Melchizedek as a Transcendental Savior
We continue our discussion of one of the oldest and most astonishing documents discovered at Qumran, the fragment called 11QMelchizedek. In our last article, we saw that the very selection of the biblical texts in 11QMelchizedek bore witness to a messianic reading of this text. Melchizedek of 11QMelch can certainly be seen as an eschatological savior and even Messiah. And yet it is also clear that he is not an earthly messiah here: the most striking feature of the Melchizedek of 11QMelch is that he is not an ordinary, mortal human being—rather, he is described as an exalted, heavenly figure, and his transcendent nature is evident. How do we know that?
First of all, several biblical passages, the original subject of which is God, are related here to Melchizedek. The author of 11QMelch emphasizes Melchizedek’s transcendence by applying these passages directly to him. For instance, line 9 of the second column quotes Isaiah 61:2 in quite an unusual manner. The biblical prophet had spoken about the “year of the grace of YHWH,” and the author of our pesher replaced the tetragram with the name of Melchizedek: “It is the time for the year of favor for Melchizedek.”
Moreover, not only does the author of 11QMelch reinterpret the “year of grace of YHWH” as the “year of grace of Melchizedek” in Isaiah 61:2a, but in all likelihood, he understands Melchizedek as ‘your God’,אלוהיך , in Isaiah 52:7: And “your God is… [Melchizedek who will fr]e[e them from the ha]nd of Belial… (lines 23-25)
Furthermore, Melchizedek here is opposed to Belial, the evil angelic leader, and in the Qumran library, the antagonists of Belial are angelic beings (see for example, 11QS iii 20-21). Our text clearly shows, however, that the role of Melchizedek is higher than that of the angels. He is a leader of the angelic troops: according to 11QMelch ii 14, he does not act single-handedly, but all divine beings will come to his aid: כול אלי, probably אלי [הצדק]: To his aid all the gods of [justice]… ובעזרו כול אלי [הצדק]… . Melchizedek and Belial are both said to have a “lot” (גורל), i.e. peoples belonging inseparably to them – and throughout the Qumran library, only God or leading angelic principles have their own “lot” (1QM xiii 10-11). There is no doubt, therefore, that the author of 11QMelch is stressing the heavenly, supernatural nature of Melchizedek: Melchizedek here is the transcendent eschatological savior.
Is he also presented as a Hidden Savior here? Some of my readers might remember that my first series on this blog was about Hidden Messiah (by the way, my new book about the Hidden Messiah., containing all those posts and much more, is finally completed and will be published within few weeks. The title of the book is: As Though Hiding His Face, and it will soon be available from my page: https://blog.israelbiblicalstudies.com/julia-blum/ ) . Therefore, of course, I am interested to see whether perhaps the Qumran sectarians too, expected Messiah to come incognito. Who was the Teacher of Righteousness of the Qumran writings? How did he die? Did the sectaries think he was the Messiah? If so, how did they explain the fact that so few recognized him? Was he a messiah unrecognized? Was he a silent messiah? And where does Melchizedek come into this picture? Certainly, any dogmatism must be excluded here: the fragmentary state of the remains of the Qumran library does not always allow us a clear indication of the theological view of a document or passage. However, we can still try to answer these questions, and by doing so, try to understand what the Qumran sectaries believed concerning the secret messiah.
Melchizedek as a “Hidden Savior”
Let us turn again to the first restored lines of column II. The text begins with the citation of Leviticus 25:13, to which the parallel legislation in Deuteronomy 15:2 is brought alongside in a typically midrashic fashion:
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].”
The starting point of the discourse is the release of all debts that the Torah requires in the Year of Jubilee. To make the next step, the author proceeds with his own pesher on Leviticus 25. In this pesher, the author uncovers an eschatological meaning of the institution of the Year of Jubilee: “Its interpretation for the last days concerns the captives […]” The word “captives” השבויים, undoubtedly echoes Isaiah 61:1, and through this connection, the author is able to interpret the Year of Jubilee eschatologically and to understand the final salvation as the fulfillment of the prediction of the release of the captives foretold in Isaiah 61:1, and the ultimate year of release. In this eschatological context, the author repeatedly mentions the name of Melchizedek: there are captives who are the inheritance of Melchizedek, and in the Year of Jubilee he will make them return.
Thus, the eschatological meaning of the Year of Jubilee acquires a new dimension here: the Year of Jubilee is not only the year of release of the captives, but also the year of God’s salvation, the year of restoration of their freedom, – and also, the year of revealing of Melchizedek as their savior. That interpretation seems to be confirmed by the use of Psalm 7:8b-9a in lines 10-11. After the citation of Psalm 82:1 with reference to the heavenly role of Melchizedek as God and Judge, the writer goes on to cite Psalm 7: “And about him he sai[d: ‘And] above [it] to the heights, return: God will judge the peoples.’” The exaltation of Melchizedek is called a return here: the text speaks of the public revelation and installation of the one who had existed but had not been revealed before that moment. Thus, in 11QMelchizedek we see the manifestation of the eschatological savior, who has been kept hidden and is now revealed in order to bring release to all the captives, thus fulfilling the prediction of the release of the captives foretold in Isaiah 61:1.
To be continued …