Canaanite king and priest revered by Abraham. In the Book of Genesis, Abraham rescues his kidnapped nephew, Lot, from the Mesopotamians, and on returning from battle he meets Melchizedek, king of Salem (probably another name for Jerusalem), who gives him bread and wine and blesses him in the name of “God Most High.” St. Paul's Epistle to the Hebrews treats Melchizedek as a foreshadowing of Christ.
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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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.