Generations of Noah
The Generations of Noah or Table of Nations (Genesis 10 of the Hebrew Bible) is a traditional ethnology representing the expansion of humankind from the descendants of Noah and their dispersion into many lands after the Flood. The 70 names in the list express symbolically the unity of the human race, corresponding to the 70 descendants of Israel who go down into Egypt with Jacob at Genesis 46:27, and the 70 elders of Israel who visit God with Moses at the covenant ceremony in Exodus 24:1-9. The term “nations” to describe the descendants is a standard English translation of the Hebrew word “goy“, following the c.400 CE Latin Vulgate‘s “nationes” / “nationibus”, and does not have the same political connotations that the word entails today.
The list introduces for the first time a number of well known ethnonyms andtoponyms important to biblical geography such as Noah’s three sons Shem, Hamand Japheth, from which is derived Semitic, Hamitic and Japhethic, certain of Noah’s grandsons including Elam, Ashur, Aram, Cush, and Canaan, from whichElamites, Assyrians, Arameans, Cushites and Canaanites, as well as further descendants including Eber (from which Hebrew), the hunter-king Nimrod, thePhilistines and the sons of Canaan including Heth, Jebus and Amorus, from whichHittites, Jebusites and Amorites.
As Christianity took over the Roman world, it adopted the idea that all the world’s peoples were descended from Noah. But the tradition of Hellenistic Jewish identifications of the ancestry of various peoples, which concentrates very much on the Mediterranean world and the Near East and is described below, became stretched. Northern peoples important to the Late Roman and medieval world, such as the Celts, Slavs, Germans and Norse were not covered, nor were others of the world’s peoples. A variety of fanciful arrangements were devised by scholars, with for example the Scythians, who do feature in the tradition, being claimed as the ancestors of much of northern Europe.
- 1 Table of Nations
- 1.1 Book of Genesis
- 1.2 Book of Chronicles
- 1.3 Book of Jubilees
- 1.4 Septuagint version
- 2 Sons of Noah: Shem, Ham and Japheth
- 3 Ethnological interpretations
- 3.1 In Flavius Josephus
- 3.2 In Hippolytus
- 3.3 In Jerome
- 3.4 In Isidore of Seville and later authors
- 3.5 Other interpretations: Descendants of Japheth
- 3.6 Other interpretations: Descendants of Ham
- 3.7 Other interpretations: Descendants of Shem
- 4 Extrabiblical sons of Noah
- 5 Islam
- 6 See also
- 7 Notes
- 8 References
- 8.1 Citations
- 8.2 Bibliography
- 9 External links
Table of Nations
Book of Genesis
Chapters 1-11 of the Book of Genesis are structured around five toledot statements (“these are the generations of…”), of which the “generations of the sons of Noah, Shem, Ham, and Japheth,” is the fourth. Events before Noah’s Flood, the central toledoth, correspond to those after: the post-Flood world is a new creation corresponding to the Genesis creation narrative, and like Adam, Noah has three sons who will populate the world. The correspondences extend forward as well: there are 70 names in the Table, corresponding to the 70 Israelites who go down into Egypt at the end of Genesis and to the 70 elders of Israel who go up the mountain with Sinai to meet with God in Exodus. The symbolic force of these numbers is underscored by the way the names are frequently arranged in groups of seven, suggesting that the Table is a symbolic means of implying universal moral obligation.
The overall structure of the Table is:
- 1. Introductory formula, v.1
- 2. Japtheth, vv.2-5
- 3. Ham, vv.6-20
- 4. Shem, 21-31
- 5. Concluding formula, v.32.
The overall principle governing the assignment of various peoples within the Table is difficult to discern: it purports to describe all humankind, but restricts itself to the Egyptian lands of the south, the Mesopotamian lands, and Asia Minor and the Ionian Greeks, and the “sons of Noah” are not organised by geography, language or ethnic groups within these regions. The Table is in fact filled with difficulties: for example, the names Sheba and Havilah are listed twice, first as descendants of Cush the son of Ham (verse 7), and then as sons of Joktan, the great-grandsons of Shem, and while the Cushites are African in verses 6-7 they are Mesopotamians in verses 10-14.
The date of composition of Genesis 1-11 cannot be fixed with any precision, although it seems likely that an early brief nucleus was later expanded with extra data. Portions of the Table itself may derive from the 10th century, while others reflect the 7th century and priestly revisions in the 5th century. Its combination of world review, myth and genealogy corresponds to the work of the Greek historian Hecataeus of Miletus, active c.520 BCE.
Book of Chronicles
I Chronicles 1 includes a version of the Table of Nations from Genesis, but edited to make clearer that the intention is to establish the background for Israel. This is done by condensing various branches to focus on the story of Abraham and his offspring. Most notably, it omits Genesis 10:9-14, in which Nimrod, a son of Cush, is linked to various cities in Mesopotamia, thus removing from Cush any Mesopotamian connection.
Book of Jubilees
|This section requires expansion.(February 2015)|
The Table of Nations is expanded upon in detail in chapters 8-9 of the Book of Jubilees, sometimes known as the “Lesser Genesis,” a work from the early Second Temple period. Jubilees is considered Pseudepigraphical by most Christian and Jewish sects but thought to have been held in regard by many of the Church Fathers. Its division of the descendants throughout the world are thought to have been heavily influenced by the “Ionian world map” described in the Histories (Herodotus), and the anomalous treatment of Canaan and Madai are thought to have been “propaganda for the territorial expansion of the Hasmonean state”.
The Hebrew bible was translated into Greek in Alexandria at the request of Ptolemy II, who reigned over Egypt 285-246 BCE. Its version of the Table of Nations is substantially the same as that in the Hebrew text, but with the following differences:
- It lists Elisa as an extra son of Japheth, giving him eight instead of seven, while continuing to list him also as a son of Javan, as in the Masoretic text.
- Whereas the Hebrew text lists Shelah as the son of Arpachshad in the line of Shem, the Septuagint has a Cainan as the son of Arpachshad and father of Shelah – the Book of Jubilees gives considerable scope to this figure. Cainan appears again at the end of the list of the sons of Shem.
- Obal, Joktan’s eighth son in the Masoretic text, does not appear.
Sons of Noah: Shem, Ham and Japheth
The Flood story tells how Noah and his three sons Shem, Ham, and Japheth, together with their wives, were saved from the Deluge to repopulate the Earth.
- Shem‘s name means “name” or “fame”. Through Eber he became the ancestor of Abraham and thus of the Israelites. In the view of some 17th-century European scholars (e.g., John Webb), the people of China and India descended from Shem. Both Webb and the French Jesuits belonging to the Figuristschool (late 17th-early 18th century) went even further, identifying the legendaryEmperor Yao of Chinese history with Noah himself.
- Ham is the forefather of Cush, Egypt, and Put, and of Canaan, whose lands include portions of Africa, Arabia, Syria-Palestine and Mesopotamia. The etymology of his name is uncertain; some scholars have linked it to terms connected with divinity, but a divine or semi-divine status for Ham is unlikely.
- Japheth is apparently the youngest son, although his line is given first. His name is associated with the mythological Greek Titan Iapetos, and his sons include Javan, the Greek-speaking cities of Ionia. In Genesis 9:27 it forms a pun with the Hebrew root ypt: “May God make room [the hiphil of the yph root] for Japeth, that he may live in Shem’s tents and Canaan may be his slave.”
In Flavius Josephus
The 1st-century Jewish-Roman historian Flavius Josephus, inAntiquities of the Jews Book 1, chapter 6, was among the first of many who attempted to assign known ethnicities to some of the names listed in Genesis chapter 10. His assignments became the basis for most later authors, and were as follows:
- Gomer: “those whom the Greeks now call Galatians, [Galls,] but were then called Gomerites”.
- Magog: “Magogites, but who are by the Greeks called Scythians“.
- Madai: “the Madeans, who are called Medes, by the Greeks”.
- Javan: “Ionia, and all the Grecians”.
- Elisa: “Eliseans… they are now the Aeolians“.
- Tharsus (Tarshish): “Tharsians, for so was Cilicia of old called”. He also derives the name of their city Tarsus from Tharsus.
- Cethimus (Kittim): “The island Cethima: it is now called Cyprus”. He also derives the Greek name of their city, which he spells Citius, from Cethimus.
- Thobel (Tubal): “Thobelites, who are now called Iberes”.
- Mosoch (Meshech): “Mosocheni… now they are Cappadocians.” He also derives the name of their capital Mazaca from Mosoch.
- Thiras (Tiras): “Thirasians; but the Greeks changed the name into Thracians”.
- Chus (Cush): “Ethiopians… even at this day, both by themselves and by all men in Asia, called Chusites”.
- Mesraim (Misraim): Egypt, which he says is called Mestre in his country.
- “Now all the children of Mesraim, being eight in number, possessed the country from Gaza to Egypt, though it retained the name of one only, the Philistim; for the Greeks call part of that country Palestine. As for the rest, Ludieim, and Enemim, and Labim, who alone inhabited in Libya, and called the country from himself, Nedim, and Phethrosim, and Chesloim, and Cephthorim, we know nothing of them besides their names; for the Ethiopic war which we shall describe hereafter, was the cause that those cities were overthrown.”
- Phut: Libya. He states that a river and region “in the country of Moors” was still called Phut by the Greeks, but that it had been renamed “from one of the sons of Mesraim, who was called Lybyos”.
- Canaan: Judea, which he called “from his own name Canaan”.
- Sidonius (Sidon): The city of Sidonius, “called by the Greeks Sidon“.
- Amathus (Hamathite): “Amathine, which is even now called Amathe by the inhabitants, although the Macedonians named it Epiphania, from one of his posterity.”
- Arudeus (Arvadite): “the island Aradus”.
- Arucas (Arkite): “Arce, which is in Libanus”.
- “But for the seven others [sons of Canaan], Chetteus, Jebuseus, Amorreus, Gergesus, Eudeus, Sineus, Samareus, we have nothing in the sacred books but their names, for the Hebrews overthrew their cities”.
- Elam: “Elamites, the ancestors of the Persians”.
- Ashur: Assyrians, and their city Niniveh built by Ashur.
- Arphaxad: “Arphaxadites, who are now called Chaldeans“.
- Heber (Eber): “from whom they originally called the Jews Hebrews”.
- Phaleg (Peleg): He notes that he was so named “because he was born at the dispersion of the nations to their several countries; for Phaleg among the Hebrews signifies division”.
- “Elmodad, Saleph, Asermoth, Jera, Adoram, Aizel, Decla, Ebal, Abimael, Sabeus, Ophir, Euilat, and Jobab. These inhabited from Cophen, an Indian river, and in part of Asia adjoining to it.”
- Heber (Eber): “from whom they originally called the Jews Hebrews”.
- Aram: “Aramites, which the Greeks called Syrians”.
- Laud (Lud): “Laudites, which are now called Lydians”.
Hippolytus of Rome, in his Diamerismos (c. 234, existing in numerous Latin and Greek copies), made another attempt to assign ethnicities to the names in Genesis 10. It is thought to have been based on the Book of Jubilees.
Its differences versus that of Josephus are shown below:
- Gomer – Cappadocians
- Ashkenaz – Sarmatians
- Riphath – Sauromatians
- Togarmah – Armenians
- Magog – Galatians, Celts
- Elishah – Siculi (Chron Pasc: Trojans and Phrygians)
- Tarshish – Iberians, Tyrrhenians
- Kittim – Macedonians, Romans, Latins
- Tubal – “Hettali” (?)
- Meshech – Illyrians
- Put – Troglodytes
- Canaan – Afri and Phoenicians
- Arkite – Tripolitanians
- Lud – Halizones
- Aram – “Etes” ?
The Chronicle of 354, the Panarion by Epiphanius of Salamis (c. 375), the Chronicon Paschale (c. 627), the History of Albania by the Georgian historian Movses Kaghankatvatsi (7th century), and the Synopsis of Histories by John Skylitzes (c. 1057) follow the identifications of Hippolytus.
Jerome, writing c. 390, provided an ‘updated’ version of Josephus’ identifications in his Hebrew Questions on Genesis. His list is substantially identical to that of Josephus in almost all respects, but with the following notable differences:
- Thubal, son of Japheth: “Iberians, who are also the Spaniards from whom derive the Celtiberians, although certain people suppose them to be the Italians.”
- Gether, son of Aram: “Acarnanii or Carians“
- Mash, son of Aram: Maeones
- Joktan, son of Eber: Indians
- Saleph, son of Joktan: Bactrians
- Magog, son of Japheth: “Scythians and Goths“
- Ashkenaz, son of Gomer: “Sarmatians, whom the Greeks call Rheginians”.
Isidore’s identifications for Japheth’s sons were repeated in the Historia Britonum attributed to Nennius. Isidore’s identifications also became the basis for numerous later mediaeval scholars, remaining so until the Age of Discoveryprompted newer theories, such as that of Benito Arias Montano (1571), who proposed connecting Meshech with Moscow, and Ophir with Peru.
While Genesis 10 was covered extensively by numerous Christian, Jewish and Muslim scholars over many centuries, the phrase “Table” of nations only appeared and became popular in English from the 1830s.
Other interpretations: Descendants of Japheth
The Greek Septuagint (LXX) text of Genesis includes an additional son of Japheth, “Elisa”, between Javan and Tubal; however, as this name is found in no other ancient source, nor in I Chronicles, he is almost universally agreed to be a duplicate of Elisha, son of Javan. The presence of Elisa and of Cainan son of Arpachshad (below) in the Greek Bible accounts for the traditional enumeration among early Christian sources of 72 names, as opposed to the 70 names found in Jewish sources and Western Christian sources.
- Gomer: the Cimmerians, a people from the northern Black Sea, made incursions into into Asia Minor in the 8th and early 7th centuries BCE before being confined to Cappadocia.
- Ashkenaz: A people of the Black and Caspian sea areas, much later associated with German and East European Jews. The Ashkuza, who lived on the upper Euphrates in Armenia expelled the Cimmerians from their territory, and in Jeremiah 51:27 were said to march against Babylon along with two other northern kingdoms.
- Riphath (Diphath in Chronicles): Josephus identification Riphath with the Paphlagonians of later antiquity, but this appears to have been no more than a guess; the Book of Jubilees identifies the name with the “Riphean Mountains“, equated with the Causcasus in Classical sources, and the general understanding seems to have been invaders from the Causcuses who were settled in Armenia or Cappadocia.
- Togarmah: Associated with Asia Minor in Ezekiel. Later Armenian historians claimed Togarmah as an ancestor.
- Magog: Associated in Ezekiel with Gog, a king of Lydia, and thereby with Asia Minor. The 1st century CE Jewish historian Josephus stated that Magog was identical with the Scythians, but modern scholars are sceptical of this and place Magog simply somewhere in Asia Minor.
- Madai: The Medes, from an area now in northwest Iran.
- Javan: This name is universally agreed to refer to the Ionians (Greeks) of the western and southern coast of Asia Minor.
- Elishah: Possibly Elaioussa, an island off the coast of Cilicia, or an old name for the island of Cyprus.
- Tarshish (Tarshishah in Chronicles): Candidates include (Tartessos) in Spain and Tharros in Sardinia, both of which appear unlikely, and Tarsus in Cilicia, which appears more likely despite some linguistic difficulties.
- Kittim: Originally the inhabitants of Kition in Cyprus, later the entire island; in the Dead Sea Scrolls the Kittim appear to be the Romans.
- Dodanim (Rodanim in Chronicles): Inhabitants of Rhodes.
- Tubal: Tubal and Meshech always appear as a pair in the Old Testament. The name Tubal is connected with theAkkadian Tabal and Greek Tipaprivoi, a people of Cappadocia, in the north-east of Asia Minor.
- Meshech: Mushki/Muski had its capital at Gordion and fused with the kingdom of Phrygia by the 8th century.
- Tiras: Josephus and late Rabbinical writers associated Tiras with Thrace, the part of Europe opposite Asia Minor, but all the other sons of Japheth are located in Asia Minor itself and it is possible that Tiras may refer to Thracians inhabiting westernmost Asia Minor; it has also been associated with some of the Sea Peoples such as Tursha and Tyrrhenians, but this is considered unlikely.
Other interpretations: Descendants of Ham
- Cush: The biblical transliteration of the Egyptian name for Nubia or Ethiopia; the “sons of Cush” which follow are various locations on the Arabian and possibly African coasts bordering the Red Sea.
- Seba, son of Cush. Has been connected with both Yemen and Ethiopia, with much confusion with Sheba below.
- Havilah, son of Cush.
- Sabtah, son of Cush.
- Raamah, son of Cush.
- Sabtechah, son of Cush.
- Nimrod: Possibly connected with Naram-Sin, a 3rd millennium king of Akkad;in verses 10-12 he is the founder of a list of Mesopotamian cities, and the biblical tradition elsewhere identifies him with northern Mesopotamia or Assyria. His location (Mesopotamia) is something of an anomaly, in that the other sons of Cush are connected with Africa or the Red Sea, and he is probably a late insertion resulting from a confusion between the African Cush and a quite different Cush, the eponym (ancestor) of the Kassites.
- Mizraim: Egypt.
- Ludim, offspring of Mizraim.
- Anamim, offspring of Mizraim.
- Lehabim, offspring of Mizraim.
- Naphtuhim, offspring of Mizraim.
- Pathrusim, offspring of Mizraim.
- Casluhim (“out of whom came Philistim” – Genesis 10:14, 1Chronicles 1:12)
- Caphtorim: Probably the island of Crete. According to Deuteronomy 2:23, Caphtorim settled in Gaza, an important Philistinian city.
- Phut: the Septuagint translates this as Libyans, which would be in accordance with the north–to–south progression in the listing of Ham’s descendants, but some scholars have suggested Punt, the Egyptian name for Somalia.
- Canaan: The strip of land west of the Jordan River including modern Lebanon and parts of Syria, and the varied peoples who lived there.
- Sidon: The main Phoenician city, often treated as synonymous with Phoenicia.
- Heth: Probably the ancestor of the biblical Hittites, although the Hittites of Asia Minor had no ethnic or linguistic ties with the peoples of Canaan.
- “the Jebusite“, offspring of Canaan.
- “the Amorite“: Generic name for West Semitic peoples of the Fertile Crescent.
- “the Girgasites“, offspring of Canaan
- “the Hivite“, offspring of Canaan
- “the Arkite“, offspring of Canaan.
- “the Sinite“, offspring of Canaan.
- “the Arvadite“, offspring of Canaan.
- “the Zemarite“, offspring of Canaan.
- “the Hamathite“, offspring of Canaan.
Beginning in the 9th century with the Jewish grammarian Judah ibn Quraysh, a relationship between the Semitic andCushitic languages was seen; modern linguists group these two families, along with the Egyptian, Berber, Chadic, andOmotic language groups into the larger Afro-Asiatic language family. In addition, languages in the southern half of Africa are now seen as belonging to several distinct families independent of the Afro-Asiatic group. Some now discarded Hamitictheories have become viewed as racist; in particular a theory proposed in the 19th century by Speke, that the Tutsi were supposedly of some Hamitic ancestry and thus inherently superior.
The 17th-century Jesuit, Athanasius Kircher, thought that the Chinese had also descended from Ham, via Egyptians.
Other interpretations: Descendants of Shem
- Elam: A kingdom east of Babylon and along the Persian Gulf. The Elamites called their land Haltamti and had an empire (capital Susa) in what is now Khuzistan, modern Iran. Elamite is not a Semitic language.
- Ashur: Assyria.
- Arpachshad: An obscure name of uncertain meaning, although apparently associated with northern Mesopotamia.
- Cainan is listed as the son of Arpachshad and father of Shelah in the Septuagint, a Greek translation of the Hebrew bible (the Masoretic text) made in the last few centuries before the modern era. The name is omitted in the Hebrew bible. The genealogy of Jesus in St. Luke 3:36, which is taken from the Septuagint rather than the Hebrew text, include the name.
- Salah (also transcribed Shelah) son of Arpachshad (or Cainan).
- Eber son of Shelah: The ancestor of Abraham and the Hebrews, he has a significant place as the 14th from Adam.
- Peleg: The name means “division,” and may refer to the division of the peoples in the Tower of Babel incident which follows, or to Peleg and his descendants being “divided out” as the chosen people of God.
- Joktan: The name is Arabic, and his 13 “sons,” so far as they can be identified, correspond to the west and southwaest of the Arabian peninsula.
- Lud: The kingdom of Lydia in eastern Anatolia. However, Lydia was not Semitic and not geographically near the other “sons of Shem”, which makes its presence in the list difficult to explain.
- Aram: Mesopotamia and Syria.
Extrabiblical sons of Noah
There exist various traditions in post-biblical sources claiming that Noah had children other than Shem, Ham, and Japheth — born variously before, during, or after the Deluge.
According to the Quran (Hud v. 42–43), Noah had another unnamed son who refused to come aboard the Ark, instead preferring to climb a mountain, where he drowned. Some later Islamic commentators give his name as either Yam orKan’an.
According to Irish mythology, as found in the Annals of the Four Masters and elsewhere, Noah had another son namedBith, who was not allowed aboard the Ark, and who attempted to colonise Ireland with 54 persons, only to be wiped out in the Deluge.
Some 9th-century manuscripts of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle assert that Sceafa was the fourth son of Noah, born aboard the Ark, from whom the House of Wessex traced their ancestry; in William of Malmesbury‘s version of this genealogy (c. 1120), Sceaf is instead made a descendant of Strephius, the fourth son born aboard the Ark (Gesta Regnum Anglorum).
An early Arabic work known as Kitab al-Magall or the Book of Rolls (part of Clementine literature) mentions Bouniter, the fourth son of Noah, born after the flood, who allegedly invented astronomy and instructed Nimrod. Variants of this story with often similar names for Noah’s fourth son are also found in the c. 5th century Ge’ez work Conflict of Adam and Eve with Satan (Barvin), the c. 6th century Syriac book Cave of Treasures (Yonton), the 7th century Apocalypse of Pseudo-Methodius (Ionitus’), the Syriac Book of the Bee 1221 (Yônatôn), the Hebrew Chronicles of Jerahmeel, c. 12th–14th century (Jonithes), and throughout Armenian apocryphal literature, where he is usually referred to as Maniton; as well as in works by Petrus Comestor c. 1160 (Jonithus), Godfrey of Viterbo 1185 (Ihonitus), Michael the Syrian 1196 (Maniton), Abu Salih the Armenian c. 1208 (Abu Naiţur); Jacob van Maerlant c. 1270 (Jonitus), and Abraham Zacuto 1504 (Yoniko).
Martin of Opava (c. 1250), later versions of the Mirabilia Urbis Romae, and the Chronicon Bohemorum of Giovanni di Marignola (1355) make Janus (i.e., the Roman deity) the fourth son of Noah, who moved to Italy, invented astrology, and instructed Nimrod.
According to the monk Annio da Viterbo (1498), the Hellenistic Babylonian writer Berossus had mentioned 30 children born to Noah after the Deluge, including sons named Tuiscon, Prometheus, Iapetus, Macrus, “16 titans“, Cranus, Granaus,Oceanus, and Tipheus. Also mentioned are daughters of Noah named Araxa “the Great”, Regina, Pandora, Crana, andThetis. However, Annio’s manuscript is widely regarded today as having been a forgery.
The sons of Noah are not expressly mentioned in the Qur’an, except for the fact that one of the sons was among the people who did not follow his own father, not among the believers and thus was washed away in the flood. Also the Qur’an indicates a great calamity, enough to have destroyed Noah‘s people, but to have saved him and his generations to come.