Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Who was Melchizedek?

Targ. Neophyti Gen 14:18: “And Melchizedek, the king of Jerusalem, who was the great Shem…”

St. Jerome, Hebrew Questions on Genesis, 14:18-19: "And Melchisedech king of Salem... Because our little book is, in a word, a collection of Hebrew questions or traditions, let us therefore introduce what the Hebrews think about this. They declare that this man is Sem, the son of Noah, and by calculating the years of his life, they show that he lived up to the time of Isaac; and they say that all the first-born sons of Noah were priests before Aaron performed the priestly office. Next, by 'king of Salem' is meant king of Jerusalem, which was formerly called Salem."

St. Ephraem, Commentary on Genesis 11:2: “This Melchisedek is Shem, who became a king due to his greatness; he was the head of fourteen nations. In addition, he was a priest. He received this from Noah, his father, through the rights of succession. Shem lived not only to the time of Abraham, as Scripture says, but even to [the time of] Jacob and Esau, the grandsons of Abraham. It was to him that Rebekah went to ask and was told, 'Two nations are in your womb and the older shall be a servant to the younger' (Gen 25,22-23). Rebekah would not have bypassed her husband, who had been delivered at the high place, or her father-in-law, to whom revelations of the divinity came continually, and gone straight to ask Melchizedek unless she had learned of his greatness from Abraham or Abraham’s son.

Because the length of Melchizedek’s life extended to the time of Jacob and Esau, it has been stated, with much probability, that he was Shem. His father Noah was dwelling in the east and Melchizedek was dwelling between two tribes, that is, between the sons of Ham and his own sons. Melchizedek was like a partition between the two, for he was afraid that the sons of Ham would turn his own sons to idolatry.”

For a further discussion see, James Kugel, The Bible As It Was (Cambridge: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1997), 160-161; John W. Bowker, The Targums and Rabbinic Literature. An Introduction to Jewish Interpretations of Scripture (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1969), 196-199; Scott Hahn, Kinship By Covenant: A Biblical Theological Study of Covenant Types and Texts in the Old and New Testaments (Ann Arbor: University Microfilms, 1995), 171-81.


Anonymous said...

This may be totally amateur etymologising on my part, but could there be a dense network of elaborate and profound punning going on here, given that shem means name, in particular the Name (HaShem)? Is this a pointer to the significance of Melchizedek, as one who bears the Name?

Unknown said...

Shem's name is "shem" and thus he has THE name.

Scott Hahn in Kinship by Covenant brings out the interesting connection between the the inhabitants of earth try to "gain a name [shem]" by building the Tower of Babel.

The fact that Melchizedek doesn't have a real name [shem] but a title is somewhat interesting and seems to provide proof that Melchizedek is Shem.

A. M. said...

Could anyone here direct me to a discussion regarding how Melchizedek's royal-sacerdotal office is derived from Adam? Thanks.

Schmilga3000 said...

Professor, are these strong theories to the origin of Melchizedek, or this widely accepted in the Catholic community?
The question of Melchizedek was always a huge one when I first started exploring Scripture with Alan and Chris. I'm sure Alan will remember me asking "Who is Melchizedek?" because he justs shows up and its says that "he was priest of God Most High." I think that worthy of a title merits an explanation. I am aware he is mentioned in Mass but is there any other typology that can explain him. The idea of Shem is blowing my mind. I have never heard of that.

p.s. I miss your class.


Anonymous said...

I once heard a theory that Melchizedek could possibly be a theophany of God Himself, as was the army captain that appears in (not sure of the citation - Judges? Kings?). The army captain/commander allows (not sure again who) bow to him, which points to the fact that the army captain was not an angel, b/c the angels would rebuke/correct anyone who tried to bow before them as if they were God. What do you think of this theory? [Sorry for the vague and imprecise citations].


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