The Mysterious Figure
People often wonder who Melchizedek was. Some believe he was Noah’s son Shem reincarnated; others that he was an angel; early church fathers taught that he was the pre-incarnation of Jesus, and many Christians today still think so. Let us try to sort these things out. As always, I am not claiming to possess a final answer, I am just trying to enrich your understanding and enable you to make an informed decision.
First, we must assert the “episodic” or “mysterious” nature of the appearance of Melchizedek in the Hebrew Bible. Indeed, this name occurs only twice in the whole corpus of the Hebrew Scriptures (see Gen 14:18-20 and Ps 110:4). Both refer to the same figure, but without revealing much about his identity. Melchizedek of the Hebrew Bible is a priest-king of pre-Israelite Jerusalem, but his origin is not clear: Was he a purely mythical figure, or was he a historical person from patriarchal times to whom mythical features were later attributed?
Melchizedek is described as meeting Abraham after he came back from his victory over Chedorlaomer in Genesis 14:17-24. Melchizedek brings out bread and wine to Abraham, blesses him and praises El Elyon, the creator of heaven and earth, who is responsible for the victory of Abraham. His priesthood was considered as having a definite importance because, in Psalm 110, we find the solemn oath of God: You are the priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek..
It is precisely because of this anonymous, without genealogy or descent, mysterious figure, writes a great Jewish Bible scholar David Flusser, that in certain Jewish circles of the Second Temple period, the biblical story of Melchizedek expanded into a sort of mythical biography: Melchizedek became a pre-existent and immortal being. Flusser writes: “There were those who expected him to be the judge of the Latter Days, when he, together with the celestial powers, will indicate the judgments of God so that the righteous would become his lot and his heritage.”
Who were these “certain Jewish circles” that Flusser refers to? Who did expect Melchizedek to be the judge of the Latter Days? One obvious eschatological reinterpretation of the biblical Melchizedek, undoubtedly familiar to most of my readers, comes from the New Testament. The Epistle to the Hebrews, still referring to the same Melchizedek from the Hebrew Bible, emphasizes this ‘incognito’ nature of Melchizedek: Without father, without mother, without genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life, but made like the Son of God, remains a priest continually. The main quality of Melchizedek in Hebrews is his anonymity: nobody had known him before he revealed himself to Abraham.
However, the New Testament writers were not the only ones (nor the first) who turned to biblical Melchizedek. Another eschatological reinterpretation (and a much earlier one) is found in the writings of Qumran.
Melchizedek as a Messiah
One of the oldest, as well as one of the most astonishing and controversial documents discovered at Qumran, is the fragment called 11QMelchizedek. The manuscript was found in 1956 in Qumran Cave 11. It contains several occurrences of the name Melchizedek, and therefore was named 11QMelchizedek. The manuscript consists of fourteen fragments from three successive columns; the best-preserved portion of the document, column ii, weaves around Melchizedek several themes of biblical eschatology. These themes include: the liberation of Israel from captivity, Israel’s return to the Land, a final atonement for Israel’s sins, the judgment of their captors, a proclamation of peace to Israel, and the inauguration of God’s reign.
11QMelchizedek belongs to the genre of eschatological midrashim typical of Qumran, as the word pesher (2.12,17) and the phrase “for the last days” (2.14) indicate. Some scholars consider 11QMelch to be the oldest purely exegetical text from Qumran. Composed within the Qumran Community, it is a thematic pesher on four principal biblical texts that have thematic connections with one another: Lev 25:8-13; Isa 52:7; Isa 61:1-2; and Dan 9:24-25. Through these biblical passages, the author wanted to illuminate his eschatological teaching and demonstrate “that the events of the future days, as he presented them, were the fulfillment of the hidden realities presaged by God in the Scriptures.”
Let us read the first lines of the best-preserved portion of the document, column ii:
|2 […] And as for what he said: Lev 25:13 “In this year of jubilee, [you shall return, each one, to his respective property,” as is written: Dt 15:2 “This is]
3 the manner (of effecting) the [release: every creditor shall release what he lent [to his neighbor. He shall not coerce his neighbour or his brother when] the release for God [has been proclaimed].”
4 [Its inter]pretation for the last days refers to the captives, about whom he said: Isa 61:1 “To proclaim liberty to the captives.” And he will make
5 their rebels prisoners […] and of the inheritance of Melchizedek, for […] and they are the inheri[tance of Melchi]zedek, who
6 will make them return. He will proclaim liberty for them, to free them from [the debt] of all their iniquities. And this will [happen]
7 in the first week of the jubilee which follows the ni[ne] jubilees. And the day [of atonem]ent is the end of the tenth jubilee
8 in which atonement will be made for all the sons of [God] and for the men of the lot of Melchizedek…
15 This is the day of [peace about which God] spoke [of old through the words of Isa]iah the prophet, who said: Isa 52:7 “How beautiful
16 upon the mountains are the feet of the messenger who announces peace, of the mess[enger of good who announces salvation], saying to Zion: ‘your God [reigns’].”
17 Its interpetation: The mountains are the pro[phets …]
18 And the messenger is [the ano]inted of the spirit [mashiach haruach] about whom Dan[iel] spoke [“…until the time of (the/an) Anointed Prince [mashiach nagid] there will be seven weeks . . . after sixty-two weeks, (the/an) Anointed shall be cut off” Dan 9:25, 26 ]. [… and the messenger of]
What are the things that 11Q13 explicitly says about Melchizedek? In the last days Melchizedek will return dispersed Israel to the Holy Land (lines 5-6); Melchizedek will “proclaim liberty to the captives” (line 6); Melchizedek will “relieve them from … all of their iniquities” (line 6). Also attributed to Melchizedek is the atonement (לכפר) of all belonging to him, on the eschatological Day of Atonement: atonement will be made for all the sons of li[ght and ] for the men [of] the lot of Mel[chi]zedekגורל מל[כי]צדק (line 8).
Pay close attention to the biblical texts quoted: Lev 25:8-13; Isa 52:7; Isa 61:1-2; and Dan 9:24-25. I believe every Bible student would recognize these texts as messianic.
Moreover, in the early Jewish exegesis beyond Qumran, three of four principal texts in 11QMelchizedek are seen as referring to the Messiah. Thus, the author of Luke-Acts applies Isaiah 52:7 to Jesus Christ in Acts 10:36. Lev.Rab. 9:9 quotes the same verse in regard to “the messianic king”. Second, Isaiah 61:1-2 becomes a messianic claim on the lips of Jesus in Luke 4:18-19 – and the same passage is mentioned in Lam. Rab. 3:9 “in connection with redemption”. Finally, Daniel 9:25-26, as the only passage in the Tanach (OT) that uses the titleמשיח in an eschatological context, was widely understood as a reference to the Messiah. Therefore, we can conclude that the very selection of the biblical texts in 11QMelchizedek inclines us toward a messianic reading. Melchizedek of 11QMelch can certainly be seen as an eschatological savior and even Messiah.
 Ps 110:4
Flusser, David, Judaism and the origins of Christianity, Jerusalem, 1988. p. 192.
 Heb 7:3
 Xeravits, Geza G. King, Priest, Prophet: Positive Eschatological Protagonists of the Qumran Library, Brill Leiden Boston, 2003, p.69 .