In my recent post on Abraham I brought up the enigmatic figure from scripture, Melchizedek. There is a tradition that claims Melchizedek is actually Shem, the son of Noah. I speculated, based on my reading of our scriptures, that Melchizedek might actually be the pre-mortal Christ himself rather than a mortal prophet. In this post I will briefly sketch out these two ideas.
Shem as Melchizedek
In the Midrash, the Rabbis identified Melchizedek with Shem son of Noah. (E.g., B. Talmud Nedarim 32b; Genesis Rabbah 46:7; Genesis Rabbah 56:10; Leviticus Rabbah 25:6; Numbers Rabbah 4:8.)
From the Ensign (and quoted in the OT student manual):
Living contemporary with Shem was a man known as Melchizedek, who was also known as the 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. (Alma 13:17-18.)
The article goes on to list several reasons why Shem and Melchizedek are the same person.
1. The inheritance given to Shem included the land of Salem. Melchizedek appears in scripture 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 righteousness.”
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 the 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. Times and Seasons (vol. 6, p. 746) speaks of “Shem, who was Melchizedek. …”
The authors of the Encyclopedia of Mormonism article on Melchizedek are more skeptical of the Shem connection, however:
It was asserted by some early LDS leaders that Melchizedek was Shem, son of Noah (see, e.g., T&S 5:746). Though Shem is also identified as a great high priest (D&C 138:41), it would appear from the Doctrine and Covenants 84:14 that the two might not be the same individual (MD, p. 475), and Jewish sources equating Melchizedek and Shem are late and tendentious.
Pre-mortal Christ as Melchizedek
The theory I suggested earlier this week was that Melchizedek was actually God appearing to Abraham rather than a mortal prophet. While I independently came up with the idea from reading the scriptures, it is evident that I am not the first person to wonder if this was the case. Apparently Christian and Jewish scholars and religious thinkers have speculated on this idea for a long time. A quick Web search turned up several Christian Web sites dealing with the question and defending the idea that Melchizedek was a “theophany” or the “pre-incarnate of Christ” (see here, here, and here).
Several Jewish sources also provide interesting evidence in favor of this notion. Again, from Wikipedia:
The Zohar finds in “Melchizedek king of Salem” a reference to “the King Who rules with complete sovereignty,” or according to another explanation, that “Melchizedek” alludes to the lower world and “king of Salem” to the upper world. (Zohar, Bereshit, 1:86b-87a:)
In the Tanakh, Melchizedek brought bread and wine to Abraham (then Abram) after Abraham’s victory over the four kings who had besieged Sodom and Gomorrah and had taken his nephew Lot prisoner (described in Genesis 14). (Gen. 14:18.) Melchizedek blessed Abraham in the name of “God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth.” (Gen. 14:19.) In return, Abraham gave Melchizedek a tenth, a tithe, of the spoils gained from the battle. (Gen. 14:20.) In some translations, Psalm 110:4 names Melchizedek as representative of the priestly line through which a future king of Israel’s Davidic line was ordained.
It is easy to find LDS sources pointing out the obvious fact that that the story of Melchizedek is at least a type and shadow of Christ. However, I have not yet found any that go as far as to claim that Melchizedek actually was the pre-mortal Christ appearing to Abraham. (If you know of any, please let us know in the comments.)
The idea that Melchizedek was another name for Shem and the notion that Melchizedek was not a mortal man but rather God appearing to Abraham both have a long histories. The obvious third choice is that Melchizedek was an separate mortal prophet. I currently am leaning toward the God as Melchizedek model (but I reserve the right to change my mind later). Which do you like?
[Associated radio.blog songs (I went with a “king” theme and couldn’t choose between two good ones): Roger Miller – King of the Road … and … The Mighty Mighty Bosstones – The Rascal King]