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Shem, Melchizedek, And Concern With Christianity In The Pentateuchal Targumim

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Chapter Summary

Although Melchizedek appears only twice in the Hebrew Bible, earliest Christians regarded him as a figure of great significance. Melchizedek is identified with Shem, son of Noah, by most of the extant targumim of Pentateuch, and in these same targumim Shem is head of a Beth Ha-Midrash which bears his name. Analysis of verses in pentateuchal targumim which allude to Shem and Melchizedek, reveals a complex interpretation of two men which cannot simply be explained as anti-Christian polemic, and which may be wrongly understood if such polemic is invoked. Not only were there groups apart from Christians who held distinctive opinions about Melchizedek: the biblical data about him and Shem are brief and ambiguous, requiring careful exegesis by Jewish authorities themselves. This chapter shows that the targumic traditions about the two figures may reasonably be explained without reference to anti-Christian sentiments, especially when Shem is fully integrated into the picture.

Keywords: anti-Christian polemic; Christianity; Hebrew Bible; Melchizedek; pentateuchal targumim; Shem



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