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International Standard Bible Encyclopedia
Table of Nations
1. The Table and Its Object
2. What It Includes and Excludes
3. Order of the Three Races
4. Extent of Each
5. Sons of Japheth
6. Sons and Descendants of Ham
7. Further Descendants of Ham
8. Sons of Shem
9. Further Descendants of Shem
10. Value of Table and Its Historical Notes
11. Further Arguments for Early Date of Table
1. The Table and Its Object:
This is the expression frequently used to indicate "the generations of the sons of Noah" contained in Genesis 10 . These occupy the whole chapter, and are supplemented by Genesis 11:1-9 , which explain how it came about that there were so many languages in the world as known to the Hebrews. The remainder of Genesis 11 traces the descent of Abram, and repeats a portion of the information contained in Genesis 10 on that account only. The whole is seemingly intended to lead up to the patriarch's birth.
2. What It Includes and Excludes:
Noah and his family being the only persons left alive after the Flood, the Table naturally begins with them, and it is from his three sons, Shem, Ham and Japheth, that the inhabitants of the earth, as known to the Hebrews, were descended. All others - the Mongolians of the Far East and Japan, the American Indians, both North and South, the natives of Australia and New Zealand - were naturally omitted from the list. It may, of course, be argued that all the nations not regarded as descended from Shem and Japheth might be included among the descendants of Ham; but apart from the fact that this would give to Ham far more than his due share of the human race, it would class the Egyptians and Canaanites with the Mongolians, Indians, etc., which seems improbable. "The Table of Nations," in fact, excludes the races of which the Semitic East was in ignorance, and which could not, therefore, be given according to their lands, languages, families, and nations (Genesis 10:5 , Genesis 10:20 , Genesis 10:31 ).
3. Order of the Three Races:
Notwithstanding that the sons of Noah are here (Genesis 10:1 ) and elsewhere mentioned in the order Shem, Ham and Japheth (Genesis 5:32; Genesis 6:10 ), and Ham was apparently the youngest (see
4. Extent of Each:
The numbers of the descendants of each son of Noah, however, probably bear witness to the compiler's knowledge, rather than their individual importance in his eyes. Thus, the more remote and less known race of Japheth is credited with 14 descendants only (7 sons and 7 grandsons), while Ham has no less than 29 descendants (4 sons, 23 grandsons, and 2 great-grandsons), and Shem the same (5 sons, 5 grandsons, 1 great-grandson, and 20 remoter descendants to the 6th generation). Many of the descendants of Shem and Ham, however, are just as obscure as the descendants of Japheth. How far the relationship to the individual sons of Noah is to be taken literally is uncertain. The earlier names are undoubtedly those of nations, while afterward we have, possibly, merely tribes, and in chapter 11 the list develops into a genealogical list of individuals.
5. Sons of Japheth:
It is difficult to trace a clear system in the enumeration of the names in the Table. In the immediate descendants of Japheth (Genesis 10:2 ), Gomer, Magog, Tubal and Mesech, we have the principal nations of Asia Minor, but Madai stands for the Medes on the extreme East, and Javan (the Ionians) for the Greeks (? and Romans) on the extreme West (unless the Greeks of Asia Minor were meant). Gomer's descendants apparently located themselves northward of this tract, while the sons of Javan extended themselves along the Mediterranean coastlands westward, Tarshish standing, apparently, for Spain, Kittim being the Cyprians, and Rodanim the Rhodians.
6. Sons and Descendants of Ham:
Coming to the immediate descendants of Ham (Genesis 10:6 ), the writer begins with those on the South and then goes northward in the following order: Cush or Ethiopia, Mizraim or Egypt, Phut (better Put, the Revised Version (British and American)) by the Red Sea, and lastly Canaan - the Holy Land - afterward occupied by the Israelites. The sons of Cush, which follow (Genesis 10:7 ), are apparently nationalities of the Arabian coast, where Egyptian influence was predominant. These, with the sons of Raamah, embrace the interior of Africa as known to the Hebrews, and the Arabian tract as far as Canaan, its extreme northern boundary. The reference to Babylonia (Nimrod) may be regarded as following not unnaturally here, and prominence is given to the district on account of its importance and romantic history from exceedingly early times. Nevertheless, this portion (Genesis 10:8-12 ) reads like an interpolation, as it not only records the foundation of the cities of Babylonia, but those of Assyria as well - the country mentioned lower down (Genesis 10:22 ) among the children of Shem.
7. Further Descendants of Ham:
The text then goes back to the West again, and enumerates the sons of Mizraim or Egypt (Genesis 10:13 ), mostly located on the southeastern and eastern shores of the Mediterranean. These include the "Libyans in the narrowest sense" (Lehabim), two districts regarded as Egyptian (Naphtuhim and Pathrusim), the Casluhim from whom came the Philistines, and the Caphtorim, probably not the Cappadocians of the Targums, but the island of Crete, "because such a large island ought not to be wanting" (Dillmann). The more important settlements in the Canaanitish sphere of influence are referred to as the sons of Canaan (Genesis 10:15 )
8. Sons of Shem:
In his final section - the nations descended from Shem (Genesis 10:21 ) - the compiler again begins with the farthest situated - the Elamites - after which we have Asshur (Assyria), to the Northwest; Arpachshad (? the Chaldeans), to the West; Lud (Lydia), Northwest of Assyria; and Aram (the Aramean states), South of Lud and West of Assyria. The tribes or states mentioned as the sons of Aram (Uz, Hul, Gether and Mash), however, do not give the names with which we are familiar in the Old Testament (Aram Naharaim, Aram Zobah, etc.), and have evidently to be sought in different positions, indicating that they represent an earlier stage of their migrations. With regard to their positions, it has been suggested that Uz lay in the neighborhood of the Hauran and Damascus; Hul near the Sea of Galilee; and that Mash stands for Mons Masius. This last, however, may have been the land of Mas, West of Babylonia.
9. Further Descendants of Shem:
Only one son is attributed to Arpachshad, namely, Shelah (
The Babylonian geographical fragment 80-6-17,504 has a group explained as
Reu, Serug, and Nahor, however, are regarded generally as place-names, and Terah as a personal name (the father of Abram, Nahor and Haran). From this point onward the text (Genesis 11:27 ) becomes the history of the Israelite nation, beginning with these patriarchs.
10. Value of Table and Its Historical Notes:
Arguments for its early date .
11. Further Arguments for Early Date of Table:
Limits of its information .
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Orr, James, M.A., D.D. General Editor. Entry for 'Table of Nations'. International Standard Bible Encyclopedia. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/eng/isb/t/table-of-nations.html. 1915.