In Leviticus 18, God tells Moses in detail what types of sexual relations — that, apparently, were practiced in Egypt (where they were brought out) and were being practiced in Canaan (where they are being led to) — are unlawful and would defile them.

I might be over-reading the text, but I find it interesting that verse 21 suddenly talks about the sacrificing of babies to Ammonite idol, Molek. I feel like it's a bit "out of place" in the text, considering all the other commands talk about having dishonoring relationships.

Why does this note about sacrifices to Molek appear in the middle of this passage?

  • Considering that Moloch is a god of child sacrifice, it might as well be referring to molestation. A child that's abused will be given over to trauma and darkness (Mat 18:6). Commented Mar 25, 2020 at 12:01
  • Surely this simply relates to burning aborted children.
    – David
    Commented May 29, 2020 at 18:17
  • Children are the direct (by)product of intercourse.
    – Lucian
    Commented Nov 13, 2020 at 21:32

4 Answers 4



It seems that the confusion may arise from the presumption that chapter's primary concern is sexual practices; it is not. It is easy to see how this confusion might arise however. As modern westerners, we lack familiarity with Canaanite/Egyptian pagan religious practices and this understandably leads to the assumption that this passage is concerned with sexual practice. Instead this passage centers on religious practice.

Furthermore, it should be noted that Molech, was a primarily caananite god, not Ammonite. This misunderstanding likely arises from 1 Kings 11:7, from the KJV translation which renders 1 Kings 11:7 as,

for Molech, the abomination of the children of Ammon

yet in 11:33 begins calling this god Milcom. It is clear from the Septuagint that rabbinical tradition instead saw 1 Kings 11:7 as referring to the Ammonite king, not Molech and translates the passage as

τῷ βασιλεῖ αὐτῶν εἰδώλῳ υἱῶν Αμμων ("for their king, idol of the sons of Ammon")


Leviticus 18 begins with the introduction:

The Lord said to Moses, “Speak to the Israelites and say to them: ‘I am the Lord your God. You must not do as they do in Egypt, where you used to live, and you must not do as they do in the land of Canaan, where I am bringing you. Do not follow their practices. You must obey my laws and be careful to follow my decrees. I am the Lord your God. Keep my decrees and laws, for the person who obeys them will live by them. I am the Lord.

The text then goes on to enumerate and condemn the religious practices of the Caananites and Egyptians.

Finally, this passage is book-ended with the conclusion,

“‘Do not defile yourselves in any of these ways, because this is how the nations that I am going to drive out before you became defiled. Even the land was defiled; so I punished it for its sin, and the land vomited out its inhabitants. But you must keep my decrees and my laws. The native-born and the foreigners residing among you must not do any of these detestable things, for all these things were done by the people who lived in the land before you, and the land became defiled. And if you defile the land, it will vomit you out as it vomited out the nations that were before you.

“‘Everyone who does any of these detestable things—such persons must be cut off from their people. Keep my requirements and do not follow any of the detestable customs that were practiced before you came and do not defile yourselves with them. I am the Lord your God.’”

So, in the intervening passages, it is clear that the author is listing and enumerating specific practices that he/God finds detestable.

Historical Background

In Caanan

While this text specifically mentions Molech, it is clear from the sin list in Leviticus 18, that the author is also condeming the worship practices of the followers of Asherah. Ashera was a fertility goddess and followers often worshipped her through sacred prostitution and ritual (and sometimes incestuous) sexual practice.

According to Ray Vander Laan in Prophets and Kings Discovery Guide: Being in the Culture and Not of It

Asherah, in various forms and with varying names (Ashetoreth, for example), was honored as the fertility goddess (judges 3:7). The bible does not actually describe her, but archeologists have discovered figurines believed to be representations of her. She is portrayed as a nude female, somestimes pregnant, with exaggerated breasts that she holds out apparently as symbols of her fertility. The Bible indicates that she was worshiped near trees and poles called, Asherah poles (Deuteronomy 7:5; 12:2-3; 2 Kings 16:4; 17:10; Jeremiah 3:6, 13; Ezekiel 6:13). Although Asherah was believed to be Baal's mother, she was also his mistress, and ritual sex was one way she was worshiped

Following in this fertility theme, Asherah poles were also a phallic symbol of fertility.. In a similar work coauthered with Stephen and Amanda Sorenson, Ray Vander Laan notes

their worshippers engaged in immoral sex to cause the gods to join together and therby ensure good harvests. This practice became the basis for religious prostituion (1 Kings 14:24-24). The priest or a maile communit member represented Baal. The priestess or a female community member represented Asherah. This God's incredible gift of sexuality within the bonds of marriage was perverted and become obscene public prostitution.

It is likely that similar worship practices were seen be followers of other Cannanite gods such as

  • Anat, virgin goddess of war and strife, sister and putative mate of Ba'al Hadad
  • Baal Hammon, god of fertility
  • Dagon (Dagan) god of crop fertility and grain
  • Kotharat, goddesses of marriage and pregnancy
  • Perhaps many others

In Egypt

The associations to the Caanaite pantheon do not end there. As it turns out, Asherah was a prominent goddess worshiped in Egypt as well under the name Qetesh (or Kadesh) and the Qetesh stele depicts her holding a snake (which has led many scholars to note an association to the snake Moses placed on the pole in Numbers 21:4-9 with the Asherah pole). Thus the condemnation of Egyptian religious practices are directed at the same gods.

Also noteworthy is the association between Qetesh and prostitution and homosexual practices. It seems that the Egyptian name of this goddess shares a root with or gave rise to the Hebrew words for prostitution: קָדֵשׁ (qadesh) which was used to refer to both male and female temple prostitutes and comes from the Semitic root for "sacred" or "Holy".


With the forgoing historical/cultural background, it is much easier to see how these subjects all or mostly relate to Cannanite religious practice. The prohibitions in 6-8, are squarely targeted at the sexual worship practices of the followers of Asherah and Baal. Verse 9 is squarely targeted at the sexual worship practices of the followers of Anat. Verse 22 is targeted at male patrons of the male קָדֵשׁ (qadesh) which is sometimes translated as "sodomites" (such as in some translations of 2 Kings 23:7). It was also common practice for deities to be anthropomorphized as and associated with a particular animal. For example both Baal and Molech were depicted as Bulls or Minotaur, so it is not out of place to think that the prohibitions of Bestiality in 23 are targeting a specific sexual worship practice of the followers of Baal or Molech. Verse 23 prohibiting the sacrifice of Children would be wholly at home amongst these other religious rituals if we view this chapter about the prohibition of religious practices in instead of sexual practices.


The scripture in question is not translated, "sacrifice" in all translations of the bible (see Biblehub parallel versions).

For example, in the KJV:

21 And thou shalt not let any of thy seed pass through the fire to Molech, neither shalt thou profane the name of thy God: I am the Lord.

The injunction against letting any children “pass through the fire to Molech” (v. 21) is explained:

“The name of this idol is mentioned for the first time in this place. As the word molech or melech signifies king or governor, it is very likely that this idol represented the sun; and more particularly as the fire appears to have been so much employed in his worship. There are several opinions concerning the meaning of passing through the fire to Molech. 1. Some think that the semen humanum was offered on the fire to this idol. 2. Others think that the children were actually made a burnt-offering to him. 3. But others suppose the children were not burnt, but only passed through the fire, or between two fires, by way of consecration to him. That some were actually burnt alive to this idol several scriptures, according to the opinion of commentators, seem strongly to intimate; see among others [Psalm 100:38; Jeremiah 7:31; Ezekiel 23:37–39]. That others were only consecrated to his service by passing between two fires the rabbins strongly assert; and if Ahaz had but one son, Hezekiah,(though it is probable he had others, see [2 Chronicles 28:3]) he is said to have passed through the fire to Molech [2 Kings 16:3], yet he succeeded his father in the kingdom [2 Kings 18:1], therefore this could only be a consecration, his idolatrous father intending thereby to initiate him early into the service of this demon.” (Clarke, Bible Commentary, 1:570–71.)

Considering the context of the verse in relation to unlawful sexual behaviours, it is plausible that the first opinion shared above may be the best fit, that men literally "passed their seed" (ejaculated) through a flame as an offering to that idol (weird/gross offering...).


Perhaps this is by design, with the categorical link being "Defilement ". I looked for comment by Michael Heiser and followed a couple of hints. Some help may be here:http://drmsh.com/sacrifice-defilement-purity-impurity/ and here https://www.nakedbiblepodcast.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/01/Transcript-123.pdf where a further theme linkage may be "physical and spiritual" whoredom. Passing one's children through the fire unto Moloch is a devoted act of conjugation with the deity in the eyes of YHWH. It should be noted that these sacrifices weren't limited to infants. It seems the more potency was gained by more precious sacrifice as in 2 Kings 3:27 where the Prince was sacrificed.

2 Kings 23:10 adds weight to consideration of categorical defilement/pollution and the sacrificing of sons and/or daughters. (I discount the NIV "desecrated" vs other translations Defiled.) Note the importance of Topheth.


The laws against sexual immorality were mostly against incest and though it is not as explicit, there's nothing in the Bible that prevents it from condemning abusive, non-consensual incest (e.g. molestation of one's child). If I can recall, there's a law that prevents a man from marrying his granddaughter and the Bible places no age restriction on who this granddaughter in question might be. In fact, this might be the case in explaining why God vomited out the nations guilty of these sins and executed brutal judgement upon them. They must be that bad.

Leviticus 18:25, Psalm 68:5, Matthew 18:6

As such, it's not much of a stretch for God to liken one case of child abuse to another case of child abuse (torturing to death/burning children for Moloch) in the same chapter. Leviticus 18 was not meant for prudishness but rather for the Israelites to get right with God and their neighbours.

if a person does them, he shall live by them.-verse 5

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