Introduction: The Archetypal Nature of the Bible
As the great psychologist and innovative thinker Carl Jung pointed out in his works, many of the world’s scriptures are “archetypal” in nature. They are written in specific cultures during specific periods of history, but their content often symbolically reveals universal truths through the medium of what he called the Collective Unconscious (I have written more about this in a previous post). This archetypal dimension of scripture accounts for how millions of people relate to it thousands of years after its creation, and for the undeniable similarities between scriptures and myths across the world.
I mention this because in this post I am commentating on some of my favorite Bible passages. Many people hear the word Bible and immediately think of fundamentalist Christianity, which often asserts that the Bible is the only way to understand God. I passionately repudiate this view and believe that the Bible is merely one divinely inspired cultural expression of God, not the only one or the best one, and not an authority that should be exalted above our own direct experience.
While I do have a particular affinity for the Bible since I am a Jewish man living in a Christian culture, I simultaneously recognize that all religions are merely pathways to the Universal Truth that is equally everything. When I pray to Jesus or YHWH, I realize that someone praying to Krishna or Allah is praying to the exact same God, only calling It a different name. And on a deeper note, the only point of scripture is to directly experience for yourself the truths it merely describes intellectually. Scripture is like a menu, but unless you eat the food yourself by directly experiencing your own oneness with God, it is only mind candy that will ultimately leave you dissatisfied.
With this perspective in mind, let us proceed to unlocking the eternal mystery of Melchizedek, one of the most underrated and ridiculous figures in the whole Bible! I believe that God is saying something with Melchizedek that has particular relevance for this generation, especially for people with an affinity for Christianity. For, to me, the archetypal idea of Melchizedek is essentially that the realization of God is the purpose of organized religion, and therefore greater than organized religion. But before exploring this idea more deeply we must first flesh out the meaning of a few verses that are garbed in some relatively esoteric references. Lets begin!
Melchizedek and Monotheism
Melchizedek first appears in this passage Genesis 14: 17 – 20 and never appears again:
After Abram returned from defeating Kedorlaomer and the kings allied with him, the king of Sodom came out to meet him in the Valley of Shaveh (that is, the King’s Valley). Then Melchizedek 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 Abram gave him a tenth of everything.
Like a shooting star suddenly illuminating the black void, Melchizedek mysteriously arrives out of nowhere and is honored by the father of monotheism, Abraham himself. This occurrence in Genesis is the only time Melchizedek actually appears in the Bible. To understand the “Cosmic Wink” behind Melchizedek we must first explore the symbolic meaning of Abraham, the covenant of circumcision, and the institution of the Levite priesthood that came later at the time of Moses.
Abraham (which means “father of many nations” and whose name was Abram beforehand) is the father of monotheism. Jews, Christians, and Muslims all trace their traditions back to this single man and his powerful encounters with God. In my opinion, in the Judeo-Christian tradition Abraham is important primarily because of the covenant made between him and God in the chapter of Genesis that immediately follows his meeting with Melchizedek. God promised that Abraham’s seed will become as numerous as the stars in the sky, and in another place that “all nations will blessed through you.”
In a later chapter God sealed this promise by commanding Abraham to circumcise everyone in his household. This act marked the formal creation of organized Judaism, for at that time Jews thought they were the only circumcised people in the world. Before the circumcision there was no concrete ritual that distinguished Jews from other peoples, and Judaism was therefore not yet an organized religion. The circumcision solidified through an outward ritual the idea of a chosen people consecrated unto God, and thus formed a context for the system of Mosaic law that would later develop. Notice, though, that Melchizedek arrives before the covenant of circumcision is given…
To me, Abraham symbolically represents the formal traditions of monotheism (Christianity, Judaism, and Islam) that were to come from him and “bless all nations.” When Abram thus gives Melchizedek “a tenth of everything,” God is symbolically pointing out that Melchizedek is greater than the ritualistic traditions that He Himself would institute through the covenant of circumcision. Melchizedek precedes religion and is therefore greater than religion, so religion itself (in the form of Abram) pays Him homage.
Abraham is not merely paying respect to Melchizedek the literal man, but to the idea he represents. This is confirmed by the fact that Abraham gives Melchizedek “a tenth of everything,” that he tithed before the ritual of tithing was even conceived! This “tenth” is a reference to the command that God later gives to Moses to give the Levites (the race of priests who administered the rituals of Mosaic law) a tenth of Isreal’s wealth, and is the source of the idea of “tithing” in Christian churches today. But before Abraham created Judaism, before Moses was given the rituals that distinguished the Levites as priests, before tithing was practiced, before organized religion itself was born, Abram spontaneously tithed to Melchizedek! What on Earth could this mean!? The “Cosmic Wink” here is implying that Melchizedek is greater than Abraham, than ritualistic Judaism, than time itself. If Abraham, the “it guy” of monotheism, is tithing to Melchizedek, this is implying – with boundless subtlety – that what he represents is very, very important.
Melchizedek’s Ironic Identity: What Does it Mean that Jesus is a Priest in the Order of Melchizedek?
Thousands of years after this supposedly occurred the writer of the New Testament book of Hebrews (potentially Paul) grasped the importance of Melchizedek and dedicated nearly an entire chapter to analyzing it’s meaning. So before continuing, lets look at what he says in Hebrews 7: 1-4.
This Melchizedek was king of Salem and priest of God Most High. He met Abraham returning from the defeat of the kings and blessed him, 2 and Abraham gave him a tenth of everything. First, the name Melchizedek means “king of righteousness”; then also, “king of Salem” means “king of peace.” 3 Without father or mother, without genealogy, without beginning of days or end of life, resembling the Son of God, he remains a priest forever. 4 Just think how great he was: Even the patriarch Abraham gave him a tenth of the plunder!
And in Hebrews 7: 11-17
If perfection could have been attained through the Levitical priesthood—and indeed the law given to the people established that priesthood—why was there still need for another priest to come, one in the order of Melchizedek, not in the order of Aaron? 12 For when the priesthood is changed, the law must be changed also. 13 He of whom these things are said belonged to a different tribe, and no one from that tribe has ever served at the altar. 14 For it is clear that our Lord descended from Judah, and in regard to that tribe Moses said nothing about priests. 15 And what we have said is even more clear if another priest like Melchizedek appears, 16 one who has become a priest not on the basis of a regulation as to his ancestry but on the basis of the power of an indestructible life. 17 For it is declared:
“You are a priest forever,
in the order of Melchizedek.”[a]
The author of Hebrews is arguing for Jesus’s spiritual authority, and does so by claiming that he is a priest is the order of Melchizedek. This analysis helps point out that Melchizedek is not a real person, but the representation of a symbolic idea. He has “no father or mother,” no genealogy, no “beginning of days or end of life.” His name means “king of righteousness” and he is from a Place called Peace. How outrageous if this were all literal!
In my view, Melchizedek is the archetype of a fully awakened person. Having realized himself as the beginning-less Eternal Now, he transcends all categories. He is not confined by religion, by time and space, or even by a temporary idea of God- for he is God Itself. The Awareness which right now is experiencing your life-does it have a father or a mother? Was it born? Will it die? Is That which sees out of your eyes Jewish, a Christian, a Hindu, or a Muslim? The Zen master who told his student to “show me your original face before your parents were parents were born!” was similarly pointing to this ever-present Awareness, the formless and boundless Essence that Melchizedek symbolically represents.
So what does it mean that Jesus is a priest in the order of Melchizedek? The idea of “an order of Melchizedek” to which Jesus belongs is a sort of absurd pun placed in juxtaposition to the historically tangible “order of Aaron.” God commanded Moses to build the Levite priesthood from his brother Aaron’s physical line, and all Jewish priests in those days were Levites tracing their ancestry to Aaron. Yet Jesus, according to Paul, was not a priest in the order of Aaron, but in the order of Melchizedek. But how can Melchizedek, the beginning-less Eternal One Himself, have a human order?
His order is thus no-order. The “order of Melchizedek” is not a human order or even an order at all, but a pun referring to the fact that Jesus’s authority as a Priest transcends all human regulation. His spiritual knowledge is not founded on his memorization of scripture, his participation in organized religion, or his performance of sacred rituals. As Paul said, he is “one who has become a priest not on the basis of a regulation as to his ancestry but on the basis of the power of an indestructible life.” In other words, Jesus had spiritual authority because of his own personal realization of God. And as we see in Genesis, this realization is greater than mere participation in organized religion based on reverence and piety. When Abraham tithes to Melchizedek, he is symbolically demonstrating that the goal of all religion is to experientially realize That which is beyond it, and demonstrating that what Melchizedek represents (actual realization) is greater that what he represents (organized monotheism).
In Jesus’s day, the people of Israel did not understand this principal. They constantly mocked him because he didn’t have the credentials of what they thought was a good spiritual teacher. First of all, he was not a Levite in Aaron’s order, a fact that made many Jews skeptical of his teaching. Secondly, he had not been formally educated as a rabbi, and thirdly, he often consciously violated the rituals imposed by Mosaic law (when he healed on the Sabbath, for instance). Yet to understand Jesus we must understand that he had realized his True Nature as being one with God. The omnipresent Christ-Consciousness that he directly experienced was far beyond the limited ideas of Judaism, Christianity, Mosaic law, or any other human tradition. Jesus manifested his life and taught from his own realization, not from truths he had gleaned from so called “revelatory” scriptures written by the hands of men.
Jesus most poignantly expressed this fact in John 8 when some people mockingly asked him, “you are not yet fifty years old, and you have seen Abraham?” Jesus then famously answered, “Before Abraham was born, I AM.” By saying this he was publically demonstrating that he himself was God, the great I AM, the Eternal Now. As a priest in the order-less order of Melchizedek, Jesus’ authority to teach this Truth came from his own realization. The point of this symbolic scripture is not to praise Jesus for his spiritual accomplishments, but to do what he did and realize within ourselves the Christ-Consciousness that never dies. Then we too will be priests in the order of Melchizedek, have spiritual authority that comes from our own direct experience, and no longer need any prophet or religious institution to meditate between ourselves and God.
Proving that Jesus was a priest in the order-less order of Melchizedek and establishing his authority is thus not actually about Jesus. This esoteric digression in Hebrews is really an exploration of how we can come to know God, and the thesis seems to be though our own direct experience. We ourselves are the Holy Christ. We ourselves are Melchizedek. And to somehow taste this is the whole point of any form of spiritual practice.
The Bread and the Wine
“Then Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine.”
This brief act has deep symbolic significance, and is a reference to the ritual of communion that would not be instituted until thousands of years later. The ritual of communion, in which we eat “the body and blood” of the Lord, is a symbolic act which in my opinion expresses our oneness with God. It is the metaphoric pinnacle of the religious experience, for all spiritual paths culminate in this indescribable and joyful Union with our Source.
So, before Christianity was born, Melchizedek performs the primordial ritual of communion with Abraham spontaneously-before it was even a ritual! This act sets the stage for the entire Judeo/Christian drama by symbolically articulating the end goal of it. Before the Jewish circumcision, there is One Communion, and after the coming of Jesus (the symbolic fulfillment of Judaism), there is still One Communion. This goal of Union with the Nameless exists before religion and also after it. It creates religion, but it is not confined by it. For all the world’s religions so poorly attempt to describe the actual experience of God, and all the myriad rituals and practices only lead back this one Omnipresent Place.
Melchizedek is thus the essence of religion, the joyful “bread and wine” of direct communion with God that does not depend on human tradition. Our oneness with God is true in this very moment, was true before the creation of the universe, and will be true forever. To understand this is to be liberated from all suffering, and to transcend the need for rituals and even faith! For the commendable faith in God that Abraham had was only a temporary state leading him to the experience of God in which faith is no longer necessary. Jesus had fully realized this state (which is nothing but this present moment), and as a priest in the order-less order of Melchizedek he invites us all to share in this eternal life that is the birthright of every human being.
The Message of Melchizedek: The Purpose and Limitation of Organized Religion
Does Melchizedek’s inherent glory thus signify that organized religions are useless? No! For he himself blesses Abraham and thus symbolically asserts the value of the Judeo/Christian tradition which Abraham would later found. Yet without a doubt the Bible clearly implies that Melchizedek is greater than Abraham. As Paul writes, “Just think how great he was: Even the patriarch Abraham gave him a tenth of the plunder!” and “without a doubt, the lesser (Abraham) is blessed by the greater (Melchizedek).”
So what is this actually trying to say to us? For me, it shows both the purpose and the limitation of religion. The purpose of religion is the experientially realize God FOR YOURSELF. All religions, meditational practices, and spiritual rituals are merely pathways to this direct experience of God. I personally do not pray or meditate because it is “the right thing to do” or because some book told me to do so. I practice religion because it leads to the indescribable bliss of God, to real happiness. I also often go to churches, monasteries, and other spiritual groups not because it is righteous to do so but because they point me back to the God within me that I have always been seeking.
I participate in and love humanity’s creative religious traditions, yet I recognize that religion itself is inherently limited and that I do not need to participate in organized religion to experience God. Humanity’s great prophets like Jesus can only show us the door, but we ourselves have to enter it. We ourselves must experience what Jesus experienced, or else the spiritual path is nothing more than being a glorified “groupie” of some person who died thousands of years ago that we have never even met! We have all heard about God and enlightenment, but hearing and believing is not enough. We ourselves must have this experience ourselves through our own meditative efforts and through the grace of God.
If we do persist on the spiritual path we eventually will experience God, as all the great prophets have promised and demonstrated with their lives. This idea is very empowering, for it shows that our own direct experience is the ultimate spiritual authority. We are all priests in the order-less order of Melchizedek. Our spiritual authority does not come from memorized passages or man-made labels, but from the direct perception of the Truth we all have equal access to.
In this realization organized religion is no longer necessary, although we may still consciously choose to participate in it. As the Bhagavad Gita states, all the teachings of the world are like small wells of water that people draw from to get knowledge of the Divine. After realization comes, however, participating in religion is like drawing water from a well “when the whole land is flooded, for they see the Lord everywhere.” As the Gita and saints like Jesus have said, this very life is God manifesting Itself to Itself. My deepest prayer is that you, I, and all beings, will realize this completely, and that we all will taste the eternal bliss of Melchizedek, the infinite ocean of Love from which the whole universe arises like a bubble and to which it eventually returns.
Thanks for reading,
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