Enoch and the Birth of Melchizedek – 2 Enoch 64-73

In Chapter 64 Enoch once again is about to go up into heaven, this time as 2000 people watch. Enoch is described in this chapter as “glorified before the face of the Lord for all eternity” and the one the Lord chose in preference to all the people of the earth. OTP 190 note c comments this is such high praise it would not have pleased either Jew of Christian. The manuscript evidence show a high degree of “embarrassment” over this glowing endorsement of Enoch!

As with the previous moments when Enoch was about to go into heaven, he instructs the gathered people rather than ascend into heaven (chapters 65-67). Like the previous sections, Enoch exhorts his audience to good works based on the creation of the universe. In 66:6 there is an “affliction list” – walk before the Lord in longsuffering, meekness, affliction, distress, faithfulness, truth, hope, weakness, derision, assaults, temptations, deprivations, and nakedness. This list is not unlike Romans 8:35 and Paul’s own list of afflictions in 2 Cor. 4:8 and 11:16-29. The righteous ought not to expect an easy life even when they seek the Lord.

MethuselahChapters 69-73 contain a version of the flood narrative beginning with Enoch’s translation into heaven (68:1-4) and the response by his son Methusalem. This section reads quite differently than the rest of the book; Enoch is no longer the subject, Methusalem and later Melchizedek, Nir and Noah are the main characters. There is less ethical exhortation and more prose narrative than anywhere else in the book. This section is therefore probably from another source.

Enoch and his brothers construct an altar on the spot where Enoch ascended and sacrificed “in front of the face of the Lord.” (68:5-7). Chapter 69 describes Methusalem’s sacrifices. After the people bring the animals to sacrifice, Methusalem’s face glows radiantly and prays aloud to the Lord, asking him to accept the sacrifice.

As he prays, the altar is shaken and the knife leaps into his hand. From that time on he is honored as a prophet. Methusalem remained at the altar of the Lord for ten years, during which time not a single person “turned away from vanity” (chapter 71). Methusalem’s son Lamekh has two sons, Nir and Noe. After Methusalem is given a disturbing vision of the coming flood, Nir is made a priest. Methusalem dies and people continue to turn away from the Lord. The devil, we are told, came to rule a third time (70:24-25).

Nir’s wife Sopanim becomes pregnant in her old age, having been sterile (chapter 71). This is described as a “virgin” birth. While this story has elements similar to Matthew 2 and Luke 2, the differences are fantastic and legendary. She is embarrassed by this pregnancy and hides herself until the child is due. When Nir discovers she is pregnant he rebukes her and intends to send her away because she has disgraced him, but instead she falls dead at his feet.  Noe discovers this and tells Nir that the Lord has “covered up our scandal.” They bury Sopanim in a black shroud in a secret grave.

The child, however, was not dead and came out of the dead mother as a fully developed child. This terrifies Nir and Noe, but since the child is “glorious in appearance” they realize the Lord is renewing the priesthood in their bloodline. They name the child Melkisedek. We are told that Melkisedek will be the head of “thirteen priests who existed before” and later there will be another Melkisedek who will be the head over twelve priests as an archpriest. Melkisedek is only with Nir for forty days, then the Lord instructs Michael to go and take the boy up to heavEnoch The Lord calls him “my child Melkisedek” (72:1-2). The child is to be placed in Paradise forever. Nir is so grieved by the loss of his son. He also dies leaving no more priests in the world, allowing the world to become even more evil. Noe is therefore instructed to build the ark in chapter 73.

melchizadeckThis strange miraculous birth story for Melkisedek is part of an interest in the King of Salem first mentioned in the Bible in Genesis 14:18. Psalm 110:4 describes the king / messiah as a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek. This text is cited twice in Hebrews 5:6-10 and 7:1-17 and applied to Jesus. The writer of Hebrews is likely tapping into a common image of a true priesthood which runs outside of the line of the Levites and Aaron. In the case of 2 Enoch, the “legendary” elements of Melchizedek’s story pre-date the flood. This could be used to argue for an early date for this section as well, since the Melchizedek legend was popular in the first century. It is possible a medieval writer created a pre-flood Melchizedek birth story, but it is more likely 2 Enoch is reflecting a first century or earlier tradition.

Melchizedek was an important figure for the Qumran community, 11QMelch is a poorly preserved but important fragment in which the character Melchizedek is tied to Old Testament texts on the Jubilee and describes him as returning to proclaim liberty, probably based on Is. 61:1 (line 6). There are no real parallels between this Melchizedek legend and anything in the first century, implying this section is to be dated rather late.

Hebrews 7 – Melchizedek and Typology

In Hebrews 7, a character from the Hebrew Bible is used by the writer as a way to talk about Jesus in the present age. This method of interpretation is sometimes called “typology.” As Karen Jobes states in Letters to the Church, this method attempts to understand earlier persons, events, and institutions drawn from the Hebrew Bible as anticipations of later persons, events, and institutions (48). Some events in the Old Testament are described in the New Testament as having anticipated the events of the New Testament. For example, the Passover Lamb is clearly an anticipation of the sacrifice of Christ, the lamb of the Passover can be called a “type” of Christ.   In the case of Melchizedek in Hebrews 7, the priest-king of Salem is described as a “type” of Christ.

San Vitale basilica, Ravenna, MelchizedekWhat is “typological” in Melchizedek’s story, and what is not?  Two elements are highlighted by the writer of Hebrews – his name and his lack of genealogy. Not everything in Gen 14 is significant for the writer of Hebrews.  Noticeably absent from this “typology” is Melchizedek bringing food and wine to Abram.  Some in the early church took this as Communion and taught that Abram celebrated the communion with Melchizedek. The food and wine were simply part of the sacrifice and the blessing that followed and not a foreshadowing of the Eucharist.

The first point drawn from the Genesis story is the name Melchizedek, “King of Righteousness” and his title, “King of Salem,” meaning “King of Peace.” The name can mean “King of righteousness,” or “my king is righteous.”  Either way the emphasis is on righteousness. The city of Salem may be the city of Jerusalem, which probably means “foundation of peace.”  The combination of righteousness and peace is the element of the story that is significant to our writer, Jesus is the combination of righteousness and peace, and is able to bring both to the world in his death.

It was expected that the Messiah would be both a righteous ruler and a bringer of peace (Isa 9:6, Isa 32:17, Jer 23:5-6, 33:15)  Thus Melchizedek is a fit analogy for Jesus because Melchizedek combines both the king and priest into one person, and is called both the Righteous King and the Peaceful King, as is Jesus as the Messiah.

The second element drawn from Gen 14 is the fact that Melchizedek has no genealogy. The Genesis story introduces Melchizedek without any hint as to who he is, as it we are supposed to know who he is.  That there is no genealogy may be simply because there is no reason in the flow of Gen 14 to give the genealogy of Melchizedek.   There are quite a few characters who are introduced without genealogy, but since Melchizedek is a priest it is more significant.  The Law is quite clear that a priest must be from the tribe of Levi, later Ezra was quite careful to ensure that all of the priests who were serving could prove their genealogy.

The significance for the writer of Hebrews is not that his genealogy is not mentioned at all.  Reading this from the perspective of first century Hellenism, this would be understood as a claim of divinity. The gods are sometimes described as “without mother or father.”  The idea that the Messiah would be “without descendants” or ancestors may have been suggested by Isaiah 53:8a “By oppression and judgment he was taken away. And who can speak of his descendants?” Because of this fact he is a worthy analogy of Christ, a priest from an order other than Aaron’s Levitical priesthood.  Jesus was a priest, but not in the line of Aaron, he was from this independent line of priests, like Melchizedek.

The danger of a “type” is in taking the analogy too far and creating an allegory out of the original text.  Types are analogies, and as such they have some parallels, but the analogy breaks down if you press it too far. The early church loved typological interpretation, pressing details for hard that they were allegorizing every minor element of an Old Testament story into a spiritual meaning for the New Testament era.  In an effort to get behind the text and find the hidden meaning, the obvious meaning of the text was lost. There is no basis for most of the interpretations, for example, any four colors represent the four gospels, etc.

I find it troublesome to interpret stories from the Hebrew Bible as “types” today because I am not a prophet (nor the son of a prophet). Part of the problem is my Western “fear of allegory” as an interpretive method. Frankly, the writer of Hebrews would not score very high on a paper for my class using this sort of typological method. And that raises a question – what do we make of his argument about Jesus based on Melchizedek? His method was sound in the first century, but it is not really going to convince a modern skeptic.

Is there any way to use Hebrews 7 as a “guide” for interpreting scripture in a modern context?

Hebrews 7:1-3 – The Priesthood of Melchizedek

One of the more tantalizing problems in Hebrews is the identification of Jesus as a priest in the order of Melchizedek. Since the author of Hebrews is making the argument that Jesus is the ideal High Priest, someone might object that Jesus cannot be the High Priest since he is not from the tribe of Levi. No one from Judah could be selected as a priest, let alone a high priest. In order to solve this problem, Hebrews will identify Jesus as a priest in a different line, one that is superior to the tribe of Levi or the lines of Aaron and Zadok.

melchizedek2In the Hebrew Bible, Melchizedek is identified as both a priest and king of the city of Salem (Gen 14). After Abram rescues Lot from Mesopotamian invaders he is met by Melchizedek. He is simply identified as a “priest of God Most High” (כֹהֵ֖ן לְאֵ֥ל עֶלְיֽוֹן). He brings both bread and wine and blesses Abram, who gives the priest a tithe from the plunder.

He is mentioned a second time in Psalm 110, perhaps the most cited messianic Psalm in the New Testament. What is important for our reading of Heb 7 is that the Psalm connects the Davidic ruler to “the priesthood of Melchizedek.” Melchizedek was the priest-king of Jerusalem years before David captured the city and established it as his capitol. It is possible that David took over the title of “priest-king” of Jerusalem when he captured the Jebusite city. The kings of Judah could therefore be considered priests “in the order of Melchizedek.”

There were a number of interpretations of Melchizedek current in the first century, perhaps explaining why the author of Hebrews used this rather obscure character as an analogy for Jesus.  The Dead Sea scrolls make Melchizedek into a paradigm for the righteous remnant, awaiting the return of the Messiah.  He functions very much like Michael in Dan 12.  He is a defender of Israel who will return to punish those who opposed the righteous remnant. The Targum Jonathan argued that Melchizedek was Shem, the son of Noah.  In the genealogies of Genesis, Shem would outlived Abraham by 35 years.  The Jews sought to find a way to explain the great Abraham giving honor to Melchizedek, they did this by making him one of Abraham’s great ancestors. The philosopher Philo described Melchizedek as the “divine logos,” not God but God’s representative in this world

The reason for all this speculation is that there is not much said in Gen 14 about who Melchizedek.  That he worships the God Most High and was the king of Salem, presumably Jerusalem is remarkable. But how can the “line of Melchizedek” superior to Levitical priesthood?

The tithe that Abram gave to Melchizedek is used as a “proof” that Melchizedek is greater than the Levitical priesthood. In the Genesis 14 story it is unusual that Abram would tithe any of the plunder, although it was common for a portion of plunder to be given to the priesthood in ancient near eastern cultures. The writer of Hebrews draws out a further point from of the story:  since the Levitical priests are present in Abram, their ancestor, the Levitical Priests paid the tithe to Melchizedek themselves.

This is a fascinating albeit odd interpretation drawn from the Hebrew Bible. Reading only Genesis 14, one would never imagine that there was an “order of Melchizedek,” nor that the Messiah would be a priest like Melchizedek. But this is not Western, modern exegesis, but a style of reading the Hebrew Bible that would have “worked” in synagogues in the first century.  How “literally” should we take this “line of Melchizedek”?  Or is the writer using exegetical techniques that modern readers have (rightly) left behind?