The idol, modeled after a depiction in the classic silent film Cabiria, is part of an exhibit on ancient Carthage, where Moloch was worshiped. Many conservative Catholics and Christians in general are unnerved by the presence of the idol on what they consider sacred ground. The Colosseum, the stadium where Rome staged its gladiator fights and other entertainments (including the torture of Christians) is owned and operated by the Vatican, which must have given permission for the exhibit and the installation.
The controversy over the Moloch image has become tied to another controversy over the use of an Amazonian fertility idol to the goddess Pachamama in a series of ceremonies, including one at the Vatican gardens at which the Pope was present. The events, honoring the Amazonian Synod that was considering ordaining female priests, included indigenous worshippers prostrating themselves before the idol and a liturgical prayer to the goddess. Some conservative Catholics later stole the idols and threw them into the Tiber river. They were recovered and the Pope apologized.
Defenders of the statue say that it’s simply a part of a historical, cultural exhibit about Rome’s ancient rival and that no religious significance was intended. Fine. But why wasn’t the figure relegated to the context of the other exhibits inside, rather than “welcoming” (the word used in the press release) visitors at the entrance of the Colosseum itself? True, statues of other pagan gods, such as Jupiter and Mercury, can be found everywhere in Rome. But Moloch is particularly problematic.
So what’s the issue with Moloch? This is no ordinary animistic image. Even the Greek and Roman pagans were horrified by Moloch and how he was worshiped. The classical writers associated Moloch with Cronus, whom the Romans called Saturn, one of the old gods who devoured his own children until he was overthrown by his child Zeus.
Plutarch is especially descriptive: “… but with full knowledge and understanding they themselves offered up their own children, and those who had no children would buy little ones from poor people and cut their throats as if they were so many lambs or young birds; meanwhile the mother stood by without a tear or moan; but should she utter a single moan or let fall a single tear, she had to forfeit the money, and her child was sacrificed nevertheless; and the whole area before the statue was filled with a loud noise of flutes and drums that the cries of wailing should not reach the ears of the people.”
Carthage was an outpost of the Canaanite civilization that was in conflict with that of the children of Israel. And the Bible expressly and explicitly addresses Moloch and his worship by child sacrifice (Leviticus 18:21; 20:1-5; 2 Kings 23:10; Jeremiah 32:35).