Genesis 10:1 Now this is the genealogy of the sons of Noah: Shem, Ham, and Japheth. And sons were born to them after the flood.
This chapter is divided into five parts. The first part (verse 1), as the introduction, provides language that Noah had only three sons, the same sons that rode in the ark, and that it is from their families that all of humanity arose after the Flood. I know mentioning this can seem redundant, but I believe the point being stressed by the author, Moses, is that there is no room for interpretations claiming that post-Flood humanity came from any other ancestor.
The next three parts describe the descendents of each son, along with some clues and information about what cities and nations were founded by their descendents. If you are a history buff, it can be interesting to correlate the many names and places in this chapter with a lot of historical nations, especially nations that are described in other places in the Bible.
The fifth part in this chapter is the conclusion, which clearly indicates how the descendents of Noah’s sons arranged themselves into family groups and clans who developed into nations and kingdoms, and that in fact all nations of the earth descended from these clans.
In the first century AD, the Jewish historian Josephus connected many of the nations that arose after the Tower of Babel with names that are listed in Genesis 10. In many cases, it is then possible to connect those nations that Josephus referred to with nations and regions around the world that exist today! I think that is very cool, as it allows us to put “faces” to the names and feel a better connectedness to these ancient biblical accounts of history. It is almost like seeing a path that goes back through history all the way to the Flood, and thus brings the accounts to life.
Descendents of Japheth
Genesis 10:2-5 The sons of Japheth were Gomer, Magog, Madai, Javan, Tubal, Meshech, and Tiras. 3 The sons of Gomer were Ashkenaz, Riphath, and Togarmah. 4 The sons of Javan were Elishah, Tarshish, Kittim, and Dodanim. 5 From these the coastland peoples of the Gentiles were separated into their lands, everyone according to his language, according to their families, into their nations.
Japheth was one of the sons (along with Shem) who were blessed by Noah after their careful attention to restore Noah’s dignity after Ham’s irresponsible behavior. The specific blessing to Japheth was, “May God enlarge Japheth, and may he dwell in the tents of Shem; and may Canaan be his servant.” (Genesis 9:27) So what do we know today about Japheth’s lineage? Here are some highlights:
- Madai’s descendents settled in the Central Asian area of modern northern Iran and northern India, south of the Caucasus Mountains. By around 2,000 BC, the area they populated became known as Media, and by around the 6th century BC they were established as a world power that combined with the Persian empire of Cyrus the Great, forming the Medo-Persian empire spoken of in Scripture (Isaiah 13:17; Jeremiah 25:25; Daniel 2:39).
- Magog’s descendents settled in the Black Sea area, and became known as the Scythians. Today, this area is populated by Russia and the former Soviet satellite nations of Bulgaria, Romania, Ukraine, and Georgia. DNA studies in Ukraine have shown a likelihood of ancient Scythian ancestry in the Ukrainian population. Some scholars connect this lineage and region to the references to “Gog and Magog” made in end-time prophesies (Ezekiel 38 and 39; Revelation 20:8).
- Meshech’s descendents settled in the area of the Volga and Moscva rivers in what is today’s Russia. Josephus wrote that their ancient city was named (Greek pronunciation) Mazaca.
- Tubal’s descendents settled in a wide area from Asia Minor to the Iberian Peninsula (which today includes the nations of Spain, Portugal and Andorra). Tubal’s descendents are also thought to include people who settled in Italy. The most likely concentration of modern day Tubalians is in Georgia and Russia. The city of Tobolsk in Russia is thought to have a strong link to ancestral Tubalians. Ezekiel 38:2 makes an interesting connection between Magog, Meshech, and Tubal: Son of man, turn and face Gog of the land of Magog, the prince who rules over the nations of Meshech and Tubal, and prophesy against him. The prophesy identifies these nations as ones who will lead an attack on Israel in the last days.
- Tiras’ descendents settled in the area of Southeastern Europe west of the Black Sea, where today we have the nations including Poland, Germany, Hungary, Slovakia, etc. There is also some indication that they were a race of pirates in the islands and coasts of the Aegean Sea.
- Gomer’s descendents are connected by Josephus to Galatia, which is a region addressed by Paul in his epistle to the Galations. The nation of Gomer was identified in Ezekiel 38:6 as an ally of Gog, chief of Magog.
- Javan’s descendents settled in Greece and Macedonia. The Hebrew word for Greeks in general was Yavan. In Greek mythology, the father of the Ionians was the son of Apollo, Ion who most experts consider to be synonymous with Javan. The king of Greece referenced in Daniel 8:21 is usually understood to be Alexander the Great.
- Two of Japheth’s grandsons are notable: Kittim’s clan settled on the island of Cyprus. Togarmah’s clans settled in Asia Minor (Turkey).
Collectively, the descendents of Japheth populated the entire continent of Europe and settled in parts of Central Asia. The most influential and global empires (Greek, and Roman) arose from Japheth’s descendents. What we learn today in history as “Western Civilization” has its roots in Japheth’s line. The majority of the biblical reference to “Gentiles” having direct contact with Israel descended from clans that arose from Japheth, just like it says in Genesis 10:5.
Descendents of Ham
Genesis 10:6-14 The sons of Ham were Cush, Mizraim, Put, and Canaan. 7 The sons of Cush were Seba, Havilah, Sabtah, Raamah, and Sabtechah; and the sons of Raamah were Sheba and Dedan.8 Cush begot Nimrod; he began to be a mighty one on the earth. 9 He was a mighty hunter before the Lord; therefore it is said, “Like Nimrod the mighty hunter before the Lord.” 10 And the beginning of his kingdom was Babel, Erech, Accad, and Calneh, in the land of Shinar. 11 From that land he went to Assyria and built Nineveh, Rehoboth Ir, Calah, 12 and Resen between Nineveh and Calah (that is the principal city).13 Mizraim begot Ludim, Anamim, Lehabim, Naphtuhim, 14 Pathrusim, and Casluhim (from whom came the Philistines and Caphtorim).
Ham’s descendents settled the region between (and including) Syria and North Africa. His son Mizraim is credited as the ancestor of the people who migrated to Egypt, his son Put with people who migrated to the coast of North Africa (Libya and Tunisia), and his son Cush with people of the ancient Kush Kingdom of northeastern Africa. One of Cush’s sons, Nimrod, has a special reference in the passage, identified for us as “a mighty one,” and known throughout the world of his day as a might hunter. He is credited in this passage as an empire builder in the land of Shinar, which is also known as Mesopotamia, and also for conquering parts of Assyria and building his own cities there (i.e., Nineveh). Many Bible scholars also believe that Nimrod was responsible for building the Tower of Babel.
Besides the biblical account of Nimrod, he was an interesting character in other ancient traditions. An ancient form of Babylonian paganism worshiped Nimrod as a god, believing that he married his mother Semiramis after his father Cush died. Semiramis herself, claimed to be a deity, the daughter of the moon god. The mythology surrounding Nimrod and Semiramis described that he was killed in battle (Jewish tradition holds that Nimrod was killed by a son of Japheth in an act of righteous justice) but that he ascended to the sun and became the sun god, Baal. Semiramis then immaculately conceived a child from Nimrod’s rays falling on her womb, and she bore a son who she named Tammuz. Semiramis became known as the Queen of Heaven and Tammuz was worshiped as the “son of god.” Tammuz was killed in a boar hunt, and after his death, he ascended to be with his father, while his blood spilled on a stump of an evergreen tree, bringing it back to life. Semiramis became known as Ishtar, the “Mother of god and the Queen of heaven.” The pagan practices associated with the myths of Nimrod, Semiramis, and Tammuz included decorating evergreen trees (in commemoration of Tammuz’ life-giving blood) on the winter solstice and the “celebration” of Ishtar (pronounced Easter in our language, and spelled Ashtoreth in Scipture). The celebration of Ishtar occurred on the first Sunday after the first full moon after the spring equinox, and included the symbols of Semiramis’ fertility: rabbits and eggs. Pork was eaten in a feast to remember Tammuz’ death. The pagan rituals also included prostitution in the temple of Ishtar, and the sacrifice of babies that were conceived from the previous year’s “celebration.” Blood from the human sacrifice was used to decorate the eggs. Offerings of baked goods would be made to Ishtar, Queen of Heaven on the Friday preceding the Easter celebration.
These pagan practices that tradition associates with Nimrod are mentioned later in Scripture. The worship of Ishtar (Ashtoreth) and the sacrifice of babies had become widespread among the pagan cultures living in and around the land of Canaan. Worse, these rituals had even managed to infiltrate God’s people Israel, and resulted in harsh judgment from God:
- Jeremiah 7:17-19 Do you not see what they do in the cities of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem? 18 The children gather wood, the fathers kindle the fire, and the women knead dough, to make cakes for the queen of heaven; and they pour out drink offerings to other gods, that they may provoke Me to anger. 19 Do they provoke Me to anger?” says the Lord. “Do they not provoke themselves, to the shame of their own faces?”
- Jeremiah 19:5 they have also built the high places of Baal, to burn their sons with fire for burnt offerings to Baal, which I did not command or speak, nor did it come into My mind
- Jeremiah 44:19-29 describes how the people of Judah burn incense to the queen of heaven.
- Ezekiel 8:14 He brought me to the door of the north gate of the Lord’s house; and to my dismay, women were sitting there weeping for Tammuz.
So Nimrod was certainly a very influential person in history. While Scripture itself doesn’t include all of the detail of his notoriety, ancient literature and mythologies seem to back up his influence on the world, even up to today. We don’t really think about where the traditions and holidays we celebrate came from, and very likely if we did, we would see many pagan and sometimes horrific beginnings to things we innocently do today (decorate Christmas trees, paint Easter eggs, etc.).
Genesis 10:15-20 Canaan begot Sidon his firstborn, and Heth; 16 the Jebusite, the Amorite, and the Girgashite; 17 the Hivite, the Arkite, and the Sinite; 18 the Arvadite, the Zemarite, and the Hamathite. Afterward the families of the Canaanites were dispersed. 19 And the border of the Canaanites was from Sidon as you go toward Gerar, as far as Gaza; then as you go toward Sodom, Gomorrah, Admah, and Zeboiim, as far as Lasha. 20 These were the sons of Ham, according to their families, according to their languages, in their lands and in their nations.
Back to Ham. His son Canaan was cursed by Noah as a result of Ham’s disrespectful behavior towards his father. Canaan’s descendents settled in and around the land that God later promised to Abraham, and included the Hittites, Jebusites, Amorites, and Hivites. These clans were either wiped out by God’s people when they entered the promised land, or they became a servant class to the people of Israel. Noah’s prophesy was fulfilled. By the way, two of Ham’s descendent clans (Hittites and Sinites) had families that migrated east. These families are thought to have settled in Mongolia and China and founded the various Asian cultures.
Descendents of Shem
Genesis 10:21-31 And children were born also to Shem, the father of all the children of Eber, the brother of Japheth the elder. 22 The sons of Shem were Elam, Asshur, Arphaxad, Lud, and Aram. 23 The sons of Aram were Uz, Hul, Gether, and Mash. 24 Arphaxad begot Salah, and Salah begot Eber. 25 To Eber were born two sons: the name of one was Peleg, for in his days the earth was divided; and his brother’s name was Joktan. 26 Joktan begot Almodad, Sheleph, Hazarmaveth, Jerah, 27 Hadoram, Uzal, Diklah, 28 Obal, Abimael, Sheba, 29 Ophir, Havilah, and Jobab. All these were the sons of Joktan. 30 And their dwelling place was from Mesha as you go toward Sephar, the mountain of the east. 31 These were the sons of Shem, according to their families, according to their languages, in their lands, according to their nations.
Some of the notable families and clans descended from Shem:
- Elam is associated with Persia.
- Asshur is associated with Assyria.
- Arphaxad with the Chaldeans.
- Lud with areas in Asia Minor, modern day Turkey.
- Aram with Syria, and his sons with Kuwait (Mash), Pakistan (Gether) and Afghanistan (Uz), and Armenia (Hul).
But the real story of the line of Shem is the genealogy of Arphaxad, which is continued in Scripture to Abraham and beyond. His grandson Eber’s name (pronounced in the Greek as Heber) is the source of the word used to describe the children in Israel while they were in Egypt: the Hebrews. Peleg (Eber’s son) is said to have lived in the days that the earth was divided. Peleg’s name, in fact, means division. Many translations of this text describe the meaning of this passage as the days when languages and nations were divided, perhaps referring to the Tower of Babel.
Genesis 10:32 These were the families of the sons of Noah, according to their generations, in their nations; and from these the nations were divided on the earth after the flood.
In conclusion, this verse is letting us know how the families and clans that descended from Noah’s sons are organized in this chapter: by nations which formed according to each line of descent. It seems that people during this time period were more clannish that we think of today, and the result was that regions of the earth were settled, cultures were formed, and the foundations of many things we see and take for granted today had their starts in the families described in this chapter. In the next chapter, the story will tell us how the clans were further divided at the time of the Tower of Babel: by language. I believe this account is telling us how God divided people according to language. The division was according to their lineage and family relationship, not random. God’s purpose for mankind seems to be to have us divided into different cultures and backgrounds, and to be dispersed all over the earth. It seems that God really likes diversity in the human race.