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Bible Commentaries

Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible

Genesis 10

Verses 1-5

Thus, we have discovered the ancient seats of Japheth, Iapetos - , around the Caspian, the Euxine, the Aegean, and the north of the Mediterranean. From these coastlands they seem to have spread over Europe, northern, western, and southern Asia, and, both by Behring’s Straits and the Atlantic, they at length poured into America. So true is it that Japheth was enlarged, and that by them were “the isles of the nations divided.”

In their nations. - We here note the characteristics of a nation. First. It is descended from one head. Others may be occasionally grafted on the original stock by intermarriage. But there is a vital union subsisting between all the members and the head, in consequence of which the name of the head is applied to the whole body of the nation. In the case of Kittim and Dodanim we seem to have the national name thrown back upon the patriarchs, who may have themselves been called Keth and Dodan. Similar instances occur in the subsequent parts of the genealogy. Second. A nation has a country or “land” which it calls its own. In the necessary migrations of ancient tribes, the new territories appropriated by the tribe, or any part of it, were naturally called by the old name, or some name belonging to the old country. This is well illustrated by the name of Gomer, which seems to reappear in the Cimmerii, the Cimbri, the Cymri, the Cambri, and the Cumbri. Third. A nation has its own “tongue.” This constitutes at once its unity in itself and its separation from others. Many of the nations in the table may have spoken cognate tongues, or even originally the same tongue. Thus, the Kenaanite, Phoenician, and Punic nations had the same stock of languages with the Shemites. But it is a uniform law, that one nation has only one speech within itself. Fourth. A nation is composed of many “families,” clans, or tribes. These branch off from the nation in the same manner as it did from the parent stock of the race.

Verses 6-20

The list of the Hamites is summed up Genesis 10:20 in the usual form. It appears that Ham occupied Africa and a certain portion of Asia along the eastern coast of the Mediterranean, in the south of Arabia, about the lower valley of the Frat and Diljah, and perhaps along the south of Asia. In extent of territory, Japheth ultimately far exceeded, as he occupied most of Asia and almost all of Europe and the New World. Ham is next to him, as he inherited Africa and a portion of Asia. Some of his descendants have also been forcibly transplanted to the New Hemisphere. But in point of political contact with Shem, Japheth, in early times, sinks comparatively into the shade, and Ham assumes the prominent place. Babylon, Kush, Egypt, and Kenaan are the powers which come into contact with Shem, in that central line of human history which is traced in the Bible. Hence, it is that in the table of nations special attention is directed to Kush, Nimrod, Mizraim, and to the tribes and borders of Kenaan.

Verses 21-32

Genesis 10:31 contains the usual closing formula for the pedigree of the Shemite tribes; and Genesis 10:32 contains the corresponding form for the whole table of nations.

From a review of these lands it is evident that Shem occupied a much smaller extent of territory than either of his brothers. The mountains beyond the Tigris, the Persian Gulf, the Red Sea, the Levant, the Archipelago, and the Black Sea, bound the countries that were in part peopled by Shem. Arabia, Syria, and Assyria contained the great bulk of the Shemites, intermingled with some of the Hamites. The Kushites, Kenaanites, and Philistines trench upon their ground. The rest of the Hamites peopled Africa, and such countries as were supplied from it. The Japhethites spread over all the rest of the world.

In this table there are 70 names, exclusive of Nimrod, of heads of families, tribes, or nations descended from the 3 sons of Noah - 14 from Japheth, 30 from Ham, and 26 from Shem. Among the heads of tribes descended from Japheth are 7 grandsons. Among those from Ham are 23 grandsons and 3 great-grandsons. Among those of Shem are 5 grandsons, one great-grandson, 2 of the fourth generation, and 13 of the fifth. Whence, it appears that the subdivisions are traced further in Ham and much further in Shem than in Japheth, and that they are pursued only in those lines which are of importance for the coming events in the history of Shem.

It is to be observed, also, that, though the different races are distinguished by the diversity of tongues, yet the different languages are much less numerous than the tribes. The eleven tribes of Kenaanites, and the thirteen tribes of Joctanites, making allowance for some tribal peculiarities, most probably spoke at first only two dialects of one family of languages, which we have designated the Hebrew, itself a branch of, if not identical with, what is commonly called the Shemitic. Hence, some Hamites spoke the language of Shem. A similar community of language may have occurred in some other instances of diversity of descent.

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Bibliographical Information
Barnes, Albert. "Commentary on Genesis 10". "Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible". 1870.