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One of the things I've been looking deeply into recently is the spiritual metaphors in the Bible. Where specific acts are associated with spiritual equivalents. Often times it's difficult to tell what "level" the author is speaking on. Physical level or Spiritual level (a little like Jesus conversation with the woman at the well when she speaks of physical water and Jesus talks of spiritual water)

With this in mind I'm curious on people's interpretation and understanding of worship of false Gods being associated with "sacrificing or passing children through fire". This is mentioned in multiple places such as:

Leviticus 18:21 And thou shalt not give any of thy seed to make them pass through the fire to Molech; neither shalt thou profane the name of thy God: I am Jehovah

What I'm curious of is:

Is this speaking of the children literally being sacrificed by the Israelites in a physical fire like a burnt offering ?

Or

Is the act of worshipping a false God such as Molech (and or dedication of the child to that God) being equated to them sacrificing their children. Because even though the Israelites don't actually kill their children physically themselves - the worship will defile them and their seed resulting in the children being destroyed in the future. In this interpretation the act of worship of a false God/Idol is "spiritually equivalent" to "sacrificing your children in fire" because the defilement will mean the furture Generation have to be purged by God.

This came to mind when I recently read through the book of Hosea. Hosea 1 deals specifically with "spiritual adultery". The prophet is instructed to marry a permiscious woman / prostitute Gomer to symbolise Israel being unfaithful to the covenant and worshipping other Gods. The children are named Jezreel, Lo-Ruhamah and Lo-Ammi to signify that they did not belong to God and he would abandon them and they would be destroyed. So in this case the Israelites didn't sacrifice their chidlren - but the worship of false Gods resulted in the destruction of the future generations by God. Essentially in Hosea at least the act of worshipping the false god - is equivalent to sacrificing your children. Basically just trying to understand if the statements in other books about CHildren or seed being passed through fire are literary metaphors to express the same concept or if the Israelites really did actually physically sacrifice their children themselves

I would also be interested if any Hebrew experts could offer insights on the original text. I noticed in the interlinear neither Leviticus 18:21 or Jeremiah 32:35 include the word fire. This seems to be an "addition" to the english translation.It instead uses the word "lə·ha·‘ă·ḇîr". other uses are normally associated with "transfer" Eg of ownership or kingship The same word is used when the kingship of Israel is passed from Saul to David. 2 Samuel 3:10. The fire seems to be "inferred" or something simply added to the English translation. Not sure

I also looked at the interlinear from the Greek Septagint and it seems to align more with this wording which does not include fire or sacrifice. It is translated as:

And of your seed you shall not give to serve/worship another ruler, and you shall not profane the holy name. I am the lord.

It uses the greek work "λατρεύω" which means "Serving/Worshipping" another God. There is no mention of fire or child sacrifice in the Greek text.

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    I don't see how anyone could suppose that Lev 18:21 is a metaphor. The comparison to 'spiritual adultery' a la Hosea 1 is, in my view, unjustified.
    – Nigel J
    Dec 11, 2021 at 8:50
  • This is definitely literal, very hideous and literal!!
    – Dottard
    Dec 11, 2021 at 9:14
  • Ok thanks - do you have any additional scriptural references to confirm this? Would also be interested in interpretation of the original Hebrew if that might give additional confirmation. My Hebrew is limited but I looked at the interlinear. It doesn't actually even contain the word fire. It instead uses the word "lə·ha·‘ă·ḇîr". other uses are normally associated with "transfer" Eg of ownership or kingship The same word is used when the kingship of Israel is passed from Saul to David. 2 Samuel 3:10. The fire seems to be "inferred" or something simply added to the English translation. Not sure
    – Marshall
    Dec 11, 2021 at 10:11
  • My opinion is that it's metaphorical. Remember, Abraham's seed was Christ not his literal offspring. So I'd say this has to do with being born again.
    – user38152
    Dec 11, 2021 at 16:33
  • Also, the letter of the law is death and the spiritual reading of the law is life. God is a spirit and concerned with things of the spirit because they are eternal not temporary. So I would say this is about Christ and your born again self. Also -- I know 'fire' can metaphorically have to do with shame, burning shame so perhaps it has to do with not putting Christ to shame? Just giving you some ideas I've thought regarding this.
    – user38152
    Dec 11, 2021 at 16:45

2 Answers 2

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While there is some debate among some modern scholars, where is what the Bible says about Molech:

  • Molech was a pagan (false) god, worshiped by some of the surrounding nations, 1 Kings 11:5, 7, 33, Zeph 1:5, 2 Kings 23:13.
  • Molech was a god to whom sacrifices were made, Lev 18:21, 20:2-4, 2 Kings 23:10, Isa 57:9
  • These sacrifices were often their own children, 2 Kings 23:10, Jer 32:35

Thus, these abominable pagan practices were roundly condemned in Leviticus.

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  • Thanks for the additional scripture referrences. The more I look at the interlinear of the original texts in both Hebrew and also the Greek Septugint - the more intriged I am. Neither Lev 18:21 or 20:2-4 nor Jer 32:35 or Isa 57:9 mention fire or sacrifice at all. In both the Hebrew and Greek they use words that mean to transfer or to serve / worship. 2 Kings 23:10 does mention fre but it says it "defiles" the sons and daughters - not sacrifice or death. I'd been interested to understand why/how modern english translation is the way it is. Maybe pulling understanding from other texts ?
    – Marshall
    Dec 11, 2021 at 11:27
  • Another interesting thing is Lev 18 the entire chapter is specifically talking about unclean sexual relations, Its wedged between not lying with your neighbours wife and not having homosexual relations. It also mentions "Seed" not children. So it seems to be even less related to child sacrifice and more some sort of weird pagan "sexual" ritual which some how dedicates the future child to that pagan God which makes many of the modern english translations even weirder.
    – Marshall
    Dec 11, 2021 at 11:44
  • @Marshall - you could ask some specific questions about these verses.
    – Dottard
    Dec 11, 2021 at 20:31
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Op asked; "What I'm curious of is: Is this speaking of the children literally being sacrificed by the Israelites in a physical fire like a burnt offering ?"

Yes it is true they did practice that and even King Solomon built some of their temples. He had been in ensnared by the gods of his many wives.

The king also desecrated the high places east of Jerusalem, to the south of the Mount of Corruption, which King Solomon of Israel had built for Ashtoreth the abomination of the Sidonians. 2 Kings 23:13

Solomon built a high place for Chemosh the abomination of Moab, and for Molech the abomination of the Ammonites, on the mountain east of Jerusalem. Milcom and Molech are gods dedicated to child sacrifice.

all the evil the children of Israel and of Judah have done to provoke Me to anger—they, their kings, their officials, their priests and prophets, the men of Judah, and the residents of Jerusalem. 33They have turned their backs to Me and not their faces. Though I taught them again and again,d they would not listen or respond to discipline. 34They have placed their abominations in the house that bears My Name, and so have defiled it. 35They have built the high places of Baal in the Valley of Hinnom to make their sons and daughters pass through the fire to Molech—something I never commanded them, nor had it ever entered My mind, that they should commit such an abomination and cause Judah to sin. Jeremiah 32: 31:34

What's interesting is the valley Hinnom became what is now called Gehenna. A lot of translators took that word and changed it into the word hell.

Hinnom [N] [H] [S] a deep, narrow ravine separating Mount Zion from the so-called "Hill of Evil Counsel." It took its name from "some ancient hero, the son of Hinnom." It is first mentioned in Joshua 15:8 . It had been the place where the idolatrous Jews burned their children alive to Moloch and Baal. A particular part of the valley was called Tophet, or the "fire-stove," where the children were burned. After the Exile, in order to show their abhorrence of the locality, the Jews made this valley the receptacle of the offal of the city, for the destruction of which a fire was, as is supposed, kept constantly burning there. The Jews associated with this valley these two ideas, (1) that of the sufferings of the victims that had there been sacrificed; and (2) that of filth and corruption. It became thus to the popular mind a symbol of the abode of the wicked hereafter. It came to signify hell as the place of the wicked. " From Biblestudytools.com

The word Gehenna [the Greek contraction of Hinnom]

Berean Literal Bible

Serpents! Offspring of vipers! How shall you escape from the sentence of Gehenna?Matthew 23:33

Berean Literal Bible

But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear the One who has authority, after the killing, to cast into Gehenna. Yes, I say to you, fear Him. Like 12:

Translators have done a very poor job translating this word into hell. Christian theology has come from what once was used as a horrible pagan practice burning babies alive and think that's what the Christian God is going to do with most of His creation; only He will keep them alive and torture them over and over and never die.

1067 géenna (a transliteration of the Hebrew term, Gêhinnōm, "the valley of Hinnom") – Gehenna,

Right now this valley is beautiful. A few years ago I was in Israel and saw they were setting up chairs for a concert there.

In the book of revelation it will be used as a garbage dump that will burn corpses once again.

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