The Melchizedek Material in Alma 13:

The Melchizedek Material in Alma

John W. Welch
Brigham Young University,
Provo, Utah

Alma’s discourse on how man comes to
know and participate in the plan of redemption (Alma 12:9-13:30)
contains a noteworthy
use of the material about Melchizedek in Genesis 14:17-24 and in other sources available to him. For Alma, the story of Melchizedek is a
commanding illustration of how a person can obtain knowledge of the mysteries
of the gospel and attain the blessings of sacred priesthood ordinances through
faith, repentance, and righteousness (cf. Alma 12:30; 13:3, 10).
Drawing these specific illustrations and teachings out of the Genesis and other
accounts is unparalleled in a vast array of literature, which treats
Melchizedek in a variety of ways.1

Alma found his basic information about
Melchizedek in the books of Moses and from the ancient history of the Jews
written on the plates of brass (1 Nephi 5:11-12)
that were in his possession (Alma 37:1-3).
In exploring his use of that material, this article approaches Alma’s text from
several directions. First, I examine Alma’s discourse, focusing in particular
on his comments about Melchizedek. Second, I consider Alma’s possible sources.
He may have had a text similar to the short and puzzling text of Genesis 14:17-24,
yet more than likely his scriptures contained a longer account similar to JST, Genesis 14:17-40.
In conjunction with my discussion of the traditional biblical material, I also
consider the major interpretations which subsequent Jews and Christians have
imposed upon that material through the ages. Those diverse interpretations
provide an interesting comparison to the rich messages of Alma 13:13-19.

The Melchizedek Text in Alma 13

Alma turned to Melchizedek to
illustrate the doctrine that all people may obtain knowledge of the mysteries
of God through humility, righteousness, and the ordinances of the priesthood.
It is not the historical details about Melchizedek himself that are important
to Alma, but rather the symbolic priesthood ordinances associated with him.
Melchizedek was a man of God and peace because he had obtained the spiritual
powers and knowledge necessary to lead his people into the rest of the Lord
through the order of the Son.

Alma’s text is of particular interest
for several reasons. First it is unique—sui generis. No other known sermon has imputed such a practical
religious and ceremonial meaning to Melchizedek, although in certain respects
the sacerdotal approach of 2 Enoch and the account in the Joseph Smith Translation (discussed below) come close.

Second, on its face it is one of the
earliest extant expositions of the significance of Melchizedek. Working in the
early first century B.C., Alma acknowledged that ancient scriptures stood
behind his interpretation (Alma 13:20).
Unless Alma was radically interpolating his sources (which seems unlikely in
light of his own warning in Alma 13:20 that readers of the scriptures should not “wrest them” ), his text is
based upon a preexilic version of Genesis 14 (and perhaps other sources), known to him from the plates of brass.

Third, it gives us a rare opportunity
to see one of the most fertile minds and sensitive spirits among the Book of
Mormon prophets at work on a passage of ancient scripture. Where other Jewish
and Christian interpreters have seen only remote abstractions, precedents, or
shadows, Alma brings forth powerful lessons on humility, repentance,
priesthood, ordinances, and revelation.

Alma’s sermon in chapters 12 and 13
teaches the principle that God will provide men access to certain mysteries of
God (Alma
12:9-11). The first verse of this sermon sets the theme for the entire
discourse. Alma says that many know these mysteries as priests (Alma 13:1),
but they are laid under a strict condition of secrecy (Alma 12:9)
that can be lifted only by the diligence and repentance of the children of men
(Alma 12:9-11; 13:18;
cf. Alma
26:22). The plan provides all mankind a chance to know the mysteries in
full (Alma
12:10), by humility (Alma 12:10-11; 13:13-14)
and through the ministrations of properly ordained priests (Alma 13:16;
cf. Mosiah
2:9; Alma

The substantive portion of the sermon (Alma 12:12-27)
describes the judgment of God and tells how man can avert a second death
through obedience to a new set of commandments. According to Alma’s exposition,
the fall of mankind was prefigured by Adam violating a first set of
commandments (Alma
12:22); thus men must die in order to come to judgment (Alma 12:24).
Messengers (i.e., “angels,” Alma 12:29)
were then sent, and God conversed with men, making known the plan of mercy
through the Son (Alma 12:29).
Man was then given a second set of commandments (Alma 12:32)
accompanied by an oath that whoever broke those commandments should not enter
into the rest or presence of the Lord (Alma 12:35)
but would die the ultimate or last death (Alma 12:36).

Following this introductory
explanation, Alma expounds upon the Nephite procedure through which the
ordinances of the priesthood were received (see Alma 13:16)
and how men might choose between obeying the Lord’s commandments and thereby
“enter[ing] into the rest of the Lord” (Alma 13:16),
or rebelliously disobeying him and suffering death. The Nephite ordination was
a symbolic ritual, since it was performed “in a manner that thereby the
people might know in what manner to look forward to his Son for
redemption” (Alma 13:2).
That manner is discussed by Alma only in veiled terms.2 Candidates were
“called and prepared from the foundation of the world” (Alma 13:3)
with a “holy calling” (Alma 13:3, 5, 8).3 This calling was
according to a “preparatory redemption” from before the creation of
the world (Alma
13:3), and it was patterned after, in, and through the preparation of the
Son (Alma
13:5). Then they were “ordained with a holy ordinance” (Alma 13:8),
“taking upon them the high priesthood of the holy order” (Alma 13:6, 8-9).
Thereby the candidates became “high priests forever, after the order of
the Son” (Alma
13:9). Following these preparations, and after making a choice to work
righteousness rather than to perish (Alma 13:10),
the candidate was sanctified by the Holy Ghost, his garments were washed white,
and he “entered into the rest of the Lord” (Alma 13:12).

Having thus discussed this ordination
procedure, Alma discusses Melchizedek as the archetype of high priests after
this order of the Son. He gives the following account:

The Need for Humility and Signs of

And now, my brethren, I would that ye
should humble yourselves before God, and bring forth fruit meet for repentance,
that ye may also enter into that rest. Yea, humble yourselves even as the
people in the days of Melchizedek, who was also a high priest after this same
order which I have spoken, who also took upon him the high priesthood forever.
And it was this same Melchizedek to whom Abraham paid tithes; yea even our
father Abraham paid tithes of one-tenth part of all he possessed (Alma 13:13-15).

The Need for Symbolic Ordinances:

Now these ordinances were given after
this manner, that thereby the people might look forward on the Son of God, it
being a type of his order, or it being his order, and this that they might look
forward to him for a remission of their sins, that they might enter into the
rest of the Lord (Alma 13:16).

Melchizedek as a Leader to Peace
through Repentance:

Now this Melchizedek was a king over
the land of Salem; and his people had waxed strong in iniquity and abomination;
yea, they had all gone astray; they were full of all manner of wickedness. But
Melchizedek having exercised mighty faith, and received the office of the high
priesthood according to the holy order of God, did preach repentance unto his
people. And behold, they did repent; and Melchizedek did establish peace in the
land in his days; therefore he was called the prince of peace, for he was the
king of Salem; and he did reign under his father (Alma 13:17-18).

The Greatness of Melchizedek among

Now, there were many before him, and
also there were many afterwards, but none were greater; therefore, of him they
have more particularly made mention (Alma 13:19).

For Alma, Melchizedek was a great high
priest who took upon him the high priesthood forever after the order of the Son
that Alma has described. Melchizedek’s people were wicked, but through
repentance, they became humble and were taught by certain ordinances how to
look forward on the Son of God for a remission of sins. In this way,
Melchizedek established peace in the land of Salem, where he ruled under his

In order to compare this information
about Melchizedek with that in the Bible, I now turn to examine the biblical
narrative and how it has been interpreted.

Genesis 14:17-24 in the Old Testament

Alma’s material is fundamentally
related to the text of Genesis 14,
which contains some of the most ancient history in the Old Testament.4 Although any quest for a
conclusive picture of the historical Melchizedek may ultimately be stifled by
our lack of contemporaneous information about the man and his period, an
examination of the ancient literature pertaining to him yields valuable
insights into the theological treatment of this religious figure through the

Genesis 14:17-24 is the fountainhead of many ideas about Melchizedek. This text recounts the
following events:

The Meeting:

And the king of Sodom went out to meet
him [Abraham] after his return from the slaughter of Chedorlaomer, and of the
kings that were with him, at the valley of Shaveh, which is the king’s dale (Genesis 14:17).

Melchizedek’s Appearance:

And Melchizedek king of Salem brought
forth bread and wine: and he was the priest of the most high God (El Elyon) (Genesis 14:18).

Melchizedek’s Blessing:

And he blessed him, and said, Blessed
be Abram of the most high God, possessor of heaven and earth: And blessed be
the most high God, which hath delivered thine enemies into thy hand (Genesis 14:19-20).

The Payment of Tithes:

And he gave him tithes of all (Genesis 14:20).

Division of the Spoils:

And the king of Sodom said unto Abram,
Give me the persons, and take the goods to thyself. And Abram said to the king
of Sodom, I have lift up mine hand unto the Lord, the most high God, the
possessor of heaven and earth, That I will not take from a thread even to a
shoelatchet, and that I will not take any thing that is thine, lest thou
shouldest say, I have made Abram rich: [I will take] only that which the young
men have eaten, and the portion of the men which went with me, Aner, Eshcol,
and Mamre; let them take their portion (Genesis 14:21-24).

In his brief encounter with Abraham
described in this account, Melchizedek appears as a moderator of peace serving
a dual political and religious role, probably in sanctioning Abraham’s
disposition of the spoils of war. In the battle, Abraham had freed his nephew
Lot, a resident of Sodom, who had been taken captive when Sodom fell to
Chedorlaomer and his allies. Upon Abraham’s return, the king of Sodom came out
to meet him. At this point, Melchizedek, king of Salem and priest of El the
Most High, brought forth bread (or “food”) and wine, and blessed
Abraham with a hymn of beatification, extolling God’s deliverance of the enemy
into Abraham’s hands. Tithes were then paid, although Abraham refused to accept
any spoils of war taken from Sodom, lest it should ever be thought that the
king of Sodom, rather than God, had enriched Abraham.

In general, the organizational
dependence of Alma’s words on Genesis 14 is
apparent. Similar in length, the lines of these two passages concerning the
payment of tithes (Genesis 14:20; Alma 13:15),
Melchizedek’s priesthood (Genesis 14:19; Alma 13:14),
and the designation of Melchizedek as the king over the land of Salem (Genesis 14:18; Alma 13:18)
are closely related. Nevertheless, Alma’s text is interpretively independent.
His perspective provides unique meanings: Where Genesis begins by simply
describing powerful earthly kings meeting humbly before this righteous man of
God (Genesis
14:17), Alma goes on to draw an express lesson on humility (Alma 13:13-14);
where the Genesis text next speaks of Melchizedek blessing Abraham (Genesis 14:19),
Alma next speaks of the ordinances whereby all people might be blessed (Alma 13:16);
and where Genesis finally discusses the division of spoils and Abraham’s
forbearance (14:21-24), Alma concludes by expounding upon the wickedness of the
people and their repentance led by Melchizedek’s influence (Alma 13:17-18).

When we turn to specifics, however, the
Hebrew text leaves many questions unanswered. Out of this account has arisen a
multitude of intractable questions over which scholars have puzzled. Consider
the Hebrew name Malkîsedeq. Does
it hold some hidden meaning? It may be translated in many ways, including,
“the King is Righteous,” or “the King is Legitimate,” or
perhaps “Righteousness is King,”5 or “My Lord is
Sedeq (a Canaanite deity).”6 The intrinsic meanings
in these roots themselves have led some to claim that Melchizedek is not a
personal name in Genesis 14:18 at all. The words may simply refer epithetically to “the just king”7 (the king of Sodom?),8 or, as Albright
suggests, they may be a corruption of a line once reading “the king who
was allied with [Abraham].”9

The questions proliferate. What was Melchizedek’s
political position? What city or land did he rule? Was it Jerusalem, or another
town, or is this reference to “Salem” merely figurative?10 What was his lineage
and priesthood, and what was the effect of his blessing upon Abraham? What
relations had he previously had with Abraham? Had a political treaty or a
religious covenant regarding the campaign against Chedorlaomer been entered
into between Abraham and Melchizedek before the war? Why would Melchizedek meet
Abraham in the field outside any city walls, especially if the meeting had
religious significance? What significance did the offering of bread and wine
have?11 Who paid
tithes to whom,12 and
were the tithes religious contributions or political tribute?13 Who was Melchizedek’s
God, El Elyon, the Most High God?14 My purpose is not to
belabor the obfuscated. The point is simply that the Hebrew text and all
archaeological efforts to clarify it offer little in the way of answers. Aside
from the perspectives given by additional scripture or inspiration such as that
offered by Alma, only theology generates avenues for dealing with these

The only other Old Testament passage in
which Melchizedek appears is Psalm 110.15 It has been read in
two general ways.16 The standard reading, found in the King James Version, follows the Septuagint,
where the theme of the psalm is political victory over enemies (Psalms 110:1-2) through the strength of the Lord (Psalms 110:5-7),
with a central affirmation of the righteous reign of the Davidic monarch over a
willing people Israel (Psalms 110:3-4):
“Thy people shall be willing in the day of thy power. . . . Thou art a
priest forever after the order of (cal dibratî) Melchizedek.” A relationship
between the political blessing conveyed in this rendition and the literary image
of Melchizedek’s blessing of Abraham’s military victory in Genesis 14 is
readily discernible.

A second reading of the Psalm, however,
is suggested by Mitchell Dahood, who has recently proposed a reconstruction of
the text in which malkî-sedeq in Psalms 110:4 is not treated as the proper name “Melchizedek,” but as a construct
chain of malk (king) and sedeq (legitimate) with a possessive
third-person singular suffix (his)
interposed, meaning “his legitimate king.”17 Under this
reconstruction, the psalm is understood to emphasize the king’s legitimate
succession to the throne through covenants with God and has nothing to do with
the man Melchizedek, except through a possible play on words: “You are a
priest of the Eternal according to his pact:
His legitimate King, my lord,
according to your right hand.”18 While Dahood’s
translation is novel and subject to disagreement, both it and the traditional
reading of the psalm may be compared favorably with Alma’s text, for Alma
refers both to the willingness of the people of Melchizedek to submit to his
righteous reign (as in the standard translation) and also to the ordinances or
pacts associated with Melchizedek’s divine kingship under his Father (as in
Dahood’s rendition).

If one prefers the traditional approach
to Psalm 110,
one must also deal with the very difficult Hebrew phrase, cal dibratî malkî-sedeq, which is loosely rendered in the Greek as kata ten taxin Melchisedek.19 Whether this should be
translated “because of Melchizedek,” “in the manner of Melchizedek,” or “after the
or arrangement or office of Melchizedek,” as
conventional renditions have suggested,20 or simply
“according to his pact,” as Dahood prefers, is quite unsettled. One
can concur, however, with Joseph Fitzmyer that the phrase cannot be understood
in terms of hereditary succession: “The priesthood of the king is due to
something else.”21 Alma’s text certainly agrees.

Subsequent Jewish and Christian
Interpretations of Melchizedek

From these traditional biblical texts,
there have come about as many interpretations of Melchizedek as there have been
heresies and orthodoxies, for few systematic biblical commentators have passed
over this intriguing figure without accommodating him in one way or another.
The importance ascribed to him varies with the system in which each
interpretation stands. In some views he is regarded merely as a political
figure who established certain legal precedents, while in others he becomes a
central eschatological figure who will lead the war against Satan in the final
battle against evil. Elsewhere he is raised to membership in the Godhead by one
early Christian sect, while he is defamed as a bastard by Jewish apologists who
found his unpedigreed preeminence in the Pentateuch disquieting. Gnostics and
Christian mystics have ascribed cosmological powers to him, whereas Protestants
have dismissed any notion that he was anything more than a feudal Canaanite
king. Exactly what is made of the man Melchizedek in The Church of Jesus Christ
of Latter-day Saints today is not entirely clear,22 but Alma’s text has
been underutilized in this connection.

There is no evidence that Jewish
theology took much cognizance of Melchizedek until between 110 B.C. and A.D.
132, when several Jewish writers undertook to present Judaism in various
Hellenistic contexts. To this end, Melchizedek readily served as a bridge for
them to the Gentile world. Around this time, Melchizedek began to figure
importantly in early Christian writings as well.

To the writer of the book of Jubilees,23 who was sympathetic
toward the establishment of a Maccabean royal priesthood over Palestine,
Melchizedek provided a convenient precedent for the Maccabean desire to bestow
the offices of king and priest upon a single person—and a non-Levite at
that. In addition, the Maccabean priests apparently appropriated to themselves
for political uses the Melchizedekian epithet, “a priest of the Most High
God,”24 probably
because Melchizedek is one of the few non-Levites in the Old Testament
acceptably bearing the title of priest. Furthermore, Melchizedek was used to
justify the all-important political right of the Maccabean king-priests to
receive and personally enjoy the tithes of the people as political tribute and
as “an ordinance for ever . . . to [which] law there is no limit of

Far more inscrutable and intriguing is
the Melchizedek legend in 2 Enoch 71-72, whose date and provenance cannot even be approximated. “All
attempts to locate the intellectual background of 2 Enoch have failed. The most remarkable token of continued
puzzlement over this work is the failure of scholars to decide whether it came
from Jewish or Christian circles. It hardly stands in the mainstream of either
religion.”26 It
appears, however, that “there was a sect which accepted the Enoch writings
as sacred scripture in the highest sense, but who they might have been we
cannot now discern.”27 To such people, Melchizedek was sacerdotal.28 He was miraculously
born to the wife of Noah’s brother out of her corpse after she had died.29 His sacred mission was
to be sequestered in Paradise and preserved from the Flood, so that he could
pass the priesthood on to postdiluvian peoples, becoming “the priest to
all holy priests, the head of the priests of the future, and the head of the
thirteen priests who existed before.”30 He will be sanctified
and changed “into a great people who will sanctify [God],”31 serving as “the
head of priests reigning over a royal people who serve you, O Lord.”32 “Afterward there
will be a planting from his tribe, and there will be other people, and there
will be another Melkisedek, the head of priests reigning over the people, and
performing the liturgy for the Lord.”33 Ultimately for the
people who used this text, this Melchizedek prefigured another, who was
expected to perform greater miracles than ever before: “In the last
generation, there would be another Melkisedek, the first of 12 priests. And the
last will be the head of all, a great archpriest, the Word and Power of

For the community at Qumran, whose
writings in the first century B.C. are largely concerned with apocalyptic
events, Melchizedek took on significance as a heavenly warlord. He will wage
the last war against evil to free the spirits held captive by Belial and to
“restore their captives to them and will proclaim release to them, to set
them free and . . . atone . . . in the year of the last jubilee . . . for all
the sons of light and men of the lot of Melchizedek.”35 This interpretation is
dependent upon Genesis, where Melchizedek was involved in setting free the
captives and disposing of the spoils of Abraham’s war. Yet the adaptation of
this material to an apocalyptic setting is innovative. Melchizedek was also
expected by the people at Qumran to “exact the vengeance of the judgments
of God [El] . . . with the help of all the eternal gods [ele colam],”36 and by means of some heady textual substitutions he was identified with the
royal being (elohim) who takes his
stand in the solemn assembly of the highest god (El).37 Thus, in this picture of the end of times, Melchizedek serves both priestly and
kingly functions, not in an earthly sense but by driving away the wicked and
bringing the righteous into their inheritance by his atonement while standing
at the side of the magistrate to execute his commands and wage his battles.

For Philo, whose philosophical system
intellectualized most of sacred history, Melchizedek was seen as a particular
manifestation of the unseen powers of the realm of pure thought. “He is a
priestly manifestation of reason (hiereus
) whose possession is reality, for around him circulate high,
illustrious and timely thoughts.”38 Like all divine
(philosophical) creations for Philo, Melchizedek was created by God with a
royal nature “before a single deed of Melchizedek had been
performed.”39 He
was the king of intellectuality (basileus
) whose peaceful persuasion brought the souls of men into the knowledge
of Neoplatonic reality.40 Interestingly, Philo also latched onto the idea that because Melchizedek was
not a product of the patriarchal traditions he, like the philosopher, must have
been without teacher, self-taught (autodidakton),
and intuitively perceptive (automathe),
making his thoughts products of higher spheres.41

Roughly contemporary with the Qumran
writings and Philo is the New Testament interpretation of Melchizedek. The
author of the epistle to the Hebrews saw in Melchizedek a prototype of
Jesus—one without father, without mother, without genealogy, “having neither beginning of days, nor end of
; but made like unto the Son
of God” (Hebrews
7:3).42 Hebrews 7,
arguing on four grounds for the superiority of Jesus the eternal High Priest
over the Levitical priests, uses Melchizedek to substantiate this point. Not
all of the arguments are strictly logical. First, the argument runs, because
Abraham paid tithes to Melchizedek, Levi (who was then in the loins of Abraham)
was less than Melchizedek, because Melchizedek must have been greater than
Abraham since the greater allegedly always blesses the lesser (Hebrews 7:4-10).
Second, Psalm
110 indicates that a priest in Judah must arise “after the similitude of Melchizedek,” a priest forever, “not after the law of a
carnal commandment, but after the power of an endless life” (Hebrews 7:11-19).
The psalm itself, however, does not literally make such a prophecy. Third, it
is argued that to the Levites no oath was given that their priesthood should
remain for ever; but Jesus, like Melchizedek, makes a “surety of a better
testament,” for the Lord has sworn an oath to this type of being in
saying, “Thou art a priest for ever” (Hebrews 7:20-22).
This argument presupposes a “likeness” between Jesus and Melchizedek
and in order to make this point bends the phrase “after the order (kata ten taxin) of Melchizedek” to read “after the similitude (kata ten homoioteta) to Melchizedek” (Hebrews 7:15).
Fourth, Levitical priests all die and so do their sacrifices, which must be
constantly renewed for the benefit of themselves, as well as for the benefit of
the people; but in Jesus’ case this is not so, for he lives eternally to make
intercession for those who come to God by him (Hebrews 7:23-28).43 Without diminishing
the greatness of Melchizedek, it seems that these polemic arguments are
somewhat tendentious and not rationally compelling.

In the ensuing centuries, Christian
Fathers expanded the typology initiated in Hebrews 7 in a
manner which reflected the later Christian liturgy and doctrine. Practically
every Father comments on the formulaic ways in which Melchizedek can be said to
have foreshadowed Christ: Both Jesus and Melchizedek were seen as kings of
justice and of peace (salem, shalom).44 Both were seen as
true, non-Levitical priests.45 Melchizedek had no
biblical genealogy, while Christ was said to be without father in his human
generation and without mother in his divine generation.46 Melchizedek was
perceived as being without beginning of days, without natural beginning, just
as Christ existed in principio (“in the beginning”) and will exist forever.47 Both lived by faith,
as Melchizedek was said to have obtained his knowledge of the sacrament of
bread and wine by revelation and not by the letter of law;48 and both offered a
sacrifice of bread and wine instead of an animal sacrifice.49 In many ways,
particularly in relationship to the symbols of the eucharist, Melchizedek was
simply seen by these Fathers as a Christian before his time.

For the Gnostics, Melchizedek became a
subject for even wider speculation, although it is difficult to reconstruct
their ideas with confidence. In the spiritual cosmology of certain Gnostics,
the “order (taxis) of
Melchizedek” is the ordering arrangement of the cosmos.50 He is the great
repossessor, purifier, and preparer of the elements of the universe.51 He himself is the
power of the true mystical universe.52 His powers make men
mystics, revealing to them the all.53 He is the archon of
righteousness, of whom Christ is a shadow.54 Under the name
Zorokothora in the Pistis Sophia, he is the Great Receiver of Light who comes
mysteriously from the pure light of the fifth tree, but he only appears
periodically when his constellation or number comes up.55 When he is gone,
darkness prevails; as he returns, light is victorious.56 “In the place of
those of the right hand,” he seals souls to be taken to the Treasury of
Light.57 Melchizedek
worship probably reached its zenith in the Gnostic Melchizedekian sect of the
third century A.D. To them, Christ himself was subordinate to Melchizedek, for
Christ had been said to be of his order.58 They even
went so far as to claim that because Melchizedek had no father, he was the
father of all, including the father of Jesus.59 He was also called the
virtue or strength of God (virtutem dei),60 an angel with
supernatural powers,61 the Holy Ghost,62 and
sometimes he was given an independent place in the Godhead.63

The Jewish rabbinical response to the
Christian, Essene, Gnostic, and philosophical aggrandizement of Melchizedek was
predictable: Where the challengers of Judaism elevated Melchizedek, the rabbis
debased him. Where the innovators cultivated the mysterious or esoteric
intrigue of Melchizedek’s supernatural powers and origins, the Jewish
apologists invented down-to-earth explanations to defuse such doctrines.64 The basic Jewish
attitude, not yet reacting to the Christian, can be observed in Josephus, who
simply viewed Melchizedek as a righteous Canaanite, a paragon of hospitality,
who gave Jerusalem a noble beginning (as Aeneas had done for Rome).65 But soon after the
time of Josephus, when the Christian challenge to Judaism had become more
intense, the focus of rabbinic writing on Melchizedek shifted from his goodness
and sought to explain him away. By writing the name as two words, malkî sedeq, and identifying sedeq (righteousness) with the city of
Jerusalem itself, the Midrash Rabbah could speak simply of the “king (malkî)
of Jerusalem (sedeq)” and
thereby removed the proper name “Melchizedek” from the picture of Genesis 14.66 In time, the Jewish
response to the Christian challenges grew quite pointed. Where the Christians
argued against the need to be circumcised on the ground that Abraham had paid
tithes to the uncircumcised Melchizedek,67 the Jews asserted that
Melchizedek had been born circumcised.68 Where it was argued
that Melchizedek had a superior priesthood, the Jews retorted that he had lost
his powers, which passed to Abraham, when Melchizedek blundered by blessing
Abraham before recognizing God.69 Where it was asserted
that the offering of bread and wine foreshadowed the Christian eucharist, the
Jews either dismissed this as a mere act of hospitality,70 or responded in kind,
claiming that Melchizedek was instructing Abraham in the shewbread and ritual
libations of the Torah.71 The absence of genealogy was cured by giving him a genealogy—and not
always a flattering one. The easiest solution was to call him Shem,72 but other theories
about his parentage, usually attributed to the Jews, also claimed that he was a
descendant of Sidon,73 or of Sidus an Egyptian,74 Heraklas,75 Melchi or
Malakh,76 Ham,77 or a heathen named
Melchi.78 His mother
was Astaroth, Astoriane, or Saltiel, or alternatively some argued that his
genealogy was not mentioned because he was the son of a prostitute.79

And so we have run the gamut.
Melchizedek is treated both favorably and unfavorably in these texts. This is a
world of diverse theological contrasts.80 From this brief
sampling of the literature, it is clear that people have said of Melchizedek
primarily what their theologies required. Whether a text treats him
historically, politically, sacerdotally, apocalyptically, philosophically,
polemically, typologically, cosmologically, or defensively, the orientation is
dictated by the theological framework within which each interpretation of the
basic Old Testament texts was made. Such interpretations tend to reveal far
more about the interpreters than they do about Melchizedek.

JST, Genesis 14:17-40

Another text that sheds light on Alma 13:13-19 is found in the Joseph Smith Translation of Genesis 14.
It reads as follows:

The Meeting:

And the king of Sodom went out to meet
him [Abraham] after his return from the slaughter of Chedorlaomer, and of the
kings that were with him, at the valley of Shaveh, which is the king’s dale
(JST, Genesis

Melchizedek’s Appearance:

And Melchizedek king of Salem brought
forth bread and wine: and he brake bread and blest it; and he blest the wine,
he being the priest of the most high God (JST, Genesis 14:18).

Melchizedek’s First Blessing:

And he blessed him, and said: Blessed
be Abram of the most high God, possessor of heaven and earth: And blessed be
the most high God, which hath delivered thine enemies into thy hand (JST, Genesis 14:19-20).

The Payment of Tithes:

And he gave him tithes of all (JST, Genesis 14:20).

Division of the Spoils:

And the king of Sodom said unto Abram,
Give me the persons, and take the goods to thyself. And Abram said to the king
of Sodom, I have lifted up mine hand unto the Lord, the most high God, the
possessor of heaven and earth, That I will not take from a thread even to a
shoelatchet, and that I will not take any thing that is thine, lest thou
shouldest say, I have made Abram rich: [I will take] only that which the young
men have eaten, and the portion of the men which went with me, Aner, Eshcol,
and Mamre; let them take their portion (JST, Genesis 14:21-24).

Melchizedek’s Second Blessing:

And Melchizedek lifted up his voice and
blessed Abram (JST, Genesis 14:25).

How Melchizedek Obtained His

Now Melchizedek was a man of faith, who
wrought righteousness; and when a child he feared God, and stopped the mouths
of lions, and quenched the violence of fire. And thus, having been approved of
God, he was ordained an high priest after the order of the covenant which God
made with Enoch, It being after the order of the Son of God; which order came,
not by man, nor the will of man; neither by father nor mother; neither by
beginning of days nor end of years; but of God; And it was delivered unto men
by the calling of his own voice, according to his own will, unto as many as
believed on his name (JST, Genesis 14:26-29).

The Powers of This Order:

For God having sworn unto Enoch and
unto his seed with an oath by himself; that every one being ordained after this
order and calling should have power, by faith, to break mountains, to divide
the seas, to dry up waters, to turn them out of their course; To put at
defiance the armies of nations, to divide the earth, to break every band, to
stand in the presence of God; to do all things according to his will, according
to his command, subdue principalities and powers; and this by the will of the
Son of God which was from before the foundation of the world. And men having
this faith, coming up unto this order of God, were translated and taken up into
heaven (JST, Genesis

Melchizedek’s Use of These Powers:

And now, Melchizedek was a priest of
this order; therefore he obtained peace in Salem, and was called the Prince of
peace. And his people wrought righteousness, and obtained heaven, and sought
for the city of Enoch which God had before taken, separating it from the earth,
having reserved it unto the latter days, or the end of the world; And hath
said, and sworn with an oath, that the heavens and the earth should come
together; and the sons of God should be tried so as by fire. And this
Melchizedek, having thus established righteousness, was called the king of
heaven by his people, or, in other words, the King of peace (JST, Genesis 14:33-36).

Melchizedek’s Third Blessing:

And he lifted up his voice, and he
blessed Abram (JST, Genesis 14:37).

Melchizedek, Keeper of the Storehouse
for the Poor:

Being the high priest, and the keeper
of the storehouse of God; Him whom God had appointed to receive tithes for the
poor. Wherefore, Abram paid unto him tithes of all that he had, of all the
riches which he possessed, which God had given him more than that which he had
need (JST, Genesis

God Fulfills Melchizedek’s Blessings:

And it came to pass, that God blessed
Abram, and gave unto him riches, and honor, and lands for an everlasting
possession; according to the covenant which he had made, and according to the
blessing wherewith Melchizedek had blessed him (JST, Genesis 14:40).

This text supplies much information
about Melchizedek. Some of its details are interestingly consistent with points
reflected in other Jewish and Christian texts discussed above. For example, in
the JST, Melchizedek’s bread and wine is evidently seen as a form of sacrament
(JST, Genesis
14:18), and, somewhat like the remarkable paragraphs in 2 Enoch 71-72, the JST reports
miraculous events associated with Melchizedek’s childhood (stopping the mouths
of lions and quenching the violence of fire), leading to his receipt of the
priesthood and being translated into heaven, to guide an especially righteous
group of followers. Certain aspects of the JST account are also echoed in
Alma’s text. Thus, both report Melchizedek as a man of extraordinary faith, a
worker of righteousness among his people, called and ordained a high priest
after the order of the Son of God (JST, Genesis 14:27-30; Alma 13:2-10, 18).
Alma, however, indicates no awareness of the idea that such people were
translated to heaven, that the order of Melchizedek was pertinent to the
covenant made by God with Enoch, that an oath was connected with this
priesthood (Genesis
14:30, 35),
that Melchizedek was called the king of heaven by his people (JST, Genesis 14:36),
or several other such details.

Nevertheless, although one cannot say
for certain, several key factors would point toward the conclusion that Alma’s
version of Genesis
14 on the plates of brass was similar to the text in the Joseph Smith
Translation of the Bible.

Synthesis and Conclusion

Having set the stage, we are now
prepared to examine more specifically Alma’s use of his Melchizedek sources. As
the following eight points show, Alma works the Melchizedek material into his
sermon with great perceptiveness.

First, in Genesis, Melchizedek is
called a priest of the most high God (El
). For Alma, however, he is a high
after the order of the Son of God (Alma 13:14).
This is rather singular. Besides the book of Alma and the JST, no other text
calls him a high priest (although 2 Enoch 71:29 calls him “the priest to all holy priests”). Perhaps the word
“high” (celyon) has shifted
position in the texts between “high God” and “high priest.”
The word celyon generally means
exalted, or comparatively high. It is a quite distinctive word, most often used
to describe the Lord as the Most High God (e.g., Numbers 24:16; Deuteronomy 32:8; 2 Samuel
22:14; Isaiah
14:14; and repeatedly in the Psalms); but sacred things and people can also
be called celyon: The temple is called celyon by the Lord (1 Kings 9:8),
and his peculiar people are likewise said to be exalted and blessed because of
the covenant: “Thy God will set thee on high (celyon) above all nations” (Deuteronomy 28:1),
“to make thee high (celyon) above
all” (Deuteronomy
26:18-19; cf. 1 Peter 2:9,
“a royal priesthood, a peculiar people”). Thus, the term “high
priest” in Alma’s text is particularly apt and meaningful in describing
priests who receive the ordination of which he speaks. Nevertheless, one should
also observe that Alma in no way polemicizes against the Levitical priesthood,
as does the author of Hebrews. Rather, Melchizedek stands as a precedent for a
priesthood composed of all the righteous who receive the ordinances through
their faith and good works. Moreover, besides distinguishing Alma’s priests
favorably from the high (gadôl) priest
and other priests of the hereditary priesthood at Jerusalem, to which the
Nephites (like the Maccabeans) had no claim, Alma’s application of the word
“high” to these priests “after the order of [God’s] Son,”
rather than to God, may reflect the Nephite understanding that their Lord was
not the highest God, but a son of God (e.g., Alma 36:17),
who in turn does the will of the Father.

Second, Melchizedek was associated in
Alma’s mind with the idea of “priests forever after the order of the
Son.” He could have found such words in Psalm 110,
containing the words “priest forever” and the cryptic remark about an
“order” or “pact” (cf. Alma 13:14).
In Alma 13:2 and 13:14, however, it is clear that this order is not Melchizedek’s order (as
it is at Qumran, in Psalm 110, in Hebrews 7,
and among the Gnostics), but that of the son of God. In this regard, Alma’s
text is close to the Genesis account in the JST, where the order was
“after the order of the covenant which God made with Enoch, it being after
the order of the Son of God” (JST, Genesis 14:27-28).
The “order” for Alma, however, in its primary sense was understood as
a manner of ordination rather than an order of hierarchy or structured body
of priesthood bearers. This would suggest that the phrase cal dibratî could best be understood modally,81 yielding the sense of
“a priest ordained like Melchizedek was,” i.e., in that manner which looks forward to the Son for
redemption (Alma
13:2). Being a priest after the order of Melchizedek ultimately refers to
obtaining such ordinances (Alma 13:9),
something that only Alma makes explicit.

In an additional sense, however, Alma
also uses the term “order” to refer to a specific commission to
preach repentance (Alma 5:49)
and to teach certain commandments leading into God’s rest (Alma 13:6).
Indeed, one of the great messages of Melchizedek for Alma (and he is the only
commentator to draw such a conclusion) was the success of Melchizedek as a
teacher of righteousness. For Alma, such teaching was the paramount
responsibility and calling of the priesthood (Alma 5:49;
cf. Mosiah
6:3). Little significance appears to be ascribed by Alma to the
bureaucratic, authoritarian, official, or sacrificial powers or functions of
the priesthood.

Third, the Book of Mormon text portrays
Abraham paying tithes to Melchizedek, but unlike other ancient texts in which
this tithe is either taken to establish the right of some priestly class to collect
revenues or in which it is seen as a religious contribution, a disbursement, or
a hospitable gift of the spoils of war,82 it appears that for
Alma the tithe of Abraham illustrates the injunction, “Bring forth fruit
meet for repentance” (Alma 13:13),
which is a condition for receiving the priesthood ordinances. For Alma, the
tithe of Abraham is not just on the spoils of war (as it is in Hebrews and many
other texts), but is full and complete, on all
he possessed
, just as the required repentance would have to be total and
complete. This interpretation of Genesis 14:20 commends itself in light of the fact that Abraham renounced all interest in the
spoils; he would have had no reason to pay a tithe on property in which he
claimed no interest, as would be the case if he only tithed on the spoils. It
is also consistent with JST, Genesis 14:39:
“Abram paid unto him tithes of all that he had, of all the riches which he
possessed, which God had given him more than that which he had need,” to
care for the poor.

Fourth, in the early Christian writings
Melchizedek typifies Christ,83 but in Alma the
typology is not found in Melchizedek, his name, his station, or his actions,
but in the manner of the priesthood’s ordinance, “it being a type of God’s order” (Alma 13:16).
The most prominent touchstone of the Christian typology (the offering of bread
and wine) is therefore not used by Alma, although it may stand behind part of
Alma’s manner of looking forward to the Son of God for redemption.

Fifth, Melchizedek, king of Salem and
priest of the most high God, is understood in most traditions primarily in his
role as a priest, not as a king.84 This is carried so far
that he is most often depicted by medieval artists in priestly vestments
officiating at an altar under a canopy. But in the Book of Mormon, the image of
Melchizedek is equally that of a royal leader and a priest: a king who
establishes peace in the land among his people through righteousness (Alma 13:17-18).
The fascinating account in 2 Enoch 71
comes close to Alma in this regard, reporting that God would change Melchizedek
“into a great people who will sanctify [him]” and make him “the
head of priests reigning over a royal people.”85 Likewise the JST
reports that Melchizedek ruled over his people as a priest and king of heaven
and of peace, with power to “subdue principalities” and “to put
at defiance the armies of nations” (JST, Genesis 14:31),
although in both of these cases the emphasis is more on Melchizedek’s role as
priest than king. Alma’s dual understanding of Melchizedek as king and priest
is consistent with local Nephite politics, since the Nephite ruler (i.e., king
or chief judge prior to Alma’s day) shouldered the highest responsibilities for
both church and state.86

Sixth, most commentators have been
content to speculate about the sources of Melchizedek’s knowledge of the
priesthood. Some suggest that he received it from Noah, Abraham, the Patriarchs,
angels, or philosophical reflection, as well as from a number of fictitious
individuals. One tradition holds that he acquired his priesthood from Noah when
he was bitten and defiled by a lion as he was disembarking from the ark.87 It is rare, however,
for writers to dwell on how such knowledge is acquired. In Philo’s thought, the
contemplative man was typified by Melchizedek, but even there he does not
become actively involved in any religious process. Alma gives the most
information of any text, including the JST, about how such knowledge is
acquired from God (Alma 12:29):
through the mysteries (Alma 12:9-10),
calling upon God’s name (Alma 12:30),
obedience (Alma
12:32), and after exercising mighty faith, humility, charity, and
repentance (Alma
13:14-15, 18).

Seventh, Melchizedek’s genealogy or
lack thereof raises questions practically everywhere. Nothing in Alma 13,
however, hints at the churning conflict which divided the Old World over the
question of his birth. There is no inclination toward the later hypothesis that
Melchizedek was Shem, and there is no reference to the phrase first found in Hebrews 7:3,
“without father, without mother, without descent.” In Alma’s text,
only God and the priesthood order are called eternal: “This high
priesthood . . . without beginning of days and end of years” (Alma 13:7;
cf. also JST, Hebrews
7:1); “the Only Begotten of the Father, who is without beginning of
days or end of years” (Alma 13:9).
Alma’s perspective here runs parallel to an extent with that of the JST:
“Which order came, not by man, nor the will of man; neither by father nor
mother; neither by beginning of days nor end of years; but of God” (JST, Genesis 14:28).
But if Alma’s statement, “and he did reign under his father” (Alma 13:18),
refers to a political reign under his mortal father (rather than to a spiritual
reign under God) or to a combination of the two (as King Benjamin described his
own reign in Mosiah
2:31), we have here a singular and significant reference to Melchizedek’s
royal parentage and vassalage.

Eighth, perhaps because of the Nephite
conviction of the wickedness of Jerusalem (1 Nephi 7:13-14),
Alma also makes no attempt to equate Salem with Jerusalem. Indeed, for Alma,
Melchizedek was not the king of a city, but of a land of Salem. Alma also feels
no need for pendantry over etymologies either regarding the name Salem or the
name Melchizedek.

In conclusion, the Melchizedek text of Alma 13 is
quite remarkable. It reveals a profound understanding of Melchizedek. The text
is unique and complex, yet internally coherent and concise. Alma has a clear
concept of what Melchizedek means to him and he relates that meaning powerfully
to the message of his sermon.

Alma’s text bears the hallmarks of an
early record. In my opinion, Alma’s use of the Melchizedek material from
Genesis is conceptually and textually superior to later interpretations in
which the meaning of Melchizedek turns upon ideological notions and
etymological devices. Alma 13:13-19 conveys far more than the usual historical or etiological interpretations of
the puzzling Genesis account; it is conceptually prior to the polarization of
Jewish and Christian thought, and it is free from the apocalyptic,
philosophical, and metaphysical tendencies that have molded much of Western
thought since Hellenistic times. For Alma, Melchizedek is not a transcendent or
intuitive being, but an example of the fact that all men can receive the same
knowledge and authority that made Melchizedek great. He is not a priest who will
conduct some cosmic atonement for man’s benefit, but was the teacher of a
sacred course that showed men how to benefit from the atonement of Christ and
the manner in which they should look forward to redemption (Alma 13:2).
He is not the extension of a preexistent form of royal or priestly logos, but he epitomizes a practical
realization of each individual’s preexistent potential which was prepared from
the foundation of the world (Alma 13:3).
He does not typify or epitomize any other reality.

Alma 13:13-19 also bears characteristics of dependence on earlier sources. While one can see
how Alma may have derived its key words and phrases from the traditional Old
Testament materials, it appears that his sources were closer in content to the
Genesis text in the JST than to the cryptic statements in the King James

Moreover, this material was relevant to
Alma’s own day and age. His text is integrally bound up with Nephite sacred
ritual and practical religion. In addition, many aspects of the traditional
Genesis material and the wordings of Psalm 110 harmonize with Nephite religion and politics in Alma’s day, for example, in
placing emphasis on a joint office of a righteous priest and king under his
father, in being silent on the victorious military context of Abraham’s
encounter with Melchizedek, and in supporting the nonhereditary posture of the
Nephite priesthood.

There is no dearth of commentators who
have suspected the significance of Melchizedek, but none offers the insights of Alma 13.
This chapter of the Book of Mormon is among the best regarding Melchizedek.


This essay originally appeared in a
slightly different form in the unpublished “Tinkling Cymbals: Essays in
Honor of Hugh Nibley,” John W. Welch, ed., 1978.

1. Thorough
bibliographies of the sources are accumulated by Gottfried Wuttke, Melchisedech der Priesterkönig von Salem,
Beiheft zur Zeitschrift für die neutestamentliche Wissenschaft und Kund
der älteren Kirche, 5 (Giessen: Topelmann, 1927), and Paul J. Kobelski, Melchizedek and Melchiresha, Catholic
Biblical Quarterly Monograph Series, 10 (Washington: Catholic Biblical
Assocation of America, 1981). See also Gerald T. Kennedy, St. Paul’s Conception of the Priesthood of Melchisedech (Washington: Catholic University of America Press, 1951); and Fred L. Horton, Melchizedek Tradition through the First Five
Centuries C.E
., SNTSMS 30 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1976).

2. This is as one
would expect, given the accompanying “strict command” of secrecy (Alma 12:9).
Although little is known of the Nephite mysteries, it seems clear that they had
certain sacred teachings that were not discussed publicly.

3. Was the
“calling” a new name, a job assignment, or a ritualistic summons? Mosiah 5:10-12 supports the idea that they were called by a new name in Christ. In Alma’s
text, however, the people are not only called with that holy calling (Alma 13:3)
and by it (Alma 13:6),
but also to the calling (Alma 13:4),
which would seem to make the calling more like a post or office rather than a new
appellation. The ambiguity may be intentional, however, since the important
thing is being able to recognize the voice of the Lord when he calls, and that
is learned only by serving him (Mosiah 5:12-14);
cf. JST, Genesis
14:29, “it was delivered unto men by the calling of his own voice,
according to his will.”

4. See generally,
Paul Winter, “Note on Salem-Jerusalem,” Novum Testamentum 2 (1957): 151-52; William F. Albright,
“Abram the Hebrew: A New Archaeological Interpretation,” Bulletin of the American School of Oriental
163 (1961): 36-54; Loren R. Fischer, “Abraham and His
Priest-King,” Journal of Biblical
81 (1962): 264-70; Robert H. Smith, “Abraham and
Melchizedek,” Zeitschrift
für die alttestamentliche Wissenschaft
77 (1965): 129-53.
Discoveries at Ebla seem to confirm the general historicity of materials in Genesis 14.

5. See Joseph A.
Fitzmyer, ” ‘Now this Melchizedek . . . ‘ (Heb 7,1),” Catholic Biblical Quarterly 25 (1963):
305-21. Cf. Adonizedek, the name of an early king of Jerusalem mentioned in Joshua 10:1-3. That name would mean “Sedeq [Righteous] is my lord.” Ammi-Seduqa was the Amorite name of a
Babylonian king in the sixteenth century B.C.; ibid., 312.

6. Sedeq is known to have been the name
of a Canaanite deity at Mari, Ugarit, and in South Arabia. Compound names
incorporating the name of a god were not uncommon; witness Adonizedek in Joshua 10:1-3;
Malchiel (El is my King) in Genesis 46:17;
Malchiah (Yahweh is my king) in Ezra 10:31 and Jeremiah
38:6. This is thought to suggest that Canaanite kings had priestly
functions and that Sedeq was part of
a local cult. John Gray, History of
(New York: Prager, 1969), 67.

7. This view is
represented as early as the second century of the Christian Era in Targum
Neofiti. A. Dies Macho, Neophyti I:
Targum Palestinense I: Genesis
(Madrid: Confejo Superior de investigaciones
cientificas, 1969).

8. This has been
suggested by H. E. del Medico, “Melchisedech,” Zeitschrift für die alttestamentliche Wissenschaft 69
(1957): 160-70, since “upright king” and “peaceful king”
are epithets of the king of Sodom, mentioned in the previous verse.

9. Albright,
“Abram the Hebrew,” 52.

10. The Jews,
naturally, have preferred the equation of Salem with Jerusalem. See Psalm 75:3;
Josephus, Antiquities I, 10, 2
(Solyma is later called Jerusalem); Genesis Apocryphon 22:13 (“Salem, that
is Jerusalem”). But W. F. Albright is among those who resist the
geographical identity between Salem and Jerusalem, in “Abram the
Hebrew,” 52.

11. To the
Christians, seeing a foreshadowing of the sacrament was irresistible here. The
Jews figured this constituted instruction in the laws of the priesthood by
alluding to shewbread and libations. H. Freedman and Maurice Simon, trs., Midrash Rabbah, 10 vols. (London:
Soncino, 1961), 1:356. It has been argued, however, that wine was not used for
libations during the time of Abraham. Edward Busse, Der Wein im Kult des alten Testaments (Freiburger Theologische
Studien 29).

12. The Hebrew text
is wholly ambiguous here. Alfred Jeremias, Old
Testament in the Light of the Ancient East
(London: Williams, 1911), 1:29,
states that Melchizedek paid tithing to Abraham.

13. A tithe was a
political tax often taken as tribute in antiquity; see, e.g., Herodotus, Historia II, 135; IV, 152.

14. Is it Yahweh, as
in Genesis 14:22,
or was Yahweh added there by gloss, since it is absent in the Septuagint,
Peshitta, and Genesis Apocryphon? Or are these Canaanite deities? Cf. Numbers 24:16; Isaiah 14:14; Daniel 3:26;
see G. Della Vida, “El Elyon in Genesis 14:18-20,” Journal of Biblical Literature 63
(1944): 2.

15. In addition, some
rabbinic speculation on the Song of Songs involves Melchizedek as one of the
four craftsmen of Zechariah 2:3.
TB Sukkah 52b lists the four as:
Messiah ben David, Messiah ben Joseph, Elijah, and the priest of Righteousness
(Kohen Sedeq).

16. Psalm 110 is
a royal psalm in which a Davidic king is addressed as a hero and probably
associated with the past as a successor of Melchizedek. J. W. Bowker,
“Psalm CX,” Vetus Testamentum 17 (1967): 31-41. Alexander F. Kirkpatrick, The
Book of Psalms
(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1910), 663.

17. Mitchell Dahood, Psalms, 3 vols. (Garden City: Doubleday,
1966), 3:117.

18. Ibid.

19. The problems
involved in using taxis to translate
the semitic concepts here are shown by T. Nöldeke, “Taxis im
Semitischen,” Zeitschrift
für Assyriologie
23 (1909): 145-49.

20. For a discussion
of these translations, see Fitzmyer, “Now This Melchizedek,” 305-21.

21. Ibid., 308.

22. The idea, for
example, that Melchizedek was Shem has been found in Church literature since
John Taylor qualifiedly volunteered it in Times
and Seasons
5 (December 15, 1844): 745-46, as “not allowing it to be
revelation but history.” That history, however, is suspect, and some
Church writers have prudently declined to follow it. See John A. Widtsoe, Evidences and Reconciliations, ed. G.
Homer Durham (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1960), 232; Charles E. Haggerty,
“Melchizedek . . . King of Salem,” Improvement Era 55 (1952): 512. Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine (Salt Lake City:
Bookcraft, 1960) refers to the idea that Shem was Melchizedek as an unconfirmed
Hebrew tradition. But others have gone to extraordinary lengths to preserve
that connection, see Hyrum Andrus, Principles
of Perfection
(Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1970), 422, even in the face of D&C 84:14:
“Abraham received the priesthood from Melchizedek, who received it through
the lineage of his fathers, even till Noah.” For a more tentative
approach, see Alma E. Gygi, “Is It Possible That Shem and Melchizedek Are
the Same Person?” Ensign 3
(November 1973): 15-16. D&C 138:41 only speaks of Shem as “the great high priest.” The Joseph Smith
Translation of the Bible, while silent on any connection between Melchizedek
and Shem, adds many other relevant details to the Genesis account, mentioned
further below. For other information about the power of the Melchizedek
priesthood as “the power of ‘endless lives,’ ” and about Melchizedek
giving the priesthood to Abraham, see TPJS, 322-23.

23. Jubilees 13:25-29; 32:1. R. H. Charles, The Book of Jubilees (Oxford: Oxford
University Press, 1976), dates this work around 110 B.C. Unfortunately,
however, Jubilees 13 has a lacuna in
the text where Melchizedek was probably mentioned, and Jubilees 32:1 contains only an allusion to Melchizedek in the
expression “priest of the most high God.”

24. This title is
used consistently by Maccabees and elsewhere to describe them; see 1 Maccabees
14:41; Josephus, Antiquities XVI, 6,
2; Assumption of Moses 6:1; Testament of Levi 8:14-15. The Testament of Levi does not refer to
Melchizedek by name, but in a passage which appears to be free from
interpolation, the Testament speaks
of a new priesthood called by a new name to be established after the fashion of
the Gentiles. The priesthood of Levi, however, remains the greatest of the
three mentioned. Testament of Levi 8:13.

25. Jubilees 13:25-27. Note that where Jubilees has the law of tithing being without limit of days, and where Hebrews 7:3 has Melchizedek’s genealogy without
beginning of days or end of years, Alma 13:7 denotes the high order as being
without temporal bounds or, in other words, arising from the foundation of the

26. OTP 1:95.

27. Ibid., 1:97.

28. Compare, in
several respects, JST, Genesis 14:26-36.

29. OTP 1:206-7; see also A. Vaillant, Le Livre des Secrets d’Henoch (Paris:
Institut D’Etudes Slaves, 1952), 77; Rubenstein, “Observation on the
Slavonic Book of Enoch,” Journal of
Theological Studies
13 (1962): 1-21.

30. 2 Enoch 71:29, 33, in OTP 1:208.

31. 2 Enoch 71:29, in OTP 1:209.

32. 2 Enoch 71:37, in OTP 1:211.

33. 2 Enoch 71:37, in OTP 1:209-10.

34. 2 Enoch 71:33-34, in OTP 1:208.

35. 11QMelch 6-8. See Joseph A. Fitzmyer,
“Further Light on Melchizedek from Qumran Cave 11,” Journal of Biblical Literature 86
(1967): 25-41; J. T. Milik, “Milki-sedeq et Milkiresa dans les anciens
escrits juifs et chretiens,” Journal
of Theological Studies
23 (1972): 95-144; James A. Sanders, “The Old
Testament in 11Q Melchizedek,” Journal
of Near Eastern Studies
5 (1973): 373-82; Paul J. Kobelski, Melchizedek and Melchiresha, Catholic
Biblical Quarterly Monograph Series, Number 10 (Washington: Catholic Biblical
Assocation of America, 1981).

36. 11QMelch 13-14.

37. 11QMelch 15-21 is apparently commenting
on Psalm 82:1 and
also Isaiah
52:7. The latter was also a cryptic passage to Nephites; see Mosiah

38. Philo, Allegorical Interpretation of Genesis II,
III, 82.

39. Ibid., III, 79.

40. Ibid., III,
80-81. See also, Philo, On Abraham 235.

41. Philo, On the Preliminary Studies 99. For
Philo, the adjectives automathe and autodidakton are attributes of wisdom (sophia) and the wise man, and mean that
he has not been improved by investigation, drill, and labor, but from his birth
he has discovered ready-prepared sophia from above showered down from heaven.

42. See generally V.
Hamp, “Melchisedek als Typus,” Pro
Mundi Vita: Festschrift zum eucharistischen Weltkongress
(Munich, 1960); J.
Derambure, “Melchisedech, Type due Messi,” Revue Augustinienne 12 (1908): 37-62.

43. Cf. 11QMelch 6-9. The relationship between Hebrews
and the writings at Qumran is the strongest on this point, with the exalted
status of Melchizedek as eternal priest reflecting the christology of the
Epistle to the Hebrews. See M. de Jonge and A. S. van der Woude, “11Q
Melchizedek and the New Testament,” New
Testament Studies
12 (1965-66): 301-26.

44. Ambrose, De Sacramentis IV, 3, 10 and 12, in PL 16:457-58; John Chrysostom, Homilia XII in Epistolam ad Hebraeos 7,
in PG 63:97; Clement of Alexandria, Stromata IV, 25, in PG 8:1369-71.

45. Athanasius, De Titulis Psalmorum CIX, 9, in PG 27:1145; see also Ambrose, De Sacramentis IV, 3, 10, in PL 16:457-58; Augustine, De diversis Quaestionibus I, 83, 2, in PL 40:49; Cyprian, Epistolae LXIII, 4, in PL 4:387-88; Isidore, De Ecclesiasticis
I, 18, 1, in PL 83:754.

46. Alcuin, Interrogationes et Responsiones in Genesin 164, in PL 100:536; Ambrose, De Mysteriis VIII, 45-46, in PL 16:421; Bruno, Expositio in Psalmos 109, in PL 152:1227-28; John Chrysostom, Homilia de
, in PG 56:259-60;
Gregorius Nazianzenus, Oratorio XXX,
21, in PG 36:132-33; Isidore, Quaestiones in Vetus Testamentum in Genesin XI, 4, in PL 83:239-40. Theodoret, Interpretatio Epistolae ad Hebraeos VII,
3, in PG 82:724-25.

47. Fulgentius, Ad Trasimumdum Regem Vandalorum II, 6, in PL 65:250-51; see also Jerome, Epistola 73, in PL 22:676-81; Eusebius, Historia
I, 3, in PG 20:73-76; Leo the Great, Sermo V, 3,
in PL 54:154; cf. Ambrose, Hexaemeron I, 3, 9, in PL 14:137-38 (“Deus est enim
Melchisedech . . . qui est sine initio.”)

48. Chrysostom, Homilia de Melchisedeco 3, in PG 56:260-62; cf. Ambrose, Expositio in Lucam III, 21, in PL 15:1680. Cf. JST, Genesis 14:18.

49. Arnobius, Commentarii in Psalmas 109, in PL 53:496; Bede, Expositio in Lucae Evangelium VI, 22, in PL 92:596; Bruno, Expositio
in Psalmos
109, in PL 164:1127;
Claudius of Turin, In Hebraeos, in PL 104:926; Isidore, Allegoriae quaedem Sacrae Scripturae, in PL 83:104; Leo the Great, Sermo V, 3, in PL 54:154.

50. Epiphanius, Adversus Haereses LV, 1, in PG 41:972-73.

51. Pistis Sophia I, 25-26. See Hugh W.
Nibley, “Treasures in the Heavens, Some Early Christian Insights into the
Organizing of the Worlds,” in Old
Testament and Related Studies
, vol. 1, Collected
Works of Hugh Nibley
(Salt Lake City: Deseret Book and F.A.R.M.S., 1986),

52. Epiphanius, Adversus Haereses LV, 1-3, in PG 41:972-77.

53. Melchizedek, in James M. Robinson, The Nag Hammadi Library in English (San
Francisco: Harper & Row, 1977), 399-403. Cf. Isidorus of Pelus, Epistolae III, 152, in PG 78:844.

54. Epiphanius, Adversus Haereses LV, 4-5, in PG 41:980-81; Origen, Contra Haereses VII, 36, in PG 16:3343.

55. Pistis Sophia 360:13-361:4.

56. Ibid.,

57. Ibid.,

58. Epiphanius, Adversus Haereses LV, 4, in PG 41:980-81; Theodoret, Haereticarum Fabularum Compendium II, 6,
in PG 83:392-93.

59. Ibid., LV, 9-13.

60. Pseudo-Augustine, Quaestiones Veteres et Novi Testamenti (Vienna: Souter, 1908), 268, question 109; Arnobius, Praedestinatorum Haeresis I, 34, in PL 53:598.

61. Jerome, Epistolae 73, in PL 22:681. Melchizedek also enters as a candidate for being the
archangel Michael in Jewish speculation. Such angelology is refuted by Ambrose, De Fide III, 11, in PL 16:632.

62. This was the
reported opinion of Hierax in Epiphanius, Adversus
LXVII, 3, in PG 42:172-84. See also Jerome, Epistolae LXXIII, 1, in PL 22:676-77. He is
also associated with the baptism of fire in 2

63. Hippolytus, Refutatio VII, 24.

64. Gerald T.
Kennedy, St. Paul’s Conception of the
Priesthood of Melchisedech
(Washington: Catholic University of American
Press, 1951), 130, concludes: “The talmudic interpretation of the figure
and role of the priest-king of Salem were often the result of wishful thinking
or false conclusion from an erroneous apologetic designed to counteract the New
Testament clarification of the person and function of Melchizedech.”

65. Josephus, Antiquities I, 179-81; Jewish Wars VI, 438.

66. Midrash Rabbah Genesis (Lekh Lekha) 43:6, tr. Freedman and Simon (London: Soncino, 1961), 356. “Jerusalem is
called Zedek (righteousness), as it is written, Zedek (righteousness) lodged in her (Isaiah 1:21).”
The name is also written as two words in Psalm 110:4.

67. Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho 19, in PG 6:516-17; Tertullian, Adversus Judaeos 3, in PL 2:640-44. One may quite confidently
date the the formulation of the Jewish theories about Melchizedek by the fact
that the Jewish arguments were still unknown to Justin in A.D. 165 and
Tertullian in A.D. 220.

68. Genesis Rabbah 43:6, Jacob Neusner, ed.,
3 vols. (Atlanta: Scholars, 1985), 3:119. Rabbi Isaac the Babylonian inferred
from the title King of Salem (Shalem)
that Melchizedek was born circumcised. Midrash
Rabbah Genesis (Lekh Lekha)

69. TB Nedarim 32b. Note that the Jewish
explanation of kata ten taxin (after
the order of) Melchizedek is to paraphrase it as “according to the
blundering utterance of Melchizedek,” for thus Abraham became his
successor in the priesthood.

70. R. Jizchak, Bereshit Rabbah 43 on Genesis 14:19 (third century A.D.).

71. Midrash Rabbah Genesis (Lekh Lekha) 43:6, tr. Freedman and Simon, 356, explicating Proverbs 9:5,
“come, eat of my bread, and drink of my wine.”

72. This is common,
beginning with the second-century Targums Neophiti I, Targum Pseudo-Jonathan,
Fragmententargum (but not Onqelos). It is assumed without question in most
rabbinic writing. See Bemidbar Rabbah on Numbers 3:45, Der Midrasch Bemidbar (Leipzig,
1885); R. Jizchak, Bereshit Rabbah 43
on Genesis
14:19; Sefer Eliahu Rabbah 25;
Nachmanides, Perush ha-Ramban cal ha-Torah 14:18; Wajikra Rabbah 25 on Leviticus 19:23; Pirke de Rabbi Eliezer 27. The same
tradition is reported in Christian writings after the fifth-century: Jerome, Hebraicae Quaestiones in Genesim 14, in PL 23:1010; Isidore, De Ortu et Obitu Patrum 10 in PL 83:132; Rupert, Dialogus Inter Christianum et Judaeum II, in PL 170:583; Jerome, Epistola 73, in PL 22:679.

73. Epiphanius, Adversus Haereses LXVII, 7, in PG 42:181.

74. John Malalas, Chronographa III, in PG 97:134.

75. Epiphanius, Adversus Haereses LV, 2, in PG 41:973.

76. Georgios
Monachos, Chronikon I, 10, in PG 110:145-48. The Book of the Cave of Treasures, E. A. W. Budge, ed. (London,
1927), 152.

77. Chronikon Paschale, Dindorf, ed. (Bonn),
90, listed in Wuttke, Melchisedech der
Priesterkönig von Salem
, 48.

78. Athanasius
(dubia), Historia de Melchisedech, in PG 28:525.

79. Eustathius of
Antioch, Nicephoros Cat. I, 198 (hyios pornes), in Wuttke, Melchisedech der Priesterkönig von Salem,

80. Numerous other
accounts cast Melchizedek in even further roles. One depicts him as a guard
over the treasure cave where the body of Adam was buried. He was “set
apart all the days of his life. He shall not take a wife, he shall not shed
blood, he shall not offer up the offerings of wild animals and feathered fowl;
but he shall offer unto God bread and wine, for by these redemption shall be
made for Adam and all his posterity. . . . He shall wear a garment of skin, he
shall not shave his head, and he shall not cut his nails, but shall remain
alone natural because he is the priest of God the most High.” Book of the Cave of Treasures, Budge,
ed., 105-6. There is also a legend that Melchizedek fell asleep in a cave along
with Ham and Japheth and awoke at the time of the nativity of Christ to travel
to Bethlehem as one of the Magi. Sabine Baring-Gould, Legends of the Patriarchs and Prophets and Other Old Testament
(New York: Alden, 1885), 141.

81. Cf. Fitzmyer,
“Now This Melchizedek,” 308-9. See text accompanying nn. 17-21 above.

82. See, for example,
Josephus, Antiquities I, 181; Hebrews 7:4; Genesis Apocryphon 22:12-20.

83. This extends to
more recent religious writings as well. See John Lewis, Melchizedech’s Antitype (London: Okes & Whitakers, 1624);
George C. Currie, “Melchisedec,” Virginia
Seminary Magazine
(July 1892), in the Duke University Collected Monographs,
vol. 288. Luther, however, rejected the typology in his “Predigt
über Genesis 14″
(1527), in Martin Luthers Werke:
Kritische Gesammtausgabe
(Weiner: Hermann Böhlaus, 1900), 24:277-86; see
also Martin Luthers sämtliche
, J. Walch, ed. (Gross Oesingen: Lutherische Buchhandlung, 1987),
5:1021, 19:1208. See also 2 Enoch 71,
in OTP 1:208.

84. Josephus is an
understandable exception, since he wrote in the court of a Roman emperor.

85. 2 Enoch 71:30, 37, in OTP 1:209, 211.

86. This conjunction
of kingship and priesthood may also reflect an ancient attribution of divine
commission of the king (cf. Mosiah 2:18-19),
and it is consistent with ordaining people to become kings and priests. As
Joseph Smith taught, the Melchizedek “Priesthood is a perfect law of
theocracy.” TPJS, 322.

87. Baring-Gould, Legends of the Patriarchs and Prophets,
141. Cf. JST, Genesis 14:26,
“he stopped the mouths of lions.”