Cover image: Melchizedek Blesses Abraham by Walter Rane.
Books under discussion in order of appearance:
John W. Welch, “The Melchizedek Material In Alma 13:13-19″,Ricks, Stephen D. & Lundquist, John M., Eds. By Study And Also By Faith: Essays In Honor of Hugh W. Nibley On the Occasion of His Eightieth Birthday, 2 Vols., (Salt Lake City, UT: Deseret Book and FARMS, 1990).
Michael E. Stone and Theodore A. Bergren, Eds., Biblical Figures Outside The Bible. (Harrisburg, PA: Trinity Press International, 1998). 447 pp. Hardcover (paperback–Bloomsbury, T&T Books).
Louis H. Feldman, James L. Kugel, and Lawrence H. Schiffman, Eds., Outside The Bible: Ancient Jewish Writings Related to Scriptures. (Philadelphia: PA: Jewish Publication Society [published by University of Nebraska Press], 2013). 3 vols. 3302 pp., Hardcover
Eric F. Mason, You Are A Priest Forever: Second Temple Jewish Messianism and the Priestly Christology of the Epistle to the Hebrews (Studies on the Texts of the Deserts Of Judah ). (Leiden, The Netherlands: Koninklijke Brill NV, 2008). 230 pp., Hardcover. (paperback–Brill, pub. 2014).
Andrei Orlov, Gabriele Boccaccini, and James M. Zurawicki, Eds. New Perspectives On 2 Enoch: No Longer Slavonic Only (Studia Judeoslavica ). (Leiden, The Netherlands: Koninklijke Brill NV, 2012). 477 pp., Hardcover.
Joshua G. Mathews, Melchizedek’s Alternative Priestly Order: A Compositional Analysis of Genesis 14:18-20 and its Echoes Throughout the Tanak, (Bulletin for Biblical Research Supplement 8). (Winona Lake: IN, Eisenbrauns, 2013). 137 pp., Hardcover.
Margaret Barker, King of the Jews: Temple Theology in John’s Gospel. (London: England: Society For Promoting Christian Knowledge [SPCK], 2014). 638 pp., Softcover.
Last week our Come Follow Me reading covered Section 84 of the Doctrine & Covenants. The section heading contains the statement, “The Prophet designated it a revelation on priesthood”. Verses 6-16 traces the granting of the Holy Priesthood from Adam through Melchizedek to Abraham and then down to Moses, “which he received under the hand of his father-in-law, Jethro” (v. 6). After a verse describing the priesthood given to “Aaron and his seed” (v. 18), verse 19 describes the powers of the “greater priesthood [which] administereth the gospel and holdeth the key of the mysteries of the kingdom, even the key of the knowledge of God.” Verses 20 and 21 explain that, “in the ordinances thereof, [of the greater priesthood] the power of godliness is manifest. And without the ordinances thereof, and the authority of the [greater] priesthood, the power of godliness is not manifest unto men in the flesh;” Verse 22 concludes, “ For without this no man can see the ace of God, even the Father, and live.”
Today, we have come to refer to the “greater” priesthood as the Melchizedek Priesthood. In a later section of the Doctrine & Covenants, Section 107, it is revealed that the first (i.e., the greater) priesthood, “is called the Melchizedek Priesthood . . . because Melchizedek was such a great high priest. Before his day it was called the Holy Priesthood after the Order of the Son of God.” (vv. 2-3, emphasis in original). Section 107 wasn’t received until 1835, while Section 84 was received in 1832. By that time, the “greater” or “Melchizedek” priesthood had already been given by ordination beginning in 1831. Ultimately, the greater priesthood became universally known in the Church as designated in Section 107, as named for Melchizedek.
Melchizedek, like Enoch, is a fascinating character who makes a very brief appearance in the Old Testament and then is not mentioned again. “Looming over the various priestly figures of the patriarchal period is that of Melchizedek (Gen. 14). Here is a singularly mysterious figure who all but vanishes from the canon as soon as he appears. . . .. Likewise, of all of the figures in Genesis, Melchizidek is the only one in the book called a priest of ‘El ‘Elyon, “God Most High.” He is referred to more extensively in the Epistle to the Hebrews, and, like Enoch, there is a host of extra-biblical literature about him. Thanks to other revelations by Joseph Smith (especially Alma Chapter 13 in the Book of Mormon and an extensive addition to Chapter 14 of Genesis in the Joseph Smith Translation), we have more information about him, but it does raise the question about what else we might discover about this mysterious, but important individual.
Years ago, I ran across a two-volume collection of essays honoring Hugh Nibley, what’s called a “Festscrift”. By Study And Also By Faith, is edited by Stephen D. Ricks and John M. Lundquist. I was not then familiar with the tradition of “Festschrift” in biblical scholarship (a German word for a celebratory collection of writings) where students and other scholars would contribute an essay in honor of their colleague, teacher and mentor; but I was impressed by the collection of scholars contributing, especially those who were not LDS: Jacob Milgrom, Jacob Neusner, Aziz Ataya, James Charlesworth and others. I’ve since come to study the works of those scholars, which has aided my personal studies tremendously.
One of the most intriguing essays in the collection was from the second volume. It was called “The Melchizedek Material In Alma 13:13-19″. (Ricks & Lundquist, pp. 238-272). It was written by John W. Welch, who was one of my law professors at BYU. I’d
taken his Biblical Law class and his applications of biblical law to the Book of Mormon resonate with me to this day. The article told me more about Melchizedek the historical figure than I had ever known. Anyone desiring to learn more about Melchizedek from an LDS viewpoint, would do well to start here.
In the article, Welch carefully and methodically explained how Alma used Melchizedek in Chapter 13 and where he likely got his information. He showed parallels with what little we knew and understood about Melchizedek at the time and provided references where we could go to learn more. These references are foundational and most of the scholars discussed in this article begin with the basic sources quoted by Welch and then build in the directions discussed here. Re-visiting Welch’s article, after accounting for the material I’ve discussed here, shows what an impressive foundation he laid in terms of what we know about this ancient prophet.
Thanks to a virtual explosion of work on Melchizedek in the almost three decades since Welch wrote his article, we have even more of what Alma may have used. The books discussed here range from conservative and traditional from an “orthodox” standpoint to a radical departure from that same viewpoint. In addition, the more we learn about Melchizedek, the more we see how the ancient works tentatively fill in some of those details that Alma emphasized.
An excellent beginning for a general reader is a 1998 book edited by Michael E. Stone and Theodore A. Bergren called Biblical Figures Outside The Bible. This book contains 13 essays on various prophets from the Bible like Adam, Enoch, Noah and Abraham as well as others. Each essay provides an overview of what we can learn about those figures from works other than the Bible, like the Dead Sea Scrolls, various pseudepigrapha or other ancient commentators. The essays are not of equal strength. The seventh chapter is “Melchizedek in Early Judaism, Christianity, and Gnosticism” (Stone & Berger, pp. 176-202). It’s written by Birger A. Pearson and contains a similar summary of where scholarship was when Welch wrote his article.
Pearson is the co-translator (with Søren Giversen) of Melchizedek (IX,1) in James Robinson’s Nag Hammadi Library. The purpose behind Pearson’s article is to answer the questions raised by the treatment of Melchizedek in the Book of Hebrews: “Is all of this [Christ’s role as a ‘high priest according to the order of Melchizedek’ (Heb. 5:10; 6:20; 7-26-28)] due to this author’s inventiveness as an interpreter of scripture? Or rather, does Hebrews reflect the existence of nonbiblical Jewish interpretive traditions on which its author draws, if only to subordinate Melchizedek to Christ?” (Stone & Bergren, p. 179). Pearson has a different emphasis than Welch, but he does find traditions about Melchizidek that are not included in the traditional Hebrew Bible.
One thing Pearson points out is that there are two significantly different traditions about Melchizedek (Stone & Bergren, p. 198) There is a strain which refers to Melchizedek as a human, historical figure–the one who met Abraham following his rescue of Lot in Genesis 14, and the other describes a heavenly, angelic figure from the final battle, as in the Dead Sea Scroll found in Cave 11 at Qumran (Stone & Bergren, p. 192) and in the Nag Hammadi texts and other early Christian or Gnostic documents as a heavenly judge and redeemer figure. Both of these representations should be kept in mind when reading the Melchizedek literature. Melchizedek also has a dual role of both High Priest and King in Genesis, Hebrews and the Dead Sea Scrolls. This dual role deserves more extensive treatment another time.
Excellent renditions and translations of documents are found in the three volume, Outside The Bible: Ancient Jewish Writings Related To Scripture which was released by the Jewish Publication Society in 2013. This massive (almost 3,400 pages!) work is edited by Louis H. Feldman, James L. Kugel, and Lawrence H. Schiffman. It contains excerpts or entire documents of many of the most important non-biblical writings from ancient Judaism. There are several essays written for the educated layperson and the annotations and notes are similar to those found in the excellent Jewish Publication Society Study Bible. The two most applicable to Melchizedek are the Genesis Apocryphon, translation and commentary by Matthew J. Morgenstern and Michael Segal, (Vol. 1, pp. 237-262) and the Melchizedek Scroll from Qumran, translation and commentary by Joseph L. Angel, (Vol. 2, pp. 1482-1489).
The virtual explosion of Melchizedek material since Welch’s essay in 1990 is thoroughly catalogued in Eric Mason’s 2008 work, You Are A Priest Forever: Second Temple Jewish Messianism and the Priestly Chronology of the Epistle To the Hebrews. The best news about Mason’s book is that its available in softcover at a very reasonable price for a book of biblical scholarship. Mason’s book is a description of the role of Jesus as the High Priest as it would have been understood in Second Temple times (post 600 B.C. to the time of Christ). The heart of the book is the third and fourth chapters, which describe various “messianic priests” from that time period and then “Melchizedek traditions” and how the two offices intertwine.
In 2009, Mason summarized the Melchizedek material in his book in a contribution to the Fifth Enoch Seminar in Naples, Italy in the summer of 2009. The collection was published in 2012 and provides an astonishing amount of Melchizedek material in New Perspectives on 2 Enoch: No Longer Slavonic Only. (Orlov, et. al, pp. 343-455). The final section in the book is called “Melchizedek Traditions” and contains six articles in its 112 pages. In addition to Mason’s summary of his findings and research, there is a response which raises important questions by Hebrew scholar Devorah Dimant (Orlov, et. al, pp. 361-367); an article by Pierluigi Piovanelli about the Early Christian references to Melchizedek (including the Story of Melchizedek found in the Nag Hammadi texts (Orlov, et. al, pp. 411-429); an article pointing out the connections between Enoch and Melchizedek by Charles A. Gieschen (Orlov, et. al, pp. 369-385).
For me, the most fascinating article was written by Harold W. Attridge in a follow-up to his Melchizedek comments in his Hebrews commentary in the Hermeneia series (which were minimal). In his article, Attridge admits that a quarter-century after writing about the parallels between Hebrews and the Melchizedek account in 2 Enoch, he detected a pattern in the parallels between them that suggested “that there was more than casual contact” (Orlov, et. al, p.387). He now argues that, “the (or an) author of 2 Enoch knew Hebrews’ version of the [Melchizedek] tradition and offered an alternative tale about Melchizedek.” (Orlov, et. al, p. 387). While I don’t ultimately agree with Attridge’s final conclusions, his arguments provide a fascinating background to the place Melchizedek holds in modern understandings of the priesthood and Jesus’ office as the ultimate high priest. There is a lot more in New Perspectives on 2 Enoch which will interest Latter Day Saints which is pointed out in a particularly thorough review by David A. Larsen in BYU Studies.
There are other interpretations of Melchizedek that are more radical in the eyes of “traditional” scholars. While they are still a minority, their interpretations are no longer being simply ignored, but are being considered and addressed by their peers. Recent scholarship on Melchizedek has taken an interesting turn with the release of Melchizedek’s Alternative Priestly Order: A Compositional Analysis of Genesis 14:18-20 and Its Echoes Throughout the Tanak. In this 2013 book, Joshua G. Mathews focuses on Genesis 14:18-20. From those three verses and an analysis of the rest of the Hebrew Bible, he comes to some startling conclusions. First, that Melchizedek plays an important role in the Abrahamic covenant (Mathews, pp. 54-69). Second, that Melchizedek’s identity as a King links closely to the Davidic kings (Mathews, pp. 70-78). Finally, that Melchizedek’s priesthood was an alternative to the priesthood that originated with Aaron. (Mathews, p. 52). This final point actually argues that Melchizedek’s priesthood lineage was unrelated to Aaron, that it was tied in with the kings and that Aaron’s priesthood was a subordinate one.
Margaret Barker is a Methodist biblical scholar who has become popular in LDS circles over the past three decades. Since 2004, her primary emphasis has been on what she calls “Temple Theology”. Her work on the temple has (perhaps naturally) increased her emphasis and study of Melchizedek and her works tend to build upon one another. Barker and others founded The Temple Studies Group in England which has substantial contribution and participation from LDS scholars. The first of its (mostly) annual symposia, was called “Melchizedek In Scripture, Tradition and Liturgy”
Her latest book is King of the Jews: Temple Theology in John’s Gospel. In this book, she takes a far different approach from previous commentaries. “The ‘background’ to the Fourth Gospel is temple tradition and the memories and hopes of those who longed for the true temple to be restored.” (Barker, p. 2) “ In this book I shall first address the question of names: who were the Jews and who were the Hebrews; then I shall show how the older ways of the royal high priests, the Melchi-Zedek priests, were almost lost when the Moses traditions came to dominate during the second-temple period; and finally I shall show how the original temple teachings were restored by Jesus, who was proclaimed as ‘a great high priest (Heb. 4:14), as ‘another priest raised up in the likeness of Melchi-zedek’ (Heb. 7:15, my translation), and also as ‘the King of the Jews’ (John 19:19)” (Barker, p. 19).
The first third of the book contains Barker’s summary of her interpretations of the first temple, when those teachings and practices changed and/or were lost and how Jesus restored them. The last two thirds is a summary of the Gospel of John, chapter by chapter with an application of Barker’s “Temple Theology”. It is this commentary that makes King of the Jews one of Barker’s best. It is also her emphasis on the first temple, that of Melchizedek that makes this book one that will particularly interest Latter Day Saints. One of the most notable examples is Barker’s description of the miracle at Cana where, “Offering water instead of wine was the sign of Melchi-Zedek”. (Barker, p. 188). Another non-LDS scholar to watch is Crispin Fletcher-Louis in his multi-volume Jesus Monotheism. His contribution to the Orlov-Boccaccinni book above is effectively described and rightfully admired by David A. Larsen.
Of course, our understanding and analysis of the scriptural Melchizedek and the priesthood named for him continues. The figure of Melchizedek and who he was will continue to be controversial. Two years ago, Oxford published Melchizedek: King of Sodom, in which Robert R. Cargill argues that the figure of Melchizedek was created by the scribes of Second Temple Judaism in order to justify the practice of paying tithes to the Levitical priests of Jerusalem and to provide a rationale for the priesthood of Christ. 
It must be kept in mind that most of the material I’ve cited above comes from the so-called Second Temple period, almost all of which occurred after Nephi left Jerusalem. However, it is becoming increasingly evident that knowledge of Melchizedek was far more ancient than the Second Temple era, as evidenced by Alma’s knowledge of those sources described in Welch’s article. Alma’s comments about Melchizedek in Chapter 13 inspire me and leave me in awe of the power that converted an entire people. God’s power can be used to bless all of His children, especially as our world becomes ever more distanced from the things of God.
The best one-volume biography on Joseph Smith yet written is Richard Bushman’s Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling, which came out in 2005. One of my favorite passages in the book (among many), is Bushman’s description of Joseph teaching about the Melchizedek Priesthood and its power:
In a log schoolhouse on a hill is a forested countryside, plain people of little education and much zeal sit before him on slab benches. He is one of them, an ordinary man among ordinary men. He speaks of his visions and their possibilities, trying to invest them with power and intelligence beyond his capacity to describe. They listen transfixed, puzzled, and sometimes fearful. They know a power beyond the ordinary plays around them. They want to grasp it and make it their own. Can they break mountains and divide the seas? Can they put the armies of nations at defiance? sometimes they are uncertain. Sometimes they burn with perfect certainty. They feel their lives are being elevated, their persons empowered. The concerns of farms, shops, and families drop away, and they dedicate their lives to the work.
Even though I have spent so much time and effort studying Joseph and the history of the Church, I still feel like I’m one of those brethren on the slab benches, “transfixed, puzzled, and sometimes fearful.” Reading about Joseph and Melchizedek makes me want more than ever to let the concerns of the world drop away and improve my ability at the work.
* Terry L. Hutchinson is a practicing attorney with an interest in Latter-day Saint history and doctrine, as well as Biblical Law, particularly the Law of Moses. He is married to the former JeNée Gifford and they have five children and seven grandchildren. Since 1994, he has produced a twice-daily book review show on KDXU Radio in St. George, Utah. He also co-hosts monthly on the Interpreter Radio broadcasts with John Gee and Kevin Christensen. He’s also currently serving as a member of the Washington County School Board, based in St. George, Utah.
. . Smith, Steven C., The House of the Lord: A Catholic-Biblical Theology of God’s Temple Presence in the Old and New Testaments, (Steubenville, OH: Franciscan University Press, 2017), pp. 98-99.
. . A reprint of this article can also be found online in the scholars archive of the Maxwell Institute website.
. This analysis culminated in his release of a full book on the topic. John W. Welch, Legal
Cases in The Book of Mormon, (Provo, UT: BYU Press, 2008).
. Robinson, James, M., Ed., The Nag Hammadi Library, Third Revised Edition, (San Francisco,
CA: Harper & Row, 1988) pp. 438-444.
. This is also pointed out in the excellent entry on Melchizedek by Andrei A. Orlov under the
heading “Melchizedek”, Collins, John J. & Harlow, Daniel C., eds., The Eerdmans
Dictionary of Early Judaism, (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2010) , esp. 931-32.
. , Id., Eric F. Mason, “Melchizedek Scroll”, pp. 932-33. See also, “The Figure of Melchizedek in Gnostic Literature”, pp.108-23, Pearson, Birger A., Gnosticism, Judaism, and Egyptian Christianity, (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress, 1990).
. Israel Knohl, “Melchizedek: A Model For the Union of Kingship and Priesthood in the Hebrew Bible, 11QMelchizedek, and the Epistle To The Hebrews”, pp. 255-266, Clements, Ruth A. & Schwartz, Daniel R., Text, Thought and Practice: Qumran and Early Christianity. (Leiden, Netherlands: Kininklijke Brill, 2009), p. 266.
. Berlin, Adele & Brettler, Marc Zvi, Eds., The Jewish Study Bible, Second Edition, Jewish
Publication Society TANAKH Translation, (New York, NY: Oxford University Press,
2014) hardcover, pp. 2334 plus maps.
. As an indication of how the works and the author’s scholarly background are tied together,
Joseph L. Angel, the translator of the Melchizedek text has written Otherworldly and
Eschatological Priesthood in the Dead Sea Scrolls, (Leiden, Netherlands: E. J. Konike
Brill, 2010), pp. 393. See esp. pp. 146-164.
. The Enoch Seminar is a group of scholars who meet and write on various “Second Temple”
Issues. The group’s website, enochseminar.org, provides substantial information. Proceedings of the various conferences have been published over the years by various publishers. New Perspectives on 2 Enoch is the publication of the 5th seminar.
. Attridge, Harold W., The Epistle to the Hebrews: A Commentary, Hermeneia (Philadelphia,
PA: Fortress) 1989 (pp. 189-195).
. David A. Larsen, “Review of Andrei Orlov and Gabriele Boccaccini, eds. New Perspectives
on 2 Enoch: No Longer Slavonic Only, Leiden, Brill, 2012), BYU Studies Quarterly, Vol.
54 No. 1, 2015, pp. 209-221, esp. 213-217.
. “In the figure of Melchizedek in Hebrews, as in 11QMelchizedek, we see the new
combination of an eschatological King and High Priest, who is at the same time the
redeemer of his people”. p. 266. Israel Knohl, “Melchizedek: A Model For the Union of
Kingship and Priesthood in the Hebrew Bible, 11QMelchizedek, and the Epistle To The
Hebrews”, Clements, Ruth A. & Schwartz, Daniel R., Text, Thought and Practice in
Qumran and Early Christianity. (Leiden, Netherlands: Kininklijke Brill, 2009), esp. pp. 255-266.
. An excellent introduction to her early work and its relation to the Latter Day Saints (pre-2000) is by Kevin J. Christensen (one of my co-hosts on Interpreter Radio), “Paradigms Regained: A Survey of Margaret Barker’s Scholarship and its Significance For Mormon Studies.” FARMS Occasional Papers, No. 2, 2001.
. Temple Theology: An Introduction. (London, England: Society For Promoting Christian
Knowledge, 2004) softcover, pp. 112.
. See also the following works by Barker: The Hidden Tradition of the Kingdom of God,
London, England: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 2007), softcover, pp. 154
esp. pp. 37-38, 49-50, 64-76. Temple Mysticism: An Introduction, (London, England:
Society For Promoting Christian Knowledge, 2011) softcover, pp. 191, esp. pp. 105-107.
Temple Themes In Christian Worship, (London, England: T & T Clark, 2007) softcover,
pp. 296, esp. pp. 95-98.
. Symposium held in London, England on 8 November, 2008 at St. Stephen’s House, Oxford.
See: http://www.templestudiesgroup.com/Symposia/Symposium1.htm. The contribution
by C.T.R. Hayward was eventually published as “Melchizedek As Priest Of the Jerusalem Temple inTalmud, Midrash And Targum”, Targums and the Transmission of Scripture into Judaism and Christianity, (Leidens, Netherlands: E.J. Konike Brill, 2010) hardcover pp. 447, esp. pp. 377-399. Another Melchizedek article in the same volume is “Shem, Melchizedek, and Concern with Christianity in the Pentateuchal Targumim” pp. 3-16.
. Fletcher-Louis, Crispin, Jesus Monotheism Volume 1: Christological Origins: The Emerging
Consensus and Beyond. (Eugene, Oregon: Cascade Books, 2015). Volumes 2, 3, and 4 are forthcoming. In a summary, Fletcher-Louis promises significant treatment of the divine role of high priest as applied to Jesus, especially in Volumes 3 and 4. See jesusmonotheism.com for more details. Preliminary treatments are found in, “Jesus as the High Priestly Messiah: Part 1″, Journal for the Study of the Historical Jesus, Vol. 4.2, 2006, pp. 155-175 and “Jesus as the High Priestly Messiah: Part 2, Journal for the Study of the Historical Jesus, Vol. 5.1, 2007, pp. 57-79. In addition, at least some of Fletcher-Louis’ other articles and books are worthy of study by the Latter Day Saints. See David Larson, op. cit., note 12 above.
. David Larson, op. cit., Note 12 above.
. Chan, Alan Kam-Yau, Melchizedek Passages In The Bible: A Case Study For Inner-Biblical
And Inter-Biblical Interpretation, (Berlin, Germany: De Guryter, 2016).
. Chang, Dongshin Don, Phinehas, the Sons of Zadok, and Melchizedek: Priestly Covenant In
Late Second Temple Texts (London, England: T&T Clark, 2016). Softcover Edition, 2019.
. Cargill, Robert R., Melchizedek, King of Sodom: How Scribes Invented the Biblical Priest-King (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2019).
. “The roughly 600-year Second Temple period is framed by the destruction of the First Temple (to be rebuilt ca. 520-515 B.C.E.) And the Babylonian Exile of 586, on the one side, and the destruction of the Second Temple in the course of a Jewish revolt against Rome in 66-73 C.E., on the other” Alan J. Avery-Peck, “Jews, Judaism”, Freedman, David Noel, Ed., Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible, (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2000), p. 711.
. . . Bushman, Richard L., Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling, (New York, NY: Knopf, 2005), p. 160.