Your Question and My Reply

ON MELCHIZEDEK


Abram with his trained men. Melchizedek ready to feed them. (Picture courtesy: Biblical Art on WWW)

(I)Respected Thirumeni,

Thirumeni, Can you
help me by throwing some light on Malchesadeth? The mention in Holy Bible is
too brief for me to understand much.

Your spiritual son,

Dear …
I got back from Nagpur and Onam season programmes in the diocese are sort of
over and I thought of responding to your question about Melchizedek.

We read about Melchizedek mostly in the book of Hebrews, about 8
references. The book of Hebrews is from an anonymous author who wanted to write
about priesthood.
The meaning of the name is "My King is Righteous" or 'king of Salem'
(peace, Hebrews 7:2 - because he was king of Jerusalem which was the 'city of
peace'. This was only a claim. No time in history, this city was a city of
peace, not even today). This is a name used by many kings of the time making
claim on their character. The Melchizedek mentioned in Gen. 14:18-20 was the
king of Jerusalem. He is said to be also the priest of god "El Elyon"
or most high god. But having kingship and priesthood combined in one person was
never a situation either in the Canaanite religion or in Israelite religion.
This again was a creation of Davidic tradition.

As you may know El was the god of Canaanites and El Elyon may have
claim that it is even superior to El. The text that refers to the event of
Abraham with the king is considered to be a later addition that it disturbs the
flow of the story of Abraham with the king of Sodom. Melchizedek ruled in
Jerusalem and Jerusalem later became the city of David and that is where the
temple was built. David appointed Zadokite priests in Jerusalem (2 Sam.
8:17.Abimelech was the priest who helped David when he was fighting against
king Saul 1Sam. 21). As a matter of fact Zadokite priests were not from
Isralite tribe. But David wanted to legitimize Zadokite priests' appointment
and probably created the story. It is interesting to note that the only place other
than this where Melchizedek is mentioned in Old Testament is in Psalm 110 (v.4)
which is a royal psalm which legitimizes the rule of the new king in the family
of David. It was from this psalm, probably the author of the book of Hebrews
got the theme (Hebrews quotes Psalm 110:4. Also see Hebrews 5:6, 10; 6:20; 7:1,
10, 11, 15, 17). David or Davidic tradition wanted to say that the appointment
of Zadokite priests is quite legitimate as their ancestor Melchizedek was the
king as well as a priest and he worshiped El Elyon a name later Israel accepted
for their God over against the Canaanite god El. To David, therefore, it is
quite legitimate to appoint the descendants of that priest-king on Jerusalem as
God chose Jerusalem as his abode. As a matter of fact, selection of Jerusalem
as the city of sanctuary was a political move on the part of David to make all
the warring 12 tribes come under him. Jerusalem was not part of any one of the
12 tribes territory, rather was the private property of David (2 Sam. 5:1 ff.).
He knew that religion is the only element that can truly unite the people. This
was in fact against the nature of Yahweh who always wanted to be with the
people and this was voiced in several places in the OT (2 Sam. 7:6; 1 Kings
6:13; ).
The reference to bread and wine that the king offered to Abraham was not part
of the religious offering; rather it was only food for Abraham. But of course
the reference just following that which says he ‘was the priest of most high’
give such an impression. There is no place in OT where it is suggested that
bred and wine are the materials for offering in a sanctuary. It was Clement of
Alexandria and Cyprian who made this interpretation first and then was adopted
in the Church. Even the book of Hebrews does not give this impression.
In simple terms, we may say that when David wanted to create an unchallenged
capital, he initiated the building of a central sanctuary in Jerusalem that was
his private property and was not part of the territory of any of the tribes.
Though he was not able to build the temple, he brought the ark in to the tent
he made there. Then he appointed the Zadokite priests as clerics there. To
legitimize this act he introduced the story of Abraham paying tithe to the
king-priest of Jerusalem.

The reference to ‘Melchizedek not in the genealogical list of
Israel’ (Hebrews 7:1-3) is quite natural because he was not an Israelite.
Because he was not in the list, no body knows who his father and mother were.

This is the story of Melchizedek.

Hope I answered your question. If there is any thing else, please
let me know.

With regards and prayers

Thirumeni

(II) Respected
Thirumeni,

Please
permit me to discuss 2 or 3 issues with Your Grace with a view to help myself
in my learning process.

(1)
From what Your Grace had explained to me the other day on Melchizedek, does it
mean that he is not a real character? Or even if he is real, does it mean that
he is not that important a character? As far as I understand, during the
Thooyoba shusroosha, there are 2 orders Aronya kramam and Melchizedek kramam.
With Christ initiating  the HQ at Sehion Malika, the old system of
BALIYARPANAM has become irrelevant and the new one commenced. Also, the
Levi claim to priesthood too came to an end. Here, people say that we now
follow the Melchizedek order. Am I right or wrong in having understood things
like this? If wrong, please correct me.

(2)
Your Grace had issued a message to the Youth Conference at Abu Dhabi in
which a very valid issue is introduced giving a hint to the 9/11 incident. In
fact this issue is spreading through out the world and our small Kerala which
we claim to be GOD'S OWN COUNTRY is now appearing to take the wrong lead.
People have lost respect to fellow beings. Law enforcing officials manipulate
things to take care of their interests. A father is killing his infant son
brutally just because some Jyotsan had said something. We are initiating our
own down fall. Churches too are not free from such selfish moves manipulating
Christian ethics to destroy others. WHO WILL BELL THE CAT? The whole
society is heading in a wrong direction. Liquor consumption is incresing like
anything with no limits. Nobody can do anything or does not want to do.

Sorry
if I have bored Your Grace.

Your
spiritual son,

Dear…

Of course Melchizedek is a real character, one among several
kings of the region. But every thing attributed on him may not suit him.
Christian denominations and communities within denominations, even individuals
have different approach to and way of interpreting Bible, events recorded in it
and people referred in. What happened between Abraham and Melchizedek was a normal
thing of that time. Abram was not a king. He was a tribe/clan leader (a wandering
Aramean in Biblical terminology Ref. Deut. 26: 5). Those days kings would
attack each other for control of territory and to get valuable things from
palaces, temples and from rich people of the region. When we say kings, we do
not have to compare them with the idea of kings of recent past.
They can also be tribal leaders and desert raiders.

It so happened that Lot, Abram’s nephew got in to trouble
and was taken captive by those raiders. This was intimated to Abram and he went
with his men and rescued Lot.  The king
of Sodom and his allies who were defeated by the invading army came and met
Abram and thanked him and offered all that Abram got from the raiders. King of
Salem brought some food for him, probably to thank and entertain him. Of course
king of Salem was not a party in the war. But wanted to thank him as Sodom was
in the neighborhood of Salem and any attack from outside would also be a threat
to Salem too. Remember that Salem was in the hill top and Sodom was in the
valley. It was easier to first take the valley and then go up to the mountain.
Though Salem was not under immediate threat, there was the possibility of  raiders coming back for the hill country. With
what Abram did, king of Salem had a sigh of relief at least for the time being.
So he came with food to entertain Abram and his warriors.
The king of Sodom and allies offered everything Abram captured from the raiders
which belonged to the defeated kings and their subjects. They asked Abram
to return only those people who were saved from the hands of the raiders. But
Abram gave away every thing because he did not want them say later that Abram
became rich because of the plunder he recovered from the raiders that
originally belonged to the king of Sodom and allies. More over he was not a
party to the war between two rival allied forces. He just wanted to rescue his
nephew.

This is the story in plain language. It so happened that king of Salem
was also the priest of the community and he worshiped El Eliyon (the most high
god or god of mountain. It was
an archaic poetic title). When it was linked with god of Israel many a time the
title was ‘Yahweh Elion” (Ps. 7:17/18). It should be noted that the name of the God of Abram
was not most high god, rather was God of Abram. But after the conquest
of Jerusalem by king David God of Abraham also was named “Most High
God”.  Abram had nothing to do with this god. In
the pre-Moses period God of Israel was commonly known as El Shaddai (almighty).
Those days gods were usually named after the tribe/clan leaders or important
place.

But it was Psalm 110 (which is a royal Psalm and it makes all the difference) who took the
idea of comparing the king of Israel with Melchizedek and his priestly
function. Israel’s kings were never priests. Some of the prophets were as a
matter of fact priests (eg. Isaiah). This lone reference in the Psalm was taken
up by the author of the epistle of Hebrews. This got transferred to Christian
circles and people made a case out of this. I would not call these statements
irrational or untrue. They are rather meditations of pious people who interpret
Bible and its content for the sake of their spiritual nourishment. It, however,
does not mean that every one has to follow that interpretation and should make it
a universally accepted fact. Some of these pious explanations may also get in
to liturgical text too.

To Orthodox Church the H. Qurbono is not a copy or
continuation of the upper room dinner alone. Of curse it is part of it. To us
the real Passover happened on the cross which was the climax of a life
dedicated for the salvation of creation. So H. Qurbono is the sum total of birth,
life, last supper, crucifixion, resurrection and ascension of our Lord (this is
expressly stated in the H. Qurbono). Jesus had bread and wine at the last
supper not because Melchizedek gave them to Abram. In the case of both Abram
and Jesus they were part of common meal. Jesus did not have meat on his table
because he was not celebrating Jewish Passover, rather he was doing it on the previous
day of Passover which was the day of "Anticipatory Passover" (cheru pesaha in Malayalam liturgical hynm. John 13:1. “Now
before the feast of Passover. Compare it with Matthew 26:17; Mk. 14:12. “Now
the first day...”). That is why he had leavened bread. Some times too many
traditions get entangled in one single expression of faith and it gets so
confusing. A careful study of the Bible and development of the liturgical
practices would get us to the crust of the matter and then we have to translate it to the
present day situation. This is what is the need of the time and that is our challenge.

Your second point is a response to my message to the OCYM
Gulf Region conference. Some one has to bell the cat. Why not you and me do
that? What prevents us from doing it is our selfish interests. We do not want
to get hurt because we addressed such issues. It is not an open question, it is
a question to a specific person you and me. See Isaiah 6 where God asking “Whom
shall I send?”. There was only one person, Isaiah. Though it might look as an
open question, it was addressed to Isaiah specifically. He addressed that
question positively, we do not. That is our problem and that is the problem of
our world, including “God’s Own Country”.


Melchizedek and Abram. (Picture courtesy: Heavenly Ascents)