Qumran and the Messiah – Part Two, The Heavenly Prince Melchizedek

Continuing from the last post, talking about fragments from Qumran and their relevance to messianism, let us move on to the fragment from Qumran called the “Heavenly Prince Melchizedek” (11Q13) or the “Melchizedek document.” This fragment gives us a pointed look into the mindset of at least some Jews in the century prior to Jesus. Like the Messianic Apocalypse, the Melchizedek document is dated to the early first century B.C.E. Here is the fragment:

And concerning that which He said, In this year of Jubilee each of you shall return to his property (Lev. xxv, 13); and likewise, And this is the manner of release: every creditor shall release that which he has lent [to his neighbour. He shall not exact it of his neighbour and his brother], for God’s release has been proclaimed (Deut. xv, 2). And it will be proclaimed at the end of days concerning the captives as He said, To proclaim liberty to the captives (Isa. lxi, 1). Its interpretation is that He will assign them to the Sons of Heaven and to the inheritance of Melchizedek; for He will cast their lot amid the portions of Melchizedek, who will return them there and will proclaim to them liberty, forgiving them the wrong-doings of all their iniquities. And this thing will occur in the first week of the Jubilee that follows the nine Jubilees. And the Day of Atonement is the end of the tenth Jubilee, when all the Sons of Light and the men of the lot of Melchizedek will be atoned for. And a statute concerns them to provide them with their rewards. For this is the moment of the Year of Grace for Melchizedek.

those who uphold the Covenant, who turn from walking in the way of the people. And your ELOHIM is Melchizedek, who will save them from the hand of Belial.

One thing that struck me immediately was that the Melchizedek figure and the eschatology accompanying him is introduced as an allegorical interpretation of the Jubilee Law. Not only the Jubilee law, but also Isaiah 61:1, from which Jesus drew his mission statement in Luke 4:18, 19. This makes it clear that, for the writer of the Melchizedek document, the Jubilee wasn’t just some routine economic regulation, nor was it just another festival; rather, it had eschatological implications.

The Jubilee, the Sabbatical year (cited in reference to God’s release being proclaimed) and the proclamation of Liberty cited in Isaiah 61 are all linked together, and linked to the ultimate atonement through the messianic figure of Melchizedek.

The forgiveness of debt, which is part of the Jubilee and the sabbatical, is linked to the forgiving of wrong-doings and iniquities. In this document, the “Day of Atonement” but rather the tenth Jubilee, which is said to be the time when the big eschatological Jubilee will happen, the “Year of Grace.” In this document (along with Christian theology), the Jubilee is taken and turned into an eschatological hope, a social and moral revolution where Justice will ultimately be done.

When we compare this text to the theology of early Christianity we see many other parallels, not least of which is the presentation of Melchizedek as a messianic figure. The biblical passage most cited in the New Testament is Psalms 110:1, which is cited as a messianic prophetic text. In verse four of this text the “lord” who will sit at the right hand of YHWH is said to be:

a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.

This passage is cited later on in the New Testament book of Hebrews 5:6 and later expanded on in Chapter 7:

11 Now if perfection had been attainable through the levitical priesthood—for the people received the law under this priesthood—what further need would there have been to speak of another priest arising according to the order of Melchizedek, rather than one according to the order of Aaron? 12 For when there is a change in the priesthood, there is necessarily a change in the law as well. 13 Now the one of whom these things are spoken belonged to another tribe, from which no one has ever served at the altar. 14 For it is evident that our Lord was descended from Judah, and in connection with that tribe Moses said nothing about priests.

15 It is even more obvious when another priest arises, resembling Melchizedek, 16 one who has become a priest, not through a legal requirement concerning physical descent, but through the power of an indestructible life. 17 For it is attested of him,

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

The writer of Hebrews is here making a theological point supporting his concept of the “New Covenant” (a concept also found within the Qumran documents) and atonement theology through the change of priesthood from Aaron to Melchizedek. Part of the role of a priest was the sacrifices of atonement, both the early Christian Sect, and the Qumran sect had some problems with the Jerusalem Temple High Priesthood (to say the least).

Both the Christians and the Qumran Sects were dedicated to the traditions found in the Hebrew Bible, they were concerned with being the covenantal people of God. So it would make sense that they would look for a figure who they could take as a prophetic framework for a new cultic order, Melchizedek certainly fits the bill.

The Melchizedek connection also fits with Christian and Qumran eschatology, both Sects spoke of a messianic renewing of Israel, a bringing about of the big eschatological Jubilee. The renewing of Israel would also require a renewing of the temple, and if your messiah was typologically linked to Melchizedek, you had both a King and a Priest in one to renew Israel Socially (Jubilee) and Culticly (through a new priestly order). The Jubilee and the Melchizedek typologies go a long way in understanding the revolutionary messianism that preceded Christianity and was Christianity, a renewing of Israel through Social and Economic Justice, moral uprightness and a pure form of atonement.

Qumran and the Messiah – Part Two, The Heavenly Prince Melchizedek

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