Who Was Melchizedek?
Melchizedek is an old Canaanite name meaning “My King Is Sedek” or “My King Is Righteousness”. Melchizedek is a figure of importance in biblical tradition because he was both king and priest, was connected with Jerusalem, and was revered by Abraham, who paid a tithe to him. He appears as a person only in Gen. 14:18–20, which tells the story of Abraham rescuing his kidnapped nephew, Lot, by defeating a coalition of Mesopotamian kings. In the episode, Melchizedek meets Abraham on his return from battle, gives him bread and wine and blesses Abraham in the name of “God Most High” (El ʿElyon in Hebrew). In return, Abraham gives him a tithe of the booty.
According to Jewish Oral Tradition and to Catholic theologians like St. Nicholas of Lira, Shem is the King of Righteousness (Melchizedek) to whom Abraham pays a tithe. Shem has been misidentified by some as the firstborn son of Noah (According to Genesis 10:21, Japheth was his elder brother).
In the Genesis text, Shem was a righteous man and a forefather of Abraham, who lived to be 500 years old. If his age is taken literally he would have outlived Abraham. In any event, the Genesis text makes no connection between Shem and Melchizedek. It seems the oral tradition was created to counter any religious stigma that might be applied to the occasion of Abraham paying tithes to a pagan Canaanite. For Abraham to recognize the authority and authenticity of a Canaanite priest-king is startling and has no parallel in biblical literature. As mentioned earlier, the god whom Melchizedek serves as priest is “El ʿElyon,” a name of Canaanite origin, probably designating the high god of the Canaanite pantheon.
Psalm 110, in referring to a future messiah of the Davidic line, alludes to the priest-king Melchizedek as a prototype of the Davidic messiah. Hebrews 7: 3 describes him as being "Without father, without mother, without descent, having neither beginning of days, nor end of life; but made like unto the Son of God; abideth a priest continually." Although a figurative interpretation may be implied here, the Qumran Melchi text portrays Melchizedek as a literal heavenly being.
The book of Hebrews goes on to state that: "And it is yet far more evident: for that after the similitude of Melchisedec there ariseth another priest, Who is made, not after the law of a carnal commandment, but after the power of an endless life. For he testifieth, Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec." - Hebrews 7:15-17
As I point out in the book, if Jesus was viewed as a priest "after the order of Melchisedec", and not the other way around, then Melchizedek would have to be viewed as the superior being. Not only that, Psalm 110, the Qumran Melchi text, the book of Hebrews and the Joseph Code all seem to point to Melchizedek as being vitally linked to the messiah of David.
In The Joseph Code, I make the case that the 'Melchi' in the code is a veiled reference to the ancient priest-king Melchizedek, and that the positions the name occupies imply a supernal presence. I also point out that it seems odd that a man who makes one cameo appearance in the book of Genesis would be so highly revered in Jewish lore for generations afterward. In the final analysis, it seems that there is a rather consistent undercurrent of opinion in the ancient texts that Melchizedek is an other-worldly being.