Recently, one of the “Daily Wows” indicated that Shem was in fact the great high priest “Melchizedek.” However, while sharing this information with one of our ward scriptorians he said that Shem couldn’t be Melchizedek because Melchizedek was born after the flood and Shem was born before the flood. I’ve studied it out also and found that in the Pearl of Great Price, Joseph while talking of teaching in the spirit prisons refers to Shem as the Great Priest. Do you have some insight on this subject? Thanks.
There is much conjecture about who Melchizedek was. Shem is not the only person to whom Melchizedek’s identity has been attributed. B.H. Roberts had this to say-
“Much of mystery is connected with the life and character of Melchizedek. ‘The Jews,’ says Kitto, in admitting Melchizedek’s official superiority to Abraham, ’sought to account for it by alleging that the royal priest was no other than Shem, the most pious of Noah’s sons, who according to the shorter chronology might have lived to the time of Abraham.’ (Biblical Literature, Vol. II, Art. Melchizedek). Others have seen in him Canaan the son of Ham; Ham himself, or even Enoch; while others have held that Melchizedek was no other than the son of God himself under human appearance, and still others take him to have been an angel, the latter being among the wild notions of Origen and his school. (Ibid, as above). All this of course is conjecture, although it is not unreasonable that he may have been Shem the son of Noah” (The Seventy’s Course in Theology, Second Year, p.88).
Here, B.H. Roberts admits the possibility that Melchizedek may have been Shem. That possibility is bolstered by the vision of President Joseph F. Smith, who refers to Shem as the great high priest in D&C 138:41. And in D&C 107:1-3, Melchizedek is referred to as a great high priest –
There are, in the church, two priesthoods, namely, the Melchizedek and Aaronic, including the Levitical Priesthood.
Why the first is called the Melchizedek Priesthood is because Melchizedek was such a great high priest. Before his day it was called the Holy Priesthood, after the Order of the Son of God.
It is true that Shem lived in the time of Abraham. 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 1986 B.C., and was 140 years old when Shem died. But that coincidence in living at the same time only makes their identity a possibility, not a reality.
It is also true that Melchizedek was not the only great high priest, and there is evidence reported by Elder Bruce R. McConkie that Melchizedek was not the son of Noah-
“There is an unsupported tradition to the effect that Melchizedek was the same person as Shem, the son of Noah. That this could hardly have been the case is seen from the revelation which says: ‘Abraham received the priesthood from Melchizedek, who received it through the lineage of his fathers, even till Noah.’ (D.&C. 84:14.) In other words, there seem to have been at least two generations between Melchizedek and Shem (Mormon Doctrine, p.475).