The Descendants Of Shem


To Shem also, the father of all the children of Eber, the elder brother of Japheth, children were born.


The sons of Shem: Elam, Asshur, Arpachshad, Lud, and Aram.


The sons of Aram: Uz, Hul, Gether, and Mash.


Arpachshad became the father of Shelah; and Shelah became the father of Eber.


To Eber were born two sons: the name of the one was Peleg, for in his days the earth was divided, and his brother's name was Joktan.


Joktan became the father of Almodad, Sheleph, Hazarmaveth, Jerah, Hadoram, Uzal, Diklah, Obal, Abimael, Sheba, Ophir, Havilah, and Jobab; all these were the sons of Joktan.


The territory in which they lived extended from Mesha in the direction of Sephar to the hill country of the east.


These are the sons of Shem, by their families, their languages, their lands, and their nations.


These are the families of the sons of Noah, according to their genealogies, in their nations; and from these the nations spread abroad on the earth after the flood.


(Genesis 10:21-32)



The Descendants Of Shem


First, we have Elam listed as the apparent firstborn of Shem. The country named after him to the east of southern Mesopotamia was for many years believed to have been settled by people who were clearly not Shemites, and the Biblical statement here was challenged. Subsequent excavations, however, have shown that the very earliest people to settle here were indeed Shemites. It is so often true that things appear to stand against the Word of God at first, but, in the end, further light completely vindicates it. The person who accepts this is like a man who appears to be losing every battle but still enjoys the absolute assurance of winning the final victory. This is a much happier position to be in, in the long run, than to be enjoying apparent victory only to find out in the end that one must lose. No less an authority than S. R. Driver, (126) although he underscores the fact that in later times the Elamites were entirely distinct racially from the Shemites (their language, for instance, being agglutinated), was forced to admit that "inscriptions recently discovered" seem to have shown that in very early times, Elam was peopled by Shemites. He could not help but add that the Biblical statement probably originated because Elam was dependent in much later times upon Semitic Babylonia: he assures his readers that "it is very unlikely" that the original author of Genesis 10 could possibly have known what we now know. But since Driver's time, further excavation has provided very strong evidence of direct cultural links between some of the earliest cities in Babylonia and the lowest strata at Susa, the capital of Elam. (127)

The evidence now seems to indicate clearly the presence in Mesopotamia in very early times of three distinct groups of people, the Sumerian (Hamites), the earliest Babylonians (Shemites), and a group of people whom both Childe and Mallowen properly refer to as Japhethites (i.e., Indo-Europeans). As Childe put it: (128)

From later written records, philologists deduce the presence of three linguistic groups - "Japhethites" (known only inferentially from a few place-names); Semites (speaking a language akin to Hebrew and Arabic); and the dominant Sumerians.

The picture as presented elsewhere by Childe (129) reveals that the first people to enter Mesopotamia came from the East and were not Sumerians, but were in fact Shemitic Elamites, who founded such early cities as Al-Ubaid and Jemdet Nasr. These people established themselves first in the south and gradually spread toward the north, but without losing the cultural links which take us back to Elam. Childe then proposes that a second wave of immigrants into Mesopotamia followed, who this time were not Shemites but Sumerians, i.e., Hamites. These people brought new civilizing influences with them which led to considerable cultural advance, until by the time of the Uruk period, though still a minority, they had become the rulers. Meanwhile, further to the north, i.e., in Assyria, the Shemites continued their slow development until there arose in the south a man whom Scripture names Nimrod, in the line of Ham. He established himself as lord of the South and then travelled up into Assyria, or as Scripture has it, "went forth out of that land into Asshur and added it to his kingdom." At the same time, he founded a number of cities mentioned in Genesis 10 in connection with Nineveh.

Mallowen emphasizes the distinctions between these two dominant types, the Sumerians and the Akkadians, i.e., the Hamites and Shemites, in this early period of the country's development. (130) At the same time, he also underscores the fact that there was another group, whose existence is well attested on linguistic grounds. Speiser (131) proposed the name Japhethite for these people, known very early in the hill country east of the Tigris. They were noted especially for their fairness of skin. That they did penetrate southern Mesopotamia at least in some numbers in very early times has been noted by Campbell Thompson (132) as well as by Speiser.

The general picture, then (although the details are not as clear as we would wish) nevertheless supports the implications of Genesis 10, even allowing us to detect reverberations of the exploits of Nimrod who is otherwise still unidentified. Someone established a southern ascendency in the north, which was "Elamite country"- perhaps Nimrod.


The second thing to notice in this section of the genealogy is the note about Peleg: "in whose days the earth was divided." The interpretations of this brief note has been both broad and interesting. Recently, it has begun to appear that the Pelasgians of antiquity, who were great sea-going merchants and sometimes pirates, in earliest times may have received their name from Peleg. Surviving in a multitude of forms is a determinative appended to many words that has the effect of converting the word into a patronymic. This appears, for example, as -icus in the word Germanicus, also -ic in the word Britannic, ski in many familiar Russian names, possibly -scans in the word Etruscans, and scion in English. Another one, which is the important point in this context, is skoi, placed after the more ancient name Peleg, giving the compound form Pelegskoi. These are the Pelasgians.

The Pelasgians are very much of a mystery, for although they appear to have been quite powerful, it is not clear where they came from or what happened to them. When the Thracians descended to the Aegean from the north in the 14th century B.C., they displaced the Pelasgians from the territory which they held between the Hebrus and the Strymon. It is curious to find the Pelasgians occupying a territory adjacent to a river, the Hebrus, bearing a name so much reminiscent of Eber who, according to Genesis 10:25, was their father. After they were displaced, these people seem to have been swallowed up by the Greek population with whom they were subsequently confused, Munro says: (133)

"The Pelasgic nation ceased to exist as such and the Ionian name was adopted, probably among the mixed communities on the Asiatic side."

Perhaps because the Pelasgians were not Greek-speaking people, they were the more readily equated by the Greeks, who tended to lump all foreigners together, with the Etruscans who were also non-Greeks. Yet they appear not to have been, in fact, the same people. We have, therefore, possibly a group of "Eberites" achieving some notoriety for a time in the early world, only to disappear by being displaced from their primary settlement and swallowed up in the melee of people who populated the Aegean area.

Their ancestor, Peleg, received his name because of an event which has been variously interpreted. In the Book of Jasher (2:11), which is ascribed to Alcuin and is very likely spurious, there is an interesting observation with respect to this man: "It was Peleg who first invented the hedge and the ditch, the wall and bulwark: and who by lot divided the lands among his brethren." Jamieson, (134) in his Commentary, suggests that the event in view was a formal division of the earth made by Noah, acting under divine impulse, between his three sons. It is proposed that further reference to this event is to be found in Deuteronomy 32:8 and Acts 17:24-26. Peter Lange (135) refers to a work by Fabri entitled, Origin of Heathenism, dated 1859, in which the author interprets the expression as having reference to a catastrophe which violently split up the earth into its present continental masses. (136) This was, of course, long before Wegener, Taylor, and Du Toit published their ideas on the subject of Continental Drift, a subject currently very much alive.

One more word about Peleg: In the International Standard Biblical Encyclopedia, reference is made to a Babylonian geographic fragment (80-6-17, 504) which has a series of ideographs tentatively read out as Pulukku, perhaps a modified form of Peleg. This is followed by the words Sha ebirti, which could either signify Pulukku who was of Eber, or it could be a composite phrase Pulukku-of-the-Crossing. Conceivably a settlement of Pelegites was established on the river at a fordable point, this river afterwards receiving the name Hebrus. Whatever the truth of the matter, the word Peleg seems somehow to have come down to us also through Greek in the form pelagos, meaning sea. If there is a real connection, this might suggest a further idea, namely, that "division" took place when men began to migrate for the first time by water. The phrase the earth was divided would be interpreted to mean the peoples of the earth were divided, i.e., by water.

This is speculative indeed, yet, on the whole, one has the impression that Peleg was important enough to have his name retained in various forms which reflect this brief note appearing in Genesis 10.


A word should now be said about the sons of Joktan, thirteen in all, every one of whom appears to have settled in Arabia, chiefly in the south. Almodad is perhaps traceable to Al Mudad; Sheleph, in Yemen represented by Es Sulaf, and perhaps being the Aalapeni of Ptolemy; Hazarmaveth, today Hadramaut; Jerah, adjoining the latter, being possibly found in the name of a fortress, Jerakh; Hadoram, represented by the Adramitae in Southern Arabia, mentioned by Pliny and Ptolemy; Uzal, which is probably the old name of the capital of Yemen; Diklah, a place of some importance in Yemen known as Kakalah; Obal, preserved perhaps in several localities in south Arabia, under the name Abil; Abimael is completely unidentified; Sheba might suggest the Sabeans; Ophir perhaps represented by Aphar, the Sabaean capital of which Ptolemy speaks under the name Sapphara (Geog. 6.7) and which is possibly modern Zaphar; Havilah, the district in Arabia Felix known as Khawlan; and Jobab, usually identified with the Jobarites mentioned by Ptolemy among the Arabian tribes of the south, and which it is suggested was misread by him as Iobabtai, instead of an original Iobaritai.

The first boundary referred to in Genesis 10:30 perhaps refers to Massa (cf. Gen. 25:14), a northern Arabian tribe about midway between the Gulf of Akaba and the Persian Gulf. On the other hand, there is a seaport called Mousa, or Moudza, mentioned by Ptolemy, Pliny, Arrian and other ancient geographers, perhaps representing the place mentioned here. This was a town of some importance in classical times, but has since fallen into decay, if the modern Mousa is the same place. Gesenius, from the latitude given by Ptolemy, places Mesha at Maushid on the west coast of Yemen. If the latter is correct, then the second geographical locality is perhaps to be found in Sephar, a mount of the east, which is to be understood as being the Sipar, listed along with Elam and Susa, mentioned in a text found at Susa. This note in Genesis 10 would then mean that the thirteen sons of Joktan settled between these two points, and the location of Ophir would seem to be settled within the peninsula, not at the mouth of the Indus as some have thought.


There have been many occasions in the above remarks to observe what is only to be expected of this very early date, namely the proximity to one another of representatives of the three branches of Noah's family. It is not to be thought for one moment that Shemites, Hamites, and Japhethites each went their own way without inter-marriage and subsequent intermingling. It should not, therefore, surprise one to find in this Table that the same name may reappear in two different sections of Noah's family. Thus we read of two people named Sheba, one in verse 7 as a son of Cush and one in verse 28 as a son of Joktan. Rawlinson (137) explains how linguistic evidence demonstrates the early existence of at least two races in Arabia: "one, in the northern and central regions, Semitic, speaking the tongue usually known as Arabic; and another in the more southern regions, which is non-Semitic, and which from the resemblance of its language to the dialects of the aboriginals of Abyssinia, the descendants of ancient Ethiopians, deserves to be called Ethiopian or Cushite." This is not a case of erroneous duplication, therefore, but an indirect confirmation of the truthfulness of the record, since it would have been even more surprising if, at that time, there had been no such name-sharing among the different families.

Thus far, then, what evidence we do have bearing directly upon this ancient Table of Nations consistently tends towards its vindication as a document which is both etymologically sound and historically of great importance.




126. Driver, S. R., op. cit., (ref. #4), 128.

127. First observed by E. A. Speiser excavating at Tepe Gawra in 1927 and reported in Annual of the American Schools of Oriental Research, 9, 1929, 22ff.

128. Childe, V. G., What Happened in History, Pelican Books, 1948, 81.

129. Childe, V. G., New Light on the Most Ancient East, London, UK, Kegan Paul, 1935, 133, 136, and 145-146.

130. Mallowen, M.E.L., "A Mesopotamian Trilogy," Antiquity, 12 (50), June, 1939, 161.

131. Speiser, E.A., Mesopotamian Origins, Philadelphia, PA, University of Philadelphia Press, 1930.

132. Thompson, Campbell, Man, 23, 1923, 81.

133. Munro, J.A.R., "Pelasgians and Ionians" in a communication in American Journal of Archaeology, 39(2), April-June, 1935, 265.

134. Jamieson, R., Commentary: Critical, Experimental and Practical on the Old and New Testament, Vol. 1, Genesis-Deuteronomy, Glasgow, UK, Collins, 1871, 118.

135. Lange, Peter, Commentary on Genesis, Grand Rapids, MI, Zondervan, no date, 350.

136. Custance, A.C., Of Oceans, the Moon, and Continental Drift! Paper # 56, Doorway Publications, Hamilton, ON, 1962.

137. Rawlinson, G., op. cit., (ref., #44), 209.