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The mysterious Melchizedek of Qumran

11QMelch – or Melchizedek of the Eleventh Qumran Cave – is an angelic figure which, however, also falls within the context of an eschatological intervention of God himself to whom was given the title of malki tsedeq (a Hebrew phrase meaning King of Justice or My King is Justice). Probably, the text was composed towards the end of II sec. a. C. and is composed of thirteen fragments patiently reconstituted by A.S. van der Houde in 1965 and most recently by Émile Puech. Here is the text of columns II and III:

Col. II

1 [… ] your God […]

2 […] And as for what he said: Lev 25:13 “In this year of jubilee, [you shall return, each one, to his respective property,” as is written: Dt 15:2 “This is]

3 the manner (of effecting) the [release: every creditor shall release what he lent [to his neighbor. He shall not coerce his neighbour or his brother when] the release for God [has been proclaimed].”

4 [Its inter]pretation for the last days refers to the captives, about whom he said: Isa 61:1 “To proclaim liberty to the captives.” And he will make

5 their rebels prisoners […] and of the inheritance of Melchizedek, for […] and they are the inheri[tance of Melchi]zedek, who

6 will make them return. He will proclaim liberty for them, to free them from [the debt] of all their iniquities. And this will [happen]

7 in the first week of the jubilee which follows the ni[ne] jubilees. And the day [of atonem]ent is the end of the tenth jubilee

8 in which atonement will be made for all the sons of [God] and for the men of the lot of Melchizedek. [And on the heights] he will decla[re in their] favour according to their lots; for

9 it is the time of the “year of grace” for Melchizedek, to exa[lt in the tri]al the holy ones of God through the rule of judgment, as is written

10 about him in the songs of David, who said: Ps 82:1 “Elohim will stand up in the assem[bly of El,] in the midst of the gods he judges.” And about him he said: Ps 7:8-9 “Above it

11 return to the heights, God will judge the peoples.” As for what he sa[id: Ps 82:2 “How long will yo]u judge unjustly and show partiality to the wicked? Selah.”

12 Its interpretation concerns Belial and the spirits of his lot, who were rebels [all of them] turning aside from the commandments of God [to commit evil].

13 But, Melchizedek will carry out the vengeance of God’s judgements [on this day, and they shall be freed from the hands] of Belial and from the hands of all the sp[irits of his lot].

14 To his aid (shall come) all “the gods of [justice”; he] is the one [who will prevail on this day over] all the sons of God, and he pre[side over] this [assembly].

15 This is the day of [peace about which God] spoke [of old through the words of Isa]iah the prophet, who said: Isa 52:7 “How beautiful

16 upon the mountains are the feet of the messenger who announces peace, of the mess[enger of good who announces salvation], saying to Zion: ‘your God [reigns’].”

17 Its interpetation: The mountains are the pro[phets …]

18 And the messenger is [the ano]inted of the spirit [mashiach haruach] about whom Dan[iel] spoke [“…until the time of (the/an) Anointed Prince [mashiach nagid] there will be seven weeks . . . after sixty-two weeks, (the/an) Anointed shall be cut off” Dan 9:25, 26 ]. [… and the messenger of]

19 good who announces salv[ation] is the one about whom it is written that [he will send him Isa 61:2-3 “to comfo[rt the afflicted, to watch over the afflicted ones of Zion”].

20 “To comfo[rt the afflicted,” its interpretation:] to instruct them in all the ages of the worl[d…]

21 in truth. […]

22 […] it has been turned away from Belial and it […]

23 […] in the judgments of God, as is written about him: Isa 52:7“Saying to Zion: ‘your God rules’.” [“Zi]on” is

24 [the congregation of all the sons of justice, those] who establish the covenant, those who avoid walking [on the pa]th of the people. “Your God” is

25 [Melchizedek, who will fr]ee [them] from the hand of Belial. And as for what he said: Lev 25:9 “You shall blow the hor[n in every] land.”

Col. III (only small pieces)

1 [Its interpretation …]
2 and you know […]
3 God […]
4 and many […]
5 […] Melchizedek […]
6 the law for them […] the hand […] and he will announce […]
7 they shall devour Belial with fire […] Belial, and they shall rebel […]
8 the desires of their hearts […]
9 the ramparts of Judah […] the ramparts of Je[rusalem…]

10-20 [minute traces] (the text was taken from this article)

In addition to several biblical characters, two are particularly prominent: Melchizedek and those who belong to his legacy; Belial and those who belong to his side. The perspective is triple: anthropological at the beginning (II, 1 ff.), angelic-divine (II, 7-15), and finally Messianic (II, 15 ff.).

At first glance, the first part – the anthropological one – speaks of the remittance to the whole people. However, quoting Isaiah’s prophecy (chapter 61, 2), 11QMelch narrows the circle of prisoners to be released, referring exclusively to Qumran members (II, 4-5). The classical jubilee passages (especially Lv 25,13 and Dt 15,2) qutoed at the beginning of the manuscript lose their legal function to assume moral and eschatological significance.

In the second part, the angelic-divine one, the King of Justice performs an act of universal salvation in the tenth and definitive jubilee of history, which represents the definitive end of the historical stage represented by the first nine jubilees. The agent would be Malki tsedeq, an angelic being to whom divine titles are attributed. He is included among the gods (in hebrew elim). Indeed Malki tsedeq seems to be one of the titles attributed to YHWH itself. He is an expiatory figure and performs the rite of the High Priest on Yom Kippur’s Day.

Finally, he is also the Messiah, or a character incarnating certain prerogatives of the Messiah, such as the double figure of a king and a priest (see Genes 14:18).

For these reasons, Melkizedek appears in the Letters to the Hebrews as an image of the priesthood of Christ (see Hebrews 5). Christ, in fact, is both a man, but also a mediator, a priest, and above all God.

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Simone Venturini

Writer and Researcher at Vatican Secret Archives, Professor of Bible at Pontifical University of the Holy Cross od Rome

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