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Melchizedek in Ancient Texts, by Berosus Vendidad

2013-02-08 9:13 AM | Daniel

Melchizedek is an intriguing, infrequent, yet important figure in a number of different, but related, bodies of literature: the Old Testament, the Dead Sea Scrolls, Jewish Pseudepigrapha, the New Testament, and in the Nag Hammadi library.

I must give some brief definitions of terms here, so that the reader is not in the dark about the subject matter here. For a deeper understanding of this subject, the reader will need to invest the time and effort to delve into biblical scholarship, which is a vast and challenging area of study. Hopefully this article will stimulate interest in researching our spiritual heritage.

Much of this literature is eschatological. This term refers to “end-times things.” Some common eschatological themes include a final battle between good and evil, divine intervention on earth, a judgment (either earthly or pertaining to the afterlife), and the destruction of the wicked. One must be cautious in reading these documents, not assuming that all these themes are present or that all these documents teach the same things, since they do not.

The Bodies of Literature

Old Testament (hereafter, OT) is a Christian term, since it implies the existence of a New Testament (abbreviated NT). Hebrew Bible (HB) is the Jewish term for this same body of literature. Actually the Roman Catholic OT includes some books not in the Jewish HB and the Protestant OT—books preserved in Greek but not in Hebrew and Aramaic. This detail, while interesting, does not concern us here.

The Dead Sea Scrolls (abbreviated DSS) are a 20th century discovery of Jewish scrolls dating from the second and first centuries B.C. (or B.C.E., “before the Common Era”) and the first century A.D. (or C.E.). This was probably the library of the Essene sect of Judaism, and contains many books of the bible (in fact, the oldest biblical manuscripts in existence), some translations of the Bible into Aramaic, commentaries on Biblical books, rules and instructions for life in this particular community, and some eschatological works, one of which is called 11Q Melchizedek (having been found in Cave number 11Q). Many of these works were new discoveries for modern scholarship, having been lost to the world when the Essenes buried them during the Jewish War against Rome.

I will also take a look at some Jewish Pseudepigrapha: nonbiblical writings attributed to a biblical character, such as the Books of Enoch. Actually I will only look at Second Enoch, far less significant in most ways than the earlier book, First Enoch, parts of which date back to the third century B.C. First Enoch is the one Jesus read. (UB 126:3.6-8).

The Nag Hammadi codices (“books”: having a bound spine) are another extraordinary rediscovery of ancient literature, mostly Christian and/or Gnostic, including unorthodox “gospels” mostly composed in the third and fourth centuries, as well as highly symbolic and obscure mythological texts, and some Platonistic wisdom literature. Gnosticism was a religious trend more than a religion, as such. Gnostics were anti-traditional, cosmopolitan intellectuals who believed they had access to secret wisdom, of which ordinary Jews and Christians were ignorant. Gnostic trends were very widespread in the Hellenistic world, and they penetrated deeply into early Christianity. Gnosticism was attacked by some orthodox thinkers but remained intertwined with Christianity until it began to be edged out (and edged itself out, with its increasingly hostile, anti-biblical formulations) in the third to fifth centuries. These books were buried in the Egyptian desert in the fifth century, when the monks who read them realized that they were liable to get in trouble for possessing such books. The Nag Hammadi Library is also referred to as the Coptic Gnostic Library (CGL).

The Melchizedek Passages


Now we can begin to look at the occurrence of the Melchizedek character in these various bodies of literature. Melchizedek appears in only in only three places in the whole Bible, but the passages are suggestive and influential beyond their number. Melchizedek occurs in two chapters of the OT, in Genesis 14 and Psalm 110.

Melchizedek of Salem brought out bread and wine; he was priest of God Most High. He blessed him and said, “Blessed be Abram by God Most High, maker of heaven and earth; and blessed be God Most High, who has delivered your enemies into your hand!” (Genesis 14:18-20 NRSV)

The LORD says to my lord, “sit at my right hand until I make your enemies your footstool.” . . . The Lord has sworn and will not change his mind, “You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.” . . . He will shatter heads over the wide earth. Psalm 110:1, 4, 6

This is a royal psalm, and so is being used to support the power of the Davidic dynasty. Head-shattering is a common theme in this nationalistic ideology that becomes dominant in Israel (such politicization happens in virtually all religions). Melchizedek is here being drawn into political ideology, but remains an enigmatic figure, more than just “king of righteousness,” as his name suggests, in Hebrew. He is a special figure, but the Bible does not spell it how or why he is special.


The Epistle to the Hebrews is the one place in the NT where Melchizedek is mentioned. This letter brings in sacrificial themes, and so eventually came to be considered a Pauline letter by some parts of the ancient and by much of our contemporary church, but not so considered by scholars, since its anonymous author uses a much more educated and showy style of Greek than occurs in Paul’s letters. Hebrews does mention Melchizedek repeatedly, and builds part of its argument on the legitimacy of Melchizedek’s priesthood, and yet Melchizedek’s status remains as mysterious as in the OT. Of course, the focus in Hebrews is not on Melchizedek, but on the Messiah.

“You are a priest forever, according to the order of Melchizedek.” In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications . . . . Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered. Hebrews 5:6-8

Without father, without mother, without genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life, but resembling the Son of God, he remains a priest forever. See how great he is! Even Abraham the patriarch gave him a tenth of the spoils. Heb 7:3-4

Hebrews is the only book in the NT that bases its Christology on the idea of Christ as the new high priest, but he cannot picture Christ as a Levitical priest, since Christ came from the tribe of Judah, not Levi (7:14). So he utilizes the Melchizedek priesthood, which is earlier and (according to Hebrews) higher than Levi’s priesthood: “the inferior is blessed by the superior”; and “perfection” was not “attainable through the levitical priesthood” (Heb 7:7, 11). He can make a virtue out of the absence of a lineage for this semi-divine figure, Melchizedek, who was a priest “not through a legal requirement concerning physical descent, but through the power of an indestructible life” (7:16). With Melchizedek, he has the suggestion of a heavenly priest, and he certainly sees Jesus that way: “we have such a high priest, one who is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens” (8:1), one who accomplishes a heavenly cleansing through his earthly death.

One thing for us to notice in these different literary occurrences is how thoroughly contextual these meanings are. Genesis 14 and Psalm 110 highlight Melchizedek’s religious status, which implies a high status for Abraham, who receives a blessing from Melchizedek after his (Abraham’s) military victory. Hebrews highlights Melchizedek’s non-genetic and independent priestly status, his “forever” status, and his heavenly status (probably derived from his sitting at God’s right hand in Ps 110:1).


When we see Melchizedek in the DSS, it is as a heavenly and eschatological figure, perhaps a heavenly priest, but more concerned with military than with liturgical matters:

In this year of jubilee . . . every creditor shall remit the claim that is held against a neighbor [Deut 15:1-2] . . . . It applies to the Last Days and concerns the captives . . . . Melchizedek will return to them what is rightfully theirs. . . . releasing them from the debt of all their sins. 11QMelchizedek 2:2-6[1]

This is the time decreed for “the year of Melchizedek’s favor” [Isa 61:2], 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 the divine beings he holds judgment” [Ps 82:1]. Scripture also says about him. . . “Take your seat in the highest heaven; A divine judge will judge the people” [Ps 7] . . . . 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 the spirits . . . Allied with him will be all the “righteous divine beings.” 11QMelchizedek 2:9-11, 13-4

OT passages that speak of God are here made to speak of Melchizedek. And again:

“Your divine being reigns” [Isa 52:7] . . . . “Your di[vi]ne being” is [Melchizedek, who will del]iv[er them from the po]wer of Belial. 11QMelch 2:16, 24-25[2]

This document pictures Melchizedek playing an eschatological (“end-times”) role, fighting and defeating Belial, a devil figure.[3]

Other scholars have noticed a remarkable similarity between the role played by Melchizedek in this document, and the role of Michael in another document, the War Rule:

Melchizedek is clearly understood as a heavenly redeemer figure . . . . and judge on God’s behalf. . . . The role attributed to Melchizedek in 11QMelch is very similar to that of Michael . . . . [Both play the role of] heavenly warrior.[4]

Michael fights Belial or a dragon in the War Rule and in Revelation, while Melchizedek fights Belial or a similar enemy in the DSS and Nag Ham.[5]

Jewish Pseudepigrapha

Second Enoch is a strange first century (C.E.) Jewish work, which includes God telling a holy man:

I will establish him so that he will be the head of the priests of the future. . . .  Melkisedek will be the head of the 13 priests who existed before. And afterward, in the last generation, there will be another Melkisedek, the first of 12 priests. 2 En. 71:29,33-34[6]

      This highly garbled passage is the best evidence for a human tradition about the twelve Melchizedek receivers who took over planetary watchcare after the rebellion. Do not expect any real cosmic understanding or clarity, however, in Second Enoch. This is typical of most human traditions about events connected with the first three epochal revelations. Some human being, evidently, had some cosmic knowledge, but as he or she told the story, the hearers assimilated the information to their already-existing stories and mythologies.     


Melchizedek  is a badly damaged Christian Gnostic text, with the confusing cosmology that is typical of Gnostic texts. This passage seems to be about Melchizedek’s heavenly status:

He is from the race of the High Priest which is above thousands and thousands and myriads of myriads . . . . The adverse spirits are ignorant of him and of their own destruction.
Melchizedek 6:16-22[7]

Here we see the typical Gnostic theme of evil powers (usually called “archons”) who oppress humanity, but who are ignorant of the powers that are above themselves.

[I, Melchizedek] . . . . have offered up myself to you as a sacrifice, together with those that are mine, to you yourself, (O) Father of the All, and (to) those things which you love, which have come forth from you . . . even the [perfect] laws. I shall pronounce my name as I receive baptism. Melchizedek 14:17; 16:7-14

This seems to express the idea of Melchizedek offering a symbolic sacrifice, and this was probably re-enacted in a Gnostic ritual.

[Holy are you, Mother of the] aeon(s), Barbelo . . . . Holy are you, [First-]born of the aeons, Doxomedon . . . . [Holy are you], Commander, luminary [. . .] Oriael. . . [Holy are you], Man-of-Light . . . . [Holy are you], Commander-in-chief . . . Jesus Christ . . . .         Be [strong, O Melchizedek] . . . [they] made war . . . they did not prevail over you. Melchizedek 16:25–17:16; 18:4-6; 26:2-7

Gnosticism is famous for such lists of aeons (gods) and spirits. Further, “Commander-in-chief” is one of the titles given to Michael in some ancient rabbinic documents.[8]

Finally, there was a group of Jewish Christians who were called Melchizedekians by their opponents. We know very little about them, except what we learn from one church father’s (Epiphanius of Salamis) attack on them, which probably contains distortions. He says they consider Melchizedek to be a greater power than Christ.[9]



The superior cosmology of the UB is obvious, yet we cannot help but notice some broad similarity in the following areas: in the UB, as in these other literatures, Melchizedek is a unique religious leader and plays an eschatological role. Let us start with the UB's unique remark about (one) Melchizedek’ role in fostering the prophets, then move on to UB eschatology.

Machiventa Melchizedek continued to take a great interest in the affairs of the descendants of….Abraham….This same Melchizedek continued to collaborate throughout the nineteen succeeding centuries with the many prophets and seers.93:10.3-4 [Foundation ed. 1024D]

Recent rulings handed down from the Most Highs of Edentia, and later confirmed by the Ancients of Days of Uversa, strongly suggest that this bestowal Melchizedek is destined to take the place of the fallen Planetary Prince. 93:10.6 [1025:2]

These 24 Urantia counselors….will no doubt continue to serve in their present capacities until some change in planetary status ensues, such as the end of a dispensation, the assumption of full authority by Machiventa Melchizedek….114:2.6 [1252:4]


Note the over-abundance of revelation regarding Melchizedek. They tell us almost as much as they know.

Machiventa….[has] been elevated to the position of personal ambassador on Jerusem of the Creator Son, bearing the title Vicegerent Planetary Prince of Urantia….forever a planetary minister representing Christ Michael. 93:10.5 [UF 1025A]


Notice how they deliberately echo the “forever” of Heb 5:6; 6:20; 7:17, although they now refer to Melchizedek himself, not to Jesus.

My summarizing remarks concern the evident importance of the tradition about Melchizedek. It seems that Melchizedek is a name that needed to be preserved in evolutionary religion, no matter how fragmentarily, because he will rule this world one day.

Both the UB and our religious traditions affirm the seriousness of the human predicament, and the surety of the eventual triumph of goodness, with Melchizedek playing some key role in that. This is a remarkable point of similarity. Of course, to understand what the UB says about Melchizedek, one needs to understand the UB's cosmology, yet even our garbled human traditions were able to preserve some truth about Melchizedek, who is “a godlike being in the council of God,” and, “allied with him will be all the ‘righteous divine beings’” (11QMelchizedek 2:10, 14).[10] As for humans, “they are receiving from [you] yourself, O [Melchizedek], Holy One…the perfect hope” (Melchizedek 5:15-16).[11]

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