Philosophical Dictionary, by Voltaire


Tophet was, and is still, a precipice near Jerusalem, in the valley of Hinnom, which is a frightful place, abounding only in flints. It was in this dreary solitude that the Jews immolated their children to their god, whom they then called Moloch; for we have observed, that they always bestowed a foreign name on their god. Shadai was Syrian; Adonai, Phœnician; Jehovah was also Phœnician; Eloi, Elohim, Eloa, Chaldæan; and in the same manner, the names of all their angels were Chaldæan or Persian. This we have remarked very particularly.

All these different names equally signify “the lord,” in the jargon of the petty nations bordering on Palestine. The word Moloch is evidently derived from Melk, which was the same as Melcom or Melcon, the divinity of the thousand women in the seraglio of Solomon; to-wit, seven hundred wives and three hundred concubines. All these names signify “lord”: each village had its lord.

Some sages pretend that Moloch was more particularly the god of fire; and that it was on that account the Jews burned their children in the hollow of the idol of this same Moloch. It was a large statue of copper, rendered as hideous as the Jews could make it. They heated the statue red hot, in a large fire, although they had very little fuel, and cast their children into the belly of this god, as our cooks cast living lobsters into the boiling water of their cauldrons. Such were the ancient Celts and Tudescans, when they burned children in honor of Teutates and Hirminsule. Such the Gallic virtue, and the German freedom!

Jeremiah wished, in vain, to detach the Jewish people from this diabolical worship. In vain he reproaches them with having built a sort of temple to Moloch in this abominable valley. “They have built high places in Tophet, which is in the valley of the children of Hinnom, in order to pass their sons and daughters through the fire.”

The Jews paid so much the less regard to the reproaches of Jeremiah, as they fiercely accused him of having sold himself to the king of Babylon; of having uniformly prophesied in his favor; and of having betrayed his country. In short, he suffered the punishment of a traitor; he was stoned to death.

The Book of Kings informs us, that Solomon built a temple to Moloch, but it does not say that it was in the valley of Tophet, but in the vicinity upon the Mount of Olives. The situation was fine, if anything can be called fine in the frightful neighborhood of Jerusalem.

Some commentators pretend, that Ahaz, king of Judah, burned his son in honor of Moloch, and that King Manasses was guilty of the same barbarity. Other commentators suppose, that these kings of the chosen people of God were content with casting their children into the flames, but that they were not burned to death. I wish that it may have been so; but it is very difficult for a child not to be burned when placed on a lighted pile.

This valley of Tophet was the “Clamart” of Paris, the place where they deposited all the rubbish and carrion of the city. It was in this valley that they cast loose the scape-goat; it was the place in which the bodies of the two criminals were cast who suffered with the Son of God; but our Saviour did not permit His body, which was given up to the executioner, to be cast in the highway of the valley of Tophet, according to custom. It is true, that He might have risen again in Tophet, as well as in Calvary; but a good Jew, named Joseph, a native of Arimathea, who had prepared a sepulchre for himself on Mount Calvary, placed the body of the Saviour therein, according to the testimony of St. Matthew. No one was allowed to be buried in the towns; even the tomb of David was not in Jerusalem.

Joseph of Arimathea was rich —“a certain rich man of Arimathea,”— that the prophecy of Isaiah might be fulfilled: “And he made his grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death.”

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01