At the Altar of Moloch

There is nothing “progressive” about a society which legalizes the murder of the unborn

John Monaco

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Offering to Moloch (illustration from the 1897 Bible Pictures and What They Teach Us by Charles Foster)

Outside the walls of Jerusalem, southwest of the ancient city, lies a small valley. Since the 7th-century B.C., this valley was called Gei Ben-Hinnom; in Hebrew, meaning “Valley of the Son of Hinnom,” and, by the 1st-century A.D., was commonly known in the Aramaic language as Gēhannā. Today, the valley looks insignificant, unworthy of a second glance. After all, like most valleys, it too is filled with grass and vegetation. In ancient times, however, this specific valley took on a different meaning, as Gehenna was the place of child-sacrifice. In this valley, parents willingly offered their children to suffer a brutal killing, so that they would be a pleasing sacrifice to the Canaanite god, Moloch, who in turn would grant the people prosperity & favor.

(1) Gehenna (2) The ancient city of Jerusalem

The Old Testament makes several references to this valley (Josh 15:8; 2 Chr 28:3; 2 Kgs 28:10), and none of them are positive, glowing reviews (for obvious reasons). The child-sacrifices occurred at a particular place in the valley, called Tophet. The Hebrew word, toph, translates to ‘drum’ or tambourine. According to several medieval Jewish commentators, the place of child-sacrifice was called Tophet because of the Canaanite priests, who banged their drums loudly so that the parents did not hear the screams of their dying children. One Jewish commentator, Rashi (A.D. 1040–1105), describes the sacrifice in detail in his commentary on Jeremiah 31:7:

That is Molech, which was of copper, and they would heat it up from underneath it with its hands spread out and heated. And they would place the child on his hands, and he would be burnt and moan, and the priests would beat drums so that the father should not hear his son’s voice and take pity. It is called Topheth because of the drum (תּוף), Hinnom because of the child’s moaning (נהמת).

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John Monaco

Doctoral student in theology, seeking the true, good, and beautiful.