Martin McNamara, «Melchizedek: Gen 14,17-20 in the Targums, in Rabbinic and Early Christian Literature», Vol. 81 (2000) 1-31
The essay is introduced by some words on the nature of the Aramaic translations of Gen 14 used in the study (the Tgs. Onq., Pal. Tgs. as in Tgs. Neof. I, Frg. Tgs., Ps.-J.). Tg. Neof. identifies the Valley of Shaveh (Gen 14,17) as the Valley of the Gardens (pardesaya). The value of Tg. Neof.s evidence here is doubtful. Most Targums retain Melchizedek as a personal name (not so Tg. Ps.-J.). Salem of v. 18 is identified as Jerusalem. Melchizedek is identified as Shem, son of Noah, mainly because of the life-span assigned to Shem in Gen 11. The question of Melchizedeks priesthood in early rabbinic tradition and in the Targums (Tg. Gen 14; Tg Ps. 110) is considered, as is also the use of Jewish targumic-type tradition on Melchizedek in such early Fathers as Jerome, Ephrem, and Theodore of Mopsuestia.
Neof. (hbwr M#$). The identification has gone further in Tg. Ps.-J. where Melchisedek has practically ceased to be a proper name: "The righteous king ()qydc )klm, that is, Shem son of Noah".
This identification is attested at an early date in rabbinic Judaism. It is presupposed in a saying of R. Ishmael, a contemporary of R. Akiba (ca. 110-135 CE), transmitted by R. Zechariah (probably 4th cent.) (b. Nedarim 32b), and can be taken as having been current in Judaism in the first century CE. I cite the text of b. Nedarim 32b in full here, even though only the first section interests us at the moment. We shall return to a consideration of other elements of it later. The text reads:
R. Zechariah said in the name of R. Ishmael: The Holy One, blessed be He, desired to derive the priesthood from Shem, as it is said: And he was priest to El Elyon. Since he prefaced the blessing of Abram to the blessing of the Place [the Lord God], he derived it from Abram, as it is said: And he blessed him and said, Blessed be Abram by El Elyon who acquired [hnq] the heavens and the earth, and blessed be El Elyon (Gen 14,19b-20a).
Abraham said to him, Does one actually preface the blessing of the slave to the blessing of the one who owns him [wnwq]?
Immediately he gave it [the priesthood] to Abraham, as it is said, The Lord said to my Lord, Sit on my right hand until I shall set your enemies as a stool for your feet (Ps 110,1), and after this it is written, The Lord has sworn and will not repent. You are a priest forever ytrbd l( [generally rendered: according to the order of] Melchizedek (Gen 110,4), that is, on account of what Melchizedek had said (qdc yklm l#$ wrwbyd l(). This corresponds to what is written, And he was priest to El Elyon. He was a priest, but his descendants were not priests.
There is a partly parallel passage in WaR (Qedoshim) 25,6, in a discussion on the passing of the priesthood from Melchisedek to Abram, with a debate on the issue between R. Ishmael and R. Akiba. There are other texts in rabbinical literature with the same tradition19.
This rabbinic view is also attested to in patristic texts. It is also found, without any explanation for it given, in the commentary on Gen 14,18-20 by Ephrem (ca. 306-373 CE)20. Epiphanius, 315-403 CE