Skip navigation to content

Melchizedek, Michael, and War in Heaven

University (Home Page)


James R. Davila
St. Mary's College
University of St. Andrews
St. Andrews, Fife, KY16 9JU

<*>Copyright 1998. First published in a slightly different form in the _SBL 1996 Seminar Papers_ (Atlanta, Ga.: Scholars Press, 1996) 259-72. The abbreviations used in this paper are those standard for the _Journal of Biblical Literature_ (available for downloading at the Scholars Press web site). Translations are my own unless otherwise indicated. Transliterations of Hebrew and Greek, as well as diacritics of European languages, follow the conventions of Ioudaios-Review. The following additional diacritical marks are used:

_text_ = italicized text
LTN = transliterated Ugaritic word
<(> = transliterated Hebrew Ayin
<$> = carat (transliterated Hebrew Shin)
[MLK] = Hebrew text enclosed in brackets is reconstructed
{M} = damaged but readable Hebrew letter(s)
{*M} = damaged Hebrew letter(s) whose reading is in serious doubt
@ = an unreadably damaged Hebrew letter
----- = start of notes to preceding paragraph
<1> = note 1 etc.
===== = resume text after notes

***** = block quotation of translated text

*1 = line 1 etc. in a translated text

The theme of the eschatological "war in heaven" between the angelic forces of good and the demonic forces of evil was a topic of great interest in early Jewish and Christian literature. The focus of this paper is the reflexes of this story which name the angel Michael or Melchizedek as the leader of the heavenly army. I will survey the sources of the myth in roughly chronological order through late antiquity, explore its origins in ancient Near Eastern and Israelite mythic themes, and present a provisional reconstruction of the development of the eschatological celestial battle in its various trajectories.

When a leader of the battling angels is mentioned in the texts, he is almost always either Michael or Melchizedek. It seems clear that the two were identified at least in some circles. In Qumran sectarian literature each appears as the head of the angelic hosts at the eschatological battle in different texts (see below). Based on this fact, as well as contextual considerations, J. T. Milik has suggested that a fragmentary passage in the Visions of Amram (4Q544) originally listed them together as names of the angel of light.<1> In addition, at least one medieval Hebrew text also identified Melchizedek with Michael.<2>

<1>"4QVisions de <(>Amram et une citation d'Orig<`e>ne," _RB_ 79 (1972) 77-97, esp. 85-86. See also Paul J. Kobelski, _Melchizedek and Melchire<$>a<(>_ (CBQMS 10; Washington, D.C.: Catholic Biblical Association of America, 1981) 24-36.

<2>A. S. Van der Woude, "Melchisedek als himmlische Erl<"o>sergestalt in den neugefundenen eschatologischen Midraschim aus Qumran H<"o>hle XI," _OTS_ 14 (1965) 354-73, esp. 372.

The relationship of these two angels, and how they came to be associated with one another, is one of the issues to be considered in this study. I will look at three texts from Qumran, one from the book of Revelation in the New Testament, one document from Nag Hammadi, and a liturgical poem by the Jewish poet Qalliri. Other texts will be alluded to in passing, but many that mention Melchizedek or Michael outside the context of the eschatological battle will be ignored.


11QMelchizedek is preserved in a single, extremely fragmentary MS whose script places it in the first century B.C.E., so the date of composition must have been sometime earlier. The overall contents imply that it is a sectarian work.<3> Originally it consisted of at least three columns; the first is lost except for a line written perpendicularly in a margin, but much of the text of the second column is extant, as well as the beginnings of some lines in the third column. The narrative of col. 2 describes the eschatological conflict fought by the divine being Melchizedek and his angelic allies against Belial and the evil spirits of his lot. The battle is set in "the tenth Jubilee" and is associated with the Day of Atonement:

<3>The _editio princeps_ was published by Van der Woude in "Melchisedek als himmlische Erl<"o>sergestalt" (n. 2). For subsequent bibliography see Kobelski, _Melchizedek and Melchire<$>a<(>_ (n. 1); and Emile Puech, "Notes sur le manuscrit de XIQMelch<^i>s<'e>deq," _RQ_ 12/48 (1987) 483-513, esp. 483-84 nn. 2-4. The document refers to "Belial" (2.12, 22, 25; 3.7) and "the spirits of his lot" (2.12), both common terms in the Qumran sectarian texts. It also uses the technical term "its pesher/ interpretation" (2.12, 17), known only from the sectarian literature.

*6 . . . this matter *7 in the first week of the Jubilee after [the] ni[ne] Jubilees. And the d[ay of aton]ement is the e[nd of] the [t]enth [Jub]ilee, *8 to atone in it for all the sons of [El and] the people of the lot of M[elchi]zedek . . . upon them . . . their . . . for *9 it is the designated time for the year of favor for Melchize[de]k . . . holy ones of El for a reign of justice, as it is written *10 concerning him in the songs of David, that which He said, "God stands in the as[sembly of El. ] In the midst of the Gods he judges" (Ps 82:1). And concerning him He said, "Above it *11 on high, return! El judges the peoples" (Ps 7:8-9), and which s[ays, "How long will you] judge unjustly and will you lift [up] the face of the wicked? Selah" (Ps 82:2). *12 Its interpretation concerns Belial and concerns the spirits of his lot who . . . in their turning away from the statutes of El to [act wickedly.] *13 And Melchizedek will avenge the vengeance of the judgments of E[l . . . from the hand of Be]lial and from the hand of all . . . *14 And for his help will be all the gods of . . . all the sons of El and He shall appoi[nt] *15 this [found]ation. It is the day of . . . which He said . . .

The general nature of the conflict is clear enough, although few details survive. Line 7 of col. 3 gives the added information that "[they] will consume [B]elial with fire," confirming (hardly a surprise!) that Belial was defeated.


<4>My translations from the War Scroll are based on transcriptions of photographs published by E. L. Sukenik in _The Dead Sea Scrolls of the Hebrew University_ (Jerusalem: Hebrew University and Magnes Press, 1955) and by Maurice Baillet in DJD 7, informed by the following commentaries: Martin Abegg, "The War Scroll from Qumran Caves 1 and 4: A Critical Edition" (Unpublished Ph.D. diss., Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, 1992); Jean Duhaime, "War Scroll (1QM, 1Q33)," "Cave IV Fragments," in _The Dead Sea Scrolls: Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek Texts with English Translations_, vol. 2, _Damascus Document, War Scroll, and Related Documents_, ed. James H. Charlesworth (T<"u>bingen: Mohr [Siebeck], 1995) 80-197; Yigael Yadin, _The Scroll of the War of the Sons of Light Against the Sons of Darkness_ (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1962).

The War Rule is a loose collection of traditions about eschatological matters which appears in the Qumran library in a number of recensions. The most complete copy, and the one containing the material discussed in this section, is the MS from Cave One, dated palaeographically to the early Herodian period, late in the first century B.C.E. Two passages in the War Rule seem to refer to the same conflict with the forces of evil, but with Michael or the prince of light as the protagonist rather than Melchizedek. In col. 17 the following text appears, set off by partial blank lines preceding and following it. It seems to be presented as part of the chief priest's address to the troops before they go out to fight Belial and the sons of darkness (16.9-13), but it may well have had an independent existence before the editing of 1QM.

*4 And you, strengthen yourselves and do not fear them, [for] their craving is for formlessness and for void and their staff is as though it were not. Not . . . *5 Israel all that is and shall be . . . in all the eternal times to be. Today is His appointed time to subdue and to abase the prince of the rule of *6 wickedness. And He shall send eternal help to the lot of His [red]emption by the might of an angel. He made magnificent the dominion of Michael in eternal light, *7 so as to enlighten with happiness the covenant of Israel; peace and blessing for the lot of God, to exalt among the gods the dominion of Michael and the rule of *8 Israel among all flesh. And righteousness shall be happy on high and all the sons of His truth shall rejoice in eternal knowledge. And you, sons of His covenant, *9 strengthen yourselves in the crucible of God until He wields His hand and fills His crucibles, His mysteries for your station.

This passage anticipates a conflict between the forces of good and evil in which God is to establish the dominion of Michael over the prince of the rule of wickedness, apparently the same figure as Belial (whose name, perhaps, should be reconstructed in line 5). The conflict between the prince of light and Belial is also mentioned in 13.9-16 as part of an address of the priests, Levites, and elders blessing God and cursing Belial (cf. 13.1-3).

*9b You are the God of our covenant;<5> (we are) Yours, an eternal people, and you cast us into the lot of light *10 for your truth. And of old You appointed a prince of light as our helper and in . . . and all the spirits of truth are in his rule. And it was You who *11 made Belial for the pit, an angel of enmity. And in dark[ness] is his [rul]e and it is in his counsel to make wicked and to make guilty. And all the spirits of *12 his lot are angels of violence. They walk in the boundaries of darkness and together their [crav]ing is for it. But we are the lot of Your truth. We shall be happy in the hand of *13 Your might and we shall be glad in Your salvation and we shall rejoice in [Your] hel[p and in] Your peace. Who is like You in power, God of Israel? Yet with *14 the poor is Your mighty hand. And which angel or prince is like the help of . . . [Fo]r of old You appointed for Yourself a day of battle . . . *15 . . . to help with truth and to destroy guilt, to abase darkness, and to give might to light, and to . . . *16 . . . to an eternal station to annihilate all the sons of darkness, and happiness for . . . (a blank line follows)

<5>Reading with 4Q495, frag. 2.1, even though Jean Duhaime doubts on the grounds of the size of the lacuna that the reading was the same in 1QM ("War Scroll [1QM, 1Q33]" [n. 4]: 122 n. 158). This consideration does not seem decisive to me.

The battle here is God's, but the implication is that it will be played out between the prince of light and Belial.<6> Comparison of this text with the passage in col. 17 quoted above indicates that the author or editor of 1QM identified Michael with the prince of light.

<6>Another passage in the War Rule (15.12-18) describes the apocalyptic battle as the "war of God" (MLXMT )L, line 12). It pictures a conflict of God and the angels against Belial (if the restoration in line 17 is correct) and the spirits of wickedness, but Michael is not mentioned in the surviving fragments of the text. The passages in cols. 13 and 17 are discussed by J. T. Milik in "Milk<^i>-<.s>edeq et Milk<^i>-re<$>a<(> dans les anciens <'e>crits juifs et chr<'e>tiens," _JJS_ 23 (1972) 95-144, esp. 139-43.

THE SONGS OF THE SABBATH SACRIFICE (4Q400-407, 11Q 17, MasShirShabb)

The Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice, also known as the Angelic Liturgy, describes the worship of the angels in the various chambers and levels of the celestial temple, all the way up to God's throne-chariot in the heavenly throne room. The palaeographical evidence indicates that it existed by the end of the first half of the first century B.C.E. It does not seem to have been written by the same group or groups that produced the sectarian scrolls in the Qumran library.<7> Carol Newsom, the editor of the _editio princeps_, has suggested that two fragments of 4Q401 originally mentioned Melchizedek.<8> The name is damaged in both cases, but the reconstruction appears likely. The two fragments read as follows.

<7>Carol Newsom, "'Sectually Explicit' Literature from Qumran," in _The Hebrew Bible and Its Interpreters_, ed. William Henry Propp et al. (Winona Lake, Ind.: Eisenbrauns, 1990) 167-87, esp. 179-85. In this article Newsom rejects her earlier conclusion in the _editio princeps_ (see n. 8 below) that the work is a sectarian text.

<8>Carol Newsom, _Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice_: A Critical Edition (Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1985) 133-34, 143-44.

Frag. 11
. . . pries]t of priest[s . . .
[)]{L}WHY D(T W{K}[
. . . God of knowledge and . . .
. . . Melchi]zedek, priest in the asse[mbly of God . . .

Frag. 22
]QDW#{*Y}[ ] @@[
. . . holy one[s . . .
. . . they filled their hands . . .
[ML]{*K}Y CD{Q}[
. . . Mel]chizedek . . .

Based on the identifiable material preserved in 4Q401, Newsom has concluded that most of the fragments of this MS come from the first five or six of the thirteen songs in the composition.<9> In a later publication she suggests that frags. 11 and 22 should be placed somewhere in songs three through five.<10> Given the probable location of these fragments in the work, I would like to draw attention to a fragment from another MS which came from the same general area. Frag. 4 of 4Q402 can be located with certainty near the end of song five, thanks to an overlap with MasShirShabb.<11> The first part of the fragment reads:<12>

<9>Newsom, _Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice_ (n. 8): 8-9.

<10>Carol Newsom, "'He Has Established for Himself Priests': Human and Angelic Priesthood in the Qumran Sabbath Shirot," in _Archaeology and History in the Dead Sea Scrolls: The New York University Conference in Memory of Yigael Yadin_, ed. Lawrence H. Schiffman (JSOT/ASOR, 1990) 101-20, esp. 106.

<11>Newsom, _Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice_ (n. 8): 8-9, 148-49.

<12>The remainder of the song (lines 11-15 in 4Q402 frag. 4 and lines 1-7 of MasShirShabb col. 1) extols the incomprehensible wonders devised by God for their appointed times.

*1. . . *2. . . and he divided knowledge . . . *3. . . according to] his understanding he inscribed st[atutes . . . *4. . . his being impure . . . not . . . *5. . . and [they] shall not be . . . together . . . . . . *6 sus]tainers of [his] thought and knowledge of the holy . . . *7. . . their . . . the war of God in/with ho[liness . . . *8. . . for to the God of gods belong [weap]ons of wa[r]s . . . *9. . . gods run to [His] muster and the sound of tumu[lt . . . *10. . . gods/God in the war of the heavenly clouds and was . . .

This fragment describes a celestial conflict involving God and the gods, which is called the "war of God" (MLXMT )LHYM, nearly the same phrase as in 1QM 15.12) and the "war of the heavenly clouds" (MLXMY #XQYM, reminiscent of the phrase "war in heaven" in Rev 12:7, to be discussed below). Frags. 1 and 3 of 4Q402 also seem to have to do with eschatological judgment. The former refers to "powerful mighty ones" (GBWRY (WZ, line 4) and "all the foundations of transgression" (KWL YSWDY P#(, line 5), while the latter has the word "he will judge" (Y#P+; line 5). Newsom suggests that frags. 2 and 3 belong to the fifth song and frag. 1 to the end of the fourth or the beginning of the fifth song, so the theme of the eschatological battle seems to have been a theme in this part of the work.<13> Frag. 2 refers to "broc[ade] work" and has the phrase "in the inner room of the King" (lines 7 and 8, respectively), so the celestial temple seems also to have been mentioned in song five. Other fragments from 4Q401 and 4Q402 which come from the same general area of the work also allude to the heavenly temple (4Q401 frags. 4, 12, 13, 16//4Q402 frag. 9; 4Q402 frag. 6; frag. 7?).

<13>Newsom, _Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice_ (n. 8): 8-9, 149.

Given this evidence, I propose that song five in its complete form described the eschatological war in heaven and presented Melchizedek as the high-priestly eschatological redeemer, much the same as in 11QMelchizedek. The likely placement of the fragments themselves renders this scenario possible, although the connection between priestly ordination in the celestial temple and the final battle is not intuitively obvious. However, another account of this battle does combine the two themes and thus makes my conclusion probable. In chapter 10 of the Testament of Moses the first two verses read:<14>

<14>Translation by J. Priest in "Testament of Moses," in _OTP_ I 931-32. See also R. H. Charles, _APOT_, vol. 2, _Pseudepigrapha_ 421, under the title "The Assumption of Moses."

(v. 1) Then his kingdom will appear throughout the whole creation.
Then the devil will have an end.
Yes, sorrow will be led away with him.
(v.2) Then will be filled the hands of the messenger,
who is in the highest place appointed.
Yea, he will at once avenge them of their enemies.

The following eight verses describe the apocalyptic battle waged by God himself. It is generally agreed that the messenger whose hands are filled (i.e., who receives priestly ordination) is Michael. So here we have a reflex of the myth of the war in heaven leading to the defeat of personalized cosmic evil that begins with a priestly ordination of the angelic protagonist. Such, I propose, was the structure of song five of the Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice. It described the ordination of the angelic beings in the heavenly temple, presumably including Melchizedek, then narrated the war in heaven that results in eschatological judgment. The exact nature of the opposition is not clear in the preserved fragments. There is a reference to "his being impure" (HYWTW +M)) in 4Q402 frag. 4.4, which Newsom takes to refer to the purification of the angelic warriors.<15> But other passages in the Qumran literature associate Belial and the evil spirits with uncleanness (Community Rule [1QS] 4.10, 21-22; Damascus Rule [CD-A] 4.15-17; 1QM 13.5), and this text may be singling out an evil adversary for mention. If so, it can no longer be determined whether it was Belial, Satan, some form of the chaos dragon (none of whom are mentioned elsewhere in the Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice), or another force of evil. In addition, the phrase "to all the foundations of transgression" in 4Q402 frag. 1.5 may refer to the forces of evil at the final battle.

<15>I can think of no other reference in the Qumran sectarian literature that explicitly asserts that good angels could incur uncleanness. The Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice says in 4Q400 frag. 1, col. 1, line 14 that "there is nothing unclean in their [the angels'] sanctuaries" (although the defilement of the angels themselves is not directly precluded); and 1QM 7.3b-6 and the Rule of the Congregation (1QSa) 2.3b-9a seem to imply that the holy angels cannot endure the presence of cultic impurity. But the later Jewish mystical tradition does claim that angels can become ceremonially defiled from contact with human beings, which defilement is purified by immersion in rivers of fire. See, for example Peter Schäfer et al., _Synopse zur Hekhalot-Literatur_ (Tübingen: Mohr [Siebeck] 1981) ¤¤ 181-82.


The book of Revelation, probably written near the end of the first century C.E. in Asia Minor, contains another reflex of the war in heaven myth in chapter 12. The development of the traditions in this chapter into their present form seems to have been complex, and for the most part I am following here the redactional analysis of Adela Yarbro Collins.<16> She argues that the Christian redactor--probably John himself--combined the myth of the woman and the dragon (vv. 1-5 and 14-16) with the myth of the war in heaven (vv. 7-9). He added seams to connect the myths to each other and to the rest of the book (vv. 6, 13, 17), introduced a Christian hymn (vv. 10-12), and made other small changes. The two myths were Jewish rather than Christian in their original form, although Greek myth also has significantly influenced the first. In its present setting the story of the woman leaves us perplexed as to whether she represents the Church or Mary the mother of Jesus. But the pericope makes good sense if she is interpreted as Israel, the figurative mother of a Jewish messiah. Likewise, the war in heaven features Michael as the divine hero (as in the War Scroll and the piyyu<.t> by Qalliri, discussed below), although we would expect Jesus to take on this role (as in Revelation 19) if the narrative were composed by a Christian.

<16>Adela Yarbro Collins, _The Combat Myth in the Book of Revelation_ (HDR 9; Missoula, Mont.: Scholars Press, 1976) 101-55.

It is the second source, the story of Michael's battle with the dragon in Rev 12:7-9, that concerns us here.

(v.7) And there was war in heaven. Michael and his angels had to fight<17> with the dragon, and the dragon and his angels fought, (v.8) and he did not prevail, nor was a place found for them anymore in heaven. (v.9) And the great dragon was thrown--the ancient serpent called the devil and Satan who leads the whole inhabited world astray--he was thrown to the earth and his angels were thrown with him.

<17>This translation of the mysterious infinitive POLEMH=SAI follows the proposal of R. H. Charles that it is a Hebraism indicating a kind of infinitive of necessity (_A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on The Revelation of St. John_ [2 vols.; ICC; Edinburgh: Clark, 1920] I 322. It is entirely possible that, as Charles suggests, John was translating a written Hebrew source. But it is equally possible that he composed the story freely in Greek heavily tinged with his native Hebrew (ibid. 1, cxlii-clii).

The origins of this reflex of the myth are extremely ancient. An Ugaritic text (CTA 5.1.1-5) alludes to a battle in which the god Baal defeated LTN, clearly the same creature as the monster Leviathan in the Hebrew Bible and later literature.<18> In the restoration period or later, the apocalyptic section of the book of Isaiah (chs. 24-27) refers to the same myth--in almost the same words, but the battle is projected into the eschatological Endzeit and has Yahweh as the protagonist (Isa 27:1). This eschatological form of the tradition is developed further in Revelation, first by the replacement of Yahweh by Michael, and second by the use of the more generic term "dragon" (DRA/KWN) instead of the name Leviathan. As Richard Bauckham has noted, the picture of the dragon is significantly developed by its identification (perhaps by way of Isa 27:1) with the serpent of Genesis 3 and then, by extension, with the devil or Satan.<19>

<18>For a discussion of this passage in the overall context of the cosmogonic battle between the sea monster Yamm and Baal in the Ugaritic texts, as well as the version of the myth in Exod 15:1-18 with Yahweh as its hero, see Frank Moore Cross, _Canaanite Myth and Hebrew Epic: Essays in the History of the Religion of Israel_ (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1973) 112-44, esp. 118-20. I do not necessarily accept Cross's assumption that Yamm and the dragon were identified in the Ugaritic or biblical texts. For a survey of all Ugaritic and biblical texts relevant to the dragon myth see John Day, "Dragon and Sea, God's Conflict with," and "Leviathan," in _ABD_ II 228-31; IV 295-96, respectively.

<19>Richard Bauckham, "The Lion, the Lamb, and the Dragon," in _The Climax of Prophecy: Studies on the Book of Revelation_ (Edinburgh: Clark, 1993) 174-98, esp. 192-95. Given the antecedents in the Leviathan myth, as well as the parallel version of this myth preserved by Qalliri (see below), I see no reason to accept Yarbro Collins's argument that the opponent in Rev 12:7-9 was originally Satan rather than the dragon (_Combat Myth_ [n. 16]: 109-10, 116). I suggest that the redactional seam Yarbro Collins notes, marked by the repetition of the word E)BLH/QH, "was thrown," comes from the addition of the phrase "the ancient serpent called the devil and Satan who leads the whole inhabited world astray," but that the subject "the great dragon" was original.

Another ancient myth, not noted explicitly by Bauckham, has also influenced this narrative. The theme of a revolt of an astral deity against the high god seems to go back to Ugaritic myth (CTA 6.1.48-65) and is found in the Hebrew Bible in Isa 14:12-20. In this passage the king of Babylon is pictured as the deity "Day Star, son of Dawn" (the translation of the RSV) who attempted to ascend to heaven and overthrow the Most High, but who instead was cast down from heaven into the underworld. The story of the fall of Satan from heaven in later literature seems to be derived from this myth, which, like the theme of the dragon, is projected into the apocalyptic Endzeit in the book of Revelation.<20>

<20>Yarbro Collins, _Combat Myth_ (n. 16): 81-83. Note also Daniel 8:9-11, 23-25, which applies the astral revolt myth to Antiochus Epiphanes and which influenced Rev 12:4. Other late references to the fall of Satan include 2 Enoch 29:4-5; Life of Adam and Eve 12-17; and Luke 10:18. Michael is also involved in the passage from the Life of Adam and Eve, although he does not explicitly cast Satan out of heaven.

The myth of Satan (the "adversary") in the Hebrew Bible (e.g., in Job 1-2; Zechariah 3; 1 Chr 21:1) is echoed as well, insofar as the celestial prosecuting attorney is identified with both the serpent and the dragon.


This document from the Gnostic library discovered in Nag Hammadi, Egypt, is found in a single, exceedingly fragmentary Coptic MS of the fourth century C.E. Birger Pearson hazards a guess that the work was composed in the late second or early third century C.E, probably in Egypt, and it seems to have been written originally in Greek.<21> In any case it must be later than the rise of Christianity. The contents of the work can be roughly summarized as follows: an angelic messenger brought a revelation to the high priest Melchizedek (known from Genesis 14), which described, _inter alia_, the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. This address concluded with instructions on to whom to reveal the message. Melchizedek arose with joy and carried out a number of rituals and invocations to Gnostic divinities. Then more heavenly messengers granted him another revelation that appears to indicate that Melchizedek himself will be incarnated as Jesus Christ (p. 25 of the codex). He will also defeat his enemies, the archons, in battle. After admonishing him not to reveal this knowledge without permission, the messengers ascended into the heavens.

<21>Birger A. Pearson et al., _Nag Hammadi Codices IX and X_ (NHS 15; Leiden: Brill, 1981) 19-85, esp. 39-40; Pearson and Sren Giverson, "Melchizedek (IX, 1)," in _The Nag Hammadi Library in English_, ed. James M. Robinson (3rd. ed.; New York: Harper & Row, 1988) 438-44, esp. 439.

The passage of interest for our purposes is 26.1-14, which describes the conflict with the archons. I give it with the translation of Giverson and Pearson.<22>

<22>The use of brackets to indicate missing text in this translation is extremely conservative. Enough of the words "Melchizedek" and "archons" is preserved in the MS that the readings are not in doubt.

greeted [me . . .]
They said to me, "Be [strong, O Melchizedek],
great [High-priest]
of God [Most High, for the archons],
who [are] your [enemies],
made war; you have [prevailed over them, and]
they did not prevail over you, [and you]
endured and [you]
destroyed your enemies [. . .]
of their [. . .]
will rest, in any [. . .]
which is living (and) holy [. . .]
those that] exalted themselves against him in [. . .]

There is much in this passage which is reminiscent of the traditions we have examined thus far about Melchizedek and Michael. In the Melchizedek Tractate this figure is repeatedly referred to as a High-priest (5.14-15; 6.17; 15.12; and here) or a priest (15.8; 19.14 [reconstructed]), echoing Gen 14:18 and (if correctly reconstructed above) the Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice. He engages here in a cosmic war (PO/LEMOS) against the archons (the evil pleromic divinities of Gnostic cosmology) sometime after the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ, presumably at the eschaton. There is another reference to someone making war at the eschaton in 13.15-16 (the plural subject is unclear), which is immediately preceded by mention of three categories of spiritual beings (?) along with "those [that dwell] in the heavens and those that are [upon] the earth and those that are under the earth" (13.12-15). Presumably a cosmic battle in all three realms is envisioned.

Elsewhere (18.5-6), Jesus Christ, and thus apparently Melchizedek, is given the title "Commander-in-chief (A)RXISTRATHGO/S) [of the] All." The Greek term A)RXISTRATHGO/S is a common title of the archangel Michael.<23> Christ is also called "glorious one" (but the reading is unclear) and the high angels assisting him are "chief commanders (A)RXISTRATHGO/S) of the luminaries (FWSTH/R)" (6.2-3). There is a reference to an "angel of light" in a broken context in 15.1 and the high angels are called "commander" (STRATHGO/S), "luminary" (FWSTH/R), and "man-of-light" in 17.11-14 or commander in chief (A)RXISTRATHGO/S) in 17.18-19. These terms recall Michael, the angel of light or prince of light at Qumran, who leads the heavenly armies against the forces of Belial.

<23>For references see Pearson et al., _Nag Hammadi Codices IX and X_ (n. 21): 33-34.

Thus in this Gnostic Christian work the myth of the war in heaven has been adapted to the theology of the writer. Jesus and Melchizedek are one and the same, and the eschatological battle is between him and the archons, the spiritual forces of evil for the Gnostics, rather than the dragon or Belial.


The last major text to be examined in this article is a piyyu<.t> (a liturgical poem) written in the land of Israel by the Jewish poet Eleazar be-Rabbi Qallir (Qalliri) in the fifth or sixth century C.E., one of many he prepared in two large compositions for the commemoration of the Ninth of Av. This particular poem (silluq), WYKWN (WLM (L MLY)TW, celebrates the vision of the eschatological victory of the messianic era. One section of it, published by Jefim Schirmann, narrates the battle between the two cosmogonic monsters, Behemoth and Leviathan, in the Garden of Eden.<24> This section of the poem begins with a description of the righteous in the Garden of Eden, for whose viewing pleasure the contest will be held (lines 1-17). God will show them three monsters: Ziz (a giant bird who plays no further part in the story after he is briefly described in lines 18-20), Behemoth, and Leviathan. Many details about the size, nature, and power of the latter two creatures are given (lines 21-77). Then the poem, borrowing heavily from the language of Job 41 and other scriptural texts, tells how God will bring Leviathan into the Garden.

<24>Jefim Schirmann, "The Battle Between Behemoth and Leviathan According to an Ancient Hebrew Piyyu<.t>," _Proceedings of the Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities_ 4 (1971) 327-69.

*78 And when the great day comes,
the Great King will say:
*80 "Let him provide us with food for a great people."
And He will send the great prince against him,<25>
and with him troops, a great crowd
to spread over him a great net
and to drag him by the jaw with his great power.

<25>Another reading is "Michael, the great prince." Contra Schirmann ("The Battle Between Behemoth and Leviathan" [n. 24]: 335), this is the correct identification of the great prince (cf. Dan 12:1), as has been pointed out by Kenneth William Whitney, Jr., in "Two Strange Beasts: A Study of Traditions Concerning Leviathan and Behemoth in Second Temple and Early Rabbinic Judaism" (University Microfilms: Unpublished Th.D. diss., Harvard University, 1992) 198.

*85 Lances shall lance him,
but he will reckon the iron of the lances to be straw.
Again, boilings shall boil against him,
but the clubs shall be reckoned by him as chaff.

They will shoot arrows from a bow,
*90 but the "son of a bow" shall not make him flee.
Bronze (shall be reckoned) as rotten wood.

They will hurl against him stones like crags,
but for him slingstones are turned to chaff.
Then in his wrath he will set out to swallow them.

*95 He will make (his own) head lofty in front of the gods.
The Erellim angels shall be terrified by his lifting it up.
By his presence they shall be confounded in valor.

It shall be known to the Powerful One,<26>
and He will give forth a voice of power with His voice
*100 to send against him a gift of power,
in order that he be taken without refuge.
In his neck power lodges.

<26>Or "the Refuge." Both senses of this word are echoed in lines 99-102.

Leviathan will be compelled into the Garden to meet and do battle with Behemoth, who will already be there. They will fight and set the Garden on fire, producing aromatic smoke. Eventually God will separate them and slay them both so that they may be served up in the eschatological banquet for the righteous.

This version of the myth is the most closely related to the one in Rev 12:7-9 of those studied above. Michael is the chief angel in both and his foe is the primordial dragon (although the dragon is identified with the devil only in Revelation). In both, the encounter between Michael and the dragon figure is a brief episode in a much longer narrative. Again, the encounter is inconclusive in each version: the dragon is cast down from heaven but continues to oppress the earth in Revelation, while in the piyyu<.t> the attack on Leviathan by Michael fails and the monster must be herded into the Garden by God.<27>

<27>Other reflexes of the myth are found in the rabbinic literature. According to b. B. Bat. 74b-75a, the angel Gabriel will arrange a hunt for Leviathan, but the monster will not be defeated without God's help. The account in Pesiq. Rab Kah. is closely related to that of Qalliri, but has God ordering the attending angels to make war with ((&W (MW MLXMH) Leviathan. Twice they attacked him, but they failed to harm him. For discussions of both texts see Schirmann, "The Battle Between Behemoth and Leviathan" (n. 24): 355; Whitney, "Two Strange Beasts" (n. 25): 196-97. The late Midr. Alpa Betot, w"h d"g tells essentially the same story, with Gabriel as the chief angel. The Hebrew text is found in _Batei Midrashot_, ed. Shlomo Aharon Wertheimer and Abraham Joseph Wertheimer (2nd ed.; Jerusalem: Ktab Yad waSepher, 1968) 437-38. For an English translation and comments see Whitney, "Two Strange Beasts" (n. 25): 202-208. Finally, another late passage in Pirqe R. El. (ch. 27) relates that God ejected Sammael (the highest angel in heaven, before his fall) and his troop of angels from heaven and that Sammael seized Michael's wings in order to drag him down too. Michael was saved only by the intervention of God. The fall of Sammael is also mentioned in chs. 7, 13, 14. Chapter 14 recounts the punishment of the serpent in the same sentence. See Gerald Friedlander (ed.), _Pirk<^e> de Rabbi Eliezer_ (4th ed.; New York: Sepher-Hermon, 1981) 46, 92, 99, 193-94.


We have now surveyed the six major surviving reflexes of the myth of the eschatological battle conducted by Michael or Melchizedek against the forces of darkness.<28> Three concern Michael: in the War Rule he fights the war of God against Belial; in the book of Revelation he fights a war in heaven against the dragon who is the serpent and Satan; and in Qalliri's piyyu<.t> he (as the "great prince") does battle with Leviathan. The other three concern Melchizedek: in 11QMelchizedek he opposes Belial; in the Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice (assuming my reconstruction is correct) he fights the war of God and the war of heaven against a foe whose identity is lost; and in the Melchizedek Tractate from Nag Hammadi he fights a war with the archons and prevails over them. Some rabbinic sources also name Gabriel or the attending angels as protagonists in the war against Leviathan and tell a story of a conflict between Michael and Sammael when the latter was cast out of heaven.

<28>There appear to be a few more allusions to the myth which do not name the protagonist or give a clear indication of who he is. These include T. Levi 5:6; T. Dan 6:1-7; and Sib. Or. 3.805-807.

What, then, are the origins of this myth, and how did it develop into the versions we have before us? It was noted above, in the section on Rev 12:7-9, that it can ultimately be traced to two very ancient Canaanite myths: the primordial battle between Baal and Leviathan and the revolt of an astral deity against the kingship of Baal. In Israelite tradition, Yahweh became the hero of the two myths (e.g., in Ps 74:12-17 and Isa 14:12-20). After the exile they were projected into the eschatological Endzeit (e.g., in Isa 27:1 and 2 Enoch 29:4-5).

The next major mutation is one for which we have relatively little documentary evidence. The angel Michael took the place of Yahweh in some reflexes of both myths. We have no way of knowing when this change took place, but it seems to fit the general trend in the Second Temple period of angels taking on functions originally ascribed to God. Thus I see no reason to assume that Michael was involved in any early cosmogonic versions. Rather, he was probably only introduced into the eschatological scenarios. In the book of Daniel, Michael is portrayed as an angelic warrior who battled the prince of Persia (10:13, 21) and who will be active at the eschaton (12:1). It may be that he had already been absorbed into the dragon myth or the astral revolt myth by this time, or it may be that the influence of the book of Daniel precipitated the mutation. We have no way of knowing whether Michael took on the role of divine warrior in both myths independently, or whether he was taken into one and then by extension into the other. Our earliest evidence places him in battle against Belial in the War Scroll (the astral revolt motif),<29> and against the dragon or Satan in Revelation (a mixture of the Leviathan and astral revolt motifs, with the serpent of Genesis 3 and Satan added for good measure).

<29>An additional complicating factor that is outside the scope of this paper is the influence of Iranian dualism on the sectarian literature from Qumran. It seems clear that some elements of Iranian religion (such as the opposition between light and darkness or a sevenfold eschatological battle) were absorbed by these texts. The idea that Michael/Melchizedek is the prince of light in opposition to Belial/Melchiresha as the angel of darkness (1QS 3.20-21; CD-A 5.18; 1QM 13.10-11; 4QVisions of Amram [4Q544] frags. 2-3?), and that God created the angels of darkness with evil natures (1QS 3.25), may have Iranian roots, but the fundamental myth is Jewish. Michael, Melchizedek, Belial, and Melchiresha are Hebrew names with recognizable biblical antecedents and, as has been shown above, the basic elements of the war in heaven myth have their origins in earlier Canaanite and Israelite traditions. For a discussion of the Iranian evidence see Kobelski, _Melchizedek and Melchire$a<(>_ (n. 1): 84-98.

Of the two early traditions involving Melchizedek, only one (11QMelchizedek) preserves the name of his adversary, Belial. We have no way of knowing who the hostile power was in the Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice. It is quite clear that Melchizedek was introduced into the war in heaven myth secondarily, since he appears in the Hebrew Bible as the priest-king of Jerusalem (Gen 14:18-20) and as the patron of a priesthood of the Davidic kings (Ps 110:4). I have argued elsewhere on the basis of evidence from West Semitic royal funerary cults and postexilic references to Melchizedek that he was a divinized royal patron of the house of David in the preexilic cult of the Jerusalem temple and that Melchizedek the god evolved from this divinity and became an important angelic figure from the Second Temple period on.<30> Whether or not I am right about his origins, it is certain that he was considered a divine being not only at Qumran, but also in early Christian and Gnostic traditions. Since Michael also functioned as a heavenly priest, it is easy to see how the priestly angel Melchizedek was identified with him and took on his role in the war in heaven myth.<31> Presumably the name Belial (which comes from a personalized understanding of phrases in the Hebrew Bible like )Y$ HBLY(L, "worthless man" [e.g., 2 Sam 16:7]) is an earlier appellation than Melchiresha for the demonic opponent. The latter name is found only at Qumran, and appears to have been coined on analogy with the name Melchizedek: the opponent of the "king of righteousness" is the "king of wickedness."

<30>James R. Davila, "Melchizedek: King, Priest, and God," in _The Seductiveness of Jewish Myth: Challenge or Response_, ed. S. Daniel Breslauer (Albany: State University of New York) 217-34.

<31>See the references collected by Van der Woude in "Melchisedek als himmlische Erlösergestalt" (n. 2): 370-71.

The next stage in the tradition is found in the Melchizedek Tractate from Nag Hammadi. Two developments are notable in this document. First, Melchizedek is identified with Jesus Christ. Strange though this may seem, it is comprehensible within the early Christian thought world. It was natural, and probably inevitable, that Christians should have made Jesus the hero of the war in heaven myth (as in Revelation 19-20 and the Odes of Solomon 22:5). Since reflexes of the myth which involved Michael or Melchizedek were still being circulated, one possible reconciliation would be to identify Jesus with one or both of the angels, and this solution was adopted in the Melchizedek Tractate. The other development is that the archons become the evil opponents. Again, the transformation makes sense. Since the archons were the celestial forces of evil in the Gnostic mythos, it was natural that Gnostic Christians should have replaced the dragon or (more likely) a satanic figure with the more relevant archons.

Oddly, one of the latest accounts of the myth, the piyyu<.t> by Qalliri, contains one of the stratigraphically earliest versions. The hero is Michael, the great prince, and the opponent is the dragon Leviathan, who is not connected in any way to the serpent of Genesis 3, Satan, or the astral revolt. This poem is essentially an extended commentary and development of scriptural passages that mention Leviathan, and it may well transmit very conservatively something of the process of exegesis which created one stream of the war in heaven myth.

The other rabbinic texts, with one exception, tell essentially the same story as Qalliri, but replace the great prince with either Gabriel or the attending angels. Gabriel, like Michael one of the four archangels in Second Temple literature, is also mentioned alongside Michael in the War Scroll and implicitly in the book of Daniel. His name ("God is my might") has a martial ring to it, and he acts both as a messenger (e.g., Dan 8:15-17; 9:21; Luke 1:19, 26) and a warrior (1 Enoch 10:9). It is easy to see how he would eventually begin to take on the role of Michael in the tradition, as well as how Michael's role in the war in heaven might occasionally be applied generally to the attending angels.<32>

<32>For detailed references for Gabriel, see Carol A. Newsom, "Gabriel" in _ABD_ II 863.

The exception is the story of the conflict between Michael and Sammael in Pirqe R. El. This account is independent of the Leviathan tradition and seems to descend from the myth of the astral revolt. It is most closely related to the reflex involving Michael and Belial in 1QM (as well as the similar tradition in 11QMelchizedek), but the appearance of Sammael rather than Belial as the antagonist tends to indicate that the narrative arose independent of the Qumran literature.


After surveying the surviving accounts of the eschatological battle between the forces of good and evil involving the warrior angel Michael or Melchizedek, I have proposed a reconstruction of the branching trajectories of the myth. I trace the origins of the story back to Canaanite and Israelite traditions about the conquest of Leviathan and the revolt of an astral deity and suggest that Michael was the first angelic protagonist to replace Yahweh in both myths, with Melchizedek--the divinized priestly figure--in turn replacing him in some versions. Eventually Jesus Christ, Gabriel, and the attending angels were absorbed into some reflexes of the story. The antagonists included Leviathan, the dragon (combined with the serpent and Satan), Belial, and the archons of Gnostic mythology.

Contact details

St Mary's College
The School of Divinity
University of St Andrews
South Street
St Andrews
Fife KY16 9JU
Scotland, United Kingdom

Tel: +44 (0)1334 462850
Fax: +44 (0)1334 462852