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Friday, October 24, 2014

Who Was Melchizedek?

For anyone who has read the Bible, particularly the Hebrew Bible (a.k.a. Old Testament), chances are you remember the long lists of names and genealogies that drone on seemingly forever. These are the parts of the Bible that most people skip over because...well...they seem boring, pointless and make us want to throw the Bible at the cat or dog.  And for the most part, you don't need to be a Bible scholar to recognize the fact that most of these names are of individuals who don't matter to the Bible story and have no real importance to Christian or Jewish theology.  I mean, does it really matter that the Sons of Gomer are Ashkenaz, Riphath and Togarmah!?!

But every once in a while the Bible does briefly reference a name of an individual who actually played an extremely significant role in the development of Jewish and Christian theology. Enoch, for example, is only mentioned briefly in the Hebrew Bible (he's mentioned much more in the New Testament actually) as being a man who "walked with God."  Or what about the tale of Ehud, the coolest ninja in the world who single-handedly killed Eglon, the evil, fat-ass Moabite king. And let us not forget about dear ol' Queen Athaliah, whose six-year reign ended with the attempted assassination of all her grandchildren (to destroy the royal blood line of David) and reintroduced the worship of Baal into Jerusalem. Yes, the Bible is indeed full of random and obscure characters, who though not much is said about them, play a critical role in the development of both Judaism and Christianity.

One such character is Melchizedek, the "King of Salem."  From the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament), we are told that Melchizedek was, "the priest of the most high God" (Genesis 14:18) to whom Abraham paid his tithes.  The only other reference to Melchizedek in the Hebrew Bible is found in Psalms 110:4, which states:
The Lord hath sworn, and will not repent, Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek.
From these verses we can only glean a few tidbits of information on who Melchizedek was and why he was so important. For Abraham to pay tithes to Melchizedek suggests that Abraham considered himself subordinate to this "King of Salem."  And as Psalms states, the "order of Melchizedek" suggests that more than one individual has claimed the priestly rights/titles/status as the figure mentioned in Genesis 14.

Still, none of this tells us much about who Melchizedek ultimately was, or if he was even a singular individual.  After all, many Christian scholars protest that the name Melchizedek is more of a title than it is a person's name, or that it might be the preincarnate Christ.  After all, Melchizedek literally means  "my king (is) righteous(ness)" or "King of Peace."  Wasn't Jesus also referred to as the "Prince of Peace?" And as we learn from Hebrews 5:5-6, Jesus himself is identified as being a "high priest" after this order:
So also Christ glorified not himself to be made an high priest; but he that said unto him, Thou art my Son, to day have I begotten thee.  As he saith also in another place, Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec.
Is it possible that the Melchizedek mentioned in the Hebrew Bible could be one in the same person as the Melchizedek spoken of by Paul in his letter to the Hebrews?

While some may argue that this supposed link between Jesus and Melchizedek is proof that they are one in the same being, I believe it can be made quite clear that Jesus and Melchizedek are two very different people but of the same priesthood order (or authority).  In other words, Melchizedek (of the Hebrew Bible) is a foreshadowing (like many other things found in the Hebrew Bible) of the Supreme High Priest, who is Jesus Christ.

A good illustration of how Melchizedek served as a foreshadowing of Christ comes from the Nag Hammadi Papers.  These documents (found in upper Egypt in 1945), which date back to at least the 1st century A.D., contain a number of Gnostic writings that touch on some of the typical Christian debates of that time period.  Included in this treasure trove of writings is the following on Melchizedek:
And immediately, I arose, I, Melchizedek...and I will not cease, from now on, forever, O Father of the All, because you have had pity on men, and you have sent the angel of light...When he came, he caused me to be raised up from ignorance, and (from) the fructification of death to life. For I have a name: I am Melchizedek, the Priest of God Most High; I know that it is I who am truly the image of the true High-Priest of God Most High...I shall pronounce my name as I receive baptism now (and) forever, (as a name) among the living (and) holy names, and (now) in the waters. Amen.
Note how Melchizedek (who refers to himself as "I") references the "angel of light" who caused [him] to be raised up from ignorance [and] death."  We see in this text that Melchizedek sees himself as a foreshadowing of Christ who is the "true High-Priest of God Most High." Melchizedek had only received "the image" of the "true High-Priest."

The Zohar adds a measure of clarity on how Melchizedek conducted himself as High Priest. Like many other prophets, Melchizedek's labors served to divide the righteous from the unrighteous, as any "Priest of the Most High God" would be expected to do:
Hence in the days of Abram MELCHIZEDEK KING OF SALEM (salem = completeness), i.e. God whose throne was then established in its place and whose sovereignty therefore became complete, brought out bread and wine i.e. produced the appropriate food for the whole world, and did not withhold blessing from all the world; from the upper grades he brought forth food and blessings for all the worlds. AND HE WAS A PRIEST TO THE MOST HIGH GOD, the whole thus being in the most perfect order; to show that as the wicked upset the world and cause blessing to be withheld, so the righteous bring blessing to the world and for their sakes all its inhabitants are blessed. And he gave him a tenth of all to wit, of those blessings which issue from “all”, the source of all the blessings which descend upon the world. According to another explanation, God gave Abram a tenth (The Zohar, Yeshivat Kol Yehudah, vol. 1, Pp. 262).
From both the Zohar and Biblical accounts, it is clear that Melchizedek was a divisive character, who rebuked the wicked and praised the righteous.  Add to it the following passage from the world of Mormon theology:
Yea, humble yourselves even as the people in the days of Melchizedek, who was also a high priest after this same order which I have spoken, who also took upon him the high priesthood forever. And it was this same Melchizedek to whom Abraham paid tithes; yea, even our father Abraham paid tithes of one-tenth par of all he possessed.  Now these ordinances were given after this manner, that thereby the people might look forward on the Son of God, it being a TYPE OF HIS ORDER, or it being his order, and this that they might look forward to him for a remission of their sins, that they might enter into the rest of the Lord.  Now this Melchizedek was king over the land of Salem; and his people had waxed strong in iniquity and abomination; yea, they had all gone astray; they were full of all manner of wickedness; But Melchizedek having exercised mighty faith, and received the office of the high priesthood according to the holy order of God, did PREACH REPENTANCE UNTO HIS PEOPLE. And behold, they did repent; and Melchizedek did establish peace in the land in his days; therefore he was called the PRINCE OF PEACE, for he was the King of Salem; and he did reign under his father (my emphasis).
Note how Melchizedek is a "type" of the "order" of Christ and that his people called him "the Prince of Peace."  Again, Melchizedek served to foreshadow Christ, they were NOT the same person.

Any further doubt that Jesus and Melchizedek are the same person is smashed to pieces by Paul, who clearly speaks of how Melchizedek is a foreshadowing of Christ in Hebrews, Chapter 7:
For this Melchisedec, king of Salem, priest of the most high God, who met Abraham returning from the slaughter of the kings, and blessed him;
To whom also Abraham gave a tenth part of all; first being by interpretation King of righteousness, and after that also King of Salem, which is, King of peace;
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.
Now consider how great this man was, unto whom even the patriarch Abraham gave the tenth of the spoils.
And verily they that are of the sons of Levi, who receive the office of the priesthood, have a commandment to take tithes of the people according to the law, that is, of their brethren, though they come out of the loins of Abraham:
But he whose descent is not counted from them received tithes of Abraham, and blessed him that had the promises.
And without all contradiction the less is blessed of the better.
And here men that die receive tithes; but there he receiveth them, of whom it is witnessed that he liveth.
And as I may so say, Levi also, who receiveth tithes, payed tithes in Abraham.
10 For he was yet in the loins of his father, when Melchisedec met him.
11 If therefore perfection were by the Levitical priesthood, (for under it the people received the law,) what further need was there that another priest should rise after the order of Melchisedec, and not be called after the order of Aaron?
12 For the priesthood being changed, there is made of necessity a change also of the law.
13 For he of whom these things are spoken pertaineth to another tribe, of which no man gave attendance at the altar.
14 For it is evident that our Lord sprang out of Juda; of which tribe Moses spake nothing concerning priesthood.
15 And it is yet far more evident: for that after the similitude of Melchisedec there ariseth another priest,
16 Who is made, not after the law of a carnal commandment, but after the power of an endless life.
17 For he testifieth, Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec.
Verse 3 is of particular note, since it employs the phrase "made like unto." In the Greek Septuagint, the verb "aphomioo" is used in this context.  And as Professor D.W. Burdick points out:
The verb "aphomoioo" always assumes two distinct and separate identities, one of which is a copy of the other.  Thus, Melchizedek and the Son of God are represented as two separate persons, the first of which resembles the second" ("Melchizedek," The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia - Revised, G.W. Bromiley, vol. 3, Pp. 313).
From these verses (and the other sources mentioned above) the haze over Melchizedek begins to clear.  Melchizedek is not Jesus, nor is he a messianic figure.  He is a foreshadowing of Christ who is to come.  The "Order of Melchizedek," which has been mentioned several times in several of the aforementioned references, is therefore a holy calling given through priesthood (see what Paul said on the matter in the scripture reference above).  Interestingly enough, the world of Mormon theology has this to say on the matter:
There are, in the church, two priesthoods, namely, the Melchizedek and Aaronic, including the Levitical Priesthood. Why the first is called the Melchizedek Priesthood is because Melchizedek was such a great high priest. Before his day it was called the Holy Priesthood, after the Order of the Son of God. But out of respect or reverence to the name of the Supreme Being, to avoid the too frequent repetition of his name, they, the church, in ancient days, called that priesthood after Melchizedek, or the Melchizedek Priesthood. All other authorities or offices in the church are appendages to this priesthood.
This sort of explanation fits with what we know about Melchizedek from the sources available to us. Melchizedek was the best of men. He was a foreshadowing of Jesus Christ, who was to come. Melchizedek was a champion of peace and a king over a holy land (some scholars believe his Kingdom of Salem was the precursor to JeruSALEM). Though very little can be found in the Bible on his life, other sources help to augment the story and fill in the missing pieces.  And what we are left with is a picture of a man who was indeed a foreshadowing of Christ...a Prince of Peace.

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