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Who's Who in the Bible: Melchizedek, King of Salem, Part One

By Dr. Josef Ben Levi

Presented by Omni-U Virtual University

"A people without a knowledge of their past history, origin, and culture is like a tree without roots." The Honorable Marcus Mosiah Garvey

Melchizedek, Melchisedech, Melkisetek, or Malki Tzedek Hebrew: מַלְכִּי־צֶדֶֿק malkī-ṣeḏeq, “king of righteousness”; Amharic: መልከ ጼዴቅ malkī-ṣeḏeq), was the king of Shalem and priest of El Elyon (often translated as “God Most High”) mentioned in the 14th chapter of the Book of Genesis. He brings out bread and wine and blesses Abram and El Elyon. (1)

Melchizedek is attested to in the first book of the Bible, Genesis: “Then Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine; he was the priest of God Most High. And he blessed him and said: “Blessed be Abram of God Most High, Possessor of heaven and earth; and blessed be God Most High, who has delivered your enemies into your hand.” And he gave him a tithe of all.” (Genesis 14:18-20).

At the outset, it should be stated that, based on the chronology in Genesis, Chapter 10, Melchizedek was a descendant of the Jebusites who were Canaanites. The Canaanites were descendants of Ham, the father of Mizraim (ancient Egypt-Kemet) and Cush (Ethiopia). These were Africans e.g., Black people in the ancient world during "The Patriarchal Period/2000-1400 BC. " (2). Consequently, Melchizedek was Black as well.

We learn that Melchizedek was the priest-king of Shalem who joined the king of Sodom in welcoming Abram back from a war to rescue his nephew, Lot. While Sodom’s king came to meet Abram with the purpose of obtaining the release of his subjects (Genesis 14:21), Melchizedek came to bless the victorious commander. "And Abram gave tithe to the king of Salem.".

Melchizedek means “king of righteousness,” and then also king of Shalem, meaning “king of peace” (Hebrews 7:2) since Jerusalem (Jeru-Salem) meant the "city of peace". (3) The city of Jerusalem is first mentioned in Egyptian Middle Kingdom execration text records of the 19th century b.c. . It was then ruled by Amorite kings. (4)

Bible commentators have made guesses about the person of Melchizedek, who appears suddenly in the Biblical narrative only to disappear again into the impenetrable obscurity of ancient history. But, based on what is known from the Bible, Melchizedek was a real Old Testament figure. He was not Christ, but his work prefigured that of Christ as shown in the following references:

“The Lord has sworn and will not relent, “You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek” (Psalms 110:4). “Where the forerunner has entered for us, even Jesus, having become an High Priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek… (Hebrews 6:20 to 7:21). (5)

Melchizedek has no historical record although the Hebrews were very meticulous in writing and preserving their genealogies. This was especially true concerning the priests (Ezra 2:61–63). No priest could minister unless he was part of Aaron’s family and the tribe of Levi. If there was a break in the lineage, he would be dismissed from the priesthood. For this reason, every ancient Israelite, and especially the priests, carefully kept their genealogical records. But, there was no reference to the genealogy of Melchizedek. This fact makes him, metaphorically, a symbol of Christ who is without beginning or end and who is the high priest in heaven, or the New Jerusalem.

Hebrews 7:3 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.

Genesis 14:18-20 is part of the larger story that tells how Abram returns from defeating king Chadorlaomer and meets with Bera the king of Sodom, at which point:

And Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine: and he was [is] the priest of the Most High God. And he blessed him, and said, ‘Blessed be Abram to the Most High God, possessor of heaven and earth, and blessed be the most high God, which hath delivered thine enemies into thy hand’. And he gave him tithe from all.

The second and final Hebrew Bible mention of Melchizedek is in Psalms 110:4. The many translations that follow the Septuagint translate such:

The Lord hath sworn and will not repent: ‘Thou art a priest for ever after the manner of Melchizedek.’.

In the majority of Masoretic Hebrew texts, the name is written as two words, Malḵi-ṣedeq מלכי־צדק. It is literally rendered “My king is righteous”. In both the Septuagint and Latin Vulgate, it is rendered (Μελχισεδέκ) and (Melchisedech) respectively. In the Authorized King James Version(KJV) of 1611 of the Old Testament, the name is written as "Melchizedek”, when translating it from the Hebrew, and "Melchisedec" in the Scofield KJV New Testament (Hebrews7:1-17)..

The name is composed from the two elements: melek(h), "king", and ṣedeq, which means either "righteousness"or the proper name "Zedek". With the addition of the hiriq compaginis (-ī) indicating the archaic construct form, malk-ī means "king of", so that the name literally translates to "king of righteousness" or "my king is Zedek", indicating that he worshipped Zedek, a Canaanite deity that was worshipped in pre-Israelite Jerusalem.  The latter, however, is often dismissed, since the name Sydyk comes only from a Phoenician poet in Roman times. Mainstream scholarly understanding of these names ("My King is Righteousness" and "My Lord is Righteousness" respectively) is that they refer to the concept of righteousness and not to a god.

The name is formed in parallel with Adoni-ṣedeq אדני־צדק, also a king of Salem, mentioned in Joshua 10:1–3), where the element malik ("king") is replaced by adon ("lord").Parallel theophoric names, with Sedeq replaced by Yahu, are those of Malchijah and Adonijah, both biblical characters placed in the time of David.

Nearly fifty years ago two astounding libraries of hidden records were discovered in the Middle East: The Dead Sea Scrolls and the Nag Hammadi Library. (6)

Over the centuries, many legends have surrounded Melchizedek. Most of the written materials outlining these traditions cluster around the intertestamental period, the time between the writing of the Old Testament and the New Testament but, some come as late as the Middle Ages. However, we should not fool ourselves into thinking that we have learned about Melchizedek, himself.

Legend’s merge and, once one begins looking, one finds recognizable bits and pieces from many quarters. It is tempting to gather together the texts, compute the most oft-repeated ideas into columns, then choose the lengthiest columns and assume that these ideas can be put together to form a true picture.We cannot be confident that either the Qumran community or the Gnostics, who wrote the Nag Hammadi texts, represent a true understanding of Melchizedek.

The Dead Sea Scrolls (DSS), intentionally hidden in jars, recorded much concerning the life and beliefs of the Hebrew sect, many believe to be the Essenes, who inhabited their desert home in the hills overlooking the Dead Sea from about 135 B.C. to A.D. 68 (not a continuous occupation). They thought of themselves as a righteous remnant of the Israelites, living in the latter days in the wilderness, opposing the Pharisees, an apostate priesthood in power at the temple in Jerusalem- which temple they considered defiled. They were engaged in building a community of the Elect which would serve as a nucleus for the Kingdom of Heaven which was shortly to come. (7) (8)

However, there has not been any satisfactory answer to the question: “What are writings about Melchizedek doing at Qumran?”

11Q13 (11QMelch) is a fragment of a text about Melchizedek, dated to the end of the second or start of the first century BC, found in Cave 11 at Qumran and is the 13th fragments unveiled hence 11Q13; in the West Bank and part of the Dead Sea Scrolls. The Dead Sea- or Salt Sea as it is properly translated- is one of the lowest points on earth and surrounded by the mountains of Qumran. The salt content is so high there that one cannot drown in it and - by extension- no aquatic life survives in it either. However, the sea salt and silt from the Dead Sea mud has been shown to have therapeutic benefits. (9)

Melchizedek is seen as a divine being in the text and is referred to as "El" or "Elohim", titles usually reserved in English for God, but literally mean a “Force” or “Power”. According to the text, Melchizedek will proclaim the "Day of Atonement" and he will atone for the people who are predestined to him. He also will judge the peoples. (10)

The Genesis Apocryphon (1QapGen) (Qumran repeats information from Genesis).

The Qumran Scrolls, also indicate that Melchizedek was used as a name of the Archangel Michael, interpreted as a heavenly priest; Michael as Melchi-zedek contrasts with Belial, who is given the name of Melchi-resha "king of wickedness". The text of the Epistle to the Hebrews follows this interpretation in stating explicitly that the name in Greek translation (ἑρμηνευόμενος) means βασιλεὺς δικαιοσύνης ("king of righteousness"), omitting translation of the possessive suffix; the same passage interprets Melchizedek's title of king of Shalem as translating to βασιλεὺς εἰρήνης "king of peace", the context being the presentation of Melchizedek's as an eternal priesthood associated with Jesus Christ (ἀφωμοιωμένος δὲ τῷ υἱῷ τοῦ θεοῦ μένει ἱερεὺς εἰς τὸ διηνεκές "made like unto the Son of God abideth a priest continually"). (11)

11Q13 (11QMelch) is a fragment of a text about Melchizedek(that can be dated to the end of the 2nd or start of the 1st century) found in Cave 11 at Qumran in the Israeli Dead Sea area and which comprises part of the Dead Sea Scrolls. In this eschatological text ,i.e.,"end- time text", Melchizedek is seen as a divine being and Hebrew titles such as Elohim are applied to him. According to this text Melchizedek will proclaim the “Day of Atonement” and he will atone for the people who are predestined to him. He also will judge the peoples.

In the Gnostic Society Library, Dead Sea Scrolls Texts: The Coming of Melchizedek, 11Q13: Col.2 reads:

(…) And concerning what Scripture says, “In this year of Jubilee you shall return, everyone of you, to your property” (Lev. 25;13) And what is also written; “And this is the manner of the remission; every creditor shall remit the claim that is held against a neighbor, not exacting it of a neighbor who is a member of the community, because God’s remission has been proclaimed” (Deut.15;2) the interpretation is that it applies to the Last Days and concerns the captives, just as Isaiah said: “To proclaim the Jubilee to the captives” (Isaiah 61;1) (…) just as (…) and from the inheritance of Melchizedek, for (… Melchizedek) , who will return them to what is rightfully theirs. He will proclaim to them the Jubilee, thereby releasing them from the debt of all their sins. He shall proclaim this decree in the first week of the jubilee period that follows nine jubilee periods.

Then the “Day of Atonement” shall follow after the tenth jubilee period, when he shall atone for all the Sons of Light, and the people who are predestined to Melchizedek. (…) upon them (…) For this is the time decreed for the “Year of Melchizedek`s favor”, and by his might he will judge God’s holy ones and so establish a righteous kingdom, as it is written about him in the Songs of David ; “A godlike being has taken his place in the council of God; in the midst of divine beings he holds judgement”

(Psalm 82:1). Scripture also says about him; “Over it take your seat in the highest heaven; A divine being will judge the peoples” (Psalm 7;7-8) Concerning what scripture says, “How long will you judge unjustly, and show partiality with the wicked? Selah” (Psalm 82;2), the interpretation applies to Belial and the spirits predestined to him, because all of them have rebelled, turning from God’s precepts, and thus becoming utterly wicked. Therefore, Melchizedek will thoroughly prosecute the vengeance required by God’s statutes. Also, he will deliver all the captives from the power of Belial, and from the power of all of the spirits destined to him. Allied with him will be all the “righteous divine beings “(Isaiah 61:3).

(The …) is that whi(ch …all) the divine beings. The visitation is the Day of Salvation that He has decreed through Isaiah the prophet concerning all the captives, inasmuch as Scripture says, “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of the messenger who announces peace, who brings good news, who announces salvation, who says to Zion “Your divine being reigns”.” (Isaiah 52;7) This scripture's interpretation: “the mountains” are the prophets, they who were sent to proclaim God’s truth and to prophesy to all Israel. “The messengers” is the Anointed of the spirit, of whom Daniel spoke; “After the sixty-two weeks, an Anointed shall be cut off” (Dan. 9;26) The “messenger who brings good news, who announces Salvation” is the one of whom it is written; “to proclaim the year of the LORD`s favor, the day of the vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn” (Isaiah 61:2) (12)

This scripture’s interpretation: he is to instruct them about all the periods of history for eternity (… and in the statutes) of the truth. (…) (…. dominion) that passes from Belial and returns to the Sons of Light (….) (…) by the judgment of God, just as t is written concerning him; “who says to Zion “Your divine being reigns” (Isaiah 52;7) “Zion” is the congregation of all the sons of righteousness, who uphold the covenant and turn from walking in the way of the people. “Your divine being” is Melchizedek, who will deliver them from the power of Belial. Concerning what scripture says, “Then you shall have the trumpet sounded loud; in the seventh month . . .” (Leviticus 25;9)

Perhaps their concern for the legitimate priesthood was background for the Genesis Apocryphon (“secret book,” singular of apocrypha), which was likely written about 100 B.C. in Aramaic.

Here Melchizedek appears by name, and the narrative follows the Genesis text closely. The few variations from our Genesis text are interesting. It is said that when the king of Sodom heard that Abraham had returned with the captives and booty, he went up to meet him.

He came to Salem, that is, Jerusalem, while Abram was camped in the Valley of Shaveh—this is the Vale of the King, the Valley Beth ha cherem. Melchizedek [one word in this text], the King of Salem, brought out food and drink [not bread and wine] for Abram and for all the men who were with him; . . . [he blessed Abram] and he [Abram] gave him a tithe of all the flocks of the King of Elam and his confederates. Then the king of Sodom approached Abram and said, “My Lord, Abram, give me the men that are mine who are captives with you and whom you have rescued from the King of Elam.” (13)

A brief analysis of the few changes we find may prove instructive. This version in the DSS smooths out the Genesis account by having the king of Sodom come to Shalem, therefore making Melchizedek’s appearance natural. As it is ,in KJV, Melchizedek drops in from nowhere and then disappears never to be heard of again. When comparing this text to Genesis, one wonders what the scribe was copying as he sat in the Qumran scriptorium. Did he have before him one ancient text or was he collating several accounts?

Some additions are possibly editorial additions, like the Shalem-Jerusalem attachment, but much of the rest falls coherently into place. If there were much editing involved, it would be expected that the sacrificial elements in Melchizedek’s “bread and wine” would have been noted, since the scribe belonged to a group who championed a Zadokite priesthood and could have seen Melchizedek as chief of that line.

The Melchizedek Scroll from Qumran Cave 11 (hereafter referred to as 11Q Melch) presents some of the same problems as the Genesis Apocryphon; however, this time we are dealing with a midrash. Midrash (מִדְרָשׁ) is expansive Biblical exegesis, or a critical explanation of a text, usually implying biblical scriptures (using a rabbinic mode of interpretation based on the Talmud. The word itself mean “textual interpretation” or “study”, derived from the root word darash (דָּרַשׁ‎), which means to restore to; seek; seek with care; enquire; require. Is this scroll the autograph (original)? How much material did the writer have about Melchizedek besides the Old Testament texts he chose to use in his midrash? The prior question might well be asked: Why did he choose Melchizedek as the subject of his exegesis? Did he see, in Melchizedek, the first priest of an order to which he now laid claim in the Zadokite priesthood? Was he simply applying his apocalyptic viewpoint to a personality who was mysterious even then? Did he have earlier records relating to Melchizedek from which he could draw different conclusions?

The Qumran scribe’s ideas pull away from other Hebrew notions. He sees a heavenly Melchizedek who will execute divine judgment in the future eschatological Jubilee year. He is seen in company with a “heavenly council” and is its leader. He will “exact the vengeance of the judgments of El (God) from the hand of Belial (Satan).” He is the “herald upon the mountains proclaiming peace.”

This 11Q Melch fragment is the earliest known instance of their being interwoven in this manner. “The heavenly Son of God of Hebrews 7, who rules above all heavenly and earthly powers, and lives forever to make intercession for those who put their trust in him, has his counterpart now in the heavenly Melchizedek at Qumran.”

In Psalm 110 his priesthood is characterized as “eternal,” so his officiating in the world to come and overseeing the release of prisoners there would be a natural sequence. This Qumran author, however, sees the priestly calling of Melchizedek clearly (thus differing from his brother who copied or composed the Apocryphon). For him the priesthood transcends the limits of mortal life and Melchizedek becomes a towering redemptive figure rivaling the characterization frequently made of Michael, the great general in the final heavenly overthrow of Satan.

According to this text Melchizedek acts under the direction of El, who judges the people. A significant passage in the text finds El (the highest God), in the midst of Elohim (other “gods”) in his council, and another Elohim (who is Melchizedek). The text reads: “as it is written . . . concerning him in the hymns of David who says, Elohim (Melchizedek or the holy one) standeth in the assembly of El (God) among the Elohim (the holy ones, the court of heavenly beings) he judgeth.”

The association or identification of Melchizedek with the Messiah predates Christianity, developing in the messianism of the Second Temple period.

BlogNotes, Part One

1. F. Brown, S. Driver, & C. Briggs, (1906/2000). The Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon. Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers.

2. Rev.Walter A. McCray. The Black Presence in the Bible :Discovering the Black and African identity of Biblical Persons and Nations .Chicago. Black Light Fellowship.

3. Robert C, Cargill. First Person: From Shalem to Jerusalem, Biblical Archaeology Review, 45(6), November/December 2019.

4. Yigal Levin, (2012). Did Pharaoh Sheshonq attack Jerusalem? Biblical Archaeology Review, 38(4), July/August 2012.

5. JPS Hebrew-English Tanakh 2003. Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society.

6. The Melchizedek Tractate. References throughout this section of our text are to numbering in Birger A. Pearson’s translation of Nag Hammadi Codices IX and X, ed. Birger A. Pearson (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1981).

Rev. Walter A, McCray, (1990). The Black presence in the Bible: Discovering the Black

and African identity of Biblical persons and nations. Chicago: Black Light Fellowship.

7. James C. VanderKam, The Dead Sea Scrolls and Early Christianity: Part One. Bible Review, 7(6), 1991.

8. James C. VanderKam, The Dead Sea Scrolls and Early Christianity: Part Two. Bible Review, 8(1), 1992.

9. Joseph A. Fitzmyer, “Further Light on Melchizedek from Qumran Cave 11,” Journal of Biblical Literature 86 (March 1967): 26.

10. Wise, M., & Abegg, M; & Cook, E. (1996). The Dead Sea Scrolls: A New Translation: San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco.

11. Joseph A. Fitzmyer, The Genesis Apocryphon of Qumran Cave 1 (Rome: Pontifical Biblical Institute, 1966), 9–10.

12. Melchizedek, Gnostic Society Library,

13. Birger A, Pearson. (2007). Ancient Gnosticism: Traditions and literature. Minneapolis: Fortress Press.

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