Melchizedek Could Be Shem, Son of Noah
by Mike Blondino
I'm sure you've dealt with a lot of comments from people on this matter. I took on Genesis a little bit fearful that I might find more problems to address than answers in my teaching. When I first read the Jewish oral belief that Melchizedek was actually Shem I thought they were just guessing, and that pretty poorly. But the more research I did the more it made sense.
These are some of my gentile review concepts, and why I think their belief has a good chance of being accurate.
I sort of need to start by saying that we gentile Christians base virtually all of our understanding of Melchizedek on the writings of the author of Hebrews. For that author not to know the Jewish oral tradition gives us one more bit of knowledge on who may have wrote Hebrews.
Someone well versed in the Old Testament but not as well aware of the inner dialogs and rabbinical theology within the Jewish teaching circles that, say Paul or Barnabas, would have been exposed to. So as Christians we are starting from Genesis with a bias. So let's lay that down for a moment.
Let's begin where they begin - Priesthood is patrilineal. It means that priesthood is given from father to son, or trans-generationally through the father, grandfather or great grandfather relationship (however many generations involved). Noah was a priest, informal at least, and formal at best.
We know this because: a) he made sacrifices and b) God spoke to him about the animals to be taken on the ark in terms of "clean" and "unclean" which are terms related to sacrificial worship.
Consider also the migration of documents and genealogies from Adam to Noah. The question arises as to why Genesis is replete with "he begat" sections that lead us from Adam to Noah, Noah to Abram and eventually all the way to Levi. I had accepted that it was due to historical record keeping. Now I understand that they were not merely history, but patrilineal records to prove the priestly office.
At the time of Noah, Methuselah would have been the eldest kohen (priest). He would have passed the "accounts" of creation of heaven and earth, and Adam's line to Noah. After the flood, Noah gave them to his second oldest son - Shem. Genesis clearly states that he was not the eldest. Shem was blessed as the one of the three brothers who uniquely bore spiritual selection for the salvation of mankind. Noah died 2 years before Abram was born, making Shem the eldest priestly line.
Notice that the Genesis "accounts" are listed up until the narrative of Abram as follows:
(a) The account of the heavens and the earth (2:4)
(b) The account of Adam’s line (5:1)
(c) The account of Noah (6:9)
(d) The account of Shem, Ham and Japheth
(e) The account of Shem (11:10)
The accounts then resume with:
(a) The account of Terah (11:27)
(b) The account of Abraham’s son Ishmael (25:12)
(c) The account of Abraham’s son Isaac (25:19)
(d) The account of Esau (36:1)
(e) The account of Jacob (37:2)
(f) The account of the family of Aaron and Moses at the time the Lord talked at Sinai (Num 3:1)
My point is that it cannot be coincidence that the accounts are most illustrated at the life of Shem and at the life of Abram - within just a generation. Who would have had the most accurate records of the line of Shem up until the entrance of Abram into the story line? Obviously it would be Shem, himself.
Now, look at the specific wording used by Melchizedek in blessing Abram, and that is later echoed as an oath by Abram. He specifically says "Blessed be Abram by God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth." The phrase "Creator of heaven and earth" could be merely a nice religious albeit otherwise meaningless comment.
However, if this is Shem invoking the blessing upon Abram, he is calling upon not merely God, the God whose "accounts" and records of which he had been responsible to preserve for hundreds of years. From Adam through Methuselah to Noah to Shem. Four patrilineal transitions had brought these accounts to Shem. If he is Melchizedek, Shem is now giving them to Abram.
The name of the very first account is titled, "The account of the heavens and the earth when they were created." Abram responded to this very comment and offered a vow saying later in Genesis 14:22: “I have raised my hand to the LORD, God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth, and have taken an oath." It could not have been merely a religious nicety. Abram recognized that if any man could represent the Creator of heaven and earth it was Shem. This is why he gave him a tithe.
The fact that Abram was known to Melchizedek is important. In addition the proximity of Hebron to Salem (Jerusalem) being just about 10 miles apart, and the fact that God called Abram to sacrifice on Moriah (what would be the temple mount) shows that their relationship did not begin and end after Abram's victory over Chedorlaomer.
It is very interesting that the term "Hebrew" or "of Eber" would be first used in Abram's generation. At the time of Abram three men in the patrilineal line from Noah remained alive (after Terah's death). Shem, Eber, and Abram. Eber would live into Isaac's life but Shem would die, leaving all of the priestly accounts, genealogies, with the new bearer of the the covenant... Abraham.
Maybe it's fanciful theology, but I think the Jews had a sound reason to hold that Melchizedek was Shem the son of Noah.