Among the litany of crimes Christians accuse Muslims of committing, the worship of so-called “pagan” deities is a major one. There is the claim that Allah is a “moon god”, that ar-Rahman refers to the Syrian “Rimmon” parodied in the Bible, and the list goes on. Yet another of God’s names has come under the sharp scrutiny of the Christian cyber-polemicists, and this being Maalik. The claim of the Christian missionaries is that Maalik is a variant of the deity Molech1, mentioned several times in the Bible as a deity of fire and child sacrifice. This article will seek to explore the notion of Molech vs Maalik, and see which usage predates which.
The Name Games: Molech vs. Maalik
First, it should be noted that any person who claims that Maalik comes from Molech demonstrates that they are not very familiar with the Semitic languages relevant to this study. The attribute of God as the Ruler, the King of all creation, is one that is present in all Semitic languages. The Arabic maalik means simply “master”, “sovereign” or “king”2 and stems from the same M-L-K root as the Hebrew melekh.
As for Molech, in Hebrew it is spelled precisely the same way as the Hebrew word for “king,” mem-lamed-kaf. Whatever deity is being referred to in the Bible in places where “Molech” is mentioned, the spelling is exactly the same. So, if to call on God as the king (M-L-K) of the universe is to call on Molech, we must repudiate the Bible. The books of Kings could have their Hebrew text repointed to say “Molechim”, id est “the followers of Molech”. We should hence be wary of the Christian version of Jesus, the “Molech” (M-L-K) of the Jews, and the “Molech” (M-L-K) of heaven. When we find names in the Bible like “Elimelech”, which means “My God is King,” we should reconsider the vowels and be suspicious that it was not really “My God is Molech”. Immediately we see how absurd this really is!
The reality is that the recognition of God as king and ruler (MLK) is perfectly sensible within the monotheist framework. Let it be noted that the vast majority of Jewish prayers (exempli gratia: the shacharit) begins with the following phrase:
- Baruch Atah YHWH, Eloheinu, Melekh ha-Olam
Blessed art thou O’ Lord, our God, Ruler of the Universe
Numerous times throughout Rabbinic literature, God is recognized as King. When taking this into account, we can better understand the context of the Islamic usage within a pristinely Monotheistic environment. For example, the first time the word Maalik appears in the Qur’?n, it appears in Sura’ al-Fatihah (1):4 as:
maaliki yawmi ad-Deen
Master of the Day of Judgement3
Now, if we were translating this verse from the Qur’?n into Hebrew, and wanted to do it in a way that is as close to the Arabic as possible, we would come up with the wholly obvious and nearly identical:
melekh yom ha-deen
Master of the Day of Judgement
And indeed, melekh yom ha-deen is a description of God that can be found in a standard Jewish siddur (prayer book).
The real irony, however, is not the fact that employing the MLK root is perfectly valid in a monotheist framwork; rather the ironic part of this whole debate is the fact that Molech has nothing to do with Islam and everything to do with YHWH. The cult associated with Molech was a group that recognized the role of YHWH as counselor/ruler/king, but took it to far. It was Jews ridiculing this form of YHWH-worship that altered the vowel-pointing to slander the practice.As we note from the Jewish Encyclopedia:
From Jer. vii. 31 and Ezek. xx. 25,26, it is evident that both prophets regarded these human sacrifices as extraordinary offerings to YHWH. […] The fact, therefore, now generally accepted by critical scholars, is that in the last days of kingdom, human sacrifices were offered to YHWH as King or Counselor of the nation and that the Prophets disapproved of it and denounced it because it was introduced from the outside as an imitation of a heathen cult and because of its barbarity. In course of time the pointing of “Melek” was changed to “Molech” to still further stigmatize the rites.4
Now, some may be wondering in what sense the changing of the vowels was significant. This is explained in a theory held by a number of esteemed scholars of the Jewish religion. And we are told that:
The accepted view since A. Geiger is that Molech is a tendentious misvocalization of the word melekh, “king,” the original vowels being changed and patterned after the vocalization of boshet, “shame”.5
So the only reason we have the name Molech in the first place is because the Jewish authorities played yet another word game, deliberately mispronouncing the word so that it rhymed with boshet.
This confusion is further established when we take into account the fact that it is not clear if any particular verse in the Torah is referring to Molech or not. This is a hint towards the fact of how the concept of Molech is relatively recent:
The fact that the Septuagint of the Pentateuch (which was the first to be translated by the Greek translators) translates molekh as “king” (archon) seems to also indicate that at the time of the translation of the Torah the reading molekh instead of melekh was yet unknown.6
This passage is making to an interesting part of the Bible. Consider the Hebrew of Leviticus 18:21:
Now, where the vowels are can make a world of difference. If we vocalize the verse the way it is done today, we get umizzarakha lo titen lehabir lamolekh, or “thou shall not offer thy seed to serve Molech”. Of course, if we vocalize as “melekh”, we get a totally difference sentence. This is relevant when we taken into account how the Septuagint (the pre-common era Greek translation) renders the verse:
Kai apo tou spermatios sou ou doseis latreuein archonti
And thou shalt not give thy seed to serve a ruler
Ebed-Melech: The Servant of “The King” or Molech?
The idea of a servant of MLK versus a servant of Molech becomes more interesting when we take into account the story of the Ethiopian slave Ebed-Melech in the book of Jeremiah. In the 37th chapter of the book of Jeremiah, the prophet it thrown into a pit. In the 38th chapter, it is Ebed-Melech (a non-Jew) who helps Jeremiah. The story has an implication of conversion here, as the prophet even receives a revelation proclaiming that Ebed-Melech will be protected by God since he put his faith in the Lord (Jeremiah 39:16-18).
The name Ebed-Melech, in the most literal translation, means “servant of MLK.” This could mean “servant of Molech”, but no person would ever assume as such. The name was actually recognized as having a dual meaning by the great Rabbis. In a sense, Ebed-Melech is the king’s slave and just another Ethiopian eunuch in a state of bondage; however in another sense he is a servant of the King of the universe (melekh ha-olam), the ruler of the Day of Judgement (melekh yom ha-deen).
Now we shall take a look at how Ebed-Melech is translated in Targum Onqelos, the Aramaic translation of the text which often weaves in a number of traditions in a subtle fashion. When Ebed-Melech is first introduced in the Bible, in Jeremiah 38:7, he is described simply as follows:
Ebed Melekh ha-Kushi
Ebed-Melech the Ethiopian
The Targum to this verse is quite crafty in employing a clever usage of double meanings. Ebed-Melech’s ethnicity is left out, definite articles are introduced, and the name of the King is positioned in an odd manner. The end result will be
Abdaa D’Malkaa Tsidiqiyah
What does this signify? Well, firstly with the introduction of the definite articles, it is no longer “servant of MLK,” but rather “servant of THE MLK.” The last word, tsidiqiyah is a play on the name of the King specific to the story, Zedekiah. However, the key part is the fact that it stems from the tsadeq-dalet-qof root. This is the same root in Arabic that gives us names like sadiq and siddiq, of which the former means “true”, “truthful”, “sincere, et. al.7, while the latter means “honest” “righteous” and “upright”8.
Thus, by working with the three-dimensional nature of Hebrew, the Targumist takes Ebed-Melech the Ethiopian and makes subtle changes that speak of his true place in a subtle fashion. He is not just a king’s Ethiopian slave, but rather the servant of The King, and is also righteous and upright before God. So, if we were going to try and understand this in Islamic terms, this non-Jewish convert to the monotheism propagated by Jeremiah could be renamed as:
Clearly, we see how ironic this is now! The point of this hermeneutic approach to the book of Jeremiah was simply meant to show that the Islamic use of the name “Maalik” has nothing to do with “Molech”, rather it is perfectly in line with the monotheism of the Biblical prophets.
We have thus seen how this name-game of Maalik vs Molech by the Christian missionaries is simply pointless, mainly because in the Semitic context, the word maalik is commonly employed, whether it is to the God of the Jews or to respective pagan deities. In other words, to accuse the Muslims of calling upon the pagan deity “Molech” simply because Muslims refer to God as al-Maalik is a shot in the missionary’s own foot, as the Jewish literature commonly calls upon God as ha-Melekh, which is the equivalent of the Arabic al-Maalik.
And only God knows best.
- See Lev. 1821; 20:2-5; 1 Kings 11:7; 2 Kings 23:10 and Jer. 32:35 [⤺]
- J. M. Cowan (Ed.), The Hans Wehr Dictionary of Modern Written Arabic, p. 922 [⤺]
- A. Yusuf Ali, The Holy Qur’an: Text, Translation and Commentary [⤺]
- Under “Moloch (Molech)”, The Jewish Encyclopedia, (KTAV, 1905), Vol. viii, p. 653 [⤺]
- Under “Moloch, Cult of”, Encyclopaedia Judaica, (Keter, 1971), Vol. 12, p. 230 [⤺]
- Encyclopaedia Judaica, op. cit., p. 231 [⤺]
- The Hans Wehr Dictionary of Modern Written Arabic, op. cit., p. 509 [⤺]
- ibid. [⤺]