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April 03, 2008



How nice to find this article the day after someone in the Catholic Bible Study that met last night said the first Christians didn't have priests, didn't have ordination, and we're not sure what deacons (as mentioned in the NT) are. And so on.

I will be eagerly perusing your first article on the subject, and your further articles.

Also, on the terminology, a friend tells the tale of a Catholic priest fluent in Hebrew he knows who went to Israel, and visited assorted scholarly/rabbinical types. When he called himself 'priest" (in Hebrew) they said wtte "No you're not'. He's not a Cohn (sp?) Not a member of the proper family to be a priest.

So from this I cheerfully extrapolate that the apostles may not have used "priest" in Hebrew (and other languages) because this is a case where their culture interfered. They couldn't see non-Cohns as priests. So rather ducked the issue, as far as the written record goes, anyway.

seguing back to the conversation last night, I did say I'd heard the Last Supper, among other things called an ordination (because I have, although I couldn't produce any references off the top of my head for it.) That is also disputed "No scholar says that." Is this something your articles will be touching on?

Jeffrey G

Good discussion. I have been curious about Melchizedek lately.

Steve Cavanaugh

There is an interesting article about Melchizedek at Lumen Gentleman which identifies him with Noah's son Shem (you'll have to read the whole article to see the argument and exegesis). But the basic idea behind this is the identification of the first born as family priest, a role lost to the Hebrews when they rebelled against God and Moses, and when the priesthood was conferred on the tribe of Levi, specifically Aaron's line, when the Levites stood by Moses against the rebels.

J.R. Stoodley

Steve C.,

The author of Hebrews said that the fact that no ancestry of Melchizedek was recorded which was a significant prefigurement of Christ, so I don't think the idea of him being Shem holds water.

Personally I think Melchizedek was exactly what he seems to be, a Canaanite king/priest who offered sacrifice to El Elyon (God Most High), the head of the Canaanite pantheon clearly to be identified with the Israelite Yahweh (and thus the one God we blieve in, even if the Canaanites did not quite grasp the concept that God Most High was the only being worth calling a god).

J.R. Stoodley


The Last Supper, among other things of course, is considered to be the time of the institution of the (Christian) priesthood. One would expect the institution of the priesthood to involve ordination, but that does not seem to have been the case. At least, Jesus' only laying his hands on his disciples happend in another time and place. Exactly in what way the Last Supper was the institution of the priesthood I don't know.


Exactly in what way the Last Supper was the institution of the priesthood I don't know.

The traditional argument is that in saying "Do this in remembrance of Me," Jesus commissioned the Apostles to offer the sacrifice of the Mass (i.e., "Offer this as my memorial sacrifice"), thereby constituting them priests.

J.R. Stoodley

Hmm, makes sense. They would be priests from that moment on because they had been charged by Christ with offering a sacrifice, and offering sacrifice is pretty much what defines someone as a priest. But would it be the origin of Holy Orders? The Christian priesthood is inseperably connected to Holy Orders today at least, but its origin seems to be different.

Jeffrey G

SDG: The traditional argument is that in saying "Do this in remembrance of Me," Jesus commissioned the Apostles to offer the sacrifice of the Mass (i.e., "Offer this as my memorial sacrifice"), thereby constituting them priests.

So what are you suggesting? Jesus constituted them as Melchizedekian priests? Or maybe you haven't gotten to that part yet.

I could identify with the admisters of the Sacrament being Melchizedekian priests, especially in light of the link Steve C. pointed to:

In terms of the priesthood, Melchizedek is "without [Levitical] father or mother or [Levitical] genealogy."

Priests without regard to genealogy? Succession?


"Who was 'God Most High'? Elaborate attempts to explain this as the name of a local Canaanite deity remain unconvincing in the face of the name itself, which does not suggest one of many gods, nor a local god, nor even a chief god. It suggests nothing more nor less than what it actually says, and what most Christian and Jewish commentators before the nineteenth century A.D. naturally assumed it meant: that Melchisedek really was a priest of God Most High--namely, of God. That modern commentators should find this astonishing and incredible is more a judgment on them than on Melchisedek. Where one man had been given the beginning of an understanding of what God is, surely a neighbor of his might have learned it too! Talk of the unlikelihood of more special revelations so early is beside the point. Abram was living less than twenty miles from Jerusalem. Jerusalen's king--who, in view of the small size of the city at that time, would have been approximately he equal in status and authority to the leader of a clan mustering 318 fighting men--might well have been brought to the worship of God by the intercession and personal example of Abram. It would be far from the last time this has happened--though it may, indeed, have been the first." Warren Carroll, "A History of Christendom", vol. I, pp. 42-43.

In footnote #32, p. 55, Dr. Carroll quotes: "'There is no evidence anywhere of El Elyon outside the Bible. In fact, El and Elyon are two different deities in the Canaanite-Phoenician pantheon.'"


So what are you suggesting? Jesus constituted them as Melchizedekian priests? Or maybe you haven't gotten to that part yet.

Yes, and yes. Short answer, Jesus gave them a share in his own priesthood. But yes, haven't gotten there yet.

I could identify with the admisters of the Sacrament being Melchizedekian priests

Yes, I think we might have some meaningful commonality here.

Priests without regard to genealogy? Succession?

Genealogy , succession obviously no.

Jeffrey G

Genealogy sí, succession obviously no.

Not obviously. You would have to make the case IMO.

"Melchizedek has no father, mother, genealogy, beginning of days, or end of life"

The general idea seems to be preists without burdensome requirements from priviledge. They are just priests.

J.R. Stoodley


Well, I see no reason to doubt contemporary scholarship on the subject of El or to feel it threatens our faith. I for one like the idea. I believe Jimmy has blogged approvingly on the idea as well.

As everyone knows it's not the best source, but here is the Wikipedia article on El. I find it very interesting stuff, all the more so because I'm part Jewish and while I had always been quite interested in Norse mythology (from another part of my ancestry) and its much more obscure connections to Christianity I had not found out about pan-Semitic beliefs until recently.


Oh, and by the way yes, I believe the Canaanite equivalent of Elyon is Ilion (or something similar) and is not used with El in front of it, but the mainstream opinion seems to be that it is just another of the many names for El.

J.R. Stoodley

And by the way it would not surprise me at all if Mechizedek was not in fact pagan but was enlightened enough that he, like possible some other Semitic peoples besides the Isrealites, worshiped El (Il, Ilion, Il Olam [El Olam is another biblical name for God that was commonly used by the Canaanites), etc.) alone and opposed the worship of Baal and others.

J.R. Stoodley

From Jimmy:

"Further, the Canaanites did have a relationship with God. It isn't the case that El (the Hebrew equivalent of "God") was a foreign deity that they had never heard of. There are passages in Scripture that indicate that the Canaanites were already familiar with El and worshipped him. This is the case, for example, with Melchizedek, the king of Jerusalem who was a priest of El, or Balaam at the time of the Exodus, who was a prophet of El.

Archaeology confirms this. We have dug up religious texts written by the Canaanites, and they confirm that the Canaanites did indeed worship El. The problem is that they didn't recognize him as the one true God. They recognized him as the high god, the chief god of their pantheon, but they also worshipped other gods and goddesses, such as Ba'al and Yam and Ashera and Anat. Since El was the original, true God, this suggests that they had departed from the true faith at some point and become idolaters.

This may shed light on what God told Abraham in Genesis 15:16, which was that he would not give Abraham and his descendants the promised land immediately, because "the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete."

In other words, the Canaanite culture had not yet become so thoroughly corrupt (through idolatry or other sins) that God felt a clean start was necessary. He knew that this time would come--since from his perspective outside of time he could see that the Canaanites would become that corrupt--but he was unwilling to have their culture be destroyed before it reached a certain level of corruption."


The only real thing I'd take exception with there is I don't think it's necessary that the Canaanites as a whole had at some time previously had a pure, monotheistic religion. Or if there was such a religion at least it would have gone back to before the existence of the true Canaanites, back even before the Proto-Semitic people. More likely Semitic religion was just a polytheistic religion that had attained a higher than average level of truth, and the head of their pantheon between his name (simply meaning "God") and his qualities were enough that he could be considered the true God. Also the conflict between El and Baal in Canaanite mythology could indicate a longstanding conflict within the Semitic peoples and the Canaanites specifically over whether El or Baal should be worshiped. Melchizedek, and later the Israelite nation, could have represented one side, the right side, of that conflict.


Remember that Paul himself identified the "Unknown God" of the Athenians with God Himself -- a possibly analogous situation.


Are not preists ordained to the order of Melchizedek rather than the order of Levi because Mechizedek offered an unbloody sacrifice?



Deacons can be found in the Bible in the fight between the Hellenists and Judaizers with respect to widows being left out of the distribution of goods.


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