Skinner (Gen, 271, where Josephus, Ant, XVI, vi, 2, and Am M 6:1 are cited) points out that the Maccabees were called "high priests of God most high." Hence, some hold that the story of Melchizedek is an invention of Judaism, but Gunkel (Genesis 3, 285 ff) maintains that he is a traditional, if not a historical, character.
The thought of a priest after the order of Melchizedek is taken up by the author of Hebrews. He wanted to prove the claim of Christ to be called priest. It was impossible, even had he so wished, to consider Jesus as an Aaronic priest, for He was descended from the tribe of Judah and not from that of Levi (7:14). The words of
(1) Melchizedek is said to be "without father, without mother, (i.e.) without genealogy"; and
(2) he is described as "having neither beginning of days nor end of life"; he "abideth a priest continually."
The answer is perhaps to be had among the Tell el-Amarna Letters, among which are at least 6, probably 8, letters from a king of Urusalim to Amenophis IV, king of Egypt, whose "slave" the former calls himself. Urusalim is to be identified with Jerusalem, and the letters belong to circa 1400 BC. The name of this king is given as Abd-Khiba (or Abd-chiba), though Hommel, quoted by G.A. Smith, Jerusalem, II, 14, note 7, reads Chiba. Zimmer, in ZA, 1891, 246, says that it can be read Abditaba, and so Sayce (HDB, III, 335b) calls him `ebhedh tobh. The king tells his Egyptian overlord, "Neither my father nor my mother set me in this place: the mighty arm of the king (or, according to Sayce, "the arm of the mighty king") established me in my father’s house" (Letter 102 in Berlin collection, ll. 9-13; also number 103, ll. 25-28; number 104, ll. 13-15; see, further, H. Winckler, Die Thontafeln von Tell-el-Amarna; Knudtzon, Beitrage zur Assyriologie, IV, 101 ff, 279 ff, cited by G.A. Smith, Jerusalem, II, 8, note 1).
It thus becomes clear that possibly tradition identified Melchizedek with Abd-Khiba. At any rate the idea that Melchizedek was "without father, without mother, (i.e.) without genealogy" can easily be explained if the words of Abd-Khiba concerning himself can have been also attributed to Melchizedek. The words meant originally that he acknowledged that he did not come to the throne because he had a claim on it through descent; he owed it to appointment. But Jewish interpretation explained them as implying that he had no father or mother.
Westcott, Hebrews, 199, has a suggestive thought about Melchizedek: "The lessons of his appearance lie in the appearance itself. Abraham marks a new departure. .... But before the fresh order is established we have a vision of the old in its superior majesty; and this, on the eve of disappearance, gives its blessing to the new."
On the references to Melchizedek in Philo see Westcott, op. cit., 201; F. Rendall, Hebrews, App., 58 ff; and especially (with the passages and other authorities cited there) G. Milligan, Theology of, 203 ff.
The conclusions we come to are:
(1) There was a tradition in Jerusalem of Melchizedek, a king in pre-Israelitish times, who was also priest to ’El `Elyon. This is the origin of
(3) The Epistle to the Hebrews makes use of
(c) of oral tradition which was not found in the Old Testament. It is this unwritten tradition that is possibly explained by the Tell el-Amarna Letters. See, further, articles by Sayce, Driver, and Hommel in Expository Times, VII, VIII.
See also JERUSALEM.