Biblical Archaeology Review 37:3, May/June 2011

Strata: How Many?

How many different peoples are listed among the so-called “Table of Nations” in Genesis 10?

Answer: 70

According to Genesis 10, after the Great Flood the world was repopulated by 70 different peoples or nations, each of whom traced descent from one of Noah’s three sons: Japheth, Ham and Shem. Each nation is listed as a descendant of one of the sons in an extended family tree: 14 descendants of Japheth, 30 of Ham and 26 of Shem, including his son Eber, from whom the Hebrew patriarch Abraham traces his lineage (Genesis 11:10–26).

Scholars have long understood Genesis 10, the so-called “Table of Nations,” to be a sort of ethnic, linguistic and/or geographic map of the world as it was known to the Biblical writers in the first millennium B.C.E. Broadly speaking, Japheth was understood to be the ancestor of the Aegean, Anatolian and Persian peoples; Ham, the ancestor of the Egyptians, Africans and Canaanites; and Shem, the ancestor of the peoples of Mesopotamia, Syria and Arabia. Many of the names are simply Hebrew spellings of common names for peoples, places and cities known from the ancient (and modern) world. Japheth’s son Javan, for example, is regularly taken to mean the Ionians, Ham’s son Mitzrayim refers to the Egyptians (Egypt was known as Mitzrayim in Hebrew and also as Misr in the ancient world, which is still the name in modern Arabic), and Shem’s son Aram is to be equated with the Arameans.

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