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The Al-Balu' Stele, depicting a god, possibly Chemosh, handing a scepter to what is implicitly a Moabite king wearing a Shasu headdress.[1]

Chemosh (/ˈkmɒʃ/ Moabite: 𐤊𐤌𐤔 Kamāš; Hebrew: כְּמוֹשׁ Kəmōš [kǝˈmoːʃ]; Eblaite: 𒅗𒈪𒅖 Kamiš, Akkadian: 𒅗𒄠𒈲 Kâmuš) was the god of the Moabites. He is most notably attested in the Mesha Stele and the Hebrew Bible.[2] While he is most readily associated with the Moabites, according to the Book of Judges (Judges 11:23–24) he seems to have been the national deity of the Ammonites as well, despite the people’s erstwhile patronage of Milcom.


The etymology of "Chemosh" is unknown,[3][4] although it is believed to be related to the Semitic god Shamash.[5][6] However, given that he is also known from Ebla as Kamish,[7] it is also speculated he might be a form of the Mesopotamian deity Nergal.[6]

Mesha Stele, erected c. 840 BC in honor of Chemosh

In the Bible[edit]

According to the Hebrew Bible, the worship of this god, "the abomination of Moab," was introduced at Jerusalem by Solomon (1 Kings 11:7), but was abolished by Josiah (2 Kings 23:13). (Eleventh-century Jewish commentator Rashi quotes a tradition that Solomon's wives built the temples to Chemosh and other deities, and that Solomon is considered responsible for not stopping them.)[8] On the Moabite stone, Mesha (2 Kings 3:5) ascribed his victories over the king of Israel to this god, "and Chemosh drove him out from before me."[9]

According to Morris Jastrow, Jr. and George Aaron Barton in the Jewish Encyclopedia,[10]

The national god of the Moabites. He became angry with his people and permitted them to become the vassals of Israel; his anger passed, he commanded Mesha to fight against Israel, and Moabitish independence was reestablished (Moabite Stone, lines 5, 9, 14 et seq.). A king in the days of Sennacherib was called "Chemoshnadab" ("K. B." ii. 90 et seq. ; see Jehonadab). Chemosh was a god associated with the Semitic mother-goddess Ashtar, whose name he bears (Moabite Stone, line 17; compare Barton, "Semitic Origins," iv.). Peake wrongly holds that Ashtar-Chemosh was a deity distinct from Chemosh, while Moore and Bäthgen (Beiträge zur Semitischen Religionsgeschichte, p. 14) regard "Ashtar" in this name as equivalent to "Astarte," who they believe was worshipped in the temple of Chemosh. Whatever differences of conception may have attached to the god at different shrines, there is no adequate reason for doubting the substantial identity of the gods to whom these various names were applied. Hosea ix. 10 is proof that at some period (according to Wellhausen, at the time of the prophet himself) the impure cult of the Semitic goddess was practised at Baal-peor (compare Wellhausen, Kleine Prophetell; Nowack's Commentary; and G. A. Smith, Twelve Prophets, ad loc.). Chemosh, therefore, was in general a deity of the same nature as Baal. On critical occasions a human sacrifice was considered necessary to secure his favor (compare II Kings iii. 27), and when deliverance came, a sanctuary might be built to him (Moabite Stone, line 3). An ancient poem, twice quoted in the Old Testament (Num. xxi. 27-30; Jer. xlviii. 45, 46), regards the Moabites as the children of Chemosh, and also calls them "the people of Chemosh".

The name of the father of Mesha, Chemosh-melek ("Chemosh is Malik" or "Chemosh is king"; compare Moabite Stone, line 1), indicates the possibility that Chemosh and Malik (or Moloch) were one and the same deity. Book of Judges 11:24 has been thought by some to be a proof of this, since it speaks of Chemosh as the god of the Ammonites, while Moloch is elsewhere their god (compare 1 Kings 11:7, 33). Solomon is said to have built a sanctuary to Chemosh on the Mount of Olives (I Kings 11:7, 33), which was maintained till the reform of Josiah (II Kings 23:13). This movement by Solomon was no doubt to some extent a political one, but it made the worship of Chemosh a part of the religious life of Israel for nearly 400 years.

Literary references[edit]

Next CHEMOS, th' obscene dread of MOABS Sons,
From AROER to NEBO, and the wild
Of Southmost ABARIM; in HESEBON
And HERONAIM, SEONS Realm, beyond
The flowry Dale of SIBMA clad with Vines,
PEOR his other Name, when he entic'd
ISRAEL in SITTIM on their march from NILE
To do him wanton rites, which cost them woe.
Yet thence his lustful Orgies he enlarg'd
Even to that Hill of scandal [the Mount of Olives], by the Grove
Of MOLOCH homicide, lust hard by hate;
Till good JOSIAH drove them thence to Hell.

  • Harry Turtledove's short alternate history story "Occupation Duty" (collected in Atlantis and Other Places anthology) features a society where Chemoshism survived to the present day, and the popular image of Chemosh has apparently metamorphosed into something akin to Yahweh.


 This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainSinger, Isidore; et al., eds. (1901–1906). "Chemosh". The Jewish Encyclopedia. New York: Funk & Wagnalls.

  1. ^ Burnett, Joel S. “Ammon, Moab and Edom: Gods and Kingdoms East of the Jordan,” Biblical Archaeology Review 42.6 (2016): 26–40, 66.
  2. ^ Numbers 21:29; 1 Kings 11:7; Jeremiah 48:7, 48:13, 48:46.
  3. ^ George Foot Moore (1901) [1899]. "Chemosh". In T. K. Cheyne; J. Sutherland Black (eds.). Encyclopaedia Biblica: A Critical Dictionary of the Literary, Political, and Religious History, the Archaeology, Geography, and Natural History of the Bible. Vol. 1, A–D. New York: The Macmillan Company.
  4. ^ J. D. Douglas; Merrill C. Tenney, eds. (3 May 2011). Zondervan Illustrated Bible Dictionary. Harper Collins. p. 260. ISBN 978-0-310-49235-1.
  5. ^ Charles Russell Coulter; Patricia Turner (4 Jul 2013). Encyclopedia of Ancient Deities. Routledge. p. 423. ISBN 978-1-135-96390-3.
  6. ^ a b Tim Callahan (2002). The Secret Origins of the Bible. Millennium Press. p. 202. ISBN 978-0-965-50479-9.
  7. ^ DeVries, LeMoine F. (2006). Cities of the Biblical World: An Introduction to the Archaeology, Geography, and History of Biblical Sites. Eugene, Oregon: Wipf & Stock. p. 71-72. ISBN 978-1-55635-120-4.
  8. ^ See Rashi on 1 Kings 11:7 [1]
  9. ^ Jewish Encyclopedia (1906), "Moabite Stone."
  10. ^ Entry for "Chemosh" [2]

External links[edit]

  • Media related to Chemosh at Wikimedia Commons