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Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Melchizedek ὁ θεὸς ὁ ὕψιστος & the Divine Identity — part 2

Did Abram and Melchizedek worship the same God? Does the book of Hebrews compare Jesus Christ to a priest of a Canaanite deity?  
In the first post on Melchizedek ὁ θεὸς ὁ ὕψιστος & the Divine Identity  I suggested that the title ὁ θεὸς ὁ ὕψιστος Theos Hypsistos ‏אל עליון El Elyon "God Most High" in and of itself would not provide a unique identifier. Outside the OT the epithet  ‏ עליון Elyon  (or a variant form) is applied to Baal and other deities, DDD[1] pp.295-96. However, in the extant Canaanite literature there are no examples of Elyon attached to El in the form El Elyon. In the Hebrew bible Elyon is used as a epithet for YHWH. Never the less, the referent of El Elyon in Gen. 14:18-22 is a question with some minor difficulties. First of all, the Masoretic Text (MT) of Genesis appears to have an editorial alteration with the problem of El Elyon's identity in view.

Gen. 14:22 MT & LXX

‎MT ‏ ויאמר אברם אל־מלך סדם הרימתי ידי אל־יהוה אל עליון קנה שמים וארץ

But Abram said to the king of Sodom,  “I have sworn to the LORD God Most High, maker of heaven and earth." — RSV

LXX OG εἶπεν δὲ Αβραμ πρὸς βασιλέα Σοδομων ἐκτενῶ τὴν χεῖρά μου πρὸς τὸν θεὸν τὸν ὕψιστον ὃς ἔκτισεν τὸν οὐρανὸν καὶ τὴν γῆν

In Gen. 14:22 MT we read יהוה YHWH before ‏אל עליון El Elyon.The LXX OG lacks a translation equivalent for YHWH which most probably indicates that the vorlage for the Greek Genesis did not read יהוה YHWH. The reference to YHWH is also missing from the Syriac, 1QapGen. The SamPent reads ‏האלהים h-Elohim in place of  יהוה YHWH, E.Tov[2]. The shorter reading of the same expression אל עליון קנה שמים וארץ is found if verse 19. 

Speaking on behalf of the LXX OG text, J.W. Wevers[3] states "Abram's oath was taken in the name of Melchisedek's God, God Most High, rather than his own God, the Lord." Wevers doesn't appear to be partial to either reading, demonstrating how the MT might be original and the LXX an attempt to put some distance between the God of Abram and the God of Melchisedek. E.Tov[2] appears to favor the LXX reading. Tov states that the expression found in Gen.14:19 אל עליון קנה שמים וארץ "El Elyon creator of heaven and earth" has close parallels in Canaanite texts where 'Elyon has the function of קנה "creator". He makes note of the theological consequences of adding the single word YHWH to Masoretic Text "thus identifying 'Most High' with the God of Israel, as if Abram is addressing Him." 

The omission of YHWH from the MT would not force us to agree with Wevers that Abram was taking an oath in the name of a different deity.  The "addition" (?) of YHWH to Masoretic Text of Genesis 14:22 appears to be a theologically motivated clarification of the referent of El Elyon. However, the referent of El Elyon was probably not a problem to begin with. Elyon is used elsewhere in the OT as an epithet for YHWH[4]. In the late years of the Second Temple, by the time the author of Hebrews used this text, there was no question that the referent of El Elyon was YHWH.

[1] The Dictionary of Deities and Demons in the Bible (DDD).

[2] E. Tov, Textual Criticism of the Hebrew Bible, 2nd Ed.  P. 282

[3] J. W. Wevers, Notes on the Greek Text of Genesis, p. 200.

[4] Psa. 18:14 ‏ וירעם בשמים יהוה ועליון יתן קלו ברד וגחלי־אש


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