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Moloch was the Cannanite god of fertility associated with the notorious practice of child sacrifice. He is also commonly associated with Baal Hammon, the chief weather god of ancient Carthage (modern day Tunisia). However, he is considered to be a false god in Abrahamic religions.
In the Hebrew Bible, Moloch was a foreign deity, who appealed to the sinful interests of the Israelites, who were commanded to worship Yahweh. Due to his influential presence, a widespread cult dedicated to Moloch emerged, particularly within the Valley of Hinnom, a narrow ravine outside Jerusalem. Whenever a drought or famine struck the land, his fanatical followers would slaughter both children and adults to please Moloch's cravings, who in return promised to offer them food. Cultists also regularly partook in anal sex to satisfy Moloch's perverted desires. Even the most devout Israelites who claimed to love Yahweh, including the likes of Solomon, were swayed by this cult.
However, the most notorious element of Moloch worship was child sacrifice. Through the Law of Moses, Yahweh expressed his condemnation for child sacrifice, and abuse towards children in general, by punishing anyone who worshipped Moloch with death by stoning.
During a sacrifice, a fire was lit in or around the idol of Moloch, which resembled a man with a bull's head. Each idol had a hole in the abdomen and possibly outstretched forearms, which led to the hole like a ramp. Babies, and occasionally infant children, were often stripped naked by their parents and placed onto the idol's arms or inside the hole. They were slowly tortured to death by the heat of the flames. When a couple succeeded with the sacrifice, they believed that Moloch would ensure financial prosperity for the family and future children. Most children were reported to have died with a grin-like smile, due to the contracting of their limbs during the sacrifice, leading to the conception of the term "sardonic laughter".
After years of captivity in Babylon, the Israelites returned to their land, denounced the worship of Moloch and rededicated themselves to Yahweh. The Valley of Hinnom was eventually converted into a dumping place, which continually burnt garbage and the bodies of executed criminals. The effect of Moloch worship had a lasting effect upon this place to the point that it was metaphorically described as Gehenna, another term for hell where damned souls would burn for eternity.
- Main article: Moloch
Moloch is depicted in John Milton's Paradise Lost as one of the greatest warriors of the rebel angels, vengeful and militant.
In the 19th century, "Moloch" came to be used allegorically for any idol or cause requiring excessive sacrifice. Bertrand Russell in 1903 used Moloch to describe oppressive religion, and Winston Churchill in his 1948 history The Gathering Storm used "Moloch" as a metaphor for Adolf Hitler's cult of personality.