Malki-Tsedek Who Forfeited the Priesthood—Part 2

Posted by on Apr 8, 2024

Who is the author of the Letter to the Hebrews? According to the Roman Catholic tradition, Apostle Shaul (Paul) is the assumed author of the Hebrews. The ambiguity concerning the authorship of Hebrews comes from the fact that the author of Hebrews has not claimed any authorship. Hence, the Letter to the Hebrews is an anonymous work with its author unknown. In contrast, Shaul claims the authorship of his other letters, as this is evident from their epilogues, the style of his writing, and the subject of this epistle to the Hebrews, which is primarily focused on the Temple and priestly service. Nevertheless, the Church has attributed this letter to Shaul. How is the authorship of the Hebrews related to Malki-Tsedek who forfeited his priesthood?

This article is a continuation of the article “Malki-Tsedek Who Forfeited the Priesthood”, whose goals was to present to the intelligent reader a new reading of the meeting between Malki-Tsedek, king of Shalem, and the patriarch Avraham. In the foresaid article, we argued that it was the king of Shalem, Malki-Tsedek, who tithed to Avraham, not Avraham to the king. We supported our arguments based on the teachings of the sages, who also said that the king of Shalem, Malki-Tsedek, was no other than Shem the son of Noach. The difficulty is that Apostle Shaul in his letter to the Hebrews (Heb 7:1-2) suddenly states that Malki-Tsedek, king of Shalem, priest of the Most High, who met Avraham returning from the war with the four kings, blessed him, and to him Avraham gave a tenth part of all booty of war. But it does not appear to us to be correct. We will explore this issue in the context of the story of Malki-Tsedek and Avram, a story that poses significant challenges for the careful reader. In the following, we would like to posit another way to look at this, specifically in reference to the subject of the sentence in verse 20 of Genesis 14.

Who gave whom?

So, who gave whom? Malki-Tsedek tithed to Avraham, or Avraham to Malki-Tsedek? To answer this question, first, we need to answer the question: Who is the “he” in Gen 14:20, who gave a tenth of all. And what is the “all” that was given and who gave it to whom? Because if Avram gave “all”, by forfeiting his portion of the booty of war and returning what was left of it to the Sodomite, Avram had nothing left to tithe to Malki-Tsedek. We will now remove the difficulties. For the purpose of this study, we will focus on verses 18 through 20 of Genesis 14, which recorded the meeting between the men,

(Gen 14:18) “And Malki-Tsedek king of Shalem brought out bread and wine. Now he was the priest of the Most High El.” Since no interpretation can leave its plain context, who is the “he” in the sentence? It is Malki-Tsedek who met Avram with bread and wine.

(Gen 14:19) “And he blessed him and said, ‘Blessed be Avram of the Most High El, Possessor of the heavens and earth'”. Who is the “he”? It is Malki-Tsedek.

(Gen 14:20) “And blessed be the Most High El who has delivered your enemies into your hand.” And he gave him a tenth of all.” This verse seems relatively straightforward; it is a clear Biblical text: Malki-Tsedek blessed Avram and the Most High and gave a tenth of all. If the Torah had only written “And blessed be the Most High El who has delivered your enemies into your hand “, we would not have known that there was giving of a tenth. But in order to make this clear to the reader, the Torah, saw fit to say that “he gave a tenth of all”.

Reading is an experience that takes place in time. Hence, the second, third, and fourth time a reader encounters a given phrase or a word, such as “he” within a few verses, should be assumed to have the same effect over the reader. The question, then, is how this repetition affects the reader, and what message is conveyed with such a repetition.

With that said, at this point in the discussion, it is necessary to understand the subject in the sentence “And he gave him a tenth of all”. Who is the “he” who gave a tenth of all? It must have been Malki-Tsedek, unless we change the subject of the last verse from Malki-Tsedek to Avram. For since Torah found it necessary to say “he” in “and he gave him a tenth of all”, it did not want to depart from the subject of the direct speech “And blessed be the Most High El who has delivered your enemies into your hand”, wherein the speaking one is Malki-Tsedek. Why is the last sentence not written the way some commentators say it should be understood? Is changing the subject to its opposite not creating a confusion in the plain reading of the entire passage? All this is obvious, for it is illogical and counter intuitive to say that the Torah establishes contradiction. Besides, it is not correct to fit this thought into the language of the verse. And indeed, what sense is there in saying, “(Malki-Tsedek speaking) And blessed be the Most High El who has delivered your enemies into your hand.” And Avram gave him a tenth of all”. We will explain this below. The sequence of “he” in the entire passage helps determine the plain meaning of verse 20. Because, had Torah intended to change the subject from Malki-Tsedek to Avram, there would have been no difficulties to do so. From the simple context of this passage we must therefore view this verse as telling us that the “he” is Malki-Tsedek, not Avram, who gave a tenth,  since a text never leaves its plain meaning. The text must therefore be interpreted according to its plain meaning: Malki-Tsedek gave a tenth. Keep this in mind, as we proceed below!

However, Shaul gives a different account of this event in Heb 7:1-5. He says it was Avraham. But how could Shaul have known that the giver of the tithe was Avraham and not Malki-Tsedek? And why did Avram pay the tithe to Shem the son of Noach in the first place? Shaul also says in verse 7, “And it is beyond all dispute that the lesser is blessed by the better” (Heb 7:7). Let us go back to Gen 14:19 that reads that it was Malki-Tsedek who blessed Avram: “And he (Malki-Tsedek ) blessed him and said, ‘Blessed be Avram of the Most High El, Possessor of the heavens and the earth'”. Again, who is the “he”? The subject of the sentence is Malki-Tsedek. Hence, we conclude that Malki-Tsedek was lesser than Avram. But who tithes to whom? The greater to the lesser? This appears to express two contradictory views on the importance of tithing. The contradiction tends to make people take sides. But we will leave the polemics open on which side the facts lie.

Let us summarize what we have learned so far. After rescuing Lot, from captivity, Avram was greeted by Malki-Tsedek the king of Shalem. According to the tradition, Shem was the king of righteousness, and therefore was appointed as “priest of the Most High”. A careful reader will notice that Melchi-Tsedek did not even mention the Eternal in his blessings, while Avram said, “the Eternal, the Most High El” calling the Possessor of the heavens and the earth by His personal Name (the Tetragram) thus showing honor and respect to whom all is due (Gen 14:22). Malki-Tsedek was deprived of the priesthood as he had blessed the mortal Avram before blessing the immortal Lord. Malki-Tsedek accepted the reproof and treated Avram as a priest by tithing to Avram all that belonged to him. For this reason, he lost his title and status of priest and king. Refer to Section “The change of the priesthood. What it takes to misread Psalm 110” in the foresaid article for a complete explanation of this passage.

Now, another difficulty presents itself to the reader. It was customary to give the title “Malki Tsedek” (King of Righteousness) or “Adoni Tsedek” (Lord of Righteousness), to the kings of Jerusalem in those days, just as the kings of Egypt were called “Pharaoh”. In the days of Joshua, Jerusalem’s king was also called “Adoni Tsedek” (See Jos 10:1). The Tanach commentator Rashi says that Malki-Tsedek is identical with Shem, son of Noach (Nedarim 32b). If so, why then did Shaul (being a pharisee with knowledge of the tradition) call him being without parents? Even Christian commentators (like F. B. Meyer) acknowledge that Melchi-Tsedek was probably a literal king and priest in the historical city of Shalem. This contrasts with some overly messianic interpretations of the Hebrews, according to which “Jesus” appeared to Avram. This notion appears to be derived from verse 3, which reads: “without father, without mother, without genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life, but having been made like the son of Elohim, remains a priest for all time”. Notice the phrase “”like the son of Elohim”. The silences in the scriptures are significant, namely, in the case of this ancient priesthood no mention in the letter is made of any parenthood. Why? Perhaps, because Shem the son of Noach has a well-established genealogy in Genesis. Yet, Shaul wrote, “without father, without mother, without genealogy”. What did he refer to? To the Messiah? According to the Apostolic Writings, the Messiah has a mother and an adopting father.

There is a basic rule of interpretation: when there are clear and obscure passages in the Scripture, and they seem to contradict each other, as they appear in this case, the clear passage always explains the obscure one, not the other way around. Let us take this as an example. In other place Shaul says, “you can eat whatever you find on the market”. This is an unclear passage; it does not define what food is; i.e., is pork considered food? The clear passage in Leviticus 11 however comes to explain it. Likewise, here in Hebrews. Genesis explains Hebrews, not the other way around, because for the faithful reader, Torah is the gold standard of scriptural interpretation. And indeed, the authority of the Torah comes from the fact that the Torah does not refer to itself. Also, Sir Isaac Newton, who was also a brilliant Bible scholar, says: “Truth is ever to be found in simplicity, and not in the multiplicity and confusion of things”. Therefore, how are we to understand verse 2 in Hebrews: “To whom also Abraham gave a tenth part of all”? The surest way of misunderstanding Hebrew is to read a translation. The KJV of the translation of verse 2 goes on to say,

To whom also Abraham gave a tenth part of all; first being by interpretation King of righteousness, and after that also King of Salem, which is, King of peace; (Heb 7:2 KJV)

This is a classic example of distortion of the letters of Shaul. We read an English translation of a Greek manuscript; take the KJV as an example. The Christian theologians teach that Greek is the primary language of the “New Testament” and the Greek text is the “Word of God” equal to Hebrew. But we may wonder as to why the Hebrew disciples had to write about the Hebrews’ Messiah in Greek and not in Hebrew. Likewise, why did Shaul being “a Hebrew of Hebrews” have to write his letter to the Hebrews in Greek and not in Hebrew? The signs of translation from Hebrew to Greek, can be found in the phrases “by interpretation” (or “by translation”), and “which is, King of peace”. For a native Hebrew speaker, it will be awkward and strange to write to a Hebrew speaking audience phrase like these. If Shaul was the author of the letter traditionally attributed to him, he could not have written like this. Evidently, the phrases–“by translation”, and “which is, King of peace”–are glosses inserted by the translator(s) from Hebrew to Greek. There are many instances like these in the Apostolic Writings. And there are too many errors, which we addressed in other articles, in order to state that the Greek text is the “Word of God”.

We cannot answer definitely as to why the author of Hebrews has stated that Avraham tithed to Malki-Tsedek. Rashi in his comments on Gen 14:20 indeed says that it was Avram who tithed to Malki-Tsedek, because he was a priest. However, Rashi’s phrase “because he was a priest” is not in the text, therefore, it is his personal opinion. Similarly, Ibn Ezra makes the conclusion: “Avraham gave a tithe out of respect for God. He found no one worthier than Melki-Tsedek to bestow his tithe on”. However, all rabbis are not in agreement on this issue. We find the following difference of opinion.

For the meaning of the verse in question, we will depend on the commentary of Rabbi Chizkiah ben Manoach who explained verse 20 as meaning that it was Malki-Tsedek who gave a tenth of all he received from Avram and why. Rabbi Chizkiah ben Manoach aka “Chizkuni” was a popular commentator on the Torah. As we brought to the reader’s attention in the foresaid article, in his commentary on Genesis 22, Chizkuni said that Avraham had asked God as to how he could offer a burnt offering in the absence of a priest. The Eternal answered that Avraham had already been appointed as a priest by Him (Bereishit Rabbah 55:7). How did Chizkuni come to the conclusion that Avraham was appointed as a priest? The answer is found in Psalm 110. And this is how the sages explain Psalms 110:4:

The Lord has sworn and will not retract that you are a priest forever as per My word to Malki-Tsedek. (Psalms 110:4)

What words to Malki-Tsedek? The sages are in agreement that Malki-Tsedek was deprived of the priesthood as he had blessed the mortal Avram before blessing the immortal Lord. In Gen 14:19-20, we indeed read that Malki-Tsedek first blessed a man, and afterward he blessed the Most High, the Maker of the universe. Malki-Tsedek accepted the reproof and treated Avram as a priest by tithing to Avram all that belonged to him. The understanding of Psalm 110:4 leads us to an incredible realization: The Lord has sworn as per His word to Malki-Tsedek. Hence the sages concluded that from Avram would emerge priesthood and kingship which his children would inherit from Shem, Malki-Tsedek, because of his speech in which he first blessed Avram, and then the Most High. In our opinion, it is possible that the explanation of Rabbi Chizkiah ben Manoach is correct. For further knowledge on the matter, the reader will do well to read what we have written in our commentary in Part 1.

After all of the above, it is impossible to decide with certainty between the two interpretations of who tithed to whom. Yet, we are fairly convinced that Malki-Tsedek tithed to Avram. But was there a tithing at all, if we consider that the giving of a tenth of war booty is not necessarily a tithing as the term is defined in Leviticus? In our opinion, one of these views we exposed above is much less in harmony with the context of Genesis 14, since what is there spoken of is the fact that Avram gave his booty of war to Malki-Tsedek.

One final thought. By laying out these factors, we hope the reader will become more critical in reading translations.

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May we merit seeing the coming of our Mashiach speedily in our days!


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