Legends of Old Testament Characters/Chapter 25

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WE have seen that, according to Jewish traditions, Melchizedek is Shem, the son of Noah, whom God consecrated to be a priest for ever, and who set up a kingdom on Salem.[1]

It is also said that, before he died, Lamech ordered his son, Noah, to transport the body of Adam to the centre of the earth. Now the centre or navel of the earth is Salem, afterwards called Jerusalem.

Lamech also bade Noah confide to one of his children the custody of the body of Adam, obliging him to remain all his life in the service of God, and in the practice of celibacy, never to shed blood, and to offer to God only the sacrifice of bread and wine.

Noah chose, according to some, Shem; according to others, Melchizedek, the son of Shem. He did not suffer him to wear other garments than the skins of beasts; nor to shave his head nor cut his nails, nor to build a house.

A Christian tradition is that Adam was buried on Golgotha, and that when Christ died, His blood flowed down upon the head of Adam, and cleansed him of his sin.

Dom Calmet, in one of his dissertations, gives various curious opinions which have been entertained on the subject of Melchizedek: some affirmed that he was identical with the patriarch Enoch, who came from the Terrestrial Paradise to confer with Abraham; and others, that the Magi who adored the infant Christ, were Enoch, Melchizedek, and Elias.

And some have supposed that Melchizedek was created before Adam, and was of celestial race. Others again have supposed that he was our Lord Jesus Christ who appeared to Abraham.

S. Athanasius gives a curious tradition of Melchizedek.

A queen, named Salem, had a grandson named Melchi. He was an idolater. Where he reigned is unknown; but it is supposed that it was where now stands the city Jerusalem. Melchi married a princess named Salem, like his grandmother. By her he had two sons, of whom the younger was called Melchizedek.

One day that Melchi was about to sacrifice to idols, he said to his son Melchizedek, "Bring me here seven calves to sacrifice to the gods."

Whilst going to execute his father's order, Melchizedek raised his eyes to heaven and said, "He who made heaven and earth, the sea and the stars, is the only God to whom sacrifice should be offered."

Then he returned to his father, who asked him, "Where are the calves?"

"My father," he replied, "hearken to me, and be not angry. Instead of offering thy victims to those gods which are no gods, offer them to Him who is above the heavens, and who rules all things."

King Melchi replied, "Go and do what I have commanded thee, as thou valuest thy life."

After that he turned to his wife Salem, and he told her that he purposed sacrificing one of his sons. The queen wept bitterly, because she knew that the king designed the immolation of Melchizedek, and she said, "Alas! I have suffered and laboured in vain."

"Do not weep," said Melchi, somewhat touched. "We will draw the lot: if it is mine, I will choose which of the sons is to die; if it be thine, thou shalt keep the one dearest to thee."

Now the lot fell to the queen, so she chose Melchizedek, whom she loved; and the king adorned his elder son for sacrifice.

There were in the temple troops of oxen and flocks of sheep, and five hundred and three children, destined by their parents to be sacrificed. The queen was at home weeping, and she said to Melchizedek, "Dost thou not weep for thy brother, whom we have brought up with so much care, and who is led to the slaughter?"

Melchizedek wept, and he said to his mother, "I will go and invoke the Lord, the only true God Most High."

He ascended Tabor, and kneeling down, he prayed, saying, "My God, Lord of all, Creator of heaven and earth, I adore Thee as the only true God; hearken now unto my prayer. May the earth open her mouth and swallow up all those who assist at the sacrifice of my brother!"

God heard the cry of Melchizedek, and the earth parted asunder, and swallowed up the temple and all who were therein; and the city of Salem also, and not a stone was left standing where it had been.

When Melchizedek came down from Tabor, and saw what God had done, he was filled with dismay, and retired into a forest, where he spent seven years, feeding on herbs and drinking the dew.

At the end of that time, a voice from heaven called Abraham, and said, "Take thine ass, lade it with rich garments, go to Tabor and cry thrice, O man of God! Then a man of a savage appearance will come forth to thee out of the forest. And after thou hast cut his hair and pared his nails, clothe him with the garments thou hast taken with thee, and ask him to bless thee."

Abraham did as he was bidden. He went to Tabor and called thrice, "O man of God!" and there came out to him Melchizedek. Then a voice was heard from heaven, which said, "As there remains no one on earth of the family of Melchizedek, it shall be said of him that he is without father and without mother, without beginning of days or end of life."

Therefore it is said of him, as of Enoch and Elias, that having been created a priest for ever, he is not dead.

Afterwards he is said to have founded Jerusalem.[2]

Suidas the Grammarian gives the following account of this mysterious personage.

"Melchizedek, priest of God, king of Canaan, built a city on a mountain called Sion, and named it Salem; which is the same as Είρηνόπολις, the City of Peace. In which, when he had reigned a hundred and thirteen years, he died, righteous and single. For this reason he is said to have been without generation, because he was not of the seed of Abraham, but of the race of Canaan, and of abhorred seed. Therefore he was without honourable generation. Nor did it beseem him, the essence of all righteousness, to unite with the race of all unrighteousness. Therefore he is said to have been without father or mother. But that he was a Canaanite, both as to country, of which he was lord; and as to nation, of which he was king; and as to neighbourhood, joining that of the iniquitous Sodomites, that is evident enough. Nevertheless Salem, of which he was king, is that celebrated Jerusalem, which, however, did not bear then the complete name of Hierusalem, but the adjective ἱεροῦ was added to Σαλήμ afterwards, and compounded into Hierusalem. And because no genealogy is given to him, he is said to be without father and mother. Therefore, when you hear him spoken of as God, by the sect of the Melchizedekites, remember the saying of the Apostle, that he was of another race, to wit, that of Canaan."[3]

Another apocryphal account of Melchizedek is in the "Chronicon Paschale:"—

"A certain ancient relates and affirms, concerning Melchizedek, this. He was a man of the tribe of Ham, who, being found a holy seed in his tribe, pleased God; and God called him into the land beyond Jordan, even as He called Abraham out of the land of the Chaldeans. And as this man was holy and just, he was made a priest of the Most High God, to offer bread and wine, and holy prayers to the Most High God. He prayed for his tribe, saying, Lord, thou hast brought me from my own people, and hast had mercy on me; have mercy on them also. But God answered him, and said, I will save them when I call my Son out of Egypt This promise God gave to Melchizedek. The same ancient relates also that at this time it happened that Lot was carried away captive from Sodom by those who were of the tribe Gothologomos, whom Abraham pursued and destroyed, and he liberated all the captives; and Lot also, the son of his brother Aram, he delivered from their hands. Therefore Abraham said within himself, Lord, if in my days Thou sendest Thy angel upon the earth, grant me to see that day! The Lord said, It cannot be, but I will show thee a figure of that day; go down and cross the river Jordan and thou shalt behold it.

"Therefore Abraham crossed Jordan with his men, and Melchizedek came forth to meet him, called by the Holy Ghost, having in his hands the bread of Eucharists and the wine of thanksgiving. Abraham did not see Melchizedek till he had passed over Jordan, which is the symbol of Baptism.

"Abraham then, seeing Melchizedek coming to meet him having the bread of Eucharists and the cup of thanksgiving, fell on his face upon the earth, and adored, since he saw the day of the Lord, and was glad.

"Melchizedek, king of Salem, priest of the Most High God, blessed Abraham and said, Blessed be Abram of the Most High God, possessor of heaven and earth; and blessed be the Most High God, which hath delivered thine enemies into thy hands. And Abraham gave him tithes of all."[4]

Michael Glycas says: "Melchizedek, though he is said in the sacred Scriptures to have been without father and mother, yet sprung from Sidos, son of Ægyptos, who built Sidon. When he had built a city on Mount Sion, named Salem, he reigned there thirteen years, and died a just man and a virgin."[5] And Cedrenus: "Melchizedek was the son of King Sidos, son of Ægyptos, but he was said to be without father and mother and of uncertain generation, because he was not of Jewish extraction, and because his parents were bad and not reckoned among the righteous."[6]

Joseph Ben-Gorion writes: "O Jerusalem! once the city of the great King, by what name shall I designate thee? Anciently thou wast called Jebus, after thy founder; then thou didst acquire the name of Zedek, and from thence did thy king Jehoram take his title Melchi-zedek (or Melech-zedek, Lord of Zedek), for he was a just king, and he reigned in thee justly. And thou didst obtain the name of Justice, and in thee justice dwelt, and the star that did illumine thee; thou wast called Zedek, and in the same king's reign, to thee was given the title Salem, as it is written in the Law: and Melchizedek was king of Salem, so called because thus the measure of the iniquity of the people was accomplished. But Abraham, our father, of pious memory, chose thee, to labour in thee and to acquire in thee a possession, and in thee to lay a root of good works, and because the majesty of God dwelt in thee, when Abraham, our father, flourished."[7]

S. Epiphanius, however, says: "Although no names of the parents of Melchizedek are given, yet some assert that his father was called Heraclas, and his mother Astaroth, or Asteria."[8] The "Catena Arabica" on Genesis says: "Melchizedek was the son of Heraclis, the son of Peleg, the son of Eber; and the name of his mother was Salathiel, the daughter of Gomer, the son of Japheth, the son of Noah."

Melchizedek is said to have composed the cx. Psalm, Dixit Dominus.[9]

The tomb of Melchizedek is, or was, shown at Jerusalem, says Gemelli Carrere, the traveller in Palestine.

  1. This the Targumim, or paraphrases of the Sacred Text, distinctly say, "Melchizedek, who was Shem, son of Noah, king of Jerusalem." (Etheridge, i. p. 199.)
  2. Fabricius, Codex Pseud. V. T. t. i. p. 311. The Book of the Combat of Adam says Melchizedek was, the son of Canaan.
  3. Suidas, Lexic. s. v. Μελχισεδέκ
  4. Πασχάλιον, seu Chronicon Paschale a mundo condito ad Heraclii imp. ann. vicesimum. Ed. C. du Fresne du Cange; Paris, 1688, p. 49.
  5. Michael Glycas, Βίβλος χρονική, ed. Labbe; Paris, 1660, p. 135.
  6. Georgius Cedrenus, Σύνοψις ίστοριών, ed. Goar; Paris, 1647, t. i. p. 27.
  7. Josephus Ben-Gorion, iib. vi. c. 35, apud Fabricium, i. p. 326.
  8. S. Epiphanius Hæresi, lv. c. 2.
  9. Talmud, Tract. Bava Bathra.