Monday, May 16, 2011

Margaret Barker on Melchizedek

May 16, 2011 (updated June 21, 2011)
by Tim Barker

"Melchizedek arrayed in his royal robes"1

For those unacquainted with Margaret Barker and her contributions to Biblical studies (primarily on the Jerusalem Temple and Christian liturgy), a brief biography and curriculum vitae is provided.  Margaret Barker is a British scholar who studied theology at the University of Cambridge, a former President of the Society for Old Testament Study, a Research Fellow of the University of Wales, awarded "Doctor of Divinity" in 2008 by the Archbishop of Canterbury, a Methodist preacher, and author of 14 books and numerous papers.  She is known for developing an approach for studying ancient Christianity known as "Temple Theology."2  Her books include the following titles: The Older Testament, The Lost Prophet, The Gate of Heaven, The Great Angel, On Earth as it is in Heaven, The Risen Lord, Commentary on Isaiah, The Revelation of Jesus Christ, The Great High Priest, Temple Theology, An Extraordinary Gathering of Angels, The Hidden Tradition of the Kingdom, Temple Themes in Christian Worship, Christmas: the Original Story, and Creation: A Biblical Vision for the Environment.

Ms. Barker's writings strikes a familiar chord in tune with many doctrines and teachings of LDS theology.  A FARMS publication even takes note that her studies have provided significant contributions for Mormon studies.3  A number of her books have been reviewed postively in the FARMS Review of Books, and other LDS scholars, including John Welch, Bill Hamblin, and Kevin Christensen have also identified subjects where she has been particularly insightful, or acknowledged that her writings are reminiscent of Mormon perspectives.4  She was also invited to speak at a BYU devotional some years ago.5  Bill Hamblin recorded his interview with Margaret Barker in Oxford, in August 2008 and posted these videos on YouTube.6  She has also contributed a chapter, with Kevin Christensen, on "Seeking the Face of the Lord: Joseph Smith and the First Temple Tradition," in Terryl Givens' book, Joseph Smith, Jr.: Reappraisals After Two Centuries.7  Her perspectives have caused a bit of a stir amongst other Christians where traditional or orthodox viewpionts have been challenged.8  In short, her research obliges a fundamental reconsideration of Christian thought with respect to the temple, deity, and other important doctrines, many of which are closely aligned with the Latter-day Saint perspective. 

Margaret Barker also founded the Temple Studies Group, which sponsors symposia once or twice a year on temple themes in the Bible and ancient texts.  In November 2008, the subject of symposia was "Melchizedek in Scripture, Tradition and Liturgy."  Barker's paper was entitled, "Who was Melchizedek and who was his God?"9  Her paper is the subject of study of this post.  Rather than limiting yourself to this posting, however, I recommend a reading of her entire paper - here

"Who was Melchizedek and who was his God?"

Margaret Barker notes that Paul's epistle to the Hebrews "assumes a fairly sophisticated knowledge of temple tradition," and explains that Melchizedek is "introduced without any explanation into a temple text" (pg 1).  Following this premise, she explains that the Melchizedek Priesthood is eternal, that is a higher priesthood than the Aaronic or Levitical priesthood, that the prophets held this priesthood, that it is essential in the temple, and serves in the holy of holies to make one born as a son of God, or a Melchizedek Priest.  She discusses many other things in connection with these subjects, and as such, I've provided a survey of quotations from her symposium talk without commentary.  In a few places I've added references for consideration; however, the endowed Latter-day Saint will notice some striking correlations to our own temple theology, and discussion regarding the Melchizedek Priesthood.
  • Melchizedek was the centre [sic] of important claims about Christianity and its relationship to Judaism, especially to the temple and its priesthood.  Priesthood was an important matter for the early Church - something that is often overlooked.  The Christians claimed that Jesus was the Melchizedek priest, and in first century CE, this would have entailed a claim to the original temple in Jerusalem.  Josephus who was presumably recording contemporary belief, said that Melchizedek was a Canaanite who had built the first temple in Jerusalem and was the first to serve there as a priest (War 6.438).  Psalm 110 shows that the Davidic kings in Jerusalem retained the Melchizedek priesthood, which was rooted in the phase of Hebrew history represented by Abraham rather than by Moses. (pg 2)10
  • We can only speculate how the two priesthoods related to each other; that of Aaron and that of Melchizedek.  It was clearly a problem, as later developments in the tradition imply. (pg 2) [see D&C 107]
  • Moses was depicted as one enthroned in the presence of God and named as God and King. (pg 2) [see Moses 1:25]
  • What both the Jewish and the Enochic traditions are saying is that the Melchizedek priesthood was the priesthood of Enoch and the generation before the flood.  The Book of Jubilees claims that many of the prescriptions of the Torah were far older than Moses, and had been given to Noah by his ancestors, the ancient priests (Jub. 7.34-9; 10.13).  We cannot just dismiss this as fiction.  These are all claims to a more ancient religion than that of Moses, an ancient religion represented in the biblical texts by the figure of Melchizedek.  The link to Enoch tradition has to be important, not least because the oldest 'history' of Jerusalem in 1 Enoch has no place for Moses. (pgs 4-5)
    [see JST Genesis 9:21-25; JST Genesis 14:25-40]
  • The Hebrew of Psalm 110 is notoriously difficult to translate, especially verse 3, where Yahweh makes someone a Melchizedek priest, but the process and the setting are obscured.  The Greek text is a little clearer than the Hebrew: 'In the glory of the holy ones...I have begotten you.' To this translator, and so to the early Christians who used the Greek text, becoming the Melchizedek priest meant being born as the Son of the angels.  In temple terms, this implies a ritual in the holy of holies, the place of the angels, in which the human became divine.  The holy of holies represented the state of being that was both beyond and before the material creation, and this was where the Melchizedek priest was 'born.'  The rest of Psalm 110.3 has become opaque in the Hebrew, and we have to ask why this might have happened.  I suggest it was because this verse described the making of the ancient Melchizedek priests who were described as Sons of God. (pg 5) [see D&C 131:5]
  • In other words, Yahweh was a Son of the Most High, and he was appointed as the Guardian Angel of Jacob. I suggest that the opacities and variants in the Hebrew text here are due to a dispute over the nature of Yahweh: the older texts knew that Yahweh was a Son of the Most High, what Christians would call the Second Person. Psalm 110.3, a key text for Christians, describes the process by which the Davidic king became the Son, the process by which a human became Yahweh. Becoming divine was described as birth, but the Hebrew yldtyk is ambiguous, and is usually rendered in English as ‘your youth’. The Greek translator, and thus too the early Christians, read the letters differently and understood it to mean ‘I have begotten you’, exegénnēsá se. The place of this birth is also unclear in the Hebrew: was it ‘in glorious array’, or was it ‘on the holy mountains.’ ...The Greek and Latin, which reflect the Christian understanding of the verse, understood that the birth took place in the glory of the holy ones, that is, amidst the angel host in the holy of holies. (pg 6)
  • Here in Psalm 110 we have to envisage Yahweh and the human king becoming One, such that Yawheh was present in the king: Immanuel.  Sonship meant unity, not separation. 'A priest like Melchizedek' was the transformed human figure, an angel. (pg 6) [see John 17 and Romans 8:17]
  • The consecrated one was the high priest, consecrated in the holy of holies that represented heaven, and then sent out into the world. [Referring to John 10:36]  Using arguments that must have been acceptable to his Jewish critics, Jesus said that the consecreated one was the Son. (pg 6)
  • The mysterious 'dew' in Psalm 110, apparently part of the birth process, does not appear in either the Greek or the Latin versions.  It could have been the anointing oil, which is described elsewhere as 'like dew' (Ps. 133.3). (pg 7)
  • The Melchizedek verse in Psalm 110, I suggest, became obscure becuase of its importance for Christian claims about Jesus and about themselves.  The Christians were...collectively the restored Melchizedek priesthood: one with Jesus, and their unity with Him was both the sign of their true identity as sons of God (John 1.13; Romans 8.14) and also of Jesus' divine origin.  Melchizedek, then, was a priesthood of many people, not of just one individual. (pg 7)
  • Philo also says that Melchizedek brought out wine for Abraham, when he had expected the hospitality gift of water (Allegorical Interpretations III 82).  When Jesus gave wine instead of the expected water at Cana, St John described this as the first manifestation of his glory (John 2.11).  Jesus had given a Melchiezedek 'sign.' (pg 9)
  • The Melchizedek high priest was Yahweh in human form, and the name Yahweh has been shown to mean 'he who causes to be', that is, the Creator. (pg 10)
  • The first chapter of Hebrews shows that Jesus is the Son of God and thus greater than the ordinary angels because he bears the Name (Hebrews 1.4).  It was the high priest who bore the Name, inscribed on the golden plate on his forehead. (pg 10) [see Mosiah 5:7-8]
  • The comparison between the priesthoods is worked out in greatest detail in Hebrews 7. First, Melchizedek was superior to Aaron because Aaron’s ancestor paid tithes to him. Then the manner of entering the priesthoods is contrasted. Melchizedek does not descend from priestly ancestors, he does not become a priest through the death of his predecessor. He is raised up to priesthood, where the word ‘raised up’ can also mean resurrected: anístasthai in contrast to Aaron’s heirs being named, légesthai. (Hebrews 7.11). The contrast is between the legal requirements of bodily descent and the power of an indestructible life, resurrection life (Hebrews 7.16). Melchizedek’s was the priesthood of the resurrected, those who do not die, an so it was the eternal priesthood. (pg 11) [see D&C 107]
  • ...the meaning and significance of the Melchizedek priesthood are yet more of the plain and precious things that have been lost from the Masoretic text of the Old Testament. (pg 11) [see 1 Nephi 13:28-29]
While her paper inclued other subjects, I've tried to limit the quotations primarily to Melchizedek or the Melchizedek priesthood with few exceptions.  In her paper, she also discusses Christ vs. Satan as the firstborn (pg 7), Melchizedek's God as being the "Most High God," rather than Yahweh (Jehovah) (pg 8), and Christ as Yahweh (pg 9).  Not everything she concludes on is in accordance with Mormon theology, for example, she ends her study by identifying Melchizedek and Christ as the same person.  Considering that she does not have the restored gospel, with knowledge of Joseph Smith's teachings,  and Alma 13 and JST Genesis 14, it is interesting to see New and Old Testament scholarship outside of Mormonism beginning to arrive at some of the same conclusions regarding doctrines, principles, and ordinances, as contained within the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which has been restored through the Prophet Joseph Smith, and taught and practiced for over 180 years.

1 The Christian Topography of Cosmas, an Egyptian Monk, J.W. McCrindle, transl. (Bedford Press for Hakluyt Society, London, England, 1897), 388, 391.  Note this image was not used in Barker's paper, but is included simply to provide another illustration of Melchizedek.
3 "Paradigms Regained: A Survey of Margaret Barker's Scholarship and its Significance for Mormon Studies," FARMS Occasional Papers 2, Kevin Christiansen, ed. by William J. Hamblin (FARMS [Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies; now the Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship], Brigham Young University, Provo, UT, 2001)
4 FARMS Review of Books - here; John Welch, Bill Hamblin, Kevin Christensen,
5 "What Did Josiah Reform?  The Earlier Religion of Israel," Margaret Barker, BYU Devotional, May 6, 2003.  Please see to download this talk in MP3 format.
6 "Conversation with Margaret Barker," by Bill Hamblin, August 6, 2008
7 Joseph Smith, Jr.: Reappraisals After Two Centuries, (Eds.) Terryl Givens and Reid Neilson (Oxford University Press, New York, NY, 2009), 143-174
8 See for example:; Paul Owen, an Evangelical Christian, has noted that Barker's writings challenges the position of his own foundation (see "A Response to Paul Owen's Comments on Margaret Barker," by Kevin Christensen, in FARMS Review of Books 14/1:193-122).
9 Melchizedek in Scripture, Tradition and Liturgy, held November 8, 2008, St. Stephen's House in Oxford, England.  See the Group's website at:  Her paper is downloadable here.
10 Commentary on similar subjects by LDS authorities and authors, include: regarding the Melchizedek Priesthood vs. the Aaronic [including Levitical] Priesthood in the temple, see The House of the Lord: A Study of Holy Sanctuaries, Ancient and Modern, Elder James E. Talmage (Bookcraft, Salt Lake City, UT, 1962), 233-238; General Conference address by Brigham Young, April 9, 1852, Millennial Star 16:310-312, 324-328, and Brigham Young Addreses, Ed. Elden Watson, April 9, 1852; Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, Elder Bruce R McConkie (Bookcraft, Salt Lake City, UT, 1977), 3:165-176; Doctrines of Salvation: Sermons and Writings of Joseph Fielding Smith, Ed. Elder Bruce R McConkie (Bookcraft, Salt Lake City, UT, 1972), 3:131-132; "Hebrews: To Ascend the Holy Mount," by M. Catherine Thomas, in Temples of the Ancient World: Ritual and Symbolism, Ed. Donald W. Parry (Deseret Book Company, Salt Lake City, UT, and Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies [FARMS], Provo, UT, 1994 ), 479-491; "Jesus Christ, Symbolism, and Salvation," by Joseph F. McConkie, in Studies in Scripture: Volume Six Acts to Revelation, Ed. Robert L. Millet (Deseret Book Company, Salt Lake City, UT, 2003), 192-206.  For loss of the priesthood and temple, see Doctrines of Savlation, 3:270; Mormonism and Early Christianity, Hugh Nibley (The Collected Works of Hugh Nibley: Volume 4, Deseret Book Company, Salt Lake City, UT, and Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies [FARMS], Provo, UT, 1987), 391-414; Turning from Truth: A New Look at the Great Apostasy, Elder Alexander B. Morrison (Deseret Book Company, Salt Lake City, UT, 2005),  49-68.  Regarding prophets holding the Melchizedek Priesthood, see Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, Ed. Joseph Fielding Smith (Deseret Book Company, Salt Lake City, UT, 1977), 167, 180; Items on Priesthood Presented to the Latter-day Saints, John Taylor (George Q. Cannon & Sons Company, Salt Lake City, UT, 1899), 1-36.

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