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Shem, Ham and Japheth.

Japheth (Hebrew יפת, Yapheth, Moderen Hebrew: Yafet; Greek Ἰάφεθ, Turkish Yafes, Iapheth, Latin Iafeth or Iapetus, Arabic يافث) is one of the sons of Noah in the Hebrew Bible. In Arabic citations, his name is normally given as Yafeth bin Nuh (Japheth son of Noah).

Order of birth

Japheth is often regarded as the youngest son, though some traditions regard him as the eldest. They are listed in the order Shem, Ham, and Japheth in Genesis 5:32 and 9:18, but treated in the reverse order in chapter 10.

Genesis 10:21 refers to relative ages of Japheth and his brother Shem, but with sufficient ambiguity to have given rise to different translations. The verse is translated in the KJV as follows, "Unto Shem also, the father of all the children of Eber, the brother of Japheth the elder, even to him were children born". However, the Revised Standard Version reads, "To Shem also, the father of all the children of Eber, the elder brother of Japheth, children were born." The differing interpretations depend on whether the Hebrew word ha-gadol ("the elder") is taken as grammatically referring to Japheth, or Shem.

Genesis 5:32 states that Noah had three sons when he was five hundred years old. Genesis 11:10 records that Shem was one hundred years old when his son Arphaxad was born, two years after the Flood. If Noah was six hundred years old (Genesis 7:13), then Shem was ninety-eight years old at the Flood. Ham is further implied to be the middle son in Gen. 9:24 (which says Noah realized what his "younger son" had done to him.)

The Book of Jubilees indicates in 4:33 that Shem was born in the year of the world (after creation) 1205, Ham in 1209, and Japheth in 1211.

Place in Noah's family

The world as known to the Hebrews (based on 1854 map.)

For those who take the genealogies of Genesis to be historically accurate, Japheth is commonly believed to be the father of the Europeans. The link between Japheth and the Europeans stems from Genesis 10:5, which states," By these were the isles of the Gentiles divided in their lands. According to that book, Japheth and his two brothers formed the three major races:

William Shakespeare's play Henry IV, Part II contains a wry comment about people who claim to be related to royal families. Prince Hal notes of such people,

...they will be kin to us, or they will fetch it from Japhet. (II.ii 117-18)

Genesis 10:5 was often interpreted to mean that the peoples of Europe were descended from Japheth. Clearly, then, any two Englishmen must have at least this one ancestor in common, and thus any individual could claim kinship with the king.


Geographic identifications of Flavius Josephus, c. 100 AD; Japheth's sons shown in red

In the Bible, Japheth is ascribed seven sons: Gomer, Magog, Tiras, Javan, Meshech, Tubal, and Madai. According to Josephus (Antiquities of the Jews I.6):

"Japhet, the son of Noah, had seven sons: they inhabited so, that, beginning at the mountains Taurus and Amanus, they proceeded along Asia, as far as the river Tanais (Don), and along Europe to Cadiz; and settling themselves on the lands which they light upon, which none had inhabited before, they called the nations by their own names."

Josephus subsequently detailed the nations supposed to have descended from the seven sons of Japheth. Among the nations various later writers have attempted to assign to them are as follows:

  • Gomer: Armenians, Cimmerians, Scythians, Welsh, Irish, Germans, Huns, Franks, Turks.
  • Magog: Scythians, Slavs, Mongols, Hungarians, Irish, Finns, Pamiris, Pashtuns
  • Madai: Medes, Indo-Iranians, Mitanni, Mannai, Persian , Tajiks, Balochis, Talishis, Mazandaris, Sengesaris and Tati. According to the Book of Jubilees (10:35-36), Madai had married a daughter of Shem, and preferred to live among Shem's descendants, rather than dwell in Japheth's allotted inheritance beyond the Black Sea; so he begged his brothers-in-law, Elam, Asshur and Arphaxad, until he finally received from them the land that was named after him, Media.
  • Javan: Greeks (Ionians)
  • Tubal: Tabal, Tibareni, Georgians, Italics, Iberians, Basques
  • Tiras: Thracians, Goths, Jutes, Teutons
  • Meshech: Phrygians, Illyrians, Caucasian Iberia, Russians

The "Book of Jasher", published in the 17th century, provides some new names for Japheth's grandchildren not seen in the Bible or any other source, and provided a much more detailed genealogy (see Japhetic).

Ethnic legends

In the seventh century, Isidore of Seville published his noted history, in which he traces the origins of most of the nations of Europe back to Japheth.[1] Scholars in almost every European nation continuted to repeat and improve upon Saint Isidore's assertion of descent from Noah through Japheth into the nineteenth century.[2]

Georgian nationalist histories associate Japheth's sons with certain ancient tribes, called Tubals (Tabals, Tibarenoi in Greek) and Meshechs (Meshekhs/Mosokhs, Moschoi in Greek), who they claim represent non-Indo-European and non-Semitic, possibly "Proto-Iberian" tribes of Asia Minor of the 3rd-1st millennia BC.

In the Polish tradition of Sarmatism, the Sarmatians were said to be descended from Japheth, son of Noah, enabling the Polish nobility to imagine themselves able to trace their ancestry directly to Noah.[2]

In Scotland, histories tracing the Scottish people to Japheth were published as late as George Chalmers well received Caledonia, published in 3 volumes from 1807 to 1824.[3]

Proposed correlations with deities

In the 19th century, Biblical syncretists associated the sons of Noah with ancient pagan gods. Japheth was identified by some scholars with figures from other mythologies, including Iapetus, the Greek Titan; the Indian figures Dyaus Pitar and Pra-Japati , and the Roman Iu-Pater or "Father Jove", which became Jupiter.


The term "Japhetic" was also applied by William Jones and other early linguists to what became known as the Indo-European language group. In a different sense, it was also used by the Soviet linguist Nikolai Marr in his Japhetic theory.


Japheth is a major character in the Madeleine L'Engle novel Many Waters (1986, ISBN 0 374 34796 4). He is characterized as thoughtful and intelligent, a kind-hearted young man who is on good terms with feuding family members Noah and Lamech, with the seraphim, and with visiting time travelers Sandy and Dennys Murry. Depicted in the book as Noah's younger son, Japheth is barely into adulthood, but at Noah's instigation is already married. His equally kind wife is an unusually fair-skinned woman with black hair, who may have been sired by one of the nephilim.

See also

  • Caucasian race
  • Mongoloid race
  • Japhetic
  • Whites
  • Proto-Indo-Europeans
  • Wives aboard the Ark


  1. Susan Reynolds, "Medieval origines gentium and the community of the realm," History, 68, 1983, pp. 375-90
  2. 2.0 2.1 Colin Kidd, British Identities before Nationalism; Ethnicity and Nationhood in the Atlantic World, 1600-1800, Cambridge University Press, 1999, p. 29
  3. Colin Kidd, British Identities before Nationalism; Ethnicity and Nationhood in the Atlantic World, 1600-1800, Cambridge University Press, 1999, p. 52

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