Where did Melchizedek come from?


“The Meeting of Abraham and Melchizedek,” by Sir Peter Paul Rubens

The first of yesterday’s Catholic scripture readings (which I have emailed to me daily, and actually remembered to read at breakfast yesterday) is this one:

Reading 1 Heb 7:1-3, 15-17

Melchizedek, king of Salem and priest of God Most High,
met Abraham as he returned from his defeat of the kings
and blessed him.

And Abraham apportioned to him a tenth of everything.
His name first means righteous king,
and he was also “king of Salem,” that is, king of peace.
Without father, mother, or ancestry,
without beginning of days or end of life,
thus made to resemble the Son of God, he remains a priest forever.

It is even more obvious if another priest is raised up
after the likeness of Melchizedek, who has become so,
not by a law expressed in a commandment concerning physical descent
but by the power of a life that cannot be destroyed.
For it is testified:

You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.

Which reminds me. I’ve always wondered: Where did Melchizedek come from? To refresh your memory, here’s where he made his initial appearance:

GN 14:18-20

In those days, Melchizedek, king of Salem, brought out bread and wine,
and being a priest of God Most High,
he blessed Abram with these words:
“Blessed be Abram by God Most High,
the creator of heaven and earth;
and blessed be God Most High,
who delivered your foes into your hand.”
Then Abram gave him a tenth of everything.

OK, so… Abram, soon to be Abraham, pretty much invented monotheism, right? Or rather, to be more theologically correct, discovered it. Everybody else was worshiping idols, and then the one true God reached out to him, and all of Judaism and Christianity and Islam grew out of that original covenant.

I mean, he’s still trying to get this whole Most High God concept straight in his head, and bang! A priest of that same God shows up on his doorstep?

Not only that, but this priest already has the whole routine down. Rituals were already established. Like an Army padre on the battlefield, he had brought the bread and wine with him. And most amazingly, he got Abraham to tithe! That’s a trick a lot of modern priests wish they could master, and here this guy gets the world’s first believer to go along with the program right off the bat!

After all that, it’s a wonder Father Melchizedek didn’t, before moving on, start regular bingo nights to raise money for a new roof for the parish school.

OK, I need to stop before I get blasphemous. But I’m sincere about this: How does the guy who started a religion meet up with a priest — whose existence suggests the prior development of rituals and procedures and perhaps an administrative hierarchy — of that same religion?

He was indeed “without father, mother, or ancestry.” Like Minerva, he came springing forth fully formed from the brow of this new faith.

Unbelievers among you will say, “Stop trying to find logic in a made-up story.” But here’s the thing: If you’re going to make it up, why gratuitously introduce an element that makes everybody say, “What?!?!” If you’re going to write a fairy tale, have it make sense so as to facilitate belief. Fiction writers introduce characters for a reason. What was the function of Melchizedek, other than to make us scratch our heads?

And yes, I know that the church has — starting with the epistle quoted above — developed the idea of Melchizedek as a prototype of the Christ, as the eternal priest-king. But that’s retroactive. What’s the original explanation? What’s Melchizedek’s back-story?

No, the story of Melchizedek is so weird and inexplicable that it smacks of reality, however much might have been lost over the centuries before it was written down. It lacks the orderliness of fiction. Reality is bizarre and too often inexplicable. Doubt me? OK, who would write a work of fiction that had Donald Trump being elected president of the United States, and expect anybody to read it? Case closed, ya heathens.

I will now pass around the collection plate…

12 thoughts on “Where did Melchizedek come from?

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      Nah, I haven’t gotten back that far. I’ve gotten back pretty far — so far that I’m embarrassed to mention it, it’s so ridiculous. But not that far.

      It’s really problematic when you get back to legendary figures — like Ragnar.

      But it’s fun…

  1. Karen Pearson

    I suspect that the story of Melchizedec is one of those stories from the Jewish oral tradition that are woven into what we now call the Pentateuch which was actually first written down around the time of the Babylonian exile or shortly thereafter. Those who promoted the Deuteronomic view of the Covenant took these oral traditions, edited them, and wrote them down. That is why you’ll find two different stories about an event, sometimes back to back (consider the creation stories). In some traditions he is considered Noah’s brother or identified with Noah’s son Shem.

    1. Ellliott

      I agree. The answer lies in studying how the Old Testament was written. It is a collection of a variety of stories.

  2. JesseS

    I was always more curious about what script the Lord was writing the 10 Commandments in. The Captivity was a long ways off, so the Babylonian influenced script wasn’t even around yet.

    Moses would have died around 1273 BC and the oldest Phoenician alphabet wouldn’t pop up for another 223 years. Egyptian hieroglyphics? Either way writing had to exist because we had to have concrete methods for passing this stuff so it could skip a generation if necessary? Maybe that whole concept may have been the most essential thing? Possibly more important then the rules themselves? The law is essential, but what if there is no voice for that law?

    Granted I’m not looking at this from the perspective of disbelief, I just see purpose in the wonder of the question rather than the uncertainty of the certain.

    Melchizedek? Maybe I’m just not smart enough to figure out the right question. :\

    1. Karen Pearson

      The oral traditions centered around Moses and the journey to the Promised Land were around, but the scholars are close to unanimous to agreeing that what we have now was put together and edited during or shortly after the Babylonian exile.

  3. Mark Stewart

    I see as all “new” ideas are really retreads of history. Or maybe another take on trying to understand something?

    We have grown this way for eons: why would religious concepts and texts be any different?

  4. Liz

    Melquisedek had to abandon and start a new genealogy just like Abraham was asked to do the same thing and jesus told us that whoever doesn’t cut back with old ancestral ties that oppose Him that we are not worthy. Ecleseaistes 3:15


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