Enoch, it's giving me a pause to re-think what I've previously been learning from Bible Study.

The origins of who Ba'al and Molech is truly horrific to me but Enoch does answer the reason for why Children were sacrificed to Ba'al and Molech in the first place after The Great Flood.

I'll stop it there and ah thank you once again Caleb for sharing your article Goodbye!

I think that they are related. Can't really explain how I might know this. But I have heard of references to Ba'al as the son of Moloch (somehow?), that they both have the same lineage or motives. Incidentally, I believe that they both appear in modern lore as the Hat Man, a shadow person that seems to appear mostly to distraught children and often before someone dies in a family. Feel free to contact me about this topic. I would actually greatly appreciate it.

Eric Claeyborn's picture

All false gods are just another arm of Satan, with a different agenda.

As the commenter above mentioned, Ba'al just means lord, and there were multiple Ba'als. In fact, the Ba'al whose servants Elijah in the Bible might not have been Ba'al Hadad, Quarnaim or Hamon, but might have been Melqart, who is also Heracles/Hercules. I could see Molech being a title like Ba'al, but its my understanding the "king" of the Canaanite gods was "El" (not Yahweh though).

More interesting is the Bull or horns Symbolism, As many gods share this. In Revelations, it says that Pergamon has Satans Throne, which was the Altar of Zeus/Jupiter. Zeus's symbol was the Bull, and Antipas was killed in the Bronze Bull at that Altar. Lucifer was a Cherubim, described as having 4 faces, one was an Ox. Look at all the gods with Bull like features or associated with horns, Re/Ra Ptah, Hathor, Buchis, Montu-shown, Quarnaim, Enlil, Bel, Marduk, Bal Ammūn,Hadad, Baal Harmon, Iskur, etc.

So many cat headed gods, bird headed gods, also tied to Cherubim (4 faces, Man, Ox, Lion, Eagle). All the feathered serpent gods tied to Seraphim (Plumed Serpents)

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