Avraham and Malkiṣedeq

Avraham and Malkiṣedeq

Yoel Halevi No Comments

One of the most difficult subjects to write about are the things which serve an ideology for some.  When I attempt to explain certain points about Hebrew, some might find my explanation to be incorrect because it doesn’t fit this belief.  Saying this, I have to make it clear that I have no agenda but to teach Hebrew as is.  As it goes, my posts are to open up the subject, and not to set anything in stone.

When Avraham and Malkitzedeq meet we have a problematic syntax structure that has created a lot of speculation regarding who gave to whom.  This problem is due to the vague use of pronouns which do not always refer directly to any particle.  We find in the verse the following:

וּמַלְכִּי-צֶדֶק מֶלֶךְ שָׁלֵם, הוֹצִיא לֶחֶם וָיָיִן; וְהוּא כֹהֵן, לְאֵל עֶלְיוֹן.

וַיְבָרְכֵהוּ, וַיֹּאמַר בָּרוּךְ אַבְרָם לְאֵל עֶלְיוֹן, קֹנֵה שָׁמַיִם וָאָרֶץ.

וּבָרוּךְ אֵל עֶלְיוֹן, אֲשֶׁר-מִגֵּן צָרֶיךָ בְּיָדֶךָ; וַיִּתֶּן-לוֹ מַעֲשֵׂר, מִכֹּל.

Then Melkitzedeq king of Salem brought out bread and wine. He was priest of God Most High, and he blessed Abram, saying,

“Blessed be Abram by God Most High,Creator of heaven and earth. And praise be to God Most High, who delivered your enemies into your hand.”

Then he gave him a tenth of everything.  Genesis 14:18-20

Some translations place the name “Avraham” under the proper translation “him” due to an attempt to clarify who did what.  However, as can be seen the word לו is placed in the Hebrew and not אברהם.  Hence we see that these translations do a disservice for the reader, giving him a wrong wording for the text.

It is important to note that we do not have any fragments from the Dead Sea Scrolls to compare to the MS text. It is also noteworthy that the LXX we have has commentary statements in it making it difficult to sometimes know what was in the original text before the translator. 

The question raised here is who gave to whom? 

The answer is that when we pay attention to who is actually doing anything, we find that Malkitsedeq is the only one doing anything in this short section.  Hence, logically he would be the one doing the action of giving.  This concept is called “Preservation of subject” which helps us determine who did what when we have a pronoun substituted for a proper noun.  Because sometimes a text will skip from one person to another, the mechanism for knowing to whom we are to relate a deed via a pronoun would be to the last speaker/action person.  Avraham is the direction of speech, and as such is also the receiving end of the giving.  To argue that he is the giver is to allow an irrational jump from one person to another without any markers in the text that it happened, making Hebrew completely devoid of rules (S.Kogot “Between syntax and interpretation” Magnes press: Jerusalem, 2002).

Some argue that it could not be Avraham who received because he refuses to take anything, however it is important to realize that there are two parallel discussions going on in this text:  Avraham–King of Sodom, Malkitzedeq–Avraham.  When looking closely at the text it becomes clear that Avraham is refusing the King of Sodom, not Malkitzdeq.  Avraham is refusing the spoils of war, not a random gift from a king that had no connection to the war that happened.  I will point out that it is intriguing that we have two stories about meetings between Avraham and kings side by side, and one of them has really nothing to do with the current timeline.  Malkitsdeq leaves his city to meet Avraham immediately after his battle, but news would have not reached him that quickly, making it possible that we have before us two stories which have been merged into one, to give us the two stories as one.  It is possible that Avraham met Malkitsedeq a couple of days later, and the text sets up both stories to save time (S.Glander “Genesis” vol.2 2009, “Olam Hatankh” Genesis, Tel-Aviv, 1997).

Another problem that rises with this subject is Psalm 110 that states the following:

נִשְׁבַּע יְהוָה, וְלֹא יִנָּחֵם אַתָּה כֹהֵן לְעוֹלָם;עַל דִּבְרָתִי, מַלְכִּי-צֶדֶק

YHWH has sworn and will not change his mind: “You are a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.

This text makes it look as if there is some priestly order named after Malkitsedeq who should receive a tithe of some sort, and could be used to argue that Avraham gave Malkitsedeq a tithe due to Malkitzedeq being of a priestly order.  It will be pointed out that Avraham shows no sign of recognizing this order, and the text uses it to show that Avraham and Malkitzedeq share common ground of faith of some sort.

The question is about the meaning of דברתי which is usually translated as “order”.  The problem is that this is a rare word that has no clear interpretation and cannot be proven to mean one thing or the other.  The Psalm presents many problems which cannot be addressed in this platform due to the need to go into a long explanation of how the book of Psalms was created.  However, it is an assumption that that there is an “order of Malkitsedeq”, and it is used to argue rights which in any case are not founded in the Torah.  When going into the root of this word we see that it is from the root דבר which means word/speech, and one can translate “according to my word/oath” (Qedari 2007 p.176).  If this is the case, the speaker is saying that David has the right to be king over Jerusalem like Malkitsedeq was king, and that David rules under the promise of God.

A question that still stands is the use of “priest”, but this might be the style of royal hymns where the king was also a priest, and the text is keeping true to the common style (though David never officiated as a priest).  One can also argue that “Priest” is being used in the sense that the same way a Kohen cannot be replaced due to divine right, David’s rule is by divine right, and we are dealing with metaphors which are a very common tool in the Psalms.

As can be seen, the subject is clear when using correct Hebrew syntax, however Psalms does pose a problem and some concepts need to be explained about the book to make Psalm 110 clearer.

Originally Published:  June 17, 2015

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