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Sons of Noah
The sons of Noah are named in Genesis 10 as Shem, Ham, and Japheth. According to a literal interpretation of the Old Testament, all of humanity is descended from Noah, his wife, Noah's three sons, and their wives. The Genealogies of Genesis track the ancestors and descendents of this family, give the ages at which they had a child and the age at which they died, and in some cases give some information about what they did, what happened during their lifetime, or what cities they founded. The sons of Noah appear again in genealogies in I Chronicles 1, and in Luke 3:23-38, which tracks the genealogy of Jesus back through David, Abraham, Shem, and Adam, to God.
The Genealogies and their reputed nations
Main Article: Genealogies of Genesis
According to Genesis 10, the present population of the world was descended from Noah's three sons. Until the mid 19th century, this was taken as historical fact (see Links). They are still taken as historical by orthodox Jews, Muslims, and some Christians.
Modern scholarship, apart from that undertaken by devout believers, rejects the traditional view of historicity, and holds instead that the genealogy reflects an etiological myth explaining the relations between the ethnic groups of the ancient Near East, perhaps re-edited at the time of the text's final composition in the 7th century BC.
In the Biblical historicist view, the listed children of Ham, Shem, and Japheth correspond to various historic nations and people groups, including Mizraim (Egypt), Gomer, Sheba, Canaan, Sidon, and Sin (sometimes connected with the Latin root "Sinic," or Chinese), who are believed to have founded the cities and civilizations that were later to bear their names.
Shem is the father of the Semites, including Israelites and Arabs, because the genealogy explicitly tracks descent to Abraham to Isaac (father of the Israelites) and Ishmael (father of the Arabs). Today, traditionalist Hebrews still trace their lineage through Shem, Eber (which become Heber, or Hebrew), Abraham, and Isaac. Arab Muslims trace their lineage through Shem, Eber, Abraham, and Ishmael. The two groups dispute, however, whether Isaac or Ishmael was the legitimate son of Abraham.
Generally speaking, historicists believe Japheth was the father of the European races, because Genesis 10:5 describes the sons of Japheth as occupying the "Isles of the Gentiles," presumably the islands of Greece), and names Gomer and Magog as two of his children, who were believed to establish nations in the lands of Galatia and Magog.
There is some dispute over the descent of the Asiatic peoples. Some interpret them as descended from Ham; others from Japheth; others from a later blending of races. The genealogy is not clear on this point.
Traditions Regarding the Order of Sons by Age
As for mutual relation among the three sons, the most common belief regards Shem as the eldest son, Ham as the second son, and Japheth as the youngest son. However this cannot be deduced from the Book of Genesis itself which only mentions that Noah began to have Japheph, Ham, and Shem 100 "years" before the flood (in 2470 BC according to some bible chronologies) and that Shem began to have children two years after the flood when he was 100 "years" old, meaning Shem was born two years after the first child Noah had at age 500, when Noah was 502 years of age (2468 B.C.E.); and since Ham appears to be referred to as the “youngest son” (Ge 9:24), Japheth would logically be the first son born to Noah, when he was 500 years of age. A passage in Genesis 10:21 is by some translated as “Japheth the oldest”, while some translators understand the Hebrew text here to refer to Shem as “the elder brother of Japheth.” The time of Ham’s birth is not stated in the scriptures.
The Jewish tradition that Ham was the eldest dropped out of favour for reasons of racial prejudice. Some other beliefs, in particular Mormonism, regard Japheth as the eldest, with Shem and Ham being younger.
A selective summary of Genesis:
- Genesis 5:23: "And Noah got to be five hundred years old. After that Noah became father to Shem, Ham and Ja´pheth."
- Genesis 7:6: "And Noah was six hundred years old when the deluge of waters occurred on the earth."
- Genesis 9:24: "Finally Noah awoke from his wine and got to know what his youngest son had done to him."
- Genesis 10:21: "And to Shem, the forefather of all the sons of E´ber, the brother of Ja´pheth the oldest, there was also progeny born."
- Genesis 11:10: "Shem was a hundred years old when he became father to Ar·pach´shad two years after the deluge."
- Hall, Jonathan, Ethnic Identity in Greek Antiquity Cambridge U.Press, 1997.
- Malkin, Irad, editor, Ancient Perceptions of Greek Ethnicity in series Center for Hellenic Studies Colloquia, 5. Harvard University Press, 2001. Reviewed by Margaret C. Miller in Bryn Mawr Classical Review, 2002
- Driver, S. R., The Book of Genesis, Westminister Commentaries, 3rd edition, London, UK, Methuen, 1904.
- Kautzsch, E.F.: quoted by James Orr, "The Early Narratives of Genesis," in The Fundamentals, Vol. 1, Los Angeles, CA, Biola Press, 1917.
- Dillmann, A., Genesis: Critically and Exegetically Expounded, Vol. 1, Edinburgh, UK, T. and T. Clark, 1897, 314.
- Custance, Arthur C., The Roots of the Nations.
- Jewish Encyclopedia: Genealogy; a balanced scholarly modern view in 1901/6.
- Uni-Press, Bern Switzerland: Map showing areas supposedly occupied by "Biblical races" from booklet 104 April 2000
- "Noah's Three Sons" a book apparently advocating this world-view as of 1975
- How did all the different ‘races’ arise (from Noah’s family)? is a rejection of racism from both science and the Bible.
- After the Flood traces the "Table of Nations" in Genesis 10 to peoples and nations known from non-Biblical historical sources.
- An overview of the traditional view of the Table of Nations
- Historical overview of how Noah's curse on Canaan came to be used as a justification of slavery (from The Straight Dope)
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