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Japheth (יֶפֶת / יָפֶת "Enlarge", Standard Hebrew Yéfet / Yáfet, Tiberian Hebrew Yép̄eṯ / Yāp̄eṯ) is one of the sons of Noah in the Bible. He is most popularly regarded as the youngest son, though some traditions regard him as the eldest son.
In Arabic citations his name is normally given as Yafet ibn Nuh (Japheth son of Noah).
For those Jews, Muslims, and Christians who take the genealogies of Genesis to be historically accurate, Japheth is commonly believed to be the father of the Europeans. Hence the term 'Japhetic' was formerly used to refer to European peoples. The term was also applied by William Jones and other pre-Darwinian linguists to what later became known as the Indo-European language group. In a different sense, it was also used by the Soviet linguist Nikolai Marr (see Japhetic theory).
The link between Japheth and the Europeans stems from Genesis 10:5, which states that the sons of Japheth moved to the "isles of the gentiles," which are commonly believed to be the Greek isles.
The intended ethnic identity of these 'descendents of Japheth' is not known for certain. However, those accepting the genealogies as historically accurate identify historical nations as descendents of Japheth and his sons—a practice dating back at least to the classical encounters of Jew with Hellene, for example in Josephus's Antiquities of the Jews, I.VI.122 (Whiston). Josephus wrote:
- "Japhet, the son of Noah, had seven sons: they inhabited so, that, beginning at the mountains Taurus and Amanus, they proceeded along Asia, as far as the river Tansis, and along Europe to Cadiz; and settling themselves on the lands which they light upon, which none had inhabited before, they called the nations by their own names."
Josephus subsequently detailed the nations which were supposed to have descended from the seven sons of Japheth. Later writers have summarized the nations as follows:
- Javan: Greece, Romans, Romance -- French, Italians, Spanish, Portuguese
- Magog: Scythians, Slavs, Russians, Bulgarians, Bohemians, Poles, Slovaks, Croatians
- Madai: Indians & Iranic: Medes, Persians, Afghans, Kurds
- Tubal: South of Black Sea
- Tiras: Thracians, Teutons, Germans, Scandinavian, Anglo-Saxon, Jutes
- Meshech: Russia
- Gomer: Gaelic/Celtic, German.
In the same vein, Georgian nationalist histories associate Japheth's sons with certain ancient tribes, called Tubals (Tabals, Tibarenoi in Greek) and Meshechs (Meshekhs/Mosokhs, Moschoi in Greek), who they claim represent non-Indo-European and non-Semitic, possibly "Proto-Iberian" tribes of Asia Minor of the 3rd-1st millennias BC.
In the nineteenth century, Biblical syncretists associated the sons of Noah with ancient pagan gods. Ham was associated with the ancient Egyptian god Chem, while Japheth was identified by some scholars with figures from other mythologies including Iapetos, the Greek Titan, the Indian Pra-Japati , and the Roman 'Iu-Pater' or 'Father Jove', which became Jupiter. The resemblances may be mere coincidence, as no common etymology is suggested, and the actual Indo-European etymology of Latin Iuppiter or Iūpiter, i.e. 'Jupiter', is *dyeu-p(e)ter, "O father Jove" [the symbol "(e)" has been used here for the shwa].
- Easton Bible dictionary about Japheth
- Smith's Bible Dictionary about Japheth
- International Standard Bible Encyclopedia: Japheth
- Japheth in the Jewish Encyclopedia
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