Are Melchizedek and Shem the same person?
This question is frequently asked and has caught the interest of many scholars. Let us examine first these two names and then the arguments for and against the two being the same person.
Melchizedek means “King of righteousness” (Heb. 7:1-2). He was known as the great high priest (Alma 13:14), priest of the most high God (Gen. 14:18) ordained as priest after the order of the Son of God (Heb 7:3). He’s also known as Abram/ Abraham’s ecclesiastical leader (Gen. 14:19) (Gen. 14:20) (Heb. 7:4) and King of Salem (Gen. 14:18.)
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Shem is the Son of Noah (Gen. 5:32), the progenitor of Abraham. (1 Chronicles 1:24-27.) It was assumed that he held the keys to the priesthood and was the great high priest of his day where he stands next to Noah during this time when patriarchs passed on the priesthood in the family.
Shem and Melchizedek are the same person:
- The Great High Priest: There can’t be two high priests presiding at the same time. 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.
- Order of Priesthood: Abraham stands next to Shem in the patriarchal order of the priesthood and would surely have received the priesthood from Shem, but Hebrews Teaching says Abraham received the priesthood from Melchizedek.
- Reign over Salem: Shem inherited the land of Salem and Melchizedek is the king of Salem.
- King of Righteousness: Shem reigned in righteousness (Melchizedek’s name means King of Righteousness), and the priesthood came through him. (Ginsberg, Legends of the Jews, p. 233.)
- Name as Title: If Shem is indeed Melchizedek, the name is then used as a title, not an actual name. This title would seem to fit the biblical account of the Godliness and righteousness ascribed to Shem.
- Hebrew Tradition: Shem, Noah’s Son that was still alive at the time of Abraham and that would make him the oldest man alive qualifying him as a candidate for the order of Melchizedek.
Shem and Melchizedek are two different people:
- An account of Identity: Shem was born in 2448 B.C. and lived for 602 years. He was 100 years old at the time of the great flood. Abraham was born in 1948 B.C., and was 140 years old when Shem died. But the coincidence in Shem and Melchizedek living at the same time only makes their identity a possibility, not a reality.
- Genealogy: We know Shem’s line and descendants. Abraham’s father was Terah, who was in the line of Shem. We do not know Melchizedek’s genealogy.
- Melchizedek in the Bible: Genesis 14:18-20
The Bible doesn’t tell us much about Melchizedek beyond that he was a priest of God, and that his line of priesthood is an important one. Some Christians see Melchizedek as an early foreshadowing of Jesus himself.
- Canaanite Priest: Jebusites were idolaters who worshiped Canaanite gods. Melchizedek could not have worshiped a heathen god because of the titles he used for the true God. Archaeological records reveal that the Jebusites were preceded by that of a Shemite group. Noah predicted that Canaan would serve under Shem (Gen.9:26).