Tag Archives: Targum

Who is Melchizedek?

Melchizedek, a figure so heavily emphasized in the letter to the Hebrews, is shrouded in mystery. Who is this character and why is he so important?

Melchizedek

In the Bible
Melchizedek shows up only three times in the Bible. At first, he is a priest to whom Abraham pays a tithe (Gen 14:20). Melchizedek is here called a “priest of God Most High”; he offers bread and wine and blesses Abraham (Gen 14:18-19). Second, he shows up in a royal coronation psalm, written to celebrate the Davidic king, wherein the Lord “swears” an oath that the king “is a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek” (Ps 110:4). Lastly, he shows up in Hebrews, which mentions him 8 times and emphasizes that Christ is a high priest in the line of Melchizedek, applying the line from Ps 110 to him (Heb 5:6, 10; 6:20; 7:1, 10, 11, 15, 17).

In the Dead Sea Scrolls
Melchizedek appears in a document discovered among the Dead Sea Scrolls called 11QMelchizedek or 11Q13. In this text, Melchizedek returns to inaugurate the jubilee year, the “year of Melchizedek’s favor”* according to the text of 11Q13, instead of the “year of the Lord’s favor” in Isa 61:2. The text describes Melchizedek as a “godlike being”* who judges and executes God’s vengence. It cites Ps 82:1 and Ps 7:7-8 to describe him.

In Apocryphal Literature
Melchizedek is mentioned in 2 Enoch 68-73 (“the Exaltation of Melchizedek”) as being conceived without a father, being born from his mother’s dead body as a 3-year-old and continuing the line of priests from Enoch and Seth. The Nag Hammadi text “Tractate Melchizedek” in Codex IX, identifies Melchizedek as Jesus Christ.

Philo
Philo explains Melchizedek as a just king and relates him to reason (logos). See Legum Allegoriarum 3.79-82.

In Early Jewish Literature
Some early Jewish writers equate Melchizedek with the archangel Michael, leader of the heavenly armies. Other early Jewish authorities identify Melchizedek with Shem, the son of Noah (Targumim Pseudo-Jonathan, Neofiti, V, P).

In Early Christianity
There was actually a group of Christian heretics called “Melchizedekians”, referred to by Epiphanius of Salamis in his Panarion, Book II, chapter 55 (Greek, English excerpts). They regarded Melchizedek as actually greater than Jesus. There is also an early Christian work called Historia de Melchizedek (PG 28:525) attributed to pseudo-Athanasius.

Conclusions
So what to make of all these different identities? Clearly, early Jewish and Christian writers were very interested in Melchizedek’s identity and often sought to explain him in a way that pulled together other concepts–priesthood, redemption, eschatology. The best source, of course, is the Bible. Melchizedek should mainly be seen as an Old Testament priest who serves as a “type” of Christ. He foreshadows Christ’s universal priesthood through which we can be redeemed. The letter to the Hebrews provides the definitive interpretation of Melchizedek–a man, yes, but a man who points to the God-man.

I am indebted to Harold Attridge’s commentary on Hebrews (Hermeneia series, [Fortress Press, 1989]192-95) for pointing me to the right sources. You can find an online reproduction of his essay here.

*See Michael Wise, Martin Abegg, Jr., and Edward Cook, The Dead Sea Scrolls: A New Translation, (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1996), 456.

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A Few Books I Bought

I thought I’d tell you about a few books I just bought.

1. The Art of Biblical Narrative by Robert Alter. This is a bit of a classic. I’ve wanted to read it for a long time, but never got the chance. Alter is a literary critic, but this little book made a big impression back in the eighties. I hope to enjoy it.

2. Back to the Sources: Reading the Classic Jewish Texts, edited by Barry Holtz. I’ve been using the Mishnah and some rabbinic commentaries in my research, but I’m no expert in early Jewish literature. I’m hoping that this book will be a great introduction to reading this collection. I also hope it is more accessible than Introduction to the Talmud and Midrash by Strack and Stemberger. I found this book rather forbidding. It assumed you knew a lot about the topic it is trying to introduce. Maybe it will make more sense after reading Holtz.

3. The Golden Legend: Readings on the Saints, volume II, by Jacobus de Voragine, trans. William Granger Ryan. I got the first volume last year and I’m happy to have both now. I got interested in the Golden Legend after visiting the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC. The medieval section of the museum is rich with saint story paintings, but unfortunately, I found myself hopelessly unfamiliar with the stories presented. I was constantly scrambling to identify saints by their traits and symbols. Many of the stories depicted and the symbols collected around each saint are derived from the Golden Legend. It was extremely popular during the Middle Ages and from it flowed much religious art right at the time that Late Medieval Tuscan painting was born. That is, the book prompted lots of art at a time of great transition in Western art, when painters were moving from iconography to more realistic painting. I think reading the Golden Legend will give me a better understanding of the art of the time.

In addition, I recently grabbed Roland De Vaux’s book Early History of Israel  off my shelf and started reading. I’m hoping his scholarly and Catholic perspective will enhance my understanding of the Old Testament.

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Song of Songs Rabbah and Targum to the Song of Songs Online

Sometimes tracking down ancient Jewish sources on Scripture can be very challenging, especially for the uninitiate ( like me).  Understanding the difference between Targums, rabbah, Talmud, Mishnah, Midrash etc. can be quite complicated. So…in my research, I am hunting up the Song of Songs Rabbah, which is a midrashic commentary on the Song of Songs, compiled over a long time in Jewish oral tradition. The other source I am looking for is the Targum to the Song of Songs, an Aramaic “translation” of the text. I put “translation” in scare quotes, because the translator does plenty of interpreting rather than straight-up text translation.

The original language texts of these two sources are not easy to find on the internet. In fact, they may only exist in printed editions. Translations, however, are easier to find.

The Targum to the Song of Songs on Google Books
Gollancz, Hermann, translator. The Targum to the ‘Song of Songs’; The Book of the Apple; The Ten Jewish Martyrs; A Dialogue on Games of Chance. London: Luzac, 1908. Pp. 15-90.

There is an Aramaic text out there in the world of public domain, but I can’t find it in Google Books: Raphael Hai Melamed, “The Targum to Canticles According to Six Yemen Mss. Compared with the ‘Textus Receptus’ (Ed. de Lagarde),” Jewish Quarterly Review, New Series, 10 (1919-20): 377-410, 11 (1920-21): 1-20, and 12 (1921-22): 57-117. It looks like this series of articles was compiled into a book in 1921: R. H. Melamed, The Targum to Canticles According to Six Yemen Mss. Compared with the ‘Textus Receptus’, (Philadelphia: Dropsie College, 1921) . You can get an electronic copy from the Internet Archive.

I also found an online translation by Jay Treat who uses the text provided by Melamed.

Song of Songs Rabbah is more elusive, unfortunately. Printed translations include, chronologically:
Maurice Simon, Midrash Rabbah: Esther and Song of Songs, 10 vols. (London: Soncino Press, 1939).
Jacob Neusner, Song of Songs Rabbah: An Analytical Translation, 2 vols. (University of South Florida Press, 1989-90).
Jacob Neusner, Israel’s Love Affair with God: Song of Songs, The Bible of Judaism Library (Valley Forge, PA: Trinity, 1993).

The only printed original language text of Song of Songs Rabbah I can track down:
Samson Dunsky,Midrash Rabbah: Shir Hashirim, (Montreal, 1973). (Includes Yiddish translation. The editor’s first name is misspelled as “Simson” or “Shimshon” in some electronic records.)
And it looks like you can get an electronic copy at Internet Archive. The digital copy is made available by the Steven Spielberg Digital Yiddish Library.

If you can find more texts online or offline, make a comment on this post.

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