Melchizedek: Everything Ancient You Can Know

On this page:

   Birger Pearson's essay

   James Kugel's ancient sources for information about Melchizedek

   The Coming of Melchizedek 1Q13 (Wise, et al.)


Other links:

   Jackson Snyder Bible Home



Melchizedek in Ancient Sources: Essay by Birger A. Pearson

(I have reproduced this page here on account of the relevant content and because the font in the permalink is too small to read comfortably.)

Genesis 14:17-24 reports that Abram ("the Hebrew," 14:3), upon his victorious return from a battle, was met by the king of Sodom ("Bera," 14:This mosaic shows Melchizedek standing behind an altar symbolically receiving the sacrifices of Abel and Abraham. Saint Apollonaire in Classe, Ravenna, Italy (sixth century A.D.). Courtesy John W. Welch.2), who was eager to reward Abram for coming to his and his allies' aid. The narrative is interrupted by an enigmatic insertion (14:18-20) featuring "Melchizedek king of Salem," "priest of God Most High" (RSV). Melchizedek "brought out bread and wine" and blessed Abram in the name of God Most High (Hebrew 'el "elyôn). Abram then gave Melchizedek a tithe of his booty. This priest-king of Salem has enjoyed a wide range of interpretation among Jewish, Christian, and Gnostic writings, some that brought him up to the heights of heaven, and others—of developing Christian and Jewish orthodoxy—that brought him down to earth again.

The story of Genesis 14 has raised numerous questions. Most modern scholars entertain a possible connection of this Melchizedek with a pre-Israelite kingship and/or priesthood in the Jebusite city of Jerusalem ("Salem") before its conquest by King David (2 Sam. 5:6-10). The incorporation of the story into Judean traditions reflects the interests of the Jerusalem royal ideology.




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Codex Sinaiticus

New Testament:

from the famed discovery


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The only other Old Testament occurrence of the name Melchizedek is found in a royal Jerusalemite psalm, Psalm 110:4. There God ("the Lord") addresses the king thus: "You are a priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek."

Melchizedek occurs in the New Testament only in the Epistle to the Hebrews (5:6-10; 6:20; 7:1-17), where the Old Testament figure is interpreted as a type of the "high priest" of the New Covenant, Jesus Christ. The key passage is Hebrews 7:3, where it is said that Melchizedek "resembles the Son of God." Melchizedek's priesthood, superior to that of the "descendants of Levi" (Heb. 7:5), is a foreshadowing of the priesthood of the Son of God. Hebrews 7:3 becomes the basis for most Christian interpretation of the figure of Melchizedek (Horton, pp. 111, 152, 161-64).

An important witness to pre-Christian Jewish speculation on Melchizedek has surfaced among the Dead Sea Scrolls: 11QMelch. The fragmentary Hebrew text, usually dated to the first century B.C., features Melchizedek as a heavenly end-time redeemer, with attributes of the archangel Michael. He appears in the tenth and final jubilee of world history to rescue the elect, the "men of the lot of Melchizedek" (ii.8), doing battle with Belial and his fellow evil spirits. Melchizedek's triumph is described as a high-priestly act of "expiation" (ii.8; cf. Kobelski, pp. 5-23).

Melchizedek is mentioned by Philo, a first-century Jewish philosopher of Alexandria, in three writings (Legum Allegoriae 3.79-82; De Congressu 89; De Abrahamo 235). Philo interprets the text of Genesis in a Platonic-allegorical fashion, seeing in Melchizedek a reference to the divine Logos, the thought of God in which the pattern of all existing things is conceived and the "image" of God according to which man was created.

Another important text, 2 Enoch, attests to early Jewish interest in the figure of Melchizedek. The date and place of this document are controversial, but recent scholarship places its original Greek version in the first century A.D. in Alexandria (cf. F. I. Andersen's introduction and translation in Charlesworth, Vol. 1, pp. 91-213). In this text (chaps. 71-72), a child is born miraculously to Noah's recently deceased sister-in-law, and the child, marked on his chest with a priestly seal, speaks and praises God. The boy is named Melchizedek by Noah and his brother Nir, whose wife had been posthumously delivered. In a night vision Nir is told of the impending flood; he is also informed that the archangel Michael will bring Melchizedek to paradise, thus enabling him to escape the flood waters. Melchizedek will eventually become the chief of priests among the people, and in the end of days he will be revealed yet another time as the chief priest. In this text, Melchizedek has three different earthly manifestations: born before the Flood, serving in the postdiluvian age as a great priest, and functioning in the end-time as a messianic priest (cf. Gruenewald, pp. 90-92; Delcor, pp. 127-30).

Some of these Jewish interpretations were taken over by Gnostics and are now reflected in some Christian Gnostic texts preserved in Coptic manuscripts of the fourth and fifth centuries (Pearson, 1990). In one fragmentary manuscript, the disciple John asks Jesus to explain what is said about Melchizedek in Hebrews 7:3. Unfortunately, the text breaks off before Jesus' interpretation is given.

A fragmentary text from Nag Hammadi (IX.1: Melchizedek; cf. Pearson, 1981, pp. 19-85) contains an apocalypse given by angels to Melchizedek, "priest of God Most High." It is revealed to Melchizedek that he will ultimately reappear as Jesus Christ, Son of God, to do battle with the cosmic forces of darkness. Here one can see influence not only from the Epistle to the Hebrews but also from non-Christian lore.

In the Second Book of Jeu, "Zorokothora Melchizedek" is a heavenly priest who presides over a heavenly baptism. No trace of influence from Hebrews is found in this text.

The most developed levels of speculation on Melchizedek, also lacking any influence from Hebrews, are found in Pistis Sophia, Book 4, in which Melchizedek plays a key role in the process of purifying human souls for entry into the "Treasury of Light" and transferring them from the domain of the archons, or earthly rulers, to that heavenly region. The younger material in books 1-3 of Pistis Sophia develops these ideas further: Melchizedek is a heavenly being who seals the saved souls upon their entry into the realm of light.

The church fathers attest to several heterodox ideas associated with Melchizedek. Hippolytus of Rome (Refutatio 7.35-36) and Epiphanius of Salamis (Panarion 55) are the most important witnesses to a group of heretics called Melchizedekians. They had a low Christology and exalted Melchizedek as a heavenly power superior to Christ. Others equated Melchizedek with the Holy Spirit (Panarion 67), and some "even in the true church" (i.e., not "heretics") naively regarded Melchizedek as the Son of God (Panarion 55.7.3). The later view seems also to have been present among the monasteries of Egypt (Apophthegmata Patrum, in Patrologia Graeca 65.160) and was even defended in a treatise on Melchizedek by a fifth-century resident of the Judean desert, Mark the Hermit (PG 65.1117-40). Such views were eventually overcome by teacher-bishops such as Cyril of Alexandria (PG 65.160).

On the Jewish side, while early rabbis continued to speculate on Melchizedek's role in scripture (e.g., equating him with Shem, son of Noah; cf. b. Nedarim 32b; Midrash Gen. R. 44.7; Targum Ps.-J. Gen. 14:18), a major stream of rabbinic tradition viewed Melchizedek negatively, a fact that indicates some Jewish sensitivity to the use of Melchizedek traditions by Christians (Gianotto, pp. 172-85).



Charlesworth, James H. Old Testament Pseudepigrapha. Garden City, N.Y., 1983.

Delcor, M. "Melchizedek from Genesis to the Qumran Texts and the Epistle to the Hebrews." Journal of Jewish Studies 2 (1971):115-35.

Gianotto, Claudio. Melchisedek e la sua tipologia. Supplementi alla Rivista Biblica 12. Brescia, 1984.

Gruenewald, Ithamar. "The Messianic Image of Melchizedek" (in Hebrew). Mahanayim 124 (1970):88-98.

Horton, Fred L., Jr. The Melchizedek Tradition. Society for New Testament Studies Monograph Series 30. Cambridge, 1976.

Kobelski, Paul J. Melchizedek and Melchiresva". Catholic Biblical Quarterly Monograph Series 10. Washington, D.C., 1981.

Pearson, Birger A. "The Figure of Melchizedek in Gnostic Literature." In Pearson, Gnosticism, Judaism, and Egyptian Christianity. Studies in Antiquity and Christianity 5. Minneapolis, 1990.

Pearson, Birger A., ed. Nag Hammadi Codices IX and X. Leiden, 1981.

Encyclopedia of Mormonism, Vol. 2, Melchizedek, Ancient Sources

Copyright © 1992 by Macmillan Publishing Company


James Kugel's Ancient Sources for Information About Melchizedek


From Kugel. The God of Old – a tremendous resource for pseudepigrapha mavens.

GENESIS 14:17-24 17. After his return from the defeat of Chedorlaomer and the kings who were with him, the king of Sodom went out to meet him at the Valley of Shaveh (that is, the King’s Valley). 18. And Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine; he was priest of El Elyon. 19. And he blessed him and said, “Blessed be Abram by El Elyon, maker of heaven and earth; 20. and blessed be El Elyon, who has delivered your enemies into your hand!” And Abram gave him a tenth of everything. 21. And the king of Sodom said to Abram, “Give me the persons, but take the goods for yourself.” 22. But Abram said to the king of Sodom, “I have sworn to YHWH El Elyon, maker of heaven and earth, 23. that I would not take a thread or a sandal-thong or anything that is yours, lest you should say, ‘I have made Abram rich.’ 24. I will take nothing but what the young men have eaten, and the share of the men who went with me; let Aner, Eshcol, and Mamre take their share.”


Melchizedek and Hospitality

And Melchizedek the king of Salem brought out food and drink to Abram and to all the men who were with him; and he was a priest to El Elyon. And he blessed Abram and said: Blessed is Abram to El Elyon, master of heaven and earth; and blessed is El Elyon, who has given over your enemies into your hand. And he  [Abraham] gave him a tithe from all the possessions of the king of Elam and his confederates.    

— (1Q2o) Genesis Apocryphon col. 13:14-17  (First century, first person rewriting of Genesis, found in the caves around Quran)


 He [Melchizedek] stretched his hands to heaven and honored him [Abraham] with prayers on his behalf and offered sacrifices of thanksgiving for the victory and feasted handsomely those who had taken part in the contest, rejoicing and sharing their gladness as though it were his own.

— Philo, On Abraham 235 (Philo, first century philosopher and commentator, Greek, Alexandria, Egypt)


Now this Melchizedek hospitably entertained Abraham’s army, providing abundantly for all their needs, and in the course of the feast he began to extol Abraham and to bless Elohim for having delivered his enemies into his hand. Abraham then offered him a tithe of the spoils, and he accepted the gift.

— Josephus, Jewish Antiquities 181 (First century historian, written in Aramaic)


Melchizedek: Righteous King and Priest

 [Jerusalem’s] first founder was a leader of the Canaanites, called in his native tongue “righteous king”—for so indeed he was.

— Josephus, Jewish Wars 6:438


 He is first, by the translation of his name, king of righteousness.



For this reason he was the first to serve as a priest before Elohim and, having been the first to build the temple, gave to the city previously called “Salem” the name Jerusalem [understood in Greek as “Holy Salem”].    

— Josephus, Jewish Wars 6:438 (also Jewish Antiquities 1:180-181)


And Melchizedek, the king of Jerusalem ... was a priest serving in the high priesthood before El Elyon.

— Targums Onqelos, Neophyti Gen. 14:18 (Aquila, first century scripture translator)


He was made king by reason of his greatness . . . and moreover was a high priest, which office he had received from Noah in succession.

—Ephraem, Commentary on Genesis 11:2 (A Nazorean commentator and poet, 4th century)


The Jerusalem temple was built in his [Melchizedek’s] domain, as it says, “And Melchizedek, king of Salem . . .” [Gen. 14:18], and “Salem” means Jerusalem, as it says, “His [Elohim’s] abode has been established in Salem, his dwelling place in Zion” [Ps. 78:3 (some texts: 2)].

—Midrash ha-Gadol Gen. 11:10 (13th century, Yemen, David b. Amram)


Melchizedek: Divinely Appointed High Priest

YHWH says to my Sovereign: “Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.”  YHWH sends forth from Zion your mighty scepter. Rule in the midst of your foes! Your people will offer themselves freely on the day you lead your host upon the holy mountains. From the womb of the morning like dew your youth will come to you. YHWH has sworn and will not change his mind, “You are a priest forever, after the line of Melchizedek.”

Alternate reading: “You are a priest forever by my order (or on my account), O Melchizedek.”

Alternate reading: “From the womb, before the morning star, I have begotten you.”

—Septuagint Ps. 110:5 (3rd century BC, Greek) Psalms 110:1-4


When the high priest of El Elyon saw him [Abraham] approaching and bearing his spoils ...

—  Philo, On Abraham 235


You [O Elohim] are the one who appointed Melchizedek as a high priest in Your service.

— Apostolic Constitutions 8.12.23  (8 volume anthology of the apostles’ teaching, 4th century)


And Melchizedek, the king of Jerusalem ... was a priest serving in the high priesthood before El Elyon.

— Targum Neophyti Gen. 14:18


The Heavenly Melchizedek

Melchizedek will carry out the vengeance of the laws of Go[d on that day and he will sa]v[e them from] Belial and from all his k[indred spirits,] and to his aid will (come) all the “gods” of [justice and] he [Melchizedek] is the one w[ho will stand on that day over] all the sons of Elohim and will ord[ain] this [asse]mbly. This is the Day of P[eace, a]bout which [Elohim] spoke [of old in the words of] the prophet [Isai]ah, who said “[How] beautiful on the mountains are the messen[ger]’s feet, [proclaiming peace.”

— (11Q13) Melchizedek Text 2.13-16 (Caves around Qumran, 1st or 2nd BC)


] priest [s E]ohim of knowledge and [Melchi]zedek, priest in the assembly of Elohim.

— (4Q401) Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice 11.1-3 (Qumran, 1st BC)


] holy ones of [holine]ss [?] consecrate [Mel]chizedek [

— (4Q40i) Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice 22:1-3


Note: if the restoration of the name Melchizedek is correct, it would seem that Melchizedek is an angel, perhaps the highest of the angels serving Elohim in the sky.


Behold, I plan now to send down a great destruction onto the earth. But concerning the child [Melchizedek], do not be anxious, Nir, because I in a short while shall send my archangel Gabriel. And he will take the child and put him in the garden of Eden, and he will not perish with those who must perish . . . And Melchizedek will be my priest to all priests, and I will sanctify him and I will change him into a great people who will sanctify me.

— 2 Enoch (A) 71:27-29


Christian Order of Melchizedek

Christ did not exalt himself to be made a high priest, but was appointed by Him who said to him, “You are my Son, today I have begotten you,” as it also says elsewhere [in the same psalm], “You are a priest forever, after the order of Melchizedek.” In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications... and he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him, being designated by Elohim a high priest after the order of Melchizedek. For this Melchizedek, king of Salem, priest of the Most High Elohim, met Abraham returning from the [war] 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 Elohim, he continues a priest forever.9

—Heb. 5:5-10,7:1-3


“Salem” means specifically “peace,” of which our Savior is said to be king; For concerning him does Moses say, “Melchizedek, king of Salem, priest of El Elyon.” He offers him “bread and wine” [Gen 14:18], holy food, as a prefiguring of the eucharist. It is true that the name “Melchizedek” means “just king,” but justice and peace are synonyms.

— Clement of Alexandria, Miscellanies 4:161,3 (150 – 215)


Melchizedek: An Uncircumcised Priest?

For if [circumcision] were necessary, as you think, Elohim would not have formed Adam uncircumcised, nor would He have looked with favor upon the gifts of Abel, who offered sacrifices but was not circumcised, nor would Enoch, who was not circumcised, have pleased him ... The priest of El Elyon, Melchizedek, was without circumcision, and he had tithes given him by Abraham as offerings. Abraham  was the first to receive circumcision in the fleshly sense, and yet he was blessed by Melchizedek [the uncircumcised], after whose order Elohim has announced by David [for example, in Psalm no] that He would establish the eternal Priest.

— Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho 19:3-4 (also ch. 33) (100-165 AD; Justin w2as a virulent anti-Semite.


Likewise Melchizedek, priest of El Elyon, was not circumcised and did not keep the sabbath, yet he was chosen for the priesthood of Elohim.                                  — Tertullian, Against the Jews 2 (160-225)


Others maintained the opposite:


Likewise, [Melchizedek] was born circumcised, as it says “And Melchizedek, king of Salem” [interpreted as the king who was salem, “complete” or “perfect,” hence, circumcised]. 

—Abot deR. Natan (A) 2 (2nd – 6th century commentaries)


He was righteous and he was born circumcised.  

— Genesis Rabba 26:3 (5th century)


Melchizedek in Jerusalem

And the king of Sodom heard that Abram had given back all the captives and all the booty, and he went up to meet him; and he came to Salem, which is Jerusalem.

— (iQ2o) Genesis Apocryphon col. 22:12-13


There he was received by the king of Solyma, Melchizedek ... Solyma was in fact the place called thereafter Jerusalem.

— Josephus, Jewish Antiquities 180 (also Jewish War 6:438)


And Melchizedek, king of Jerusalem, brought out bread and wine.

— Targum Onqelos Gen. 14:18


And Melchizedek, the king of Jerusalem ... was a priest serving in the high priesthood before El Elyon.  

— Targum Neophyti Gen. 14:18


Mechizedek in Samaria

He [Abraham] was accepted as a guest by the city at the temple of Argarizin [that is, Mt. Gerizim] which means “mountain of the Most High.” He also received gifts from Melchizedek, who was a priest of Elohim and king as well.         — (Pseudo-)Eupolemus. Fragment One 5-6


And Jacob came to Salem, the city of Shechems.

—Septuagint Gen. 33:18


And ... Jacob went up to Salem, to the east of Shechem, in peace.

—Jubilees 30:1 (A revelation of Moses)


And Jared became the father of Enoch and he built a city and called it Salem the Great.

— al-Asatir 2:5 (Samaritan, 6th century)



Melchizedek was Shem?

About Shem[‘s being a prophet] it says, “Upon My word, Melchizedek” [PS. 110:4].”

—Seder Olam 21 (2nd century Jewish)


And Melchizedek, the king of Jerusalem, who was the great Shem ...

—Targum Neophyti Gen. 14:18


Likewise Shem was born circumcised, as it says, “And Melchizedek, king of Salem ...” [interpreted as the king who was salem, “complete” or “perfect,” hence, circumcised].

—Abot deR. Natan (A) 2


This Melchizedek was Shem.

 — Ephraem, Commentary on Genesis 11:2


The [Jews] say that he [Melchizedek] was Shem, Noah’s son, and counting up the total years of his lifetime [eight hundred years, according to Gen. 11:11] they demonstrate that he would have lived up to [the time of] Isaac [and so certainly could have encountered Abraham in Gen. 14:18-21].

— Jerome, Questions in Genesis, Gen. 14:18


Services No Longer Needed

Blessed be Abram to El Elyon, maker of heaven and earth; and blessed be El Elyon, who has delivered your enemies into your hands.

—Gen. 14:19-20


(Kugel: In these lines the Rabbis saw a crucial mistake on Melchizedek’s part: he blessed Abraham before blessing Elohim, which was a great sacrilege. As a result,they concluded, Elohim must have decided that Melchizedek was not a very good choice for the priesthood after all.)


R. Zechariah said in the name of R. Ishma’el: Elohim at first wished to have the priesthood come from Shem [that is, Melchizedek], as it is written, “and he was a priest to El Elyon” [Gen. 14:18]. But when he [Melchizedek] put Abraham’s blessing before Elohim’s own, Elohim resolved to have the priesthood descend from Abraham instead. And thus it says, “YHWH has sworn and will not change his mind, ‘You are a priest forever, after the order of Melchizedek’ [Ps. 110:4];’ [“After the order,” ‘al dibrati, should be interpreted as] “because of the words [ ‘al dibburo] of Melchizedek “ Likewise it says “and he was a priest to El Elyon”—^ was a priest, but not his descendants.




BONUS: The Coming of Melchizedek (11Q13)


(...) And concerning what Scripture says, “In this year of Jubilee you shall return, everyone of 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 El’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 Elohim’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 Elohim; in the midst of elohim 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 Elohim’s precepts and so becoming utterly wicked. 

Therefore Melchizedek will thoroughly prosecute the vengeance required by Elohim’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 elohim (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 Elohim reigns’“ (Isa. 52;7).

This scriptures interpretation : “the mountains” are the prophets, they who were sent to proclaim Elohim’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 Yahweh’s favor, the day of the vengeance of our Elohim; 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 Elohim, just as t is written concerning him; “who says to Zion ‘Your Elohim 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 Elohim” 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).