The Meeting between Abraham and Melchizedek, Dieric BOUTS the Elder; 1464-67, oil on wood; central panel of the altarpiece of the Holy Sacrament, Sint-Pieterskerk, Leuven, Belgium

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Abraham and Melchizedech

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Answering God’s call, Abraham has left his country in Mesopotamia to go to a promised land, the land of Canaan, today’s Palestine. Abraham meets Melchizedek, the king of Salem, the future Jerusalem.

 The two men greet each other; King Melchizedek gives thanks to God by offering bread and wine to Him and he shares the offering with his visitor.



Melchizedek, whose name means “my king is Justice” is seen as a king but also as a priest; he is represented wearing a bonnet or a mitre and a robe. Very often, he offers his own bread and wine in a chalice in the manner of a Christian priest.

Abraham who is back from war is, on the contrary, often represented as a soldier.

God manifests Himself under the form of a hand or an angel.

Immediately after his offering to God, Abraham, as a sign of submission, gives the dime (or tithes), that is to say one tenth of his revenue, to the king. This recognition being more abstract, the representation concerns rather the meeting and the king’s offering.

The biblical narrative

Genesis, chapter 14

After waging war, Abraham meets the king of Salem (or Sion or Jerusalem)

And Melchizedek king of Salem brought forth bread and wine: and he was the priest of the most high God. And he blessed him, and said, Blessed be Abram of the most high God, possessor of heaven and earth: And blessed be the most high God, who has delivered your enemies into your hand. And he gave him tithes of all. (Genesis 14:18-20)

In Psalm 110, it is said about Abraham:

The LORD shall send the rod of your strength out of Zion: rule in the midst of your enemies.
The LORD has sworn, and will not repent, You are a priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek.
(Psalms 110:2-4)


The religious meaning

Being at the same time king of Salem and Priest of the High God, Melchizedek is the perfect figure of priesthood, of the priest king, the mediator between God and men. This episode enhanced the prestige of the Jewish sanctuary of Jerusalem. For Christians, Melchizedek has become the figure of Christ, the gift of bread and wine has become the offering of the Last Supper. This explains the great number of representations of this very minor story.

This picture enhances the role of the priest Melchizedek, over that of the warrior Abraham. We recognize here the medieval idea of the pre-eminence of those who pray and who make up the clergy over those who fight, that is to say the nobility.

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In the Middle-Ages, Melchizedek was considered as the priest who gave the Christian communion to Abraham, the knight. According to some legends, Melchizedek’s chalice was the Holy Grail that was to be used by Jesus at the Last Supper.


The Meeting between Abraham and Melchizedek, manuscript MMW 10 C 23; Koninklijke Bibliotheek, The Hague.




The Communion of the Knight, or the Meeting between Abraham and Melchizedek; interior of the west façade, cathedral of Reims, France

 Patrimoine de France



The meeting can be seen as that of two lords whose powers are equal but not on the same plane.


The meeting of Abraham and Melchizedek; Peter Paul RUBENS; 1626; oil on canvas; National Gallery of Art,  Washington

NGA Washington



The King of Salem blessing Abraham; Julius Schnorr von CAROLSFELD; 1850; engraving from the “Bibel in Bildern”.



Conversely some painters can emphasise Abraham’s submission to Melchizedek’s sacred power.


The Offerings of Melchizedek; Jacques TISSOT; 1898; watercolour; Jewish Museum, New York.

Cts education



The Sacrifice of Melchizedek; Giovanni Battista TIEPOLO; 1740; oil on canvas; altar, church of Verolanuova, Italy.

Web Gallery of Art



Further developpements


The tithes (or dime)

offered by Abraham correspond to one tenth of the fruit of the ground. They are due to God but offered by his representative. This practice, which was that of the Hebrews and the Jews, was taken over by the Church under different forms and lasted until 1789 in France.

A tithing granary in France

There still remain a few old tithing granaries which were used to store tithed cereals.



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