New Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible

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Dan Francis | Forum Activity | Posted: Tue, Jan 24 2012 11:04 AM

I was asked to post a sample from the NIDB, this is certainly not an exhaustive dictionary but is a well done and quite accessible. I had no real idea what I should do so i just choose MELCHIZEDEK since this minor Biblical figure appeared in a couple of my past weeks readings.


MELCHIZEDEK mel-kiz´uh-dek [qdEce-yk@il;ma malki-tsedheq; Melxise/dek Melchisedek]. Melchizedek (“Zedek’s king”) is the first priest mentioned in Genesis (14:18) and for that reason has been the object of speculation over the centuries despite his relatively minor role in the story of the celebration of Abram’s victory over CHEDORLAOMER in Gen 14:17-20 Gen 14:17 Gen 14:18 Gen 14:19 Gen 14:20. Melchizedek was king of SALEM and priest of EL ELYON. As king, he brought out bread and wine to Abram. As priest, he blessed Abram by El Elyon, “maker of heaven and earth” (14:19). These events occurred in the King’s Valley, a site possibly near Jerusalem (2 Sam 18:18 2 Sam 18:18 ; see SHAVEH, VALLEY OF). In Ps 110:4 Ps 110:4 the king of Judah receives eternal priesthood “according to the order of Melchizedek.”

Some have explained Gen 14:17-20 Gen 14:17 Gen 14:18 Gen 14:19 Gen 14:20 and Ps 110:4 Ps 110:4 on the basis of the structural similarity between the name Melchizedek and the name of the king of JERUSALEM in Josh 10:1, 3 Josh 10:1 Josh 10:3 , ADONI-ZEDEK ()adhoni-tsedheq qdEce-ynIdo)j). The word tsedheq in both names likely refers to a Canaanite deity, and the first elements, malki and )adhoni, are old forms of the Hebrew construct. Both names mean essentially the same thing: “Zedek’s king” (Melchizedek) and “Zedek’s lord” (Adoni-zedek). One might speculate that if Adoni-zedek was king of Jerusalem, then the Salem over which Melchizedek ruled could also have been Jerusalem and Page 28the names Melchizedek and Adoni-zedek were throne names for pre-Davidic kings of Jerusalem. A memory of this priestly kingship remains in the oracle of Ps 110:4 Ps 110:4 that allowed the Davidic kings to boast the title “priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.” Attractive as this possibility is, there is little evidence for it beyond a similarity of names.

Given the secondary role of Melchizedek in Genesis and Psalms, readers of the Letter to the Hebrews (see HEBREWS, LETTER TO THE) may be surprised to find that Melchizedek and his priesthood are given great significance there (Heb 5:6, 10; 6:20; 7:1, 10, 11, 15, 17 Heb 5:6 Heb 5:10 Heb 6:20 Heb 7:1 Heb 7:10 Heb 7:11 Heb 7:15 Heb 7:17 ), providing Christ a priestly order and prefiguring its superiority to the Jewish priesthood. Striking is Hebrews’ claim that Melchizedek was “without father, without mother, without genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life” (Heb 7:3 Heb 7:3 ). Melchizedek has become like the Son of God, “resembling the Son of God,” not vice versa. Many secondary characters in Genesis have no family or genealogy and have no account of their birth or death. Indeed, in Gen 14 Gen 14 alone this might be said of all the kings Abram defeated as well as the king of Sodom. Why does the author single out Melchizedek?

The Qumran texts provide evidence for a continuing interest in Melchizedek. Although the Genesis Apocryphon from Cave 1 merely retells Gen 14:17-20 Gen 14:17 Gen 14:18 Gen 14:19 Gen 14:20 (1Qap Genar XXII, 11-17), adding only that Salem is Jerusalem, Cave 11 has yielded another text in which Melchizedek is a heavenly redeemer who will appear at the tenth jubilee to atone for the sons of light (11Q13 II, 7-11), a role that has no biblical precedent (see MELCHIZEDEK TEXT).

One reason, at least, for the intense speculation about Melchizedek at Qumran and in Hebrews stems from the fact that Melchizedek was the first priest mentioned in Scripture. For Philo of Alexandria (20 bce-40 ce), Melchizedek represented the Logos, but he also held a “self-taught and instinctive” priesthood (Prelim. Studies 99), a reference to his lack of predecessors. Josephus wrote that Melchizedek became the first priest of God and built the first temple in Hierosolyma ( 9Ieroso&luma), previously called Solyma (So&luma; J.W. 6.438).

It is impossible to disentangle a line of Melchizedek tradition from the OT to the important roles Melchizedek played at Qumran (heavenly redeemer), in Philo (Logos), Hebrews (prototype of Christ’s priesthood), and Josephus (first priest of God, first builder of the Temple in Jerusalem). This is not to say that there was no such tradition, but Melchizedek’s priestly priority in Genesis could account for any or all of these interpretations, thus obscuring evidence of a coherent development of a tradition.

Bibliography: Fred L. Horton. The Melchizedek Tradition: A Critical Examination of the Sources to the Fifth Century A.D. and in the Epistle to the Hebrews (2005).

FRED L. HORTONWake Forest University, Winston-Salem, NC

MELCHIZEDEK TEXT. The Qumran Melchizedek Document (11Q13) is a pesher (an eschatological commentary; see PESHARIM) on a string of texts, Lev 25:13 Lev 25:13 ; Ps 82:1-2 Ps 82:1 Ps 82:2; and Isa 52:7 Isa 52:7 , that may derive from a Day of Atonement liturgy. According to this text, Melchizedek and his armies will appear on the tenth Jubilee to make atonement for the Sons of Light (11Q13 II, 8-9). He will oppose Belial and allied spirits and rescue the redeemed from their control (11Q13 II, 12, 22, 25). An Anointed of the Spirit will come with Melchizedek in fulfillment of Daniel’s prophecy (Dan 9:26 Dan 9:26 ) and will declare peace, comfort the congregation, and instruct them in the “ages of the w[orld],” i.e., a ten-Jubilee schema (11Q13 II, 15-21). 

Of particular note is the identification of Melchizedek in 11Q13 II, 11 with the )elohim (Myhilo)v, “God”) of Ps 82:1 Ps 82:1 . Melchizedek as )elohim takes his place in the congregation of El (the high God) and in the midst of the )elohim (“gods”). There can be no doubt that this passage identifies Melchizedek as a heavenly being. Indeed, the role of Melchizedek in this document is practically identical with the role of Michael in Daniel, 1 Enoch, Assumption of Moses, Testament of the Twelve Patriarchs, and 3 Baruch, but unhappily we never see the name Melchizedek in any other eschatological context at Qumran. Milik and Kobelski have argued that Melchireša[ in Visions of Amran (4Q543-8) and Curses (4Q280) is the cosmic opponent of Melchizedek otherwise called Belial or Satan.

Paleography dates the existing manuscript to roughly the middle of the 1st cent. bce, but J. T. Milik believed that composition of the original document occurred around 120 bce. The 11Q13 is part of a longer document, and Milik proposed that 11Q13, 4Q180 and 4Q181 represented three copies of the same longer work, a Book of Periods, because they share a periodization of history based on Jubilee cycles. See DEAD SEA SCROLLS; MELCHIZEDEK; QUMRAN.

Bibliography: F. García Martínez, E. J. C. Tigchelaar, A. S. Woude, J. P. M. Ploeg, and E. D. Herbert. Qumran Cave 11. DJDDiscoveries in the Judaean Desert (of Jordan) 23 (1998) 221-41; P. J. Kobelski. Melchizedek and Melchireša (1981); J. T. Milik. “Milki-sedek et Milki-res6a[( dans les anciens écrits juifs et chrétiens.” JJSJournal of Jewish Studies 23 (1972) 95-144; É. Puech. “NotesNotes on Translation sur le manuscrit de XIQMelkîsédeq.” RevQRevue de Qumran 12 (1987) 483-513.

FRED L. HORTONWake Forest University, Winston-Salem, NC


Posts 117
Dennis Parish | Forum Activity | Replied: Tue, Jan 24 2012 11:28 AM

Thanks Dan.

Posts 5321
Dan Francis | Forum Activity | Replied: Tue, Jan 24 2012 2:41 PM

Just glad i can help.



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