Who Was Melchizedek?

Moving on with Melchizedek the person. Hebrews 5:6 talks about the order of Melchizedek. Jesus was after that order (Jesus had the Melchizedek Priesthood). But I want to focus on the Joseph Smith Translation (JST) of Hebrews 7:3. The normal text makes it sounds like he has no mother or father but the JST clears it up.

“For this Melchizedek was ordained a priest after the order of the son of God, which order was without father, without mother, without descent, having neither beginning of days, nor end of life. And all those who are ordained unto this priesthood are made like unto the son of God, abiding the priest continually.”

What this verse is saying is not that the priesthood has a mom and dad. What it’s saying is that the priesthood has no beginning nor does it have an end. Which makes me wonder, does the priesthood go back further in time than Heavenly Father? I believe it was Joseph Fielding Smith or some other prophet who wrote the couplet,

“As man now is, God once was. As God now is, man may become.”

If this is doctrinally true, then God was human once. And at one time he didn’t have the priesthood. My point being he had to get it from someone. And so on and so on. We could speculate for a long time on the origins of the priesthood but it won’t do us any good. We just don’t know. That one will have to wait until a later date to be revealed. I’ll end this discussion with some food for thought. If the priesthood was around before God was, why is the Melchizedek priesthood called the priesthood after the order of the son of God? Quick thoughts. One, Heavenly Father named it that for our understanding. Two, it’s always been called that.

Where Did Melchizedek Get the Priesthood?

Anyway, Melchizedek was ordained unto this priesthood. And all others who are, have the potential to become like the son of God. Meaning to receive an everlasting inheritance in the kingdom of Heavenly Father.

Next, where did Melchizedek get his priesthood? Look at D&C 84:14. “…[Melchizedek] received it through the lineage of his fathers, till Noah.” Here is where it gets interesting with dates. Some put forth the thought that Shem, the son of Noah, is the same as Melchizedek. Let me copy in the Bible Dictionary entry for Shem and then pull out some dates and you can decide for yourself.

“Name. Son of Noah. Shem was the traditional ancestor of the Shemitic or Semitic races, ie a group of kindred nations, which includes the Arabs, the Hebrews, and the Phoenicians, the Aramaens or Syrians, the Babylonians, and Assyrians. The languages spoken by these various nations were closly related and were known as Semitic languages. In latter-day revelation, Shem is referred to as the “great high priest” (D&C 138:41) see also Melchizedek.”

Isn’t it interesting that they would put, “see also Melchizedek”? I think that saying that Shem and Melchizedek are the same people based only on the fact that Shem is also a “great high priest” is short sighted. I could later fulfill my duties as a high priest and be called great, right? Let’s look at some evidence other than that.

Is Melchizedek the Same Person as Shem?

Going to the Old Testament manual, the chronology of the world, Shem lives nearly the entire lifespan of Abraham, dying shortly before he does. We’ll talk about how Abraham ties into this in a minute. Noah, according to the chronology, dies right before Abraham is born. Shem and Noah overlap for many years. Going over to the Peal of Great Price teacher’s manual from a long long time ago includes an interesting thought. It has an excerpt from the book of Jasher, an apocryphal writing and explains how Abram learned from Noah and Shem for 30 plus years. That he had close ties with the Patriarchs of old. Yes, there are discrepancies, one being that the timeline in the Old Testament book says they (Abram and Noah) never knew each other since Noah dies before. But the Book of Mormon has a bit that may help support the Jasher account. It’s currently where I am in the Book of Mormon actually. I’ll copy the verse in. It’s Alma 13:18.

“But Melchizedek, having exercised mighty faith and received the office of the high priesthood according to the Holy Order of God, did preach repentance unto his people. And behold, they did repent and Melchizedek did establish peace in the land in his days; therefore he was called the Prince of Peace, for he was the King of Salem and he did reign under his father.” (emphasis added)

The part I underlined is what the manual believes evidences Noah and Shem (Melchizedek) teaching Abram. I think that is a tad bit of a logical leap. But I do think it is interesting that Noah is the last pre-flood patriarch alive. Noah’s sons are in Egypt, Mesopotamia, and the land of Canaan. I don’t know if all those were considered unrighteous at the time, but it seems like Noah and Shem, were the righteous ones, as least that is what it appears to be in the Jasher account.

One other thing that Pearl of Great Price manual suggests is that Melchizedek, which means, King of Righteousness, appears to be a title given after proving oneself on the throne, rather than a name. It’s that’s true, the door is certainly opened up a little more for Shem to be Melchizedek.

update 2/11/17: In later writings, I realized in the Old Testament institute manual the question of Shem and Melchizedek being the same person is talked about. I lamented because I wasn’t in a position to obtain the manual and copy the quote. However, I have that quote to share now.

“In ancient Jewish traditions Melchizedek is often thought to be Shem, the son of Noah. Melchizedek is a title meaning, “king of righteousness,” even though it is also used as a proper noun. A modern writer examined the question of whether Shem and Melchizedek could be the same person and concluded that, while we cannot say for sure, the possibility is clearly there. He said:

‘Let us examine first what we know about Shem. Although the Bible names Shem as the eldest son of Noah, modern day revelation places Japheth as the eldest (Moses 8:12). Both reports, however, are harmonious in naming Shem as the progenitor of Israel and in the fact that the priesthood descended through Shem to all the great patriarchs after Noah. In this patriarchal order of priesthood, Shem stands next to Noah. He held the keys to the priesthood and was the great high priest of his day.

Living contemporary with Shem was a man known as Melchizedek, who was also known as a great high priest. The scriptures give us the details of Shem’s birth and ancestry but are silent as to his ministry and later life. Of Melchizedek, however the opposite is true. Nothing is recorded about his birth or ancestry, even though the Book of Mormon states that he did have a father. Concerning his ministry and life we have several intersting and important facts.

All of this provokes some questions and calls for answers. Were there two high priests presiding at the same time? Why is the record silent concerning Shem’s ministry? Why is nothing known concerning Melchizedek’s ancestry?

Because of this state of knowledge on our part, many saints and gospel scholars have wondered if these men were the same person. The truth is, we do not know the answer. But an examination of the scriptures is fascinating, because it seems to indicate these men may have been one and the same. For example, here is the case for their oneness:

  1. The inheritance given to Shem included the land of Salem. Melchizedek appears in scriptures as the king of Salem, who reigns over this area.
  2. Shem, according to later revelation, reigned in righteousness and the priesthood came through him. Melchizedek appears on the scene with a title that means, “king of righteouness.”
  3. Shem was the great high priest of his day. Abraham honored the high priest Melchizedek by seeking a blessing at his hands and paying him tithes.
  4. Abraham stands next to Shem in the Patriarchal order of the priesthood and would surely have received the priesthood from Shem; but D&C 84:5-17 says Abraham received his priesthood from Melchizedek.
  5. Jewish tradition identifies Shem as Melchizedek
  6. President Joseph F Smith’s remarkable vision names Shem among the great patriarchs, but no mention is made of Melchizedek.
  7. Time and Seasons [15 Dec. 1844, p. 746] speaks of ‘Shem, who was Melchizedek…’

On the other hand, there is a case for their being two distinct personalities. Many persons believe D&C 84:14 is proff that there are perhaps several generations between Melchizedek and Noah. The scripture says, ‘Which Abraham received the priesthood from Melchizedek, who received it through the lineage of his fathers, even till Noah.’

If it does turn out that Shem and Melchizedek are the same person, this scripture should prove no stumbling block, because it could be interpreted to mean that priesthood authority commenced with Adam and came through the fathers, even till Noah and then to Shem. (Alma E. Gygi, “Is It Possible That Shem and Melchizedek Are the Same Person?” Ensign, Nov 1973, pp. 15-16.)

What I think is more plausible is this. I’m basing it off something I read a year ago. It’s from the book, Abraham: Becoming a Zion People”. What it’s saying was that Abraham got ahold of and learned from the Patriarchal records from before the flood. I don’t remember the exact details or evidence. But if that’s true, it could be that Noah passed those to Shem before he died and Shem and Abraham met up. Shem taught Abram and in a sense, Noah could have “taught” as a voice from the dust. That would reconcile the Jasher account and chronology saying that Noah died before Abram was around. That takes care of Noah. But was Shem really Melchizedek? It’s possible to say at this point. Maybe as I study further, things will pop up, but at this moment in my studying, I can’t say. I don’t have enough information about Shem. The only stuff we have is genealogy. Wait, that might be it! Maybe I need to study the genealogy of Shem and see if it’s possible! Even though I don’t have scripture stories, really the only info I have is from the BD, maybe something from the genealogy will stick out. If I can get anything from that, maybe I can compare it with the Genesis stuff about Melchizedek.

The Genealogy of Shem

Ok, genealogy stuff. I don’t know exactly know where I’m going with this yet. But I want to get it down on paper and see if there is anything I can make of the generations of Noah. The following is taken from the Old Testament institute manual. The chronology is based on Calmet’s Chronology, which is similar to the biblical dates mentioned in Lectures on Faith.

 

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The generations of Adam to Abraham

 

The next part is taken from the Chronology chart and includes ages. Again, from the Old Testament institute manual.

 

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The generations of Noah

 

One more. I’m copying this from the Bible. Genesis 10:22-29, chapter 11.

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Some impressions from all of this. First, Abraham and Shem are related! Shem is Abraham’s 7th great grandpa. That is seven greats. If Shem did teach Abraham, it seems natural seeing as he is one of his grandsons. I was also wondering why it doesn’t give a complete genealogical history of everyone. For Shem I mean. We don’t hear about any of Elam, Asshur, or Lud’s kids. Maybe they were taken out?  The chapter says it gave a complete account but that obviously isn’t true unless an incomplete record was kept.

It’s interesting that we do see the names of the children of Aram. I was looking this name up in the Bible Dictionary and lo and behold, it’s the person that the Aramaeans and the language of Aramaic come from. Cool connection! What’s still a mystery is why the thirteen sons of Jokkan are mentioned. And then that’s it. It seems they should have said something more if they took the time to list out all the sons whereas for Peleg to Nahor resorted to saying he begat sons and daughters. I don’t know.

That’s about all I can get from the genealogy. I still don’t know if Shem could be Melchizedek. but I think studying the family history of Shem could provide useful as our transition over to the Genesis story of when Abraham and Melchizedek meet up. Maybe something in that story will shed a clue.

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