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The Melchizedek Tradition by Horton

The Point of the book: Horton went into this critical examination to prove that there was a connection between the Qumran Community and the Book of Hebrews in regards to the Melchizedek Tradition. Wanting to show the point of overlap and perhaps their dependence on source material, he traces the development of Melchizedekian thought from the Genesis account, through Psalms, over to Qumran, through the early Church and Rabbinical sources and finally the Gnostics before heading back to the book of Hebrews. What’s great about the book is that when he gets to the end, his point was negatively proven. Not only did he not establish a connection between Qumran and Hebrews but he reversed his position to show that the author of Hebrews cares very little for Melchizedek at all.

The Good: The book deals with the material fairly and whenever there is a question as to the author’s reconstruction, he sagely points out the fact that his conclusion is possible but maybe not probable. The Author deals with each of the sources as they stand (for example examining the Genesis account on its own and seeing how a possible interpretation is that Abraham received tithes from Melchizedek). There are a ton of footnotes and the bibliography section is extensive to allow further personal research.

The Bad: It’s difficult to place any of the book in a Bad category on account that its bad for a person who doesn’t have the technical know-how of a more scholarly professional. For example, there are many sections of the book that delve into untranslated Greek, Hebrew, German, Latin and Coptic. Dealing with those sections requires lots of contextual reading but sometimes he really doesn’t aim to enforce the meaning of those words with the context. But that, like I said, is not necessarily bad since you don’t want to spend a lot of time establishing the contextual meaning of relatively easy Greek concepts like kurios and kosmos. The Hebrew is a bit more difficult on account that, well its Hebrews.

The Ugly: The footnotes in the 1976 edition are a mess, condensing several footnotes onto one line to save page space and I guess page count.

Conclusion: The book is a good read for folks who want to see how the Melchizedekian thought progresses through the first five centuries; it’s helpful for the Biblical scholar and finally its extremely helpful for a person who wants a solid backing for Christ’s own Priesthood: but more info on that on my detailed overview of the book below.

Overview (or the part you don’t have to read): Horton deals first with the Genesis passages (Genesis 14:18 and Psalm 110:4) to show possible interpretations of the passage. Secondlky Horton looks at the person of Melchizedek himself and his apparent priesthood. Specifically he takes a look at the possibility of a person being priest without a Levitical lineage (such as Jethro in Exodus, Joseph’s Father-in-Law who is the priest of On and even certain lists as in 2 Samuel 8:16-18 where David’s sons are called priests (although many translations use the word counselor or advisors) and Ira the Jairite (obviously not a Levite) is called David’ Priest (2 Sam 20:23-6). Thirdly, Horton looks at Philo, Qumran, and Josephus for their understanding of Melchizedek. Philo deals with Melchizedek, once literally (as an actual person who met with Abraham) and two other times as allegorical, once being a representation of the Logos. The Qumran community with its Genesis Apocryphon mentions Melchizedek a few times and it paints the figure more as eschatogical, sometimes even as Elohim. Josephus mentions Melchizedek as the one who built the first temple in Jerusalem but there wasn’t enough external evidence to support the claim. Horton notes that theres some crossover (which he notes in a table on page 86). The interesting thing about this table is only Qumran marks Melchizedek as Elohim , a heavenly figure or an eschatological figure. Philo, when dealing with Melchizedek literally looks at him as an unlearned priesthood, and allegorically demarcates him as standing for the Logos (although not being the Logos)

Fourthly, Horton examines what the Early Church and the Rabbinical sources thought of Melchizedek. He notes that a large portion of writings about Melchizedek are in response to some heresy that raises Melchizedek to a heavenly being. Some thought Melchizedek was greater than Christ (for Christ was physical and earthly with a lineage while Melchizedek was heavenly with no lineage), some thought of him as the Father (the one who sends Christ into the World), some thought of Him as the Christ which imbued Jesus at conception, some thought of Him as the Holy Spirit in whom Christ came following that Priesthood. The Rabbi’s never portray as an Angelic or heavenly being and only in one passage (where Melchizedek is not mentioned) is he portrayed as an eschatological figure.

Fifthly, Gnosticism seems to abound with reference to Melchizedek as a purifier of the Light in the treasury of Light and taking from the individual archons to purify the Light. He’s labeled the Great Receiver and even given a magical name (referred to maybe twice) as Zorokothora Melchizedek.

Finally, Horton deals with Hebrews. Chronologically, dealing with Hebrews should have come after dealing with Psalms but he notes that some of these traditions seem to flow around Hebrews and others (for example Heresies) springboard right off of Hebrews. Better to deal with all the material first then deal with Hebrews to see if it has any tie ins with those things occurring around. He notes how every Melchizedek heresy sprang out of Hebrews 7:3 (Without father, without mother, without genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life, and being made like unto the Son of God, he remains a priest forever).

Horton states that the general interpretation (that the author of Hebrews is arguing from the silence of Scripture) isn’t enough. For example, Jethro (Moses’ Father in Law) seems to have a very important role, has a priesthood, and there is no mention of a lineage or is his death narrated. So the selection of Melchizedek over Jethro has little to do with interpretation from silence. Also, its not that the writer of Hebrews sees Melchizedek as an angelic (or even heavenly) being for he never moves to put Christ over Melchizedek (as he does angels and Moses at some length).

So Horton looks at the crossovers throughout the critical examination. Philo and Josephus considered Melchizedek as a self-taught priesthood while Josephus progressed the tradition by seeing Melchizedek as building the first temple. The assumption is that Melchizedek was the first priest of God. The assumption that Melchizedek is the first priest of God does not come from some external source but from the fact that Melchizedek is the first priest mentioned in the entire Torah. To modern readers, this may seem an unimportant fact but to those first century B.C. Jews this would have been immensely important.

With such an immensely important status as being the first priest then it is no wonder why this interpretation unwavered throughout the years. He was the first priest: it would be unthinkable for such an esteemed figure (the progenitor of all priesthoods) to be giving tithes to Abraham.

With this in mind, the author of Hebrews focuses on the silence of Scripture to underscore the originality of Melchizedek’s priesthood, and not as a proof of that originality. The author of Hebrews did not merely select any figure without a lineage, rather he notes how the first priest on earth is not given an geneology, the failure to mention birth or death, all exceedingly important to how original this priesthood is.

Melchizedek’s priesthood does not come from Priestly Succession but through the infinite quality of his life. Christ then, is a priest according to the likeness of Melchizedek: not that He is Melchizedek or that Melchizedek is greater than Him but that Christ’s priesthood bears those exact marks of originality. Melchizedek is a priest who continues on so it is not exactly right to say that Christ is Melchizedek’s successor. Rather, Christ is another priest (like Melchizedek) who has no successor and has perpetuity of life-but on a much greater scale.

Melchizedek in the old order is a priest forever, Christ is another priest forever. Horton calls this antitypology. The old is a shadow of the true which was to come. The antitype gives us an idea of what the True is like. By understanding the features of the Old we get a better understanding of the New (such as in the case of the old tabernacle which was a shadow of the heavenly sanctuary). Each important element of the first is found in its true form in the type.

The Christian Heresies then drew their heretical stature from a misreading of Hebrews, with no need to reference unknown external sources. The Gnostics seem to have no Christological reason for their estimation of Melchizedek although there may be some connection to Qumran.

Finally this all left Horton deciding that Qumran was not a direct source to Hebrews, although that doesn’t mean that Qumran is not irrelevant to Hebrews. In fact, the parallels between Qumran’s Melchizedek and Hebrews Melchizedek don’t equate, there seem to be parallels between Qumran’s Melchizedek and Christ in Hebrews. But honestly, the similarities (Horton admits) can apply to other parts of the New Testament as well. Four Stars, must read for scholar and helpful for non-scholar.

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4 replies on “The Melchizedek Tradition by Horton”

What people know as Melchizedek (Malachi-Ezedike)priest was the Adama Priesthood whose Chief Priest ranged from Adam (Adama), Enoch(Enuka), Methuselah (Emetoziala), Lamek (Lemechi), and Noah (Nochie) before it came down to Shem (Chima) who is Melchizedek). It was later known as Melchizedek priesthood because it was under Shem (Chima)that the priesthood was perfected. Thanks.

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