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Melchizedek; Melchisedec

MELCHIZEDEK; MELCHISEDEC

mel-kiz'e-dek, and (the King James Version in the book of Hebrews) (malki-tsedheq, "Tsedheq, or Tsidhiq is my king" (Genesis 14:18; Psalms 110:4); Melchisedek (Hebrews 5:6,10; 6:20; 7:1,10,11,15,17)):

The name is explained in Hebrews 7:2 as "king of righteousness," with "-i" as the old genitive ending; but the correct explanation is no doubt the one given above; compare Adoni-zedek in Joshua 10:1, where Septuagint with Judges 1:5-7 has Adonibezek. Melchizedek was king of Salem (= Jerusalem) and "a priest unto 'El `Elyon" (Genesis 14:18). He brought bread and wine to Abraham after the latter's victory over the kings, and also bestowed upon him the blessing of 'El `Elyon. Abraham gave him "a tenth of all," i.e. of the booty probably, unless it be of all his possessions. Genesis 14:22 identifies Yahweh with 'El `Elyon, the title of the Deity as worshipped at Jerusalem; and so Hebrews 7:1, following Septuagint of Genesis 14:18, calls Melchizedek. "priest of God Most High," i.e. Yahweh.

Skinner (Gen, 271, where Josephus, Ant, XVI, vi, 2, and Am M 6:1 are cited) points out that the Maccabees were called "high priests of God most high." Hence, some hold that the story of Melchizedek is an invention of Judaism, but Gunkel (Genesis 3, 285) maintains that he is a traditional, if not a historical, character.

Psalms 110:4 makes the klng-priest who is addressed there a virtual successor of Melchizedek, and the kings of Jerusalem might well, as Gunkel suggests, have been considered successors of Melchizedek in the same way that Charlemagne was regarded as the successor of the Caesars, and the latter as successors of the Pharaohs in Egypt. This leads naturally to an early date being ascribed to Psalms 110.

The thought of a priest after the order of Melchizedek is taken up by the author of Hebrews. He wanted to prove the claim of Christ to be called priest. It was impossible, even had he so wished, to consider Jesus as an Aaronic priest, for He was descended from the tribe of Judah and not from that of Levi (7:14). The words of Psalms 110:4 are taken to refer to Him (Hebrews 5:5), and in Hebrews 7:5 the order of Melchizedek is held to be higher than that of Aaron, for the superiority of Melchizedek was acknowledged by Abraham (a) when he paid tithes to Melchizedek and (b) when he was blessed by Melchizedek, for "the less is blessed of the better." It might be added that Jesus can be considered a priest after the order of Melchizedek in virtue of His descent from David, if the latter be regarded as successor to Melchizedek But the author of He does not explicitly say this. Further, Aaron is only a "type" brought forward in He to show the more excellent glory of the work of Jesus, whereas Melchizedek is "made like unto the Son of God" (7:3), and Jesus is said to be "after the likeness of Melchizedek" (7:15).

Hebrews 7:1 presents difficulties. Where did the author get the material for this description of Melchizedek?

(1) Melchizedek is said to be "without father, without mother, (i.e.) without genealogy"; and

(2) he is described as "having neither beginning of days nor end of life"; he "abideth a priest continually."

The answer is perhaps to be had among the Tell el-Amarna Letters, among which are at least 6, probably 8, letters from a king of Urusalim to Amenophis IV, king of Egypt, whose "slave" the former calls himself. Urusalim is to be identified with Jerusalem, and the letters belong to circa 1400 BC. The name of this king is given as Abd-Khiba (or Abd-chiba), though Hommel, quoted by G.A. Smith, Jerusalem, II, 14, note 7, reads Chiba. Zimmer, in ZA, 1891, 246, says that it can be read Abditaba, and so Sayce (HDB, III, 335b) calls him `ebhedh tobh. The king tells his Egyptian overlord, "Neither my father nor my mother set me in this place:

the mighty arm of the king (or, according to Sayce, "the arm of the mighty king") established me in my father's house" (Letter 102 in Berlin collection, ll. 9-13; also number 103, ll. 25-28; number 104, ll. 13-15; see, further, H. Winckler, Die Thontafeln von Tell-el-Amarna; Knudtzon, Beitrage zur Assyriologie, IV, 101, 279, cited by G.A. Smith, Jerusalem, II, 8, note 1).

It thus becomes clear that possibly tradition identified Melchizedek with Abd-Khiba. At any rate the idea that Melchizedek was "without father, without mother, (i.e.) without genealogy" can easily be explained if the words of Abd-Khiba concerning himself can have been also attributed to Melchizedek. The words meant originally that he acknowledged that he did not come to the throne because he had a claim on it through descent; he owed it to appointment. But Jewish interpretation explained them as implying that he had no father or mother. Psalms 110:4 had spoken of the king there as being "a priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek," and this seems to have been taken to involve the perpetuity of Melchizedek also as priest. Melchizedek was then thought of as "having neither beginning of days" = "without father, without mother, without genealogy," and again as not having "end of life" = "abideth a priest continually." Hence, he is "made like unto the son of God," having neither beginning of days nor end of life. We get another New Testament example of Jewish interpretation in Galatians 4:21. We have no actual proof that Melchizedek is identical with Abd-Khiba; possibly the reference to the former as being "without father," etc., is not to be explained as above. But why should Melchizedek, and he alone, of all the Old Testament characters be thought of in this way?

Westcott, Hebrews, 199, has a suggestive thought about Melchizedek:

"The lessons of his appearance lie in the appearance itself. Abraham marks a new departure. .... But before the fresh order is established we have a vision of the old in its superior majesty; and this, on the eve of disappearance, gives its blessing to the new."

On the references to Melchizedek in Philo see Westcott, op. cit., 201; F. Rendall, Hebrews, App., 58; and especially (with the passages and other authorities cited there) G. Milligan, Theology of Epistle to the Hebrews, 203.

The conclusions we come to are:

(1) There was a tradition in Jerusalem of Melchizedek, a king in pre-Israelitish times, who was also priest to 'El `Elyon. This is the origin of Genesis 14:18, where 'El `Elyon is identified with Yahweh.

(2) Psalms 110 makes use of this tradition and the Psalmist's king is regarded as Melchizedek's successor.

(3) The Epistle to the Hebrews makes use of

(a) Psalms 110, which is taken to be a prophecy of Christ, (b) of Genesis 14:18, and

(c) of oral tradition which was not found in the Old Testament. It is this unwritten tradition that is possibly explained by the Tell el-Amarna Letters. See, further, articles by Sayce, Driver, and Hommel in Expository Times, VII, VIII.

See also JERUSALEM.

David Francis Roberts


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Bibliography Information
Orr, James, M.A., D.D. General Editor. "Entry for 'MELCHIZEDEK; MELCHISEDEC'". "International Standard Bible Encyclopedia". 1915.