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- For the place in Ancient Carthage with that name, see Ancient Carthage.
In the Hebrew Bible Tophet or Topheth (Hebrew: תוֹפֶת; Greek: Ταφεθ; Latin: Topheth) was a location in Jerusalem in the Gehinnom where worshipers influenced by the ancient Canaanite religion engaged in the human sacrifice of children to the gods Moloch and Baal by burning them alive. Tophet became a theological or poetic synonym for hell within Christendom.
The traditional explanation that a burning rubbish heap in the Valley of Hinnom south of Jerusalem gave rise to the idea of a fiery Gehenna of judgment is attributed to Rabbi David Kimhi's commentary on Psalm 27:13 (c. 1200). He maintained that in this loathsome valley fires were kept burning perpetually to consume the filth and cadavers thrown into it. However, Hermann Strack and Paul Billerbeck state that there is neither archaeological nor literary evidence in support of this claim, in either the earlier intertestamental or the later rabbinic sources.
The Valley of Hinnom was used as a place for worshipers in Judah to burn their own children alive as sacrifices to the gods Moloch and Baal. One section of the Hinnom Valley was called Topheth (also spelled Tophet or Topeth), where the children were slaughtered (2 Kings 23:10). The name Topheth is derived from either, or both, the Hebrew word toph, meaning a drum, because the cries of children being sacrificed by the priests of Moloch were masked by the sound of the beating on drums or tambourines; or from taph or toph, meaning to burn.
The term is spelled Topheth in most English bibles. However, it appears in versions such as the King James and New King James as "Tophet".
They have built the high places of Topheth, which is in the valley of the son of Hinnom, to burn their sons and their daughters in the fire; which I didn't command, nor did it come into my mind. Therefore, behold, the days come, says Yahweh, that it shall no more be called Topheth, nor The valley of the son of Hinnom, but The valley of Slaughter: for they shall bury in Topheth, until there be no place [to bury]. The dead bodies of this people shall be food for the birds of the sky, and for the animals of the earth; and none shall frighten them away. Then will I cause to cease from the cities of Judah, and from the streets of Jerusalem, the voice of mirth and the voice of gladness, the voice of the bridegroom and the voice of the bride; for the land shall become a waste.
The practice of burning children in Topheth was ended by Josiah, King of Judah, who “defiled Topheth” as part of his great religious reforms (2Kings 23:10). Topheth is mentioned elsewhere in the Old Testament:Jeremiah 7:31-32 Jeremiah 19:6, Jeremiah 19:11-14, and Isaiah 30:33.
In popular culture
- Hermann L. Strack and Paul Billerbeck, Kommentar zum Neuen Testament aus Talmud and Midrasch, 5 vols. [Munich: Beck, 1922-56], 4:2:1030
- Biblia Rabbinica, David Kimhi
- King, Needful Things, p. 4