John W. Welch responds to David P. Wright concerning the relationship between Alma 12-13 and Hebrews; argues that the Melchizedek material in the Book of Mormon has strong parallels from texts such as those from Qumran and 2 Enoch.

John W. Welch

John W. Welch, "Approaching New Approaches," Review of Books on the Book of Mormon 6, no. 1 (1994): 168-181

Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies
John W. Welch, David P. Wright
Reading Public

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The Alleged Influence of Hebrews on Alma 13. While underemphasizing the importance of Genesis 14, Wright overstates the alleged influence of Hebrews 7 on Alma 13. In many ways, Alma 13 is an independent text. For example, as mentioned above, the phrase "priest of the most high God" (Genesis 14: 18; Hebrews 7: I) never appears in Alma 13. This reduces the significance of the alleged order in which Melchizedek's priesthood is mentioned in Alma 13 (a chapter which contains many references to that priesthood), and also points out one of many differences between these texts.

Similarly, Hebrews 7 describes Melchizedek as being without "beginning of days, nor end of life," whereas Alma 13:7 describes his priesthood as "without beginning of days or end of years." The words "end of years" appear in Daniel 11 :6. This phrase, like others here, such as those dealing with "beginning" and "end" and "from eternity to all eternity" (Alma 13:7) are common in the scriptures and can be identified with the aid of a computer. In other words, phrases like these in Alma 13 that are crucial to parts of Wright's arguments are not exclusive to Hebrews, and some of them are not found there at all. Thus, one should not overstate the possible influence of Hebrews 7 on Alma 13.

Wright's fourth point derives from a remark about the meaning of Melchizedek's name or title. The differences here between Hebrews 7 and Alma 13 also deserve more attention. Wright admits that "King of righteousness" and the word "righteousness" do not appear in Alma 13: 17-19, whereas this is the interpretation of the name Melchizedek given in Hebrews 7. If Joseph Smith were simply free associating with the text of Hebrews 7, it is quite surprising in a text devoted so extensively to perfection and righteousness that he would not have utilized the point. Wright makes a valid observation that the phrase "Prince of Peace" is found in Isaiah, as well as in Alma 13, but it bears reminding that the phrase "Prince of Peace" is not found in Hebrews 7. And indeed, Alma had the text of Isaiah 9:6, and so this expression would have been known to Alma, who could well have introduced it into the Melchizedek pericope. For, after all, the point of Alma 13: 16 is that the priesthood ordinances were performed in a manner such that "the people might look forward on the Son of God"; hence, for Alma to utilize a Messianic phrase from Isaiah in connection with Melchizedek only two verses later fits the rhetorical context of the passage.

Wright's fifth point is that both texts make mention of Melchizedek's father. Here again the differences are significant. In Hebrews 7, the main argument is that the Melchizedek Priesthood is superior to the Levitical Priesthood. Rights to the Levitical Priesthood were inherited by birth into the tribe of Levi, but Melchizedek lived before the times of Levi and Moses, and, accordingly, numerous commentators, both ancient and modem, have noted the salient fact that Melchizedek is the only priest mentioned in the Old Testament whose lineage is not given. When Alma (after considerable discussion of the wickedness of the ancient people) mentions Melchizedek's faith, the high priesthood, the holy order of God, the preaching of repentance, repentance causing peace, and Melchizedek's having been a prince who reigned under his father, need we associate this with Hebrews 7:3. "without father. without mother"? Since one can reasonably assume that Alma knew that the Genesis account did not mention Melchizedek's parentage and wished to use Melchizedek as the preeminent example of the High Priesthood "after the order of the Son. the Only Begotten of the Father" (Alma 13:9, emphasis added), what would be more logical for Alma to state than that this Melchizedek (a type of Christ) reigned under his father, just as Christ stands under his Father? The presence of the ideas of fatherhood and sonship already in the text of Alma 13:5-9 diminishes the likelihood that the mention of Melchizedek's father in Alma 13:18 was spawned by some reflex to Hebrews 7:3.

Finally, Wright's sixth point is the mention of Melchizedek's greatness. Here it is true that Hebrews 7:4 says, "Now consider how great this man was," but again the question is whether this would not be a natural concluding comment for Alma to have made independently. The word "great" is a fairly common word in any language. and the mysterious importance of Melchizedek has naturally fascinated Jews and Christians for many centuries, as I have discussed at some length. The greatness of Melchizedek was intuitively obvious, for example, to the writers of the books of Jubilees and 2 Enoch, to the authors of the Melchizedek document from Qumran, to Philo, and to several early Christian sects.

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