Melchizedek or Melchisedec [Heb.,=king of righteousness], in the Bible, king of Salem and "priest of the most high God." He blessed Abraham after the defeat of Chedorlaomer, and Abraham gave him tithes from the enemy's spoils. Later, Melchizedek is regarded as an eternal priest, typifying the priesthood of the future Messiah. In the Dead Sea Scrolls, Melchizedek, as God's eschatological agent, effects the destruction of the angel Belial and the wicked spirits in league with him.

Melchizedek is an enigmatic figure twice mentioned in the Hebrew Tanakh and in the Christian Old Testament. His name is known in several forms: Melchizedek or Malki-tzédek or Melchisedech. In Hebrew his name is 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 Greek he appears as Μελχισεδέκ (both in the Septuagint and the New Testament). In Latin he appears as Melchisedech (in the Vulgate) or Melchisedec. In English in the Authorized King James Version he originally (in 1611) appeared as Melchizedek in the Old Testament and Melchisedek in the New Testament. He is commemorated as one of the Holy Forefathers in the Calendar of Saints of the Armenian Apostolic Church on July 30; in the Roman rite his commemoration is August 26.

Name and titles

Melchizedek's name can be translated (from Hebrew) either as King of Righteousness. In Genesis, Melchizedek is also referred to as king of Salem i.e. Jerusalem), and priest of El Elyon. El-Elyon can be translated as most high god, and is usually interpreted as a reference to the sole God of the Old Testament.

Genesis and Psalms Narrative

The name Melchizedek occurs just twice in the Tanakh, once in the Book of Genesis and once in the Psalms. In the first of these references, , Melchizedek brought bread and wine to Abram after Abram's victory over the four kings (led by Chedorlaomer) who had overrun Sodom and Gomorrah and had taken Abram's nephew Lot prisoner. Melchizedek is also described as blessing Abram in the name of El Elyon. Then he gave him a tenth of everything (a translation which preserves the ambiguity of the original). In the second reference, , we find the statement: Thou art a priest for ever after the manner of Melchizedek.

The Midrash and Classical Rabbinical interpretation

In the Midrash, the Rabbis identified Melchizedek with Shem son of Noah. (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 Abraham 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 Abraham. (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 Abraham before he blessed God (in ), God brought the priesthood forth from Abraham’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 Abraham, 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 (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 ). (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.)

Shem and Melchizedek

Shem lived five hundred years after fathering Arkpasad, and then died at the age of six hundred (Gen. 11:10, 11). Therefore, his death took place thirteen years after the death of Sarah (1881 B.C.) and ten years after Rebecca and Isaac married (1878 B.C.) In that light, it has been opined that it is possible that Shem might have been Melchizedek (which does translate to King of Righteousness), the priest-king to whom Abraham paid tithes (Gen 14: 18-20). This interpretation was supported by Jewish midrashim.

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 Israel and which comprises part of the Dead Sea Scrolls. In this escatological text Melchisedek is seen as a divine being and Hebrew titles as Elohim are applied to him. According to this text Melchisedek will proclaim the "Day of Atonement" and he will atone for the people who are predestined to him. He also will judge the peoples.

Melchizedek in the Second Book of Enoch

The last section of the Second Book of Enoch, considered by some an addition (see Exaltation of Melchizedek), includes an account of the origin of Melchizedek.

According to this account, Melchizedek was the only son of Sofonim (or Sopanima), the wife of Nir, a brother of Noah. Sopanim conceived without knowing the father, and 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.

Melchizedek in the New Testament

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 , and so Jesus plays 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.

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. 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.

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. 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 of his fear of God, Melchizedek was "ordained an 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).

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).

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, still others claim that the verse has been mistranslated, and that the Priesthood Melchizedek held is what is without lineage, not Melchizedek. Others claim that the verse merely represents Melchizedek's not being a priesthood holder because of lineage (i.e. "without descent" meaning not a descendent of Levi as required by Mosaic Law.)

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 p. 34 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 p. 35 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....

Retranslations and Re-interpretations

The "traditional" translations of the Tanakh all go back to the Septuagint. Suggestions have been made that the Septuagint translations and their successors may be mistaken in their interpretation of the Hebrew. Some examples follow, using the Authorized King James Version (KJV) as representative of modern translations.

  1. For the second half of the KJV has Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek. For the same place the New Jewish Publication Society of America Version, 1985 edition, has You are a priest forever, a rightful king by My decree.
  2. For the last sentence of the KJV has And he gave him tithes of all. Kamal Salibi observes that , which does indeed mean tenth, could perhaps also mean just portion and , taken to mean from all, could certainly also mean food, so that the whole means simply He gave him a morsel of food.
  3. At the beginning of the KJV has And Melchizedek king of Salem .... The New American Bible translation of this verse (see ) has a footnote which says that instead of the present melek shalem ("king of Salem"), the original may have been melek shelomo ("a king allied to him").
  4. Also at the beginning of where the KJV has And Melchizedek king of Salem .... Salibi cites archaic words in Arabic dictionaries to show that the word interpreted as Melchizedek can be understood as two words, meaning mounthful of offering, so the verse begins And food the king of Salem brought out, bread and wine ...

Immediately before and after this short passage in Genesis 14, in verses 17 and 21, Abram is represented as in conversation with the King of Sodom. The implication of retranslations 2 and 4 above is to say that the king (whichever one) brought out food, then gave his blessing, then he and Abram broke bread together. The net effect of retranslations 3 and 4 might imply that the whole interchange was with the King of Sodom.

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