MELCHIZEDEK (Heb.: מַלְכִּי צֶדֶק; "legitimate/righteous king"; the English spelling follows LXX Melxisedek as opposed to MT Malkizedek), king of Salem (or Jerusalem; cf. Ps. 76:3) according to Genesis 14:18–20. He welcomed abraham after he had defeated the four kings who had captured his nephew, Lot. Melchizedek brought out bread and wine and blessed Abraham. Finally, it is related that "he gave him a tithe of everything" although who gave the tithe to whom became a subject of considerable dispute (see below). The biblical account states that "he (Melchizedek) was priest of God Most High" (וְהוּא כׂהֵן לְאֵל עֶלְיוֹן). Melchizedek's priesthood was a source of numerous post-biblical speculations, which were intensified by the difficult verse Psalms 110:4: "The Lord has sworn/and will not repent/Thou art priest for ever/after the manner of Melchizedek" (אַתָּה כׂהֵן לְעוֹלָם עַל־דִּבְרָתִי מַלְכִּי צֶדֶק). It is generally believed that the Melchizedek mentioned here and the one in Genesis are the same. Some interpreters, however, maintain that the Melchizedek of Psalms is not a person but a title, "my righteous king," presumably because the name is written as two separate words (מַלְכִּי צֶדֶק). The first post-biblical documents mentioning Melchizedek in various contexts appear from around the beginning of the Christian era. The earliest is probably the fragmentary scroll discovered in cave 11 at Qumran (11Q Melch or 11Q 13) and published by A.S. Van der Woude (in OTS, 14, 1965) and again with certain corrections by M. de Jonge and A.S. Van der Woude (in NTS, 12, 1966) and much studied since (bibliography in Brooke). Although this text "is a midrashic development which is independent of the classic Old Testament loci" (J.A. Fitzmyer, JBL, 86, 1967), it is clear that the eschatological and soteriological functions it attributes to Melchizedek draw on the perplexing figure of the biblical Melchizedek. In the Qumran text, Melchizedek is described as passing judgment, in the time of the tenth or last Jubilee, on Belial and those of his sort. The judgment takes place in heaven, and immediately there follows the "day of slaughter" prophecied by Isaiah. Here, Melchizedek is both judge and executor of his own decree, and in all likelihood he is to be identified with the Angel of Light, who figures in the dualistic doctrine of the Qumran sect (I. Gruenwald, in: Maḥanayim, 124 (1970), 94). He has also been identified with the Archangel Michael. Melchizedek is also mentioned in another Qumran text, the Genesis Apocryphon (22: 13–17), where the biblical story of the meeting between Abraham and Melchizedek is retold. Here it is Abraham who offers the tithe to Melchizedek: "And he (i.e., Abraham) gave him a tithe of all the goods of the king of Elam and his companions" (cf. Heb. 7:2 followed by the Christian translations of Genesis where, however, Melchizedek, not Abraham, is the subject of the verse). The question of who gave the tithe to whom was of considerable importance in rabbinical literature. In several places Melchizedek is stated to be a descendant of Noah, and is even identified with Shem the son of Noah. The same sources maintain that his priesthood was taken away from him and bestowed upon Abraham because he blessed Abraham first and only afterward blessed God (Gen. 14:19–20; cf. Ned. 32b; Lev. R. 25:6). Abraham's priesthood is also mentioned in connection with Psalms 110 (Gen. R., 55:6). In other rabbinical sources Melchizedek is mentioned among the four messianic figures allegorically implied by the "four smiths" of Zechariah 2:3. Melchizedek's messianic functions are also elaborated in two other literary documents. At the end of several manuscripts of the Slavonic Book of Enoch appears the story of the miraculous birth of Melchizedek as the son of Nir, Noah's brother. He is transported to heaven and becomes the head of a line of priests leading down to messianic days. There will presumably be another eschatological Melchizedek who will function as both priest and king. In symbolizing Mechizedek as Jesus in his three functions as messiah, king, and high priest (see below) the author's ingenuity combines all the motives singled out in the above-mentioned sources. A gnostic sect whose particular theological position is unknown called itself after Melchizedek. (Ithamar Gruenwald) -In Christian Tradition The two brief and somewhat enigmatic references to Melchizedek in the Bible provided the New Testament with a subject for typological interpretation. In the Epistle to the Hebrews (7:1–7), Melchizedek (king of justice – Zedek; of peace – Salem) is described as unique, being both a priest and a king, and because he is "without father, without mother, without genealogy"; he is eternal, "having neither beginning of days nor end of life." In this respect Melchizedek resembles Jesus, the son of God, and thus is a type of the savior. Abraham, and therefore Levi "in the loins of his father" (ibid. 9–10), paid the tithe in submission to Melchizedek. Since in Christian tradition Jesus is high priest "after the order of Melchizedek" and "not after the order of Aaron" (ibid. 7:11, 17–21), Jesus' priesthood is excellent, superior to that of   Abraham's descent, and transcends all human, imperfect orders (Heb. 7:23–28; 8:1–6). To Christians the objection that Jesus, like Aaron, was "in the loins" of the patriarch, and consequently paid the tithe was met by the Church Fathers with the argument that Jesus, though descended from Abraham, had no human father. (Ilana Shapira) -BIBLIOGRAPHY: H.L. Strack and P. Billerbeck, Kommentarzum Neuen Testament, 4 (1928), 452–65; Rowley, in: Festschrift Bertholet (1950), 461ff.; A. Vaillant, Le livre des secrets d'Hénoch (1952); Yadin, in: Scripta Hierosolymitana, 4 (1958), 36–55; idem, in: IEJ, 15 (1965), 152–4; Panikkar, Kairos, 1 (1959), 5–17; J. Maier, Vom Kultus zur Gnosis (1964), 37ff.; Flusser, in: Christian News from Israel (1966), 23ff.; J.A. Fitzmyer, in: JBL, 86 (1967), 25–41; A.R. Johnson, Sacral Kingship in Ancient Israel (19672), 35–53; S. Paul, in: JAOS, 88 (1968), 182. IN CHRISTIAN TRADITION: Friedlaender, in REJ, 5 (1882), 1–26, 188–98; 6 (1883), 187–99; Barody, in: RB, 35 (1926), 496–509; (1927), 25–45. ADD. BIBLIOGRAPHY: M. Astour, in: ABD, 4:684–86; G. Brooke, ibid, 687–88; ibid, B. Pearson, 688; J. Reiling, in: DDD, 560–63.

Encyclopedia Judaica. 1971.

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