MELCHIZEDEK IN
SECOND-TEMPLE INTERPRETATION


 

1. Melchizedek in the Old Testament
2. Melchizedek in the Second-Temple Period

   2.1. Philo and Josephus

   2.2. Genesis Apocryphon

   2.3. 11QMelchizedek (11Q13)
   2.4. Other Qumran Writings

   2.5. Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice


 

1. Melchizedek in the Old Testament

The meaning of the name Melchizedek  is "King of Righteousness." He makes his only appearance in biblical narrative in Genesis 14:18-20:  "And Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine; now he was a priest of God Most High. He blessed him and said, 'Blessed be Abram of God Most High, possessor of heaven and earth; And blessed be God Most High, who has delivered your enemies into your hand.' He gave him a tenth of all."  It should be noted that Melchizedek is said to be king of Salem and a priest of God most high. Abraham recognizes his priestly status by tithing to him.

    The only other reference to Melchizedek in the Old Testament occurs in Psalm 110:4 (LXX 109). This psalm is said to be of David, so that the reader should understand the first person, singular pronoun as referring to him. David says that Yahweh said to his lord, "Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet" (110:1; LXX 109:1).  In the next two verses, David continues to address this unidentified individual, whom in verse one he called his "lord." (There are many problems with the interpretation of Ps 110:2-3.) In Ps 110:4, David says to this individual: "Yahweh has sworn and will not change his mind: 'You are a priest forever in the order of Melchizedek'." This kingly figure described in Ps 110:1-3 is also a priest, not from Aaron and Zadok's line, but in the order of Melchizedek.
 

2. Melchizedek in the Second-Temple Period

2.1. Philo and Josephus

Philo and Josephus both make reference to Melchizedek, but only reiterate what the two biblical texts say about him.  Philo allegorizes the Genesis account of Abram's meeting with Melchizedek. He writes, for example, "Melchizedek also has God made both king of peace, for that is the meaning of Salem, and his own priest...a king peaceable and worthy of his [God's] own priesthood. For he is entitled 'the righteous king', and a king is at enmity with a despot, the one being the author of laws, the other of lawlessness" (Leg. All. 3.79-82). Josephus explains why it was appropriate that Melchizedek should be a king and a priest. He says that Abram "was received by the king of Solyma [Salem], Melchizedek; the name means 'righteous king', and such he was by common consent, inasmuch for this reason he was moreover made priest of God; Solyma was in fact the place afterward called Hierosolyma [Jerusalem]" (Ant. 1.10.2 3 180).

2.2. Genesis Apocryphon

The historical figure of Melchizedek is mentioned in an Aramaic rewriting of the book of Genesis found at Qumran, called Genesis Apocryphon (22.14-17). Nothing significant beyond what is affirmed about him in the Genesis narrative, however, is found in this text: "Melchizedek, the king of Salem, brought out food and drink for Abram and for all the men who were with him; he was a priest of the Most High God and he blessed Abram and said, 'Blessed be Abram by the Most High God, the Lord of heaven and earth. Blessed be the Most High God who has delivered your enemies into your hand'. And he gave him a tithe of all the flocks of the king of Elam and his confederates."  

2.3. 11QMelchizedek (11Q13)

Found among the Dead Sea Scrolls is a sectarian text in which Melchizedek is understood as an angel, probably identical to Michael and the Prince of Light. The genre of 11QMelchizedek has been described as a “non-continuous pesher” or “thematic pesher” by which is meant that 11QMelchizedek assembles together several biblical texts understood as related to one another thematically and interprets these in a pesher-like fashion. This theological reflection is based exegetically on Lev 25, the legislation on the year of jubilee, which is then interpreted in light of Deut 15:2 and Isa 61:1. (Twice is Lev 25 cited in 11QMelchizedek:  Lev 25:13 9 in line 2 and Lev 25:13 in line 25. Both are introduced by "And concerning that which he said," the same phrase used in 1QpHab to cite a portion of a biblical text given in full earlier. Based on this observation it is probable that at least Lev 25:8-13 was cited earlier in a part of the text that is no longer extant.) The text began with the citation of Leviticus 25:13 to which the parallel legislation in Deut 15:2 is brought alongside in typically midrashic fashion. The point established is that the Torah requires the release of all debts in the year of jubilee. The script of the text is Herodian, and is to be dated either to the first half of the first century CE or perhaps earlier to the second half of the first century BCE.

    In his pesher on Lev 25, the author seeks to uncover an eschatological meaning of the institution of the year of jubilee: "Its interpretation for the last days concerns the captives about whom it is said, 'To proclaim liberty to the captives (Isa 61:1)'." The year of jubilee is interpreted eschatologically, so that final salvation is understood as the ultimate year of release; this is the fulfillment of the prediction of the release of the captives foretold in Isa 61:1. The captives no doubt refer to the members of the community who are oppressed by their compatriots and by Belial and the angels of his lot. Moreover, Melchizedek, assumed to be an angel (and probably identical to Michael and the Prince of Light), is given a role in the eschatological salvation of the righteous and judgment of the wicked. The members of the community are called the "inheritance of Melchizedek" and it is said that Melchizedek will be the one who will "proclaim liberty to them and will release them from the [debt] of their iniquities." At the completion of the ninth Jubilee, in the first week of the tenth jubilee, on the Day of Atonement, atonement will be made for "all the sons of light and the men of the lot of Melchizedek" (2.8; see 2.6), possibly connected somehow to Melchizedek’s eschatological appearance. Presumably, these men are not perfect, but God as merciful will provide them with a means of eschatological atonement. What exactly Melchizedek's role, in any, will be in this eschatological atonement is unclear.   It is said that this is "the time of the year of grace for Melchizedek," meaning that this is time of eschatological salvation to be mediated by Melchizedek.

    The one who proclaims good news referred to in Isa 52:7 ("How lovely on the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news etc.") is also identified as Melchizedek and brought into relation to Isa 61:2-3, in which the “anointed one” is said to “comfort the afflicted” and so forth. It is possible that Melchizedek is identified as the one who is anointed one in Isa 61:1. The various clauses in Isa 52:7 and 61:2-3 are interpreted atomistically, as is typical in Qumran exegesis, but because of lacunae it is difficult to understand what is meant: "The mountains are the prophets and the messenger is the anointed of the spirit about whom Daniel spoke" (2.17-18) and "'To comfort the afflicted.'  Its interpretation: to instruct the ages of the world” (2.20). The passage cited from Daniel as coming to fulilment in tandem with Isa 52:7 and 61:2-3 is Dan 9:25 (until an anointed, a prince, there will be seven weeks"), which implies that the author sees the completion of Daniel’s seventy weeks (Dan 9:24-25) as identical to the beginning of the ten jubilee; whether the anointed one of Dan 9:25 is interpreted as Melchizedek, however, is unclear, but is certainly possible.

    At the escaton, Melchizedek will also execute judgment on Belial (Satan) and the spirits of his lot. In this context, Ps 82:1-2 is interpreted eschatologically of Melchizedek's judgment of the fallen angels: the "god" (elohim) who takes his stand in the assembly of God (el) is the heavenly being Melchizedek; he will judge in the midst of the other "gods" (elohim) (2.9-14). The fact that in line 11 it is said that it is God (el) who will judge the peoples, citing Ps 7:8, indicates that the angel Melchizedek is the instrument of God's eschatological judgment. Along the same lines, the reference "Your God (elohim) reigns" in Isa 52:7 is interpreted to be the reign of Melchizedek, who is a god in the sense of being an angel. Ps 82:2 "How long will you judge unjustly and show partiality to the wicked" is interpreted as follows: "Its interpretation concerns Belial and the spirits of his lot, who rebelled by turning away from the precepts of God" (2.12). Apparently, Ps 82:2 is assumed to speak of the unjust reign of Belial and the spirits of his lot, which will come to an end with the appearance of Melchizedek as eschatological judge. (This interpretation is suggested by the fact that Ps 82:1 says that God presides over the assembly of God and judges among the gods (elohim). These “gods” are interpreted as angels rather than as human judges. Those addressed in Ps 82:1-2 are again called “gods” and are also called sons of God in Ps 82:6.) 11QMelch 2.13 seems to mean that Melchizedek will become judge on that day and will remove the right to judge (or to rule) from Belial and the spirits of his lot.

2.4. Other Qumran Writings

In other of the Qumran Sectarian writings, Melchizedek probably should be identified with the archangel Michael, for he assumes the role of eschatological savior and judgment in the War Scroll as Melchizedek does in 11QMelchizedek (see 1QM 13.10; 16.6-8; 17.7). Other probable names for Michael / Melchizedek are Prince of Light (1QM 13.10-11; 1QS 2.20-22; CD 5.17-19) and Prince of His [God's] Truth (1QS 3.24). In 4QVisions of Amram (4Q544) there are references to two angels—one good and one evil—who have been empowered to rule over human beings. The evil angel goes by three names: Belial, Prince of Darkness and King of Evil (Melchi-resha). The good angel also is known by three names, but unfortunately the text is corrupt at this point. It is almost certain, however, that one of the names was Melchi-zedek, corresponding to Melchi-resha. The other two names likely were Michael and Prince of Light. The biblical figure of Melchizedek became identified for the Qumran community with God's ruling angel.

2.5. Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice

In another text, Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice, copies of which were found at Qumran and Masada, there is reference to angels who functioned as heavenly priests in the heavenly Temple; these were, in other words, angelic priests. In the first Sabbath song, the angelic priests are also said to bring about the possibility of forgiveness for those who turn from sin. The text in which this idea appears, however, offers some translation difficulties (4Q400 frg. 1, col. 1.15b-16b). Should the Hebrew word translatable as "His favor or good will" be taken as the result of the atonement offered on behalf of those who repent or as the object of the atonement, so that "to atone" has more the meaning of propitiate? If the former then the translation would be: "They atone for all those who turn from sin, resulting in God's favor to them." But if this were the meaning it would be better expressed with the definite article, to indicate the idea of purpose. If the latter, it would mean: "They propitiate God's good will for the benefit of those who turn from sin." On this interpretation "His good will" is a substitute for God (see Gen 32:21). In either case, however, it is clear that a role of the angelic priests is to bring about atonement for those who repent by means of the heavenly cult. This is probably the context in which the phrase in 4Q400 frg. 1, col. 1.18 should be understood,:  "[..] His lovingkindness for an eternal compassionate forgiveness." The lamed clause may express the result of the preceding clause, which, unfortunately, has too many lacunae to be able to recover its meaning. Probably, the "eternal compassionate forgiveness" (see parallels in Dan 9:9; 1QH 6.9; 4Q286 frg. 1, col. 2.8) results from some cultic function of the angelic priesthood. The means by which the angelic priests provide atonement or propitiation for the sins of the penitent is sacrifice.  In what may be classified as part of the thirteenth Sabbath Song, there are references to the “sacrifices of the holy one” (11QShirShabb frgs. 8-7.2), as well as “the odor of their offerings” (11QShirShabb frgs. 8-7.2) and “the odor of their drink offerings" (11QShirShabb 8-7. 3). In other words, whatever human priests do in the earthly Temple has its counter in heaven, performed by angelic priests.

In Songs of Sabbath Sacrifice, there is evidence that there is one angel presiding over all other ranks of angels. The use of the singular "leader" (nshy') in 4Q401 frg. 23.1 and "prince" (šr) in 4Q403 frg. 1, col. 2.23 suggests the existence of such a heavenly being. Similarly, 4Q403 frg. 1, col. 2.24 has the phrase "head of priests of inner sanctum" (rwsh mkwhn qwrb), which implies that one of the angels of the inner sanctum has authority over the rest. There are also two probable references to Melchizedek as one of these angelic priests: [mlky]tsdq kwhn (4Q401 frg. 11.3) and [     ]ky tsdq (4Q401 frg. 22.3). Given Melchizedek's identification with Michael / Prince of Light, there is a good chance that Melchizedek would have been understood as this presiding priestly angel, which would make him the heavenly High Priest.

 

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