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Meeting of Abraham and Melchizedek — by Dieric Bouts the Elder, 1464–67

Melchizedek is an enigmatic figure twice mentioned in the Hebrew Bible, also known as the Old Testament. Melchizedek is mentioned as the King of Salem, and priest of God Most High, in the time of the biblical patriarch Abram. He brought out bread and wine, blessed Abram, and received tithes from him, Genesis 14:18-20. Reference is made to him in Psalm 110:4 where the victorious ruler is declared to be "priest forever after the order of Melchizedek."

He is commemorated as one of the Holy Forefathers in the Calendar of Saints of the Armenian Apostolic Church on July 26. He is mentioned in the Roman Canon, the First Eucharistic Prayer of the Roman rite.

Melchizedek in the Hebrew Bible

Melchizedek (Hebrew: מלכי-צדק, Malkiy-tsedeq) is mentioned twice in the Hebrew Bible. The first occurs at Genesis 14:18-20, part of the larger story of Genesis 14:17-24 which tells how Abram returns from defeating king Chedorlaomer and his associates and meets with the king of Sodom, at which point (KJV translation):

And Melchizedek king of Salem brought forth bread and wine: and he was the priest of the most high God. And he blessed him, and said, Blessed be Abram of the most high God, possessor of heaven and earth: And blessed be the most high God, which hath delivered thine enemies into thy hand. And he gave him tithes of all.

The second is in Psalm 110:4, celebrating some victory or conquest of an unnamed king of the Davidic dynasty. The king is said to be a "priest forever" and a successor of Melchizedek, and the text is translated (KJV):

The LORD hath sworn, and will not repent, Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek.

Melchizedek in the Dead Sea Scroll 11Q13

11Q13 (11QMelch) is a fragment (that can be dated end II century or start I century BCE) of a text about Melchizedek found in Cave 11 at Qumran in the Palestinian West Bank and which comprises part of the Dead Sea Scrolls. In this eschatological text Melchizedek is seen as a divine being and Hebrew titles as Elohim are applied to him. According to this text Melchizedek will proclaim the "Day of Atonement" and he will atone for the people who are predestined to him. He also will judge the peoples.[1]

Melchizedek in the Second Book of Enoch

The Second Book of Enoch (also called "Slavonic Enoch") is apparently a Jewish sectarian work of the 1st century CE.[2] The last section of the work, the Exaltation of Melchizedek, tells how Melchizedek was born of a virgin, Sofonim (or Sopanima), the wife of Nir, a brother of Noah. The child came out from his mother after she had died and sat on the bed beside her corpse, already physically developed, clothed, speaking and blessing the Lord, and marked with the badge of priesthood. Forty days later, Melchizedek was taken by the archangel Gabriel (Michael in some manuscripts) to the Garden of Eden and was thus preserved from the Deluge without having to be in Noah's Ark.[3][4]

Melchizedek in the New Testament

An image of Melchizedek painted onto the altar side near the Royal Doors at Libotin wooden church, Maramureş County, Romania

In the New Testament, references to Melchizedek appear only in the Epistle to the Hebrews (end I century CE). Jesus the Christ is there identified as a priest forever in the order of Melchizedek quoting from Ps. 110:4,[5] and so Jesus assumes the role of High Priest once and for all. Abraham's transfer of goods to Melchizedek is seen to imply that Melchizedek is superior to Abraham, in that Abraham is tithing to him. Thus, Melchizedek's (Jesus') priesthood is superior to the Aaronic priesthood, and the Temple in Jerusalem is now unnecessary.

The Melchisedechians

There were one or more early Christian heresies associated with the name of Melchizedek, often associated with a denial of the Trinity.

Melchizedek in Nag Hammadi Library

A collection of early Gnostic scripts found in 1945, known as the Nag Hammadi Library, contains a tractate pertaining to Melchizedek. Here it is proposed that Melchizedek is Jesus Christ.[6] Melchizedek, as Jesus Christ, lives, preaches, dies and is resurrected, in a gnostic perspective. The Coming of the Son of God Melchizedek speaks of his return to bring peace, supported by the gods, and he is a priest-king who dispenses justice.[7]

The Midrash and classical rabbinical interpretation

Melchizedek presents a problem for traditional Jewish teachings: he is not a descendant of Aaron, from whom all priests must be descended - in fact he pre-dates both Aaron and Levi - yet he is described as a priest. Several explanations were offered. In the Midrash, the Rabbis identified Melchizedek with Shem son of Noah, who, although also not a descendant of Aaron, was believed to have officiated as a priest. (E.g., Babylonian Talmud Nedarim 32b; Genesis Rabbah 46:7; Genesis Rabbah 56:10; Leviticus Rabbah 25:6; Numbers Rabbah 4:8.) Rabbi Isaac the Babylonian said that Melchizedek was born circumcised. (Genesis Rabbah 43:6.) Melchizedek called Jerusalem “Salem.” (Genesis Rabbah 56:10.) The Rabbis said that Melchizedek instructed Abram in the Torah. (Genesis Rabbah 43:6.) Rabbi Eleazar said that Melchizedek's school was one of three places where the Holy Spirit manifested Himself. (Babylonian Talmud Makkot 23b.) The Rabbis taught that Melchizedek acted as a priest and handed down Adam's robes to Abram. (Numbers Rabbah 4:8.) Rabbi Zechariah said on Rabbi Ishmael's authority that God intended to bring forth the priesthood through Melchizedek's descendants, but because Melchizedek blessed Abram before he blessed God (in Gen. 14:19-20), God brought the priesthood forth from Abram's descendants. (Babylonian Talmud Nedarim 32b; see also Leviticus Rabbah 25:6 (crediting Rabbi Ishamel).)

Rabbi Judah said in Rabbi Nehorai's name that Melchizedek's blessing yielded prosperity for Abram, Isaac, and Jacob. (Genesis Rabbah 43:8.) Ephraim Miksha'ah the disciple of Rabbi Meir said in the latter's name that Tamar descended from Melchizedek. (Genesis Rabbah 85:10.)

Rabbi Hana bar Bizna citing Rabbi Simeon Hasida identified Melchizedek as one of the four craftsmen of whom Zechariah wrote in Zechariah 2:3. (Babylonian Talmud Sukkah 52b; see also Song of Songs Rabbah 2:33 (crediting Rabbi Berekiah in the name of Rabbi Isaac).) The Talmud teaches that David wrote the Book of Psalms, including in it the work of the elders, including Melchizedek (in Psalm 110). (Babylonian Talmud Baba Batra 14b-15a.)

The Zohar finds in “Melchizedek king of Salem” a reference to “the King Who rules with complete sovereignty,” or according to another explanation, that “Melchizedek” alludes to the lower world and “king of Salem” to the upper world. (Zohar 1:86b-87a.)

Latter-day Saint beliefs concerning Melchizedek

The Book of Mormon of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints describes the work of Melchizedek in Salem in Alma 13:17-19. According to Alma, Melchizedek was King over the wicked people of Salem, but because of his righteousness, his people repented of their wickedness and became a peaceful city in accordance with the meaning of that name. With respect to Old Testament prophets, Alma declares that "there were many before [Melchizedek], and also there were many afterwards, but none were greater."

Also, in Joseph Smith's translation of the Bible, Melchizedek is described as "a man of faith, who wrought righteousness; and when a child he feared God, and stopped the mouths of lions." Because he was a righteous and God fearing man, Melchizedek was "ordained a high priest." The Translation also describes Melchizedek as establishing peace in his city and being called "the king of heaven" and "the King of peace" (JST Bible Gen 14:25-40), that he and his people were also translated, like Enoch (ancestor of Noah)'s people were.

Other Latter-day Saint views on Melchizedek closely match the King James Bible. They focus heavily on Melchizedek as having the Melchizedek Priesthood named after him.

According to the Doctrine and Covenants, Melchizedek is a descendant of Noah (LDS Church Section 84:14; Community of Christ Section 83:2e). There remains controversy whether he was Shem, or a descendant. John Taylor taught the former — perhaps due to Jasher 16:11, which says Adonizedek;[8] Bruce McConkie the latter.

Textual criticism and Melchizedek

Genesis 14

In the Masoretic (Hebrew) biblical text the name is written as two words ("malki zedek") and pointed as מַלְכִּי־צֶדֶק or מַלְכִּי־צָדֶק (pronounced in standard Hebrew as Malki-ẓédeq or Malki-ẓádeq and in Tiberian vocalization as Malkî-ṣéḏeq or Malkî-ṣāḏeq). In the Septuagint and the New Testament he appears as Μελχισεδέκ, and in the Latin Vulgate as Melchisedech. in the Authorised King James Version of 1611 he appeared as Melchizedek in the Old Testament and Melchisedec in the New Testament.

The Epistle to the Hebrews[9], along with Philo[10] and Josephus[11][12], interprets the name as meaning "the king of righteousness", all apparently based on the Hebrew words "melek", meaning "King",[13] and "tzedek" (or tzadik), meaning "righteous(ness)".[14]. This interpretation is held also by some modern scholars because in the Dead Sea Scroll 4QAmram 2.3 is found the opposite name Melchi-resha ("king of evil") for a chief angel of darkness.[15]

While the interpretation "king of righteousness/righteous king" is not impossible, the word "malki" contains a possessive pronoun, and means "my king". The opinion of many modern scholars is that this interpretation is therefore unlikely, and that the original name was probably "[the god] Sedeq is my king", based on the attested Canaanite/Phoenician god "Suduk" or "Sudek", or, less likely, "My king is righteous(ness)".[16]

Genesis calls Melchizedek "king of Salem", traditionally taken to be an alternative name for Jerusalem.[17] But William F. Albright has proposed that "king of Salem" is a corruption of an originally different reading which he reconstructed as: "And Melchizedek, a king allied to him (Albright reads melek shelomo, "of his peace", instead of melek Salem, "king of Jerusalem"), brought out bread and wine..."[18] The New American Bible makes a similar note.[19]

Even if the "king of Salem" reading is correct, the equation with Jerusalem co-existed with another tradition which identified "Salem" as a place at or near Shechem, an early capital of the ancient kingdom of Israel, on the slopes of Mt Gerizim. The tradition is associated with the Samaritans, for whom Gerizim (and not Jerusalem) is the site intended for the Temple, and thus serves an obvious sectarian purpose; yet it is not solely associated with the Samaritans, being found also in the 3rd or 2nd century BC Book of Jubilees and even in the Septuagint version of Genesis.[20]

Genesis also calls Melchizedek "Priest of El Elyon", which appears elsewhere as a title for YHWH. But it has long been suspected that this is a late development,[21] and that Melchizedek was originally the priest of a god named Elyon, who appears in eighth-century Aramaic inscriptions paired with El in the common Levantine pantheon.[22] When these verses were taken over by Jewish redactor(s), for whom El was already identified with YHWH, El-Elyon became an epithet for the God of Israel.[23]

For the last sentence of Genesis 14:20 the KJV has And he gave him tithes of all. Kamal Salibi observes that Hebrew: ֹמַעֲשֵׂר, m'sr, which does indeed mean tenth, could perhaps also mean just portion and Hebrew: מִכֹּל, m-kl, taken to mean from all, could certainly also mean food, so that the whole means simply He gave him a morsel of food. [24] Salibi also cites Arabic cognates to suggest that the words "malki zedek" at the beginning of Genesis 14:18, where the KJV has And Melchizedek king of Salem ..., can be interpreted as mouthful of offering, so that the verse begins And food the king of Salem brought out, bread and wine ... [24] The implication is to say that the king (whether of Sodom or of Salem) brought out food, then gave his blessing, then he and Abram broke bread together, or, if it is accepted that "Melchizedek" is an artefact of the text, that the whole interchange was with the King of Sodom.

Genesis 14 does not appear to be derived from any of the usual pentateuchal sources.[25] It is additionally possible that verses 18-20 (in which Melchizedek appears) are themselves an insertion into chapter 14, as they interrupt the account of the meeting of Abraham with the king of Sodom.[26]

Psalm 110

Psalm 110 reads in full (NAB version):

(1)A psalm of David. The LORD says to you, my lord: "Take your throne at my righthand, while I make your enemies your footstool." (2) The scepter of your sovereign might the LORD will extend from Zion. The LORD says: "Rule over your enemies! (3) Yours is princely power from the day of your birth. In holy splendor before the daystar, like the dew I begot you." (4) The LORD has sworn and will not waver: "Like Melchizedek you are a priest forever." (5) At your right hand is the Lord, who crushes kings on the day of wrath, (6) Who, robed in splendor, judges nations, crushes heads across the wide earth, (7) Who drinks from the brook by the wayside and thus holds high the head.

The KJV version of the highlighted sentence, Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek, has become traditional in English translations, but the Hebrew contains ambiguities. the New Jewish Publication Society of America Version, (1985 edition), for example, has You are a priest forever, a rightful king by My decree. Another alternative keeps Melchizedek as a personal name but changes the identity of the person addressed: "You are a priest forever by my order (or 'on my account'), O Melchizedek" - here it is Melchizedek who is being addressed throughout the psalm.[27]

Confusion over Melchizedek's lineage

Hebrews 7:3 creates some confusion between denominations regarding Melchizedek's nature and background. This is how it stands in the KJV, describing Melchizedek as:

"Without father, without mother, without descent, having neither beginning of days, nor end of life; but made like unto the Son of God; abideth a priest continually."

Different denominations interpret this in vastly different ways. Some say that Melchizedek is literally like the Son of God (or even is the Son of God) in that he has no father or mother. Others say that he has been adopted into Christ's lineage through the Lord's suffering,[28] still others claim that the verse has been mistranslated, and that the Priesthood Melchizedek held is what is without lineage, not Melchizedek.[29] Others claim that the verse merely represents Melchizedek's not being a priesthood holder because of lineage (i.e. "without descent" meaning not a descendant of Levi as required by Mosaic Law.)[30]

The Book of the Bee, a Syriac text, also offers insights contrary to Melchizedek's purported immortal nature:

"NEITHER the fathers nor mother of this Melchizedek were written down in the genealogies; not that he had no natural parents, but that they were not written down. The greater number of the doctors say that he was of the seed of Canaan, whom Noah cursed. In the book of Chronography, however, (the author) affirms and says that he was of the seed of Shem the son of Noah. Shem begat Arphaxar, Arphaxar begat Cainan, and Cainan begat Shâlâh and Mâlâh, Shâlâh was written down in the genealogies; but Mâlâh was not, because his affairs were not sufficiently important to be written down in the genealogies. When Noah died, he commanded Shem concerning the bones of Adam, for they were with them in the ark, and were removed from the land of Eden to this earth. Then Shem entered the ark, and sealed it with his father's seal, and said to his brethren, 'My father commanded me to go and see the sources of the rivers and the seas and the structure of the earth, and to return.' And he said to Mâlâh the father of Melchizedek, and to Yôzâdâk his mother...."[31]

Melchizedek in alternative texts

The Urantia Book devotes a dozen pages to details about Melchizedek. The book claims he materialized on Earth as an adult, preached a single God, ministered to Abraham, and disappeared as miraculously as he appeared about 90 years later. The Urantia Book claims "Melchizedek" refers to a divine order of beings with the one who appeared on Earth called Machiventa Melchizedek, and he came to prepare the world for Jesus Christ.

See also

External Links


  1. Wise, Abegg, Cook (1996). The Dead Sea Scrolls: a New Translation. 
  2. Harry Alan Hahne (2006). Corruption and Redemption of Creation: the Natural World in Romans 8.19-22 and Jewish Apocalyptic Literature. p. 83. ISBN 0567030555. 
  3. 2 Enoch, Chapters 69-72
  4. Morfill, W R (translator). The Book of the Secrets of Enoch. 
  5. Hebrews 5:6
  6. Robinson, James M (translator) (1978). The Nag Hammadi Library in English. 
  7. Text of the tractate:
  8. Melchizedek means “my king is righteous,” Adonizedek “my lord is righteous”
  9. Hebrews 7:2
  10. Philo, Allegorical interpretation of Genesis, 3.79 [1]
  11. Josephus. Antiquities of the Jews - 1.180. 
  12. Josephus. The Jewish War 6.438. 
  13. Strong's Concordance: online search with number 4428
  14. Strong's Concordance: online search with number 6666
  15. Pearson, Birger A. (2003). "Melchizedek in Early Judaism, Christianity and Gnosticism". in Stone, Michael E.; Bergren, Theodore A.. Biblical Figures Outside the Bible. p. 181. ISBN 9781563384110.,M1. 
  16. Delcor, M (1971). "Melchizedek from Genesis to the Qumran Texts and the Epistle to the Hebrews". Journal for the Study of Judaism 2: 115–135, esp. 115-116. 
  17. The identification is made explicit in many Jewish writers of the early centuries of the current era, for example Josephus (op. cit.), Genesis Apocryphon col.22:12-13, Targum Onkelos Gen.14-18
  18. W.F. Albright, "Abram the Hebrew: A New Archaeological Interpretation", BASOR 163 (1961) 36-54, esp. 52.
  19. New American Bible (1980), Genesis 14, fn.5
  20. James L. Kugel, Traditions of the Bible, pp.283-284
  21. G. Levi Della Vida, "El Elyon in Genesis 14:18-20", JBL 63 (1944) pp.1-9
  22. J. A. Fitzmyer, "The Aramaic Inscriptions of Sefire", Revised Edition (Bibor 19A; Rome 1995) pp.41, 75
  23. R. Lack, "Les origines de Elyon, le Très-Haut, dans la tradition cultuelle d’Israel", CBQ 24 (1962) pp.44-64
  24. 24.0 24.1 Kamal Salibi, The Bible Came from Arabia Jonathan Cape, 1985, chapter 12
  25. E.A. Speiser, "Genesis. Introduction, translation, and notes" (AB 1; Garden City 1964) p.105; Von Rad, "Genesis", pp.170, 174; Martin Noth, "A History of Pentateuchal Traditions" (Englewood Cliffs 1972) p.28, n.84.
  26. Hermann Gunkel, "Genesis" (Göttingen 1922) pp.284-285
  27. James L. Kugel, "Traditions of the Bible", pp.278-279
  28. Hebrews 7:3 Without father, without mother, without genealogy, having neither beginning of
  29. Joseph Smith Translation: Heb. 7: 3
  30. Melchizedek
  31. Chapter XXI - Of Melchizedek

Further reading

bg:Мелхиседек ca:Melquisedec da:Melkisedek (Bibelen) eu:Melkisedek ga:Meilcizidic ko:멜기세덱 id:Melkisedek ja:メルキゼデク no:Melkisedek pt:Melquisedeque ru:Мелхиседек fi:Melkisedek sv:Melkisedek tl:Melquisedec zh:麥基洗德