1 Kings 11:1-6 Solomon marries many foreign women from the territory of the Hittites and from Moab, Ammon, Edom and Sidon. As he grows older, he begins to worship their gods including Ashtoreth, the goddess of Sidon, and Molech, the god of Ammon (Rabbah in modern-day Jordan).
1 Kings 11:7-13 On the Mount of Olives, east of Jerusalem (later called the ‘Mount of Offence’) Solomon builds an altar to Chemosh, the god of Moab, and one to Moloch, the god of the Ammonites.
The Mount of Olives, Jerusalem
Ashtoreth, Molech and Chemosh
Ashtoreth (Ishtar or Astarte), the consort of Baal, was a Canaanite fertility goddess. The worship of Ashtoreth had attracted some Israelites ever since the invasion of Canaan in c.1406BC (see Judges 2:10-13 & 10:6), and had become widespread among the Israelites by the time of Samuel in c.1024BC (see 1 Samuel 7:3-4). After King Saul was killed by the Philistines at the Battle of Mt Gilboa in 1011BC, his armour was placed in the Temple of Ashtoreth at Beth Shean (see 1 Samuel 31:8-10).
The excavation of clay images showing a naked female at numerous archaeological sites confirms that the worship of Ashtoreth was widespread during the time of the ‘Judges’ and throughout the reigns of the kings of Israel and Judah. As well as male and female ritual prostitution, the cult of Ashtoreth also involved child sacrifice.
Molech, the god of Ammon, was introduced into Israel by Solomon and his Ammonite wives with their foreign retinues (see 1 Kings 11:5). Prior to this, any Israelite or foreigner who sacrificed his children to Molech was guilty of an abomination in the eyes of Yahweh and was put to death (see Leviticus 20:1-5).
After the official toleration of this foreign religion, children were burnt alive on the altars of Topheth, in the Valley of Hinnom, immediately south of the city walls of Jerusalem (see 2 Kings 23:10 & Jeremiah 32:35). King Ahaz of Judah sacrificed his own sons in the fires of Gehenna (a name, symbolising ‘hell’, adopted by the Jews to describe the Valley of Hinnom), as did King Manasseh (see 2 Chronicles 28:3 & 2 Kings 21:6).
The Valley of Hinnom, Jerusalem, where children were sacrificed to Molech
It was left to King Josiah to destroy the high places of Molech during the revival he began in Judah in 624BC (see 2 Kings 23:10-13), though the condemnations of Ezekiel, Malachi and Zephaniah all atest to smouldering pockets of resistance to Josiah’s religious reforms during the following century (see Ezekiel 23:37-39, Malachi 2:11 & Zephaniah 4-5).
Chemosh was the god of Moab, the land to the south east of Judah. The Moabites are recorded as worshipping Chemosh in the time of Moses (see Numbers 21:29), but it was not until King Solomon built a ‘high place’ (an altar) to Chemosh on the Mount of Olives facing Jerusalem that the religion was officially sanctioned in Israel (see 1 Kings 11:7). This ‘high place’, built in c.940BC, was not removed until King Josiah desecrated the ‘Mount of Corruption’ (the Mount of Olives) in 624BC (see 2 Kings 23:13).
The worship of Chemosh was another pagan religion that practised the ritual sacrifice of children. After the death of King Ahab of Israel in 852BC, King Mesha of Moab rose in rebellion, but was soundly defeated by the Israelites. As a final act of desperation, he stood on top of the city walls of Kir Hareseth and sacrificed his eldest son and heir, in full view of the horrified Israelite soldiers who looked on (see 2 Kings 3:27). The worship of Chemosh was decried nearly three hundred years later by the prophet Jeremiah, in exile in Egypt following the fall of Jerusalem in 587BC (see Jeremiah 48:13).