Origins of Hebrews

Posted by Worldview Warriors On Thursday, September 13, 2018 2 comments

by Steve Risner

Last week, we began talking about the descendants of Shem, Noah's oldest son. This was the sixth blog post in a series on the Table of Nations found in Genesis 10, which describes where all the people groups of the world came from. We're tracing those lineages to the modern people groups we see today. I've found it fascinating and hope you have as well. Aside from a few, “No, sir! That's not true!” comments, I've not found anything that can explain how these things can be and the Bible not be true. In other words, there is no refutation I am aware of that is greater than, “I don't want this to be true, so I'll call you names and make fun of the information.”

Let's move on to the beginning of the Hebrew people—where did the Jews come from and why were they called Hebrews originally? Last week, we discussed a battle that took place and was written about in Genesis. This was a battle where Abraham went to war against several kings of Elamites to get back his nephew, Lot. That's where I'll pick up for just a moment as we look at a topic that is not only interesting but may be controversial. I hope not, but we'll see.

After this battle mentioned above, Abram (later Abraham) was met by a king and priest from Salem, which was a small town that eventually became Jerusalem. I think that's awesome! This king and priest (a priest BEFORE the Levitical priesthood and before the Law was given at all) was called Melchizedek. This name has been translated “King of Righteousness” but I've found that it is also accurately translated “My King is Righteous.” That's a very different rendering. What's right? I don't know. This was not likely the man's name but was a title given to him. However, it doesn't answer the question: who was this guy? Some say it may have been Jesus (a theophany). Maybe. The neat thing about this is we can speculate all we want and no one can tell us anything beyond what is written in Genesis, Psalms, and Hebrews (the three books of the Bible that mention him), as long as we don't get hung up on it and act like our belief has to be right since there is just not enough information to go from Scripture. Some say he was an angel that was sent to protect Salem and bless Abraham. Maybe, but I tend to think probably not. Jewish tradition holds this was Shem! That's right—the oldest son of Noah who lived 600 years (pretty impressive to most of those living at that time since he outlived most of his great grandchildren). He certainly did live during Abraham's life and, depending on the texts we view, possibly beyond Abraham's life. This is wild! I'm not saying Shem was Melchizedek. I am saying it could be and no one knows, but it would be pretty cool if he was. I don't think that diminishes the priesthood spoken of in Hebrews.

Traditionally according to the Jews, Shem created an academy in Salem (later Jerusalem) where people could acquire knowledge about the Most High. This is another reason it could be possible Shem and Melchizedek are one in the same—they lived in the same place. Yes, Hebrews says the man didn't have a genealogy or a funeral, but I don't necessarily think that needs to be taken 100% literally. He was simply saying this king and priest was exceptional and was making a big deal out of him since he was clearly greater than Abraham, the great patriarch. The writer was also indicating that his priesthood was greater than that of any descendant of Abraham since this priest preceded Abraham and his priesthood came before the priesthood of Levi's tribe. And perhaps, like many other things in Scripture, it may have a double meaning/attribute. There are several things from Scripture that are considered a “type” of Christ—Melchizedek being one of them. The Ark is another, Abraham nearly sacrificing Isaac is another, and so on.

What is crazy is that from Adam to Abraham we have need for only 2 intermediaries—probably Methuselah and Shem. That's because Methuselah probably knew Adam (which, again, blows my mind) so he likely received information and history from him. Methuselah knew Noah and Shem. Shem would have had the history passed on to him from Methuselah, who knew Adam. He then could pass it on to Abraham. Crazy! The book of Genesis covers almost 1/3 of the world's history. Christians would do well to respect that and take the history as it was clearly intended by how it's written—as history. So, again, I'm not saying I know who Melchizedek was. I'm simply saying that, in my studies, I've found there is a case to be made for him being Shem. Why not? He was the oldest son of Noah. He is the great great grandfather of the Heber, who the Hebrews were named after. He was alive at the time and possibly the place. But who can say? There are other cases to be made for him being someone else. I don't know. It is true either way that the history of the creation through the Flood could easily have passed from Adam to Methuselah to Shem and then to Abraham who is considered the father of our faith. I find that very cool.

According to Josephus, Shem's son Arphaxad was the father of the Arphaxadites, also known as Chaldeans. Arphaxad had a son named Sala. His son was Eber. Eber, or Heber, is where the term Hebrew comes from. Eber was the great great great grandfather of Terah, who was Abraham's father. From Abraham come the Jewish people (so named after Abraham's great grandson, Judah).

Abraham's sons have been at war ever since this time. Abraham had a son named Ishmael. This son was from an unlawful union between Abraham and his servant, Hagar—an Egyptian or Hamite. So Ishmael is half Semitic and half Hamitic. The son of promise was Abraham's second son, Isaac. Arabian Muslims claim Ishmael as their father. The Israelites claim Isaac. These two family lines have been at war over land and spiritual authority for quite some time.

Again, as I stated in the previous posts, the evidence for this Table of Nations being accurate and true is found all over the world, especially in the Middle East and surrounding areas. Names of places, rivers, cities, peoples, languages, gods, and the like are found all over the place that confirm this list of families that descend from Noah were real people. Trust in the Bible. It's always found to be true. We'll look at this topic some more in the near future. Thanks for reading.

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Daniel said...

Here is something to consider that I have been doing some research on: have you heard that Jewish leadership altered Genesis 11 during the first couple of centuries after Christ so that Shem's descendants' ages were lowered by 100 years each (50 for Nahor). If true, this was to make Shem into Melchizadek to apparently refute Christian teachings about Christ.
Again, if this is true, it certainly removes Shem as Melchizadek, as he would have died ateast 50 years before this meeting (as well as adds 650 years between us and the Flood and an additional 300 years between the Flood and Babel for a total of 400).
This does not drastically affect most of theology nor this excellent series you have been doing, but it does affect historical and biblical accuracy. Evidence for it can be found in the Septuagint and Josephus which both have the longer lifespans.
What are your thoughts? Have you encountered this, yet? I only did this past spring!

Steve Risner said...

Hello Daniel and thanks for your comment. I did see some controversy concerning the changing of ages and/or the idea that Shem lived to be a contemporary with Abraham. I, honestly, haven't been able to dig deep enough to find the validity of either side--that Shem lived alongside Abraham or that he did not. I'm not sure. I did read that this was an attempt by the Jewish people to take something away from the Melchizadek priesthood aspect of Christ's priesthood. If you find anything more on it, please share it. I find it difficult to investigate such matters, although not impossible.