Genesis 10: Genealogy of Noah’s Three Sons

cranes construction building citiesHebrew-English Text

I. Summary

The genealogy of Noah’s three sons is presented.

II. Photo

The cities of Mesopotamia are built: “From that land Asshur went forth and built Nineveh” (v. 11)

III. Select Verses

4-5: The descendants of Javan: Elishah and Tarshish, the Kittim and the Dodanim. From these the maritime nations branched out. [These are the descendants of Japheth] by their lands — each with its language — their clans and their nations.

8-10: Cush also begot Nimrod, who was the first man of might on earth. He was a mighty hunter by the grace of the LORD; hence the saying, “Like Nimrod a mighty hunter by the grace of the LORD.” The mainstays of his kingdom were Babylon, Erech, Accad, and Calneh in the land of Shinar.

18-19: Afterward the families of the Canaanites spread abroad. And the territory of the Canaanites extended from Sidon, in the direction of Gerar, as far as Gaza, and in the direction of Sodom, Gomorrah, Admah, and Zeboiim, as far as Lasha.

IV. Outline

1. The three sons of Noah: Shem, Ham, and Japheth

2-5. The genealogy of Japheth

    2-3. Japheth's sons

    4-5. Greece and the maritime nations

6-20. The genealogy of Ham

    6. Introduction

    7-12. The warrior Nimrod and his cities in Babylon and Assyria

    13-14. Egypt and the sea peoples

    15-19. The Canaanites and their shifting territory

21-31. The genealogy of Shem

32. Conclusion

V. Comment

Verse 21, which recounts the genealogy of Shem, contains a textbook case of syntactic ambiguity. An example of syntactic ambiguity is “big tractor sale”: is there a big sale of regular tractors or is there a regular sale of big tractors?  The Hebrew phrase שם… אחי יפת הגדול contains the following words: Shem + brother + Japheth + big one. One possible translation is “Shem, the brother of the big Japheth,” i.e., Japheth is the older brother of Shem. This approach fits the context of our chapter, which presents Japheth’s genealogy before Shem’s and Ham’s (vv. 2-5), and was taken by interpreters such as Numbers Rabbah 4:8, Rabbi Kahana quoted in BT Sanhedrin 69b, Tanhuma Buber Toldos 23, Ibn Ezra, Nahmanides, etc. However, Shem is the first brother mentioned in each enumeration of Noah’s sons in the Hebrew Bible (Gen 5:32; 6:10; 7:13; 9:18; 10:1; 1 Chr 1:4), which implies that he was the oldest. For this reason many commentators choose to interpret verse 21 to mean “Shem the big one, the brother of Japheth,” i.e., Shem is the older brother. This approach is taken by interpreters such as the Septuagint, Jubilees 4:33, Radaq, Rashi, etc. The Hebrew is ambigous and could be interpreted either way. This has led commentators to either suggest the birth order as Shem, Japheth, and Ham or Japheth, Shem, and Ham (Ham is explicitly called the youngest in Gen 9:24).

VI. Works Used

(see “Commentaries” page)

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