Who is Melchizedek and what role does he play in the Old Testament?

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Melchizedeck is the first priest ("the priest of the most high God") mentioned in the Old Testament. The story of the encounter between Melchizedeck and Abraham (then called Abram) is in chapter 14 of the book of Genesis. This is long before the Hebrew priesthood is established by Moses. Melchizedeck is mentioned one more time in the Old Testament in the book of Psalms 110:4.

The Lord hath sworn, and will not repent, thou art a priest forever after the order of Melchizedeck.

Psalm 110 is considered a Messianic psalm, which means that it foretells the coming of the Messiah, or Jesus. This verse says that when the Messiah comes, he will be considered a priest just as Melchizedeck was a priest.

Melchizedeck is referred to as the king of Salem, which means king of peace. Additionally, the word Melchizedeck means "king of righteousness."

In Genesis 14, an alliance of kings attacks the city of Sodom and some other nearby cities. At the time, Abram's nephew, Lot, is living in Sodom. When the city falls, Lot is taken captive. After Abram hears of it, he arms his servants and goes out in pursuit of the marauders. He defeats the raiding kings, recovers Lot and all the goods of the king of Sodom, and returns. It is when the king of Sodom meets triumphant Abram that Melchizedeck appears.

Melchizedeck gives Abram a blessing, and Abram gives Melchizedeck tithes (an offering of 10 percent) of all the spoils. The king of Sodom offers Abram a reward, but Abram refuses to accept it.

This is the only place in the Bible in which Melchizedeck plays an active role. As mentioned above, he is referred to in Psalm 110. He is also mentioned in the book of Hebrews chapter 7 verses 1 to 4 in the New Testament, in which Genesis chapter 14 is retold by the apostle Paul.

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Your question poses an interesting connection between Coelho's work and the Old Testament in the Bible.  Melchizedek first appears in the book of Genesis, the first book of the The Old Testament.  He is both a king and priest, the first to be titled Kohen or Priest in the Hebrew Bible.  Melchizedek means "King of Righteousness."  Under the Law of Moses, only descendants of Aaron could be Kings or Priests; however, Melchizedek predates Aaron by many generations.  Later, in the New Testament it is thought that he is of David's Line of priests and Kings, the same lineage of Jesus the Christ in the New Testament.

The roots of Catholic Priesthood are found in the line of Melchizedek.  In the book of Genesis, Melchizedek offers a sacrifice of bread and wine.  Wikipedia comments on this sacrifice in the quotation below:

Christ therefore fulfilled the prophecy of Ps 110:4, that he would be a priest "after the order of Melchizedek," at the Last Supper, when he broke and shared bread with his disciples.

Melchizedek is given various names or roles in the Old Testament.  (In fact, he is given various names or role in the New Testament as well.)  For example, in appearances termed "Christophanies," it is theorized that Jesus made appearances during the time of the Old Testament as Melchizedek.  Another thought is that Melchizedek is actually the Archangel Michael, while others go further in the thought that Michael is actually Jesus.  Both Melchizedek and Jesus.  The Hebrew meaning of Melchizedek is "Prince of Peace" and "King of Salem."  (Here, Salem is simply a reference to Jerusalem.)

In conclusion, it's important to note that the simple name of Melchizedek is a definite allusion to the Old Testament within Coelho's book The Alchemist.  Considering that an allusion refers to an indirect reference in a work of literature, it is important to consider the use of that particular literary technique in the book especially in reference to Coelho's style.

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In the Old Testament, Melchizedek is the king of Salem and a high priest who blesses Abraham after he rescues his nephew Lot from the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. Abraham gives him one tenth of his wealth, which is today known as tithing. Although his people practive polytheism, Melchizedek recognizes the one true God and ushers Abraham into his role as the father of the Israelites.

In The Alchemist, Melchizedek guides Santiago on his journey to achieve his dreams. In exchange for the location of the treasure in Egypt, Melchizedek demands one tenth of Santiago's sheep, demonstrating that the pursuit of riches always comes with a price and that Santiago will have to make wise choices in his dealings with other characters.

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