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Melchizedek and the Dead Sea Scrolls

One of the fascinating things I found from reading the Dead Sea Scrolls is the number of references to Melchizedek. There are 11 mentions of Melchizedek in the scrolls, a curiosity due to the limited information given about him in Genesis 14. Understanding how the Jews thought of Melchizedek colors our understanding of what the writer of Hebrews is arguing concerning Melchizedek in Hebrews 7. So I thought I would post some of the Qumran references to Melchizedek for others to consume. The […] indicates broken text because the fragment is lost or damaged and cannot be translated.

11Q13 2:2-10

2:2 And concerning what scripture says, “In [this] year of Jubilee [you shall return, every one of you, to your property” (Leviticus 25:13) and what is also written, “And this]

3 is the [ma]nner of [the remission:] every creditor shall remit the claim that is held [against a neighbor, not exacting it of a neighbor who is a member of the community, because God’s] remission [has been proclaimed” (Deuteronomy 15:2). ]

4 [The interpretation] is that it applies [to the L]ast Days and concerns the captives, just as [Isaiah said: “To proclaim the Jubilee to the captives” (Isaiah 61:1). … just] as

5  […] and from the inheritance of Melchizedek, f[or … Melchize]dek, who

6 will return them to what is rightfully theirs. He will proclaim to them the Jubilee, thereby releasing th[em from the debt of a]ll their sins. [He shall pro]claim this decree

7 in the fir[s]t [wee]k of the Jubilee period that foll[ows nine j]ubilee periods. Then the “D[ay of Atone]ment” shall follow af[ter] the [te]nth [ju]bilee period,

8 when he shall atone for all the Sons of [Light] and the peopl[e who are pre]destined to Mel[chi]zedek. […] upo[n the]m […] For

9 this is the time decreed for “the year of Melchiz[edek]’s favor” (Isaiah 61:2, modified), [and] by his might he w[i]ll judge God’s holy ones and so establish a righteous ki[n]gdom, as it is written

10 about him in the Songs of David, “A godlike being has taken his place in the council of God; in the midst of the divine beings he holds judgment” (Psalm 82:1).

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The Melchizedek figure is pictured in combination with the year of Jubilee. Jubilee was the forgiveness of debts. But the Qumran community saw this Melchizedek figure as doing more than forgiving debts, but also forgiving sins (2:6). Not only this, Melchizedek is placed on the same level as God. In referencing Isaiah 61:2, the Qumran community substituted “the year of the Lord’s favor” for “the year of Melchizedek’s favor” (2:9). Further, Melchizedek would establish a righteous kingdom and will judge the holy ones (2:9).

The Qumran people saw Melchizedek as a divine Messianic figure who would establish a kingdom and release the people of their debt to sin. It seems their concept of the Messiah was not farfetched. But it is curious that they equated Melchizedek to this work. Perhaps this is the reason for the argument found in Hebrews 7 that Melchizedek was superior because he held the office of priest and king simultaneously. So the Messiah would do the same.

Scholars debate over how influential the Qumran community was in Judaism from the second century BC to the first century AD. They also debate over how reflective their beliefs were to that of the rest of Jewish society. Were they just a small group in the wilderness with strange beliefs? If so, many of the documents like the Copper Scroll do not make much sense. Or did the Qumran community have the same general beliefs and doctrinal ideas as the rest of the Jewish population, but lived in the wilderness either because they perceived the nation and priesthood to be defiled and/or because the approaching invasion of the Roman armies?

I will write more about Melchizedek and the Dead Sea Scrolls this week.