Bible History Online
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 Gen 10. These occupy the whole chapter, and are supplemented by Gen 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 (Gen 10:5,20,31).
3. Order of the Three Races:
Notwithstanding that the sons of Noah are here (Gen 10:1) and elsewhere mentioned in the order Shem, Ham and Japheth (Gen 5:32; 6:10), and Ham was apparently the youngest (see HAM), the Table begins (Gen 10:2) with Japheth, enumerates then the descendants of Ham (Gen 10:6), and finishes with those of Shem (Gen 10:21). This order in all probability indicates the importance of each race in the eyes of the Hebrews, who as Semites were naturally interested most in the descendants of Shem with whom the list ends. This enabled the compiler to continue the enumeration of Shem's descendants in Gen 11:12 immediately after the verses dealing with the building of the Tower of Babel and the Confusion of Tongues.
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 (Gen 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 (Gen 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 (Gen 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 (Gen 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 (Gen 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 (Gen 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 (Gen 10:15)--Sidon, Heth (the Hittites), the Jebusites (who were in occupation of Jerusalem when the Israelites took it), the Amorites (whom Abraham found in Canaan), and others. Among the sons of Canaan are, likewise, the Girgashites, the Arkites and Sinites near Lebanon, the Arvadites of the coast, and the Hamathites, in whose capital, Hamath, many hieroglyphic inscriptions regarded as records of the Hittites or people of Heth have been found. It is possibly to this occupation of more or less outlying positions that the "spreading abroad" of the families of the Canaanites (Gen 10:18) refers. In Gen 10:19 the writer has been careful to indicate "the border of the Canaanites," that being of importance in view of the historical narrative which was to follow; and here he was evidently on familiar ground.
8. Sons of Shem:
In his final section--the nations descended from Shem (Gen 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 (shalach, shelach, Gen 10:24), unidentified as a nationality. This name should, however, indicate some part of Babylonia, especially if his son, Eber, was the ancestor of the Hebrews, who were apparently migrants from Ur (Mugheir) (see ABRAHAM; UR OF THE CHALDEES). Though Peleg, "in whose days the land was divided," may not have been an important link in the chain, the explanatory phrase needs notice. It may refer to the period when the fertilizing watercourses of Babylonia--the "rivers of Babylon" (Ps 137:1)--were first constructed (one of their names was pelegh), or to the time when Babylonia was divided into a number of small states, though this latter seems to be less likely. Alternative renderings for Selah, Eber and Peleg are "sending forth" (Bohlen), "crossing" (the Euphrates), and "separation" (of the Joktanites) (Bohlen), respectively.
The Babylonian geographical fragment 80-6-17, 504 has a group explained as Pulukku, perhaps a modified form of Peleg, followed by (Pulukku) sa ebirti, "Pulukku of the crossing", the last word being from the same root as Eber. This probably indicates a city on one side of the river (? Euphrates), at a fordable point, and a later foundation bearing the same name on the other side.
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 (Gen 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.--There is hardly any doubt that we have in this ethnographical section of Gen one of the most valuable records of its kind. Concerning the criticisms upon it which have been made, such things are unavoidable, and must be regarded as quite legitimate, in view of the importance of the subject. The interpolated sections concerning Nimrod and the Tower of Babel are such as would be expected in a record in which the compiler aimed at giving all the information which he could, and which he thought desirable for the complete understanding of his record. It may be regarded as possible that this information was given in view of the connection of Abraham with Babylonia. In his time there were probably larger cities than Babylon, and this would suggest that the building of the Babylonian capital may have been arrested. At the time of the captivity on the other hand, Babylon was the largest capital in then known world, and the reference to its early abandonment would then have conveyed no lesson--seeing the extent of the city, the reader realized that it was only a short setback from which it had suffered, and its effects had long since ceased to be felt.
11. Further Arguments for Early Date of Table:
Limits of its information.--For the early date of the Table also speaks the limited geographical knowledge displayed. Sargon of Agade warred both on the East and the West of Babylonia, but he seems to have made no expeditions to the North, and certainly did not touch either Egypt or Ethiopia. This suggests not only that the information available was later than his time, but also that it was obtained from merchants, travelers, envoys and ambassadors. The scantiness of the information about the North of Europe and Asia, and the absence of any reference to the Middle or the Far East, imply that communications were easiest on the West, the limit of trade in that direction being apparently Spain. If it could be proved that the Phoenicians came as far westward as Britain for their tin, that might fix the latest date of the compilation of the Table, as it must have been written before it became known that their ships went so far; but in that case, the date of their earliest journeys thither would need to be fixed. Noteworthy is the absence of any reference to the Iranians (Aryan Persians) on the East. These, however, may have been included with the Medes (Madai), or one of the unidentified names of the descendants of Japheth in Gen 10:2,3.
See SHEM; HAM; JAPHETH, and the other special articles in this Encyclopedia; also, for a great mass of information and theories by many scholars and specialists, Dillmann, Kurzgefasstes exegetisches Handbuch zum Altes Testament, "Die Genesis," Leipzig, 1882; W. Max Muller, Asien und Europa, Leipzig, 1893; and F. Hommel, Grundriss der Geographic und Geschichte des alten Orients, Munich, 1904.
T. G. Pinches
Orr, James, M.A., D.D. General Editor. "Definition for 'TABLE OF NATIONS'". "International Standard Bible Encyclopedia". bible-history.com - ISBE
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