Professor M.M. Ninan wrote a book on Melchizedek, and Deacon Sabatino recommends reading chapter three for the salvation history series. The chapter follows, and can be found in its entirety here.
Who is Melchizedek?
Heb 5:8-10 Although Jesus was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered; and being made perfect he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him, being designated by God a high priest after the order of Melchiz’edek.
Heb 6:19-20 We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner shrine behind the curtain, where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf, having become a high priest for ever after the order of Melchiz’edek.
Heb 7:1- 28 For this Melchiz’edek, king of Salem, priest of the Most High God, met Abraham returning from the slaughter of the kings and blessed him; and to him Abraham apportioned a tenth part of everything. He is first, by translation of his name, king of righteousness, and then he is also king of Salem, that is, king of peace. He is without father or mother or genealogy, and has neither beginning of days nor end of life, but resembling the Son of God he continues a priest for ever. See how great he is! Abraham the patriarch gave him a tithe of the spoils. And those descendants of Levi who receive the priestly office have a commandment in the law to take tithes from the people, that is, from their brethren, though these also are descended from Abraham. But this man who has not their genealogy received tithes from Abraham and blessed him who had the promises. It is beyond dispute that the inferior is blessed by the superior. Here tithes are received by mortal men; there, by one of whom it is testified that he lives. One might even say that Levi himself, who receives tithes, paid tithes through Abraham, for he was still in the loins of his ancestor when Melchiz’edek met him. Now if perfection had been attainable through the Levit’ical priesthood (for under it the people received the law), what further need would there have been for another priest to arise after the order of Melchiz’edek, rather than one named after the order of Aaron? For when there is a change in the priesthood, there is necessarily a change in the law as well. For the one of whom these things are spoken belonged to another tribe, from which no one has ever served at the altar. For it is evident that our Lord was descended from Judah, and in connection with that tribe Moses said nothing about priests. This becomes even more evident when another priest arises in the likeness of Melchiz’edek, who has become a priest, not according to a legal requirement concerning bodily descent but by the power of an indestructible life. For it is witnessed of him, “Thou art a priest for ever, after the order of Melchiz’edek.” On the one hand, a former commandment is set aside because of its weakness and uselessness (for the law made nothing perfect); on the other hand, a better hope is introduced, through which we draw near to God. And it was not without an oath. Those who formerly became priests took their office without an oath, but this one was addressed with an oath, “The Lord has sworn and will not change his mind, ‘Thou art a priest for ever.'” This makes Jesus the surety of a better covenant. The former priests were many in number, because they were prevented by death from continuing in office; but he holds his priesthood permanently, because he continues for ever. Consequently he is able for all time to save those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them. For it was fitting that we should have such a high priest, holy, blameless, unstained, separated from sinners, exalted above the heavens. He has no need, like those high priests, to offer sacrifices daily, first for his own sins and then for those of the people; he did this once for all when he offered up himself. Indeed, the law appoints men in their weakness as high priests, but the word of the oath, which came later than the law, appoints a Son who has been made perfect for ever.
There are various traditions as to the identity of Melchizedek. Encyclopedia Judaica asserts that “There is a Hebrew tradition that Melchizedek was Shem or a son of Shem, the son of Noah, others stipulate that Melchizedek was a grandson of Canaan.” (Encyclopedia Judaica, Keter Publishing House, Jerusalem, Ltd., Jerusalem, Israel, copyright 1972, Vol. 11, columns 1287-1289.)
Melchizedek as Shem
Midrash Sefer HaYashar (Jasher) 16:11, 12, tells us the story of Abram’s meeting with Melchizedek after freeing Lot:
11 And Adonizedek king of Jerusalem, the same was Shem, went out with his men to meet Abram and his people, with bread and wine, and they remained together in the valley of Melech. 12 And Adonizedek blessed Abram, and Abram gave him a tenth from all that he had brought from the spoil of his enemies, for Adonizedek was a priest before God
Book of Jasher is referred in Josh 10:13 and 2 Sam 1:18. This lost book of the Bible was probably a kind of national sacred song-book. Mentioned twice in the Bible, this ancient historical book, once lost, has survived the ravages of time and was faithfully translated into the English language and published in the year 1840.
In these books the name of the King of Jerusalem is given as Adonizedek instead of Melkizedek. This is not surprising as in those days a person had several names.
Melchizedek as Shem can be found in the Targums as in the following references:
Melchizedek was Shem the son of Noah, a priest most high.” (Pirke De Rabbi Eliezar 9A.i)
“And Melchizedek is Shem, the son of Noah.” (Rashi, Commentaries, Genesis 14:18)
“And Melchizedek is Shem, the son of Noah.” (Talmud, Tr. Nedarim 32)
“Tamar was the daughter of Shem, [who is] identified with Melchizedek king of Salem, Priest of God the Most High. (Midrash Rabbah, Vol.2, Soncino Press translation, 1983, p. 796)
Jerusalem Targum on Genesis 14:18;
Talmud, Tr. Nedarim 32b;
Martin Buber, Midrash Agada, fn. 18, p. 30.
Aramaic renderings of the Hebrew Bible. Tg. Neof. on Gen 14:18 shows the exegetical development of this identification:
“And Melchisedech, king of Jerusalem – he is Shem the Great – brought out bread and wine, for he was the priest who ministered in the high priesthood before the most High God.”. The Palestinian Targum tradition has Melchizedek as Shem (Neofiti and Fragments, Ps Jonathan) but T. Onkelos does not.
Shem was 98 years old at the time of the Flood. At 100 years of age he had a son, Arphaxad, and lived after that 500 more years. [Genesis 11:10, 11] Following the genealogy we can see that 2+35+30+34+30+32+30+29+70= 292 years after the Flood Abraham was born. Abraham lived to be 175 years of age. Thus Abraham died in the year 292+175= 467 years after the Flood. Shem survived Abraham by 33 years. It seems quite reasonable to deduce that Shem, after the Flood, became conscious of his calling as a son of Noah and a survivor of the Flood to teach the people all he knew about the religion of the pre-flood patriarchs. In his capacity of survivor he took on the functions of a priest, renamed himself in this new life as `Melchizedek’ and that is why Abram, also of the lineage of Shem, when meeting his ancestor Shem/Melchizedek regarded him as the true Priest of God. [Genesis 14:18, 19].
Jerome, recording the Hebrew traditions of his own time, says they believed Melchizedek to have been Shem, and his sons to have been priests before the time of Aaron.
Melchizedek as Shem was also known to St. Ephrem the Syrian (Commentary on Genesis 11.2).
Another important point in identification of Shem and Melchizedek is the fact that the blessing of Shem in Gen 9:26 has distinct parallels with the blessing which Melchizedek gives to Abraham.
Melchizedek as the son of Canaan
In Ethiopian Book of Adam and Eve, (iii. 13-21), Noah tells his son Shem before his death to take “Melchizedek, the son of Canaan, whom God had chosen from all generations of men, and to stand by the dead body of Adam after it had been brought from the ark to Jerusalem as the center of the earth and fulfill the ministry before God.”
The angel Michael then took away Melchizedek, when he was fifteen years of age, from his father, and, after having anointed him as priest, brought him to (Jerusalem) the center of the earth, telling his father to share the mystery only with Shem, the son of Noah. The Holy Spirit, speaking out of the ark when the body of Adam was hidden, greeted Melchizedek as “the first-created of God.” Shem went, carrying bread and wine, and, assisted by the angel, brought the body of Adam to its destination. Melchizedek offered the bread and wine upon the altar they built near the place where Adam’s body was deposited, and then Shem departed, leaving the pure lad in his garment of skins under the sole protection of the angel, no one on earth knowing of his whereabouts until, at last, Abraham met him.
Melchizedek as Noah’s sister-in-law’s son
Others suggest, based on the book of Enoch, that Melchizedek was the son of Noah’s deceased sister in law. The book of Enoch (of which Jude refers to) says that Noah’s sister in law died while pregnant, and that miraculously, after her death, the child, Melchizedek was delivered. It goes on to describe that this Melchizedek infant was born with sort of a birth mark on his chest that was a priestly seal and instantly spoke and sang praises to God. The story continues that prior to the flood, an angel came and took Melchizedek into heaven so that he might escape the deluge. Melchizedek was then returned to the earth after the flood, to reign as priest, and shall come yet a third time, at the end times. The story runs as follows:
“Behold the wife of Nir, whose name was Sopanim, being sterile and never having at any time given birth to a child by Nir – Sopanim was in the time of her old age and in the day of her death. She conceived in her womb, but Nir the priest had not slept with her from the day that that The Lord had appointed him to conduct the liturgy in front of the face of the people. When Sopanim saw her pregnancy, she was ashamed and embarrassed, and she hid herself during all the days until she gave birth. Not one of the people knew about it. When 282 days had been completed, and the day of birth had begun to approach, Nir remembered his wife, he called her to himself in his house, so that he might converse with her. Sopanim came to Nir, her husband; and, behold, she was pregnant, and the day appointed for giving birth was drawing near. Nir saw her and became very ashamed. He said to her, “What is this that you have done, O wife? Why have you disgraced me in front of the face of these people? Now, depart from me and go where you began the disgrace of your womb, so that I might not defile my hand on account of you, and sin in front of The Face of The Lord.” …..
And it came to pass, when Nir had spoken to his wife, Sopanim that Sopanim fell down at Nir’s feet and died. … The archangel Gabriel appeared to Nir, and said to him, “Do not think that your wife Sopanim has died because of your error, but this child, which is to be born of her is a righteous fruit, and one whom I shall receive into paradise, so that you will not be the father of a gift of God.” ….
When they had gone out toward the grave, a child came out from the dead Sopanim and sat on the bed at her side. Noah and Nir came in to bury Sopanim and they saw the child sitting beside the dead Sopanim, wiping his clothing. Noah and Nir were very terrified with a great fear, because the child was fully developed physically, he spoke with his lips and blessed The Lord.
Noah and Nir looked at him closely, saying, “This is from The Lord, my brother.” And behold the badge of priesthood was on his chest, and it was glorious in appearance. Noah said to Nir, “Behold, God is renewing the priesthood from blood related to us, just as He pleases..”
Noah and Nir hurried and washed the child, they dressed him in the garments of the priesthood, and they gave him bread to eat and he ate it. And they called him Melchizedek . …
The Lord heeded Nir and appeared to him in a night vision. And He said to him, ” … I, in a short while, will send My archangel Gabriel. And he will take the child and put him in the paradise of Eden. He will not perish along with those who must perish. As I have revealed it, Melchizedek will be My priest to all holy priests, I will sanctify him and I will establish him so that he will be the head of the priests of the future”. … “And behold, Melchizedek will be the head of priests in another generation. I know that great confusion has come and in confusion this generation will come to an end, and everyone will perish, except that Noah, my brother, will be preserved for procreation. From his tribe, there will arise numerous people, and Melchizedek will become the head of priests reigning over a royal people who serve You, O Lord.”
It happened when the child had completed 40 days in Nir’s tent, The Lord said to the archangel Gabriel, “Go down onto the earth to Nir the priest, and take the child Melchizedek, who is with him. Place him in the paradise of Eden for preservation….’ ” And Gabriel took the child, Melchizedek on the same night on his wings, and he placed him in the paradise of Eden.”
2 Enoch http://members.truepath.com/cherub7/enoch8.html
In this story Melchizedek is indeed the type of Jesus before the flood. He was born of a virgin by the Holy Spirit though that is not explicitly spelled out. Hence he is born without a father. But yet he has a virgin mother. He escaped the flood because he was taken away from earth and kept in the heaven. He was returned to earth to be priest to the post-flood believers.
2 Enoch, or the Slavonic Apocalypse of Enoch, was written late first century C.E. in Egypt by a Jew. It survives only in late Old Slavonic manuscripts. It may have been composed originally in Aramaic or Hebrew, later being translated into Greek, and later still being translated into Old Slavonic. It is an amplification of Gen 5:21-32 (from Enoch to the Flood).
Melchizedek is an Angel or Cosmic Christ
Qmelch scroll of the Dead Sea Scrolls.
We have only the fragments of this scroll. The readable portions translate as below:
The Coming of Melchizedek
(…) And concerning what Scripture says, “In this year of Jubilee you shall return, everyone f 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” (Isa. 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 judgment”
(Ps. 82;1). Scripture also says about him ; “Over it take your seat in the highest heaven; A divine being will judge the peoples” (Ps. 7;7-8) Concerning what scripture says; “How long will you judge unjustly, and show partiality with the wicked? Selah” (Ps. 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 so 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 the spirits destined to him. Allied with him will be all the “righteous divine beings“(Isa. 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”.” (Isa. 52;7) This scriptures 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” (Isa. 61;2)
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” (Isa. 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 . . . ” (Lev. 25;9)
According to this scroll Melchizedek is an angelic, heavenly warrior who shall lead a heavenly army in an epic battle between good and evil. The battle sounds remarkably similar to the Christian teaching of the “Battle of Armageddon,” and Melchizedek has the role of “Christ.”
Many Christians have also believed that Melchizedek was a pre-incarnate appearance of “Christ.” “Mark the Hermit” of the fifth century, “Theodotus the Banker,” and his sect known as the “Melchizedekians” or “Athingani” (whose descendants are the modern day Roma Gypsies) existed in the early centauries. These Melchizedekites “regarded Melchizedek as a great heavenly power and as a son of God, superior to Jesus (Epiphanius,” Hæresis,” lv. 1-9; Hippolytus, “Refutatio Hæresium,” vii. 36, x. 20; pseudo-Tertullian, 48; Augustinus, “De Hæresibus,” 34; see also Herzog-Hauck, “Real-Encyc.” s.v. “Monarchianismus”).”
Others conclude that Melchizedek was some kind of extra-terrestrial being who has appeared at various moments in earth’s history and is taken up by the Gnostics and the New Agers of today as the “Cosmic Christ,” (referred to by John Chrysostom) or the “Archiereus Logos.” (Referred to by Philo) In fact, the Christian Gnostics considered Melchizedek a savior-god higher than Jesus: “Melchizedek was the savior for angels, while Christ was only the savior for men. They regarded Melchizedek as a great heavenly power and as one of the Sons of God, probably even superior to Jesus (Epiphanius,” Hæresis,” lv. 1-9; Hippolytus, “Refutatio Hæresium,” vii. 36, x. 20; pseudo-Tertullian, 48; Augustinus, “De Hæresibus,” 34)
Theodotus the banker (ho trapezites) added to his master’s doctrine the view that Melchisedech was a celestial power, who was the advocate for the angels in heaven, as Jesus Christ was for men upon earth (a view found among later sects). This teaching was of course grounded on Hebrews, vii, 3, and it is refuted at length by St. Epiphanius as Heresy 55, “Melchisedechians”, after he has attacked the leather-seller under Heresy 54, “Theodotians”. …. The sect probably died out about the middle of the third century
Melchizedek was much more than an angel or heavenly high priest, he was actually a lesser god devoted to the service of his one and only God. It was Melchizedek who commanded Michael and Gabriel in the wars of the heaven leading to the casting out of Satan. It was Melchizedek who ordained Abraham, King David, and even Jesus Christ, into the high priesthood of God. There is no one higher than Melchizedek, the Archangel, the personal high priest of the most high God!
New Agers put greater stress on this interpretation of Jesus.
Justin Martyr (Trypho 33, also 19 and 113) argued that Melchizedek was the uncircumcised high priest who blessed the circumcised Abraham; Tertullian (Against the Jews 2) had similar views. These were examples of Christian polemic against the Jews. Theophilus of Antioch (about 190CE) who argued that Melchizedek was the first priest of priests, the first of the universal priesthood (Autolycus 2.31). Clement of Alexandria has a non-polemical view of Melchizedek’s priesthood, (Miscellanies 2.25), which is also found in the consecration prayers for a bishop in the Apostolic Constitution. These are still used in the Coptic Church, citing Melchizedek as one among many Old Testament priests.
PHILO OF ALEXANDRIA. Melchizedek is mentioned by Philo, the first-century Jewish philosopher of Alexandria, in three writings (Legum Allegoriae 3.79-82; De Congressu 89; De Abrahamo 235). He treats Melchizedek allegorically. To him Melchizedek as High Priest represents Logos, the Reason the Peaceable King (a pun on the place name Salem in Genesis 14) who rules as a “righteous king” (Melchizedek) over the totality of Man as an organism. This Reason is opposed to Nous, the tyrant Mind, who is the ruler of war (ARXWN POLEMOU). Nous tempts man into all sorts of passions and evil ways. The Logos acts as a reason toning down the passion thus saving man from excesses on a continuous basis. He is not a harsh tyrant but a peaceful convincer.
Philo of Alexandria (Allegorical Interpretation, III.79–82)
79 Melchizedek, too, has God made both king of peace, for that is the meaning of “Salem,” and His own priest. He has not fashioned beforehand any deed of his, but produces him to begin with as such a king, peaceable and worthy of His own priesthood. For he is entitled “the righteous king,” and a “king” is a thing at enmity with a despot, the one being the author of laws, the other of lawlessness. 80 So mind, the despot, decrees for both soul and body harsh and hurtful decrees working grievous woes, conduct, I mean, such as wickedness prompts, and free indulgence of the passions. But the king in the first place resorts to persuasion rather than decrees, and in the next place issues directions such as to enable a vessel, the living being I mean, to make life’s journey successfully, piloted by the good pilot, who is right principle. 81 Let the despot’s title therefore be ruler of war, the king’s prince of peace, of Salem, and let him offer to the soul food full of joy and gladness; for he brings bread and wine, things which the Ammonites and Moabites refused to supply … 82 But let Melchizedek instead of water offer wine, and give to souls strong drink, that they may be seized by a divine intoxication, more sober than sobriety itself. For he is a priest, even Reason, having as his portion Him that is, and all his thoughts of God are high and vast and sublime: for he is priest of the Most High… [Loeb]