What’s In a Name?

As I have been cruising through Hebrews, the writer (I call him Nicodemus now), refers to an obscure character from the Hebrew Scriptures, Melchizedek. He refers to both his appearance in Genesis 14:18, and a strange reference to him in Psalm 110:4. What if the reference in Psalm 110 isn’t a name at all?

The Hebrew text has the following construction: מַלְכִּי־צֶדֶק (see Strong’s H4442) for what is typically referred to as the name of the king of Salem in Genesis 14:18. To break this down a bit, it is a compound construction of two words, “meleki” and “tsedek”. The first word has a suffix (the “i”) which adds a first-person possessive meaning, “my”, to “melek” which renders, “my king”. The second word is the Hebrew word for “righteousness”. And between these two words is a bar, called a “maqaf” which is both a separator and a connector. That sounds odd, but it’s not that peculiar in Hebrew, and it’s the meaning of this punctuation mark that’s in question here.

So, if this is a name, then it could mean, “my king is righteous”, “my king of righteousness”, or even other options. Now, unfortunately, the Hebrew unicode in this entry is tiny, but you may see the various combination of dots under the Hebrew letters. Those are the “vowels”, which do not appear in ancient or modern Hebrew. The ancient group of Jewish scholars from Europe, known as the Masoretes, added those to enable a consistent use of Scripture in Jewish Synagogues. They also added a lot of notations to enable consistent pronunciation as well, including the maqaf.

And there’s the thing, the maqaf wouldn’t be in the ancient/original text. So, it’s possible that this was originally two words, and the guy who comes out to Abram was known as a “righteous king”, and Abram calls him “my righteous king”. You can see how this might be possible, but also it’s obviously very improbable. Yet, the more modern Jewish Publication Society’s Tanakh has the following translation of Psalm 110:4

The LORD has sworn and will not relent,
"You are a priest forever, a rightful king by My decree."

Now that is very different than most every translation, including the 1917 edition of the same JPS Tanakh which has the following:

The LORD hath sworn, and will not repent:
"Thou art a priest forever after the manner of Melchizedek."

So, a change was made in the 1985 edition to remove the reference to Melchizedek. Now, why would that option be chosen? By the way, there is a footnote in the 1985 edition that says, “Or ‘After the manner of Melchizedek.'” So, the translator’s acknowledge that the reference to Melchizedek is still valid. But it’s the maqaf, right? Well, maybe not.

The place where David was born is Bethlehem, right? Well, that, too, is a compound word made up of “house” and “bread”. Guess what is always found between the two words in Hebrew? You guessed it, the maqaf. And yet, this is translated as “Bethlehem” throughout the 1985 Tanakh.

When the Jewish scholars of Alexandria Egypt translated the Hebrew Scriptures into Greek about 150 years Before the Christian Era (for those for whom this a more comfortable reference) or 150 BC (for those more comfortable with the traditional reference), they transliterated Melchizedek into Greek. So, before the Masoretes added punctuation, these brilliant Jewish scholars also understood both references to be a name, not some other reference. In the time of Nicodemus writing Hebrews (you never know, it could have been), the accepted understanding of Psalm 110 was that it referred to the man who brought bread and wine out to Abram after his successful rescue of Lot. And so should we.

And yet, there are those who would see this differently, focus on the slim possibility that David didn’t have this obscure character in mind when he penned this Psalm. Let’s accept that possibility, and still point out that even so, it does not take away from Jesus’ role as our High Priest. So, His order of priesthood would be as a righteous king. I’m good with that. Jesus remains our King, Priest, and Prophet. He is the Anointed One in all roles, and will one day appear on a white horse with a robe dipped in blood. The High Priest will lead the hosts of heaven as King of Kings. I hope to be among the host. You?

I’m excited! Let’s ride!

What’s your view through the knothole this morning?

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2 Comments

  1. Interesting. I’m far more comfortable with the Ancient Greek than Ancient Hebrew, so I stick with the LXX for my go-to reference. Interesting, to say the least, about the changes. It’s sort of like when they broke up the Old and New Testaments into chapters and verses and added punctuation to the text. We make the assumption they knew what they were doing and had no hidden agenda, but some passages read quite differently if you change the punctuation.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Matt Brumage says:

      Yes! It IS weird, and the history makes a lot of difference. There’s just so much we don’t know.

      Like

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