The World of Shem, Ham, and Japheth
Updated: Jan 29
A discussion of Genesis 10; Come Follow Me lesson January 31 – February 6; by Trent Dee Stephens, PhD
Before beginning this essay, it is important for the reader to know that I am an active, committed member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I have been a bishop twice. My wife, Kathleen, and I served for over ten years in the Idaho Falls temple. We are now workers in the Pocatello, Idaho temple. I believe the Bible to be the word of God as far as it is translated correctly. I believe that Noah and his family were real people, but I believe that a lot of unnecessary and incorrect tradition has been piled onto the story of that family, even going back to the early re-tellings of the story before it was ever written down. It is these traditional enhancements that I wish to address in this and related essays.
Fourteen times in baseball history, the World Series was a “Subway Series” between two rival New York City baseball teams – some fifteen miles, or less, apart. Such games make the world an awfully small place. The Seven Wonders of the World, now referred to as the “Seven Wonders of the Ancient World,” which included the Great Pyramid of Giza, Hanging Gardens of Babylon, Temple of Artemis, Statue of Zeus at Olympia, Mausoleum at Halicarnassus, Colossus of Rhodes, and the Lighthouse of Alexandria, was a list first compiled in the first or second century B.C., for Hellenic tourists. The area encompassing the Seven Wonders was about 1230 miles across, accounting for approximately 5% of the earth’s circumference. The Hellenistic world was an awfully small place.
When Noah; his three sons, Shem, Ham, and Japheth; and their wives stepped off the Ark on Mount Ararat, they supposedly had the whole world to themselves. Shem, the father of all the children of Eber (i.e. the Hebrew Nations), had five sons: Elam, Asshur, Arphaxad, Lud, and Aram (Genesis 10:22). Elam’s descendants apparently settled along the northeast coast of the Persian Gulf. Asshur apparently founded four cities in Assyria, including Nineveh. Arphaxad was apparently the seventh great grandfather of Abraham (Luke 3:36-38). According to Genesis 10:24, Arphaxad had only one son, Salah, but Jewish tradition holds that he also begat Ura and Kessed, who founded Ur of the Chaldees on the west bank of the Euphrates. According to the Book of Jubilees, Lud's “portion” was apparently the entire Anatolian peninsula (Asia Minor, Turkey today), west of Mesopotamia. Aram is traditionally considered the ancestor of the Arameans of Northern Mesopotamia and Syria.
Ham had four sons: Cush, Mizraim, Phut, and Canaan (Genesis 10:6). Cush is traditionally considered the founder of the Kingdom of Kush, ancient Ethiopia. Mizraim is the Hebrew and Aramaic name for Egypt. The name Phut is the Biblical term for ancient Libya. Canaan was the land on the east coast of the Mediterranean. It was the land of the Canaanites given to Abraham and his seed as an inheritance. The Book of Jubilees says that Canaan did not go to his land of inheritance but, rather to Lebanon.
Japheth had seven sons: Gomer, Magog, Madai, Javan, Tubal, Meshech, and Tiras (Genesis 10:2). The Hebrew name Gomer refers to the Cimmerians (a nomadic Indo-European people), who lived in what is now southern Russia, the land “beyond the Caucusus.” Magog and his descendants apparently ended up in Lydia, in modern Turkey. According to Josephus, the Iranian Medes are the descendants of Madai. Again according to Josephus, Javan was the ancestor of the Greeks. The Book of Jubilees also places them on the islands in the Aegean Sea - the “isles of the Gentiles” (Genesis 10:5). Tubal is known to be the father of the “Caucasian Iberians” – ancestors of the Georgians. Josephus places the descendants of Meshech in Central Anatolia, Turkey. The Georgians also claim descent from Meshech. Tiras’ descendants were “sea people” who occupied Thrace on the Gollipoli peninsula and, eventually, Etruria on the west side of the Italian peninsula – the Etruscans.
The following map shows the areas inherited by Noah’s sixteen grandsons and their descendants.
Μap from "Historical Textbook and Atlas of Biblical Geography (1854)" by Lyman Coleman.
The distance from top to bottom of the map is about 2500 miles – or 10% of the earth’s total circumference. Where did the other 90% of the peoples of the earth come from if the flood wiped out all humans? Let’s just look at Australia as one example of a problem for the idea of a universal flood. The people of Australia arrived on that continent some 40,000 to 50,000 years ago, and there is not one shred of evidence that the original population was wiped out and replenished by people from the Middle East, or anywhere else, around 2344 BC. Furthermore, the animals of Australia are unique in all the world. How did they get there from Mount Ararat without leaving any trace of their existence in between? Did Noah have several species of kangaroos and wallabies on the Ark that then, someway, hopped over to Australia without leaving a trace along the way?
Throughout most of human history, the whole question of Australia didn’t matter because no one except the Australian aborigines even knew it was there. For quite some time during the sixteenth century some Europeans believed there was a large land mass somewhere in the southern hemisphere. They called it Terra Australia Incognita, the “Unknown South Land.” Then in 1606, the Dutch explorer Willem Janszoon landed on the western side of Cape York Peninsula on the extreme northern tip of Australia, and Australia was “discovered” (National Library of Australia; nla.gov.au/faq/who-was-the-first-european-to-land-on-australia).
I am not only a scientist, but I am also very religious and I study and ponder the scriptures religiously. I believe the story of Noah and his family. I believe that they built a large ark to save their family, and all the animals they could gather, from a flood, but I do not have to believe that Noah’s flood was universal in order for the story to be valid and important. We are told right in the book of Genesis that the flood was only fifteen cubits deep (22.5 feet; Genesis 7:20). That depth may drown people and cover trees and hills, but it’s not going to cover mountains and the whole earth. The take-home message from the flood story is to obey God’s commandments and that revelation can come to individuals to help protect them and their families. That message is valid whether the flood was universal or not.
Trent Dee Stephens, PhD