views updated Jun 08 2018


Speculations surrounding this name in pre-Christian times have been found in a number of Dead Sea Scrolls fragments. In 1965, A. S. van der Woude published a fairly complete column of Hebrew text (11Q Melchizedek text from Qumran Cave 11) which, with a few small fragments, is what remains of a manuscript of the (?mid-) 1st century b.c. The text features a contest at the end of time between Melchizedek and Belial, thought of as leaders of opposing military camps, angelic forces each of which can claim a portion of mankind as their "lot." The pattern is a familiar one. At Qumran, it is the conflict between the "sons of light" and the "sons of darkness," each group with its own angelic princely leader; in Christian legend, that between Michael and Lucifer. Melchizedek, so understood, is no longer the mysterious human figure of Gn 14.1820, alluded to again in Ps 110.4, upon whom the discussion of Christ's priesthood in Heb 57 is based.

Seemingly the oldest text that presents an angelic figure named Melchizedek is the "Visions of Amram" (the father of Moses). J. T. Milik (see bibliography) has published the pertinent passages; he dated the work to the 2d century b.c. or earlier. The extant Aramaic fragments tell of a dispute of two angelic beings, who between them have power over all mankind, as to which of them Amram must accept. Each of the two has three names; only one name is preserved directly, but that is Melchireshac, "king of wickedness," the opposite of Melchizedek understood as "king of justice." Other evidence makes it easy to equate the two with Belial and Michael, respectively. The Qumran sect, in its community rule (1QS Serek Hayyahad [Rule of the Community, Manual of Discipline] ), in the "War" scroll (1QM Milhâmâh [War Scroll] ), and in various liturgical blessings and curses only partially published (4Q280 ff., described by Milik), each year on the occasion of its "renewal of the covenant" at Pentecost formally execrated Belial and aligned themselves with his adversary. These texts are in Hebrew. A curse in 4Q280 names Melchireshac; and Milik restores the name Melchizedek in a broken line of the "War" scroll (at 1QM xiii, 10), though elsewhere in that composition the two leaders appear as Michael (1QM xvii, 58) and Belial (frequent).

The "Visions of Amram," which was known to Origen, underlies a variety of later Jewish, Gnostic, and Christian presentations of Melchizedek as a superhuman figure. In a different direction, it became the prototype of the story reflected in Jude 9, with Michael and the devil disputing over the body of Moses. That these speculations were known to the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews can hardly be doubted. The latter, however, has carefully kept his portrayal of Melchizedek as a type of Christ within the framework provided by Gn 14 and Ps 110, and has not used the angelic figure Melchizedek as far as can be determined. From the known interest of the Qumran Essenes in a heavenly temple with an angelic liturgy (see Strugnell) scholars have inferred that the angelic

warrior Melchizedek may also have been thought of as the high priest of the heavenly temple. Such a representation could have had a concealed influence on the development in Hebrews; but it remains unproved. The first text cited above (11Q Melch) is seen by Milik as forming part of a "Commentary on the Book of the Periods," from about 120 b.c.; the beginning of this was badly published by J. M. Allegro (as 4Q 180181). Dependent on earlier sources for both its angelology and its division of world history into periods, this work modified its borrowings in an effort to bring them into line with the canonical Old Testament, including Daniel, which it quotes. In the process, the figure of Melchizedek underwent a further transformation; and while Belial remains a fallen angel, the victorious Melchizedek is now a name applied to the Almighty himself, intervening on behalf of his people at the end of time. A human figure, the "anointed of the spirit," serves as his herald.

See also: qumran community.

Bibliography: a. s. van der woude, "Melchisedek als himmlische Erlösergestalt in den neugefundenen eschatologischen Midraschim aus Qumran Höhle XI," Oudtestamentische Studiën 14 (1965) 353373, plates 12. m. de jonge and a. s. van der woude, "11Q Melchizedeq and the New Testament," New Testament Studies 12 (196566) 301326. j. a. fitzmeyer, "Now This Melchizedek (Heb 7,1)," The Catholic Biblical Quarterly 25 (1963) 305321; "Further Light on Melchizedek from Qumran Cave 11," Journal of Biblical Literature 86 (1967) 2541. j. strugnell, "The Angelic Liturgy at Qumran ," Vetus Testamentum Supplement 7: Congress Volume (Oxford 1959, Leiden 1960) 318345. j. t. milik, "4Q Visions decAmram et une citation d'Origène," Revue biblique 79 (1972) 7797, plates III; "Milkîşedeq et Milkîreša c dans les anciens écrits juifs et chrétiens," Journal of Jewish Studies 23 (1972) 95144.

[p. w. skehan]


views updated May 21 2018


MELCHIZEDEK (Heb.: מַלְכִּי צֶדֶק; "legitimate/righteous king"; the English spelling follows lxx Melxisedek as opposed to mt Malkizedek), king of Salem (or Jerusalem; cf. Ps. 76:3) according to Genesis 14:18–20. He welcomed *Abraham after he had defeated the four kings who had captured his nephew, Lot. Melchizedek brought out bread and wine and blessed Abraham. Finally, it is related that "he gave him a tithe of everything" although who gave the tithe to whom became a subject of considerable dispute (see below). The biblical account states that "he (Melchizedek) was priest of God Most High" (וְהוּא כׂהֵן לְאֵל עֶלְיוֹן). Melchizedek's priesthood was a source of numerous post-biblical speculations, which were intensified by the difficult verse Psalms 110:4: "The Lord has sworn/and will not repent/Thou art priest for ever/after the manner of Melchizedek" (אַתָּה כׂהֵן לְעוֹלָם עַל־דִּבְרָתִי מַלְכִּי צֶדֶק). It is generally believed that the Melchizedek mentioned here and the one in Genesis are the same. Some interpreters, however, maintain that the Melchizedek of Psalms is not a person but a title, "my righteous king," presumably because the name is written as two separate words (מַלְכִּי צֶדֶק).

The first post-biblical documents mentioning Melchizedek in various contexts appear from around the beginning of the Christian era. The earliest is probably the fragmentary scroll discovered in cave 11 at Qumran (11q Melch or 11q 13) and published by A.S. Van der Woude (in ots, 14, 1965) and again with certain corrections by M. de Jonge and A.S. Van der Woude (in nts, 12, 1966) and much studied since (bibliography in Brooke). Although this text "is a midrashic development which is independent of the classic Old Testament loci" (J.A. Fitzmyer, jbl, 86, 1967), it is clear that the eschatological and soteriological functions it attributes to Melchizedek draw on the perplexing figure of the biblical Melchizedek. In the Qumran text, Melchizedek is described as passing judgment, in the time of the tenth or last Jubilee, on Belial and those of his sort. The judgment takes place in heaven, and immediately there follows the "day of slaughter" prophecied by Isaiah. Here, Melchizedek is both judge and executor of his own decree, and in all likelihood he is to be identified with the Angel of Light, who figures in the dualistic doctrine of the Qumran sect (I. Gruenwald, in: Maḥanayim, 124 (1970), 94). He has also been identified with the Archangel Michael. Melchizedek is also mentioned in another Qumran text, the Genesis Apocryphon (22: 13–17), where the biblical story of the meeting between Abraham and Melchizedek is retold. Here it is Abraham who offers the tithe to Melchizedek: "And he [i.e., Abraham] gave him a tithe of all the goods of the king of Elam and his companions" (cf. Heb. 7:2 followed by the Christian translations of Genesis where, however, Melchizedek, not Abraham, is the subject of the verse). The question of who gave the tithe to whom was of considerable importance in rabbinical literature. In several places Melchizedek is stated to be a descendant of Noah, and is even identified with Shem the son of Noah. The same sources maintain that his priesthood was taken away from him and bestowed upon Abraham because he blessed Abraham first and only afterward blessed God (Gen. 14:19–20; cf. Ned. 32b; Lev. R. 25:6). Abraham's priesthood is also mentioned in connection with Psalms 110 (Gen. R., 55:6). In other rabbinical sources Melchizedek is mentioned among the four messianic figures allegorically implied by the "four smiths" of Zechariah 2:3. Melchizedek's messianic functions are also elaborated in two other literary documents. At the end of several manuscripts of the Slavonic Book of Enoch appears the story of the miraculous birth of Melchizedek as the son of Nir, Noah's brother. He is transported to heaven and becomes the head of a line of priests leading down to messianic days. There will presumably be another eschatological Melchizedek who will function as both priest and king. In symbolizing Mechizedek as Jesus in his three functions as messiah, king, and high priest (see below) the author's ingenuity combines all the motives singled out in the above-mentioned sources. A gnostic sect whose particular theological position is unknown called itself after Melchizedek.

[Ithamar Gruenwald]

In Christian Tradition

The two brief and somewhat enigmatic references to Melchizedek in the Bible provided the New Testament with a subject for typological interpretation. In the Epistle to the Hebrews (7:1–7), Melchizedek (king of justice – Zedek; of peace – Salem) is described as unique, being both a priest and a king, and because he is "without father, without mother, without genealogy"; he is eternal, "having neither beginning of days nor end of life." In this respect Melchizedek resembles Jesus, the son of God, and thus is a type of the savior.

Abraham, and therefore Levi "in the loins of his father" (ibid. 9–10), paid the tithe in submission to Melchizedek. Since in Christian tradition Jesus is high priest "after the order of Melchizedek" and "not after the order of Aaron" (ibid. 7:11, 17–21), Jesus' priesthood is excellent, superior to that of Abraham's descent, and transcends all human, imperfect orders (Heb. 7:23–28; 8:1–6). To Christians the objection that Jesus, like Aaron, was "in the loins" of the patriarch, and consequently paid the tithe was met by the Church Fathers with the argument that Jesus, though descended from Abraham, had no human father.

[Ilana Shapira]


H.L. Strack and P. Billerbeck, Kommentarzum Neuen Testament, 4 (1928), 452–65; Rowley, in: Festschrift Bertholet (1950), 461ff.; A. Vaillant, Le livre des secrets d'Hénoch (1952); Yadin, in: Scripta Hierosolymitana, 4 (1958), 36–55; idem, in: iej, 15 (1965), 152–4; Panikkar, Kairos, 1 (1959), 5–17; J. Maier, Vom Kultus zur Gnosis (1964), 37ff.; Flusser, in: Christian News from Israel (1966), 23ff.; J.A. Fitzmyer, in: jbl, 86 (1967), 25–41; A.R. Johnson, Sacral Kingship in Ancient Israel (19672), 35–53; S. Paul, in: jaos, 88 (1968), 182. in christian tradition: Friedlaender, in rej, 5 (1882), 1–26, 188–98; 6 (1883), 187–99; Barody, in: rb, 35 (1926), 496–509; (1927), 25–45. add. bibliography: M. Astour, in: abd, 4:684–86; G. Brooke, ibid, 687–88; ibid, B. Pearson, 688; J. Reiling, in: ddd, 560–63.


views updated May 23 2018

Melchizedek (Heb., ‘my king is Zedek/righteous’). Biblical king of Salem. According to Genesis 14. 18–20, Melchizedek welcomed the patriarch Abraham after he defeated the four kings, and he is described as ‘a priest of God Most High’. In Psalm 110. 4, it is written, ‘the Lord has sworn and will not repent, you are priest for ever after the manner of Melchizedek’. It seems likely, therefore, that David adopted a sacral kingship when he captured Jerusalem, and that these passages reflect a positive assessment of this move against those who protested against it as innovation.


views updated May 29 2018

Melchizedek in the Bible, a priest and king of Salem (which is usually identified with Jerusalem). He was revered by Abraham, who paid tithes to him (Genesis 14:18), and he is described as bringing out bread and wine; this was later taken in the Christian Church as prefiguring the Eucharist.