11QMelchizedek

This article discusses the second of two Qumran texts which provide interesting parallels to early Christian ideas regarding the identity of Jesus as the Anointed One (Messiah). The first of these texts (4Q521) was dealt with in an earlier article; the second is 11Q13, better known as 11QMelch[izedek] because of the prominent role of Melchizedek in the surviving portion(s) of the text.

11Q13 is made up of thirteen fragments; numbers 1-4 comprise a significant block, and, indeed, the bulk of the text. The remaining fragments make up a very small portion. The text dates from sometime in the mid-1st century B.C.; but, as is normally the case with these scrolls fragments, it is virtually impossible to establish the overall extent, scope, or contents of the work. It was first published in 1965 by A. S. van der Woude; the critical edition was prepared by F. García Martínez, E. J. C. Tigchelaar, and van der Woude, and published in Discoveries in the Judean Desert (DJD) Vol. XXIII, 221-241, pl. XXVII.

The main surviving block (col. 2, lines 1-25) is relatively intact, in spite of a number of gaps, enough to give us a clear and vivid sense of what is being described. This portion is unquestionably eschatological in orientation, with a strong dualistic approach. In this regard, it has certain features in common with works such as the War Scroll (1QM) and the Community Rule (1QS), which were central to the Community’s religious (and sectarian) identity.

The first lines establish an important Scriptural theme: the Jubilee year, an ancient Israelite tradition, described via citations from Leviticus 25:13 and Deuteronomy 15:2. The Jubilee year provides the chronological (and theological) framework for the eschatological events discussed in this section. Actually, there is a chain of Scripture passages involved, reflecting a distinctive kind of pesher (commentary) approach, seen in a number of Qumran texts, such as the famous Florilegium (4Q174), as well as the Testimonia (4Q175) and Catenae (4Q177, 4Q182). Like 11Q13, these commentary texts are eschatological (and Messianic) in outlook, with the distinct view (shared by early Christians) that the faithful Community held a central position with regard to the coming end-time events. We may outline the commentary chain in 11Q13 as follows:

  • Scripture:
    Lev 25:13; Deut 15:2—The Jubilee Year, the year of release and return. [Lines 1-3]
    Interpretation (pesher):
    God’s people, currently being held captive, will be released in the last days (soon to be realized), returning to the place where they belong. They belong to Melchizedek as “sons of light”, and it is Melchizedek who will bring about their release and return. Melchizedek has the authority to rule and judge, standing in a position over the holy ones. [Lines 4-9]
    • Scripture:
      Psalm 82:1-2 (+ 7:8-9)—God (Elohim) will act as Judge of the peoples. [Lines 10-11]
      Interpretation (pesher):
      God is about to judge Belial, the spirits under his control, and all the wicked (nations/people) over whom he rules. This judgment will be carried out by Melchizedek, who will also rescue the righteous from the power of Belial. [Lines 12-14]
      • Scripture:
        Isaiah 52:7—This time of release/rescue is the day of peace prophesied by Isaiah, the coming of a messenger announcing good news to the afflicted and declaring the truth about God to his people (“you God rules”) [Lines 16ff]
      • Interpretation (pesher):
        The messenger of Isa 52:7 is identified as an Anointed ruler (and teacher/prophet) who will comfort and instruct the faithful ones, announcing their deliverance. He is also identified specifically with the figure mentioned in Dan 9:25. The faithful ones are the congregation, i.e. the Community (“Zion”), who walk faithfully according to the Torah, the Prophets, and the precepts of the Community. Melchizedek acts in God’s place, freeing his people. [Lines 17ff]
        • Scripture:
          Leviticus 25:9 {the text ends here with the beginning of this citation} [Line 25b]

This surviving section provides us with a rare and precious window into a complex line of interpretation, involving a range of theological, eschatological, and Messianic associations. Central to any subsequent interpretation, on our part, is an understanding of what the author (and/or the Community) meant by the figure of Melchizedek. Clearly, a line of tradition is at work which goes far beyond the Canaanite priest-king of the ancient Abraham traditions in Genesis 14, and even beyond the royal theology expressed in Psalm 110 (on this, see my note on Ps 110:1). Scholars have debated here whether Melchizedek was envisioned as representing (a) an angelic/heavenly savior, or (b) a Messianic, but human, priest-king. Sound arguments can be made in favor of each view; however, I believe that such a distinction itself may obscure the thought-world that governs this text. The key, I think, is in the central Scripture cited in the text (cf. above), that of Psalm 82:1-2. Melchizedek is identified as one who stands (as Elohim) in God’s place, in the midst of the divine assembly (“in the midst of the gods [elohim]”). This would indicate that he is a divine/heavenly being himself, also evidenced by the expression “the year of favor (belonging) to Melchizedek” [qdx yklml /wxr tnv] in line 9, an adaptation of “the year of favor (belonging) to YHWH” [hwhyl /wxr tnv] in Isa 61:2a.

Such a view is confirmed by the dualistic contrast with Belial, who is elsewhere in the Qumran texts (1QM 13:10ff; 17:6-7, etc) set against the heavenly (Angel) Michael, also called by the title “Prince of Light” (even as Belial is “Prince of Darkness”). Moreover, in fragment 2 of the text 4Q544 (cf. also 4Q280), Belial is identified by the name Melchiresha [i.e. Wicked Ruler], an exact (negative) corollary to the name Melchizedek [Righteous Ruler]. In Jewish tradition, influenced largely (though not necessarily exclusively) by the book of Daniel (10:13ff; 12:1ff), Michael functions as heavenly protector and end-time deliverer of Israel, a conception which was retained by early Christians (Rev 12:7ff). The identification of Melchizedek with Michael was made explicit in later Jewish midrashim.

While this interpretation would seem to be correct, the dualistic worldview of the Qumran Community was actually a bit more complicated. Several texts make clear that the Community viewed itself as the “holy ones”—an earthly manifestation parallel to the heavenly reality of the “Holy Ones” (i.e. Angels/Spirits), both being identified as “sons of light”. Just as the Angel/Spirits were led by the “Prince of Light” (Michael), so the Community would be led by the “Prince of the Congregation” (Messiah). Both figures would appear, in tandem, at the end time to deliver the holy ones from the power of Belial (Prince/Spirit of Darkness and deceit, etc). This two-fold Messianic conception seems to explain the apparent ambiguity surrounding the citation of Isaiah 52:7, a (deutero-)Isaian passage which was understood in a Messianic sense by the time this text was written. The (Anointed) herald who brings the good news of deliverance is identified with the coming Anointed ruler prophesied in Daniel 9:25. Two distinct Messianic figure-types are thus brought together, to which are added two others associated here with Melchizedek, creating a complex of four; I outline these as follows:

    • Anointed One (Messiah)
      • Prophet/Herald (Isa 52:7)
      • Davidic Ruler (Dan 9:25)
    • Heavenly Deliverer (Melchizedek/Michael)
      • Ruler and Judge
      • Atoning Priest

Such an interconnection of Messianic figure-types is otherwise found only in the New Testament and early Christian tradition, applied to the identity of Jesus as the Messiah (I discuss all of these, in detail, in the series “Yeshua the Anointed”). The personage of “Melchizedek” also appears in the New Testament, applied to Jesus, in Hebrews 7, where we find an extensive interpretation of the Old Testament figure, both as he appears in Genesis 14 and the mention in Psalm 110. There is some evidence that the author of Hebrews may be drawing upon a line of tradition similar to that of 11Q13—i.e., the identity of Melchizedek as a heavenly/divine figure. For more on this, cf. Part 9 of “Yeshua the Anointed”, along with the supplementary note on Ps 110:1 and the supplementary study on Hebrews.

The priestly aspect of Melchizedek (lines 7-8 of col. ii)—i.e. his act of atonement for the “sons of light”—will be discussed in more detail in the next Dead Sea Scroll Spotlight article, on the text 4Q541.