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Shem, Ham and Japheth by James Tissot.
Children Elam
Parents Noah

Shem, Sons of Noah

Shem (Hebrew: שם, Modern Šem Tiberian Šēm ; Greek: 'Σημ, Sēm; Arabic: سام, Sām ; Ge'ez: ሴም, Sēm; "renown; prosperity; name") was one of the sons of Noah in the Hebrew Bible. He is most popularly regarded as the eldest son, though some traditions regard him as the second son. Genesis 10:21 refers to relative ages of Shem and his brother Japheth, but with sufficient ambiguity in each to have yielded different translations. The verse is translated in the KJV as "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 New American Standard Bible gives, "Also to Shem, the father of all the children of Eber, and the older brother of Japheth, children were born."

Genesis 11:10 records that Shem was 100 years old at the birth of Arpachshad two years after the flood, making him 98 at the time of the flood; and that he lived for another 500 years after this, making his age at death 600 years.

The children of Shem were Elam, Asshur, Aram, Arpachshad and Lud, in addition to daughters. Abraham, the patriarch of the Hebrews and Arabs, was one of the descendants of Arpachshad.

The 1st century historian Flavius Josephus, among many others, recounted the tradition that these five sons were the progenitors of the nations of Elam, Assyria, Syria, Chaldea, and Lydia, respectively.

Terms like "Semite" and "Hamite" are less common now, and may sometimes even be perceived as offensive, because of their "racial" connotations. The adjectival forms "Semitic" and "Hamitic" are more common, though the vague term 'Hamitic' dropped out of mainstream academic use in the 1960s. Semitic is still a commonly used term for the Semitic languages, as a subset of the Afro-Asiatic languages, denoting the common linguistic heritage of Arabic, Aramaic, Akkadian, Ethiopic, Hebrew and Phoenician languages.

'Semitic' also appears in the phrase "anti-Semitic" to refer to racial, ethnic or cultural prejudice aimed exclusively at Jews.

According to some Jewish traditions (e.g., B. Talmud Nedarim 32b; Genesis Rabbah 46:7; Genesis Rabbah 56:10; Leviticus Rabbah 25:6; Numbers Rabbah 4:8.), Shem is believed to have been Melchizedek, King of Salem whom Abraham is recorded to have met after the battle of the four kings.

In a few of the many extra-biblical sources that describe him, Shem is also credited with killing Nimrod, son of Cush.

Shem is mentioned in Genesis 5:32, 6:10; 7:13; 9:18,23,26-27; 10; 11:10; also in 1 Chronicles 1:4.

Genealogies according to "Book of Jasher"

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

A rabbinic document that surfaced in the 1600s, claiming to be the lost "Book of Jasher" provides some names not found in any other source. Some have reconstructed more complete genealogies based on this information as follows:

Shem. Also Sem. Literal meanings are named or renown (father of the Semitic races - Shemites). The sons of Shem were:

  • Elam "eternity" (sons were Shushan, Machul and Harmon)[1] - (Elamites, Khuzestanis)[2]
  • Asshur "a step" or "strong" (sons were Mirus and Mokil)[3] - (Assyrians
  • Lud "strife" (sons were Pethor and Bizayon)[4] - (Ludim, Lubim, Ludians, Ludu, Lydians, and other related groups in Asia Minor.
  • Aram "exalted" (sons were Uz, Chul, Gather and Mash)[4] - (Aramaeans.

Other proposed lineages from Shem

Biblical longevity
Name Age LXX
Methuselah 969 969
Jared 962 962
Noah 950 950
Adam 930 930
Seth 912 912
Kenan 910 910
Enos 905 905
Mahalalel 895 895
Lamech 777 753
Shem 600 600
Eber 464 404
Cainan 460
Arpachshad 438 465
Salah 433 466
Enoch 365 365
Peleg 239 339
Reu 239 339
Serug 230 330
Job 210? 210?
Terah 205 205
Isaac 180 180
Abraham 175 175
Nahor 148 304
Jacob 147 147
Esau 147? 147?
Ishmael 137 137
Levi 137 137
Amram 137 137
Kohath 133 133
Laban 130+ 130+
Deborah 130+ 130+
Sarah 127 127
Miriam 125+ 125+
Aaron 123 123
Rebecca 120+ 120+
Moses 120 120
Joseph 110 110
Joshua 110 110


Some believe that from Shem descend the whole of the European peoples. Ernest L. Martin writes, "...[The] Shemite tribes (people who were descendants of Shem and including some peoples who came from Abraham) later colonized the whole of southern Europe and replaced the people of JAVAN and his four descendants. JAVAN'S people were pushed mainly into the northern areas of Europe where in turn they migrated farther east into Asia (along with GOMER the firstborn son of JAPHETH and his descendants). Indeed, in prophecies dealing also with the End-Time, we find the people of JAVAN no longer in Europe, but they are now associated with TUBAL [Ezekiel 38: & 39 end time prophecy] (another son of JAPHETH) who became an eastern Mongolian type of people...though the name JAVAN still retained its geographical hold on the southern region of Europe, particularly in Greece)...It is not uncommon for people to give a name to a region and then the original people move on to other areas (or are killed off) and the original geographical name becomes associated with completely different people" [5]


Some scholars have claimed that the Anglo-Saxons are the descendants of Shem. "Alfred, king of the Anglo-Saxons [b. 849 A.D.] was... the son [descendant] of Sem [Shem]" (Church Historians of England, vol. 2, p. 443). Proponents of this theory also claim that Alfred the Great was a descendant of Shem because he claimed to descend from Sceafa, a marooned man who came to Britain on a boat after a flood.

Le Petit, a writer in 1601 mentioned King Adel, said to be descendant of Shem, ruler of Britain having 3 children that migrated to India.

Further, it is said[who?] that Tuitsch a German patriarch is none other than Shem himself (see Assyrian-German theory).

Hellenistic (Greek)

A text from Islam claims that the Greeks derived from Shem: Tabari II:11 “Shem, the son of Noah was the father of the Arabs, the Persians, and the Greeks;...

In the Chronicles of George the Monk and Symeon Logothetes, the following genealogy occurs: "To the lot of Shem fell the Orient, and his share extended lengthwise as far as India and breadthwise (from east to south) as far as Phinocorura, including Persia and Bactria, as well as Syria, Media (which lies beside the Euphrates River), Babylon, Cordyna, Assyria, Mesopotamia, Arabia the Ancient, Elymais, India, Arabia the Mighty, Coelesyria, Commagene, and all Phoenicia."[6]


According to Abulgazi, Shem's original land was Iran while Japheth's was the country called "Kuttup Shamach," said to be the name of the regions between the Caspian Sea and India.[7]

According to Armenian tradition, Dr. Hales is quoted saying, "To the sons of Shem was alloted the middle region of the earth viz., Palestine, Syria, Assyria, Samaria (Shinar?) Babel (or Babylonia), Persia and Hedjaz (Arabia).[8]

In Mystery of the Ages, by Dr. James Modlish, it is said that India is inhabited by Shemites.[9]

Hisham Ibn al-Kalbi, a 19th century Arab historian, states that al-Hind and al-Sind [(Sindh)Pakistan] are of Ophir, the son of Joktan.[10] Isidore of Seville (c. 635) had also made Joktan the ancestor of Indians, Pakistanis and Bangladeshis; his material was based on earlier enumerations made by Jerome and Josephus, who had stated that Joktan's descendants "inhabited from Cophen, an Indian river, and in part of Asia adjoining to it."


In Genesis, while Sheba and Seba are listed among descendants of Cush son of Ham in 10:7, another Sheba is listed as a son of Joktan, son of Eber in 10:28. These names are associated with Semitic tribes on both sides of the Red Sea in Yemen and Eritrea (See Sabaeans). This situation may reflect a combined Hamito-Semitic ancestry postulated for Ethiopian peoples.

Racial connotations

Some writers have associated Noah's sons with different skin colors or alleged races. For instance the Jewish text Pirqei R. Eliezer, depicts God as dividing the earth among Noah‘s sons, Shem, Ham, and Japhet,[11] and attributing different skin colors to them (literally, —blessing“ them with different skin colors): light colored skin for the Japhetites, medium dark or brown for the Semites, and very dark or black for the Hamites.

This passage from Pirqei R. Eliezer, a writing which was composed in Israel after the Islamic conquest, is paralleled in an Arabic text of approximately the same period. The historian abarī (d. 923) quotes Ibn Abbas (d. 686-8) as saying:

Born to Noah were Shem, whose descendants were tawny-white (bayā wa-adma); Ham, whose descendants were black with hardly any whiteness (sawād wa-bayā qalīl); and Japheth, whose descendants were reddish-white (al-łuqra wal- umra.)[12]

From the same author also comes his commentary of Gen 5:32:

" 'And Noah begat Shem and Ham and Japheth.' That is Shem is the father of the swarthy, and Ham of the blacks, and Japheth of the whites." Then on the commentary on Gen 10:32, "...the red [smqry'] sons of Japheth,... the black sons of Ham,... and the swarthy sons of Shem."

The tradition is repeated in the 13th century by the Christian Ibn al- Ibrī (Bar Hebraeus), known for the —fidelity with which he reproduces earlier writers. Again in another work, Bar Hebraeus speaks of Noah dividing the world among his three sons, with Ham getting the Land of the Blacks (sūdān), Shem the Land of the Browns (sumra), and Japheth the Land of the Reds (łuqra).[13]

"According to ISBE, Shem means "dusky", and Japheth means "fair." (McKissick, Beyond Roots. P. 108).[14]

According to Armenian tradition, Shem had the region of the tawny.[15]

Josiah Priest (1788–1851) believed that Shem, because he was a descendant in the Adamic line, and because "Adam" means reddish in Hebrew, that Shem too was of the "reddish race". Further, he believe that because Christ was a descendant in the line of Shem, that Christ was of "copper-colored stock".[16]

See also

  • Wives aboard the Ark
  • Subarians
  • Finnegans Wake


  1. Book of Jasher Chapter 7:15
  3. 3.0 3.1 Book of Jasher Chapter 7:16
  4. 4.0 4.1 Book of Jasher Chapter 7:17
  5. Prophetic Geography and the Time of the End, emphasis added
  6. Serge A. Zenkovsky's, Cited from In Serge A. Zenkovsky's, Medieval Russia's Epics, Chronicles, and Tales, Medieval Russia's Epics, Chronicles, and Tales, Revised and Enlarged Edition. (NY: Meridian Books, 1974)
  7. P. 94, Annals and Antiquities of Rajasthan
  8. P. 27 Assyria: Her Manners and Customs, Arts and Arms: Restored from Her Monuments By Philip
  9. Mystery of the Ages, by Dr. James Modlish
  10. p. 1769 A dictionary of the Bible comprising its antiquities, biography, geography, and natural history. by William Smith, John Mee Fuller
  11. [The names of Noah’s sons were prophetic. Shem signifies name or renown (the Scriptures have been given to us through the family of Shem, and Christ was of that family); Ham signifies hot or black (his descendants mainly peopled Africa); and Japheth signifies either fair or enlarged (his descendants are the white-faced Europeans, who have gone forth and established colonies in all the other grand divisions of the globe).]
  12. [Tarikh al- abarī, ed. M.J. de Goeje, 1:199. A little later (p. 220) abarī repeats this tradition, again in the name of Ibn Abbas, but this time has —tawny with hardly any whiteness“ (udma wa-bayā qalīl) for Ham instead of —black with hardly any whiteness.“ My translation of abarī”s color terms follows Lane, who notes that applied to human complexion adam means —tawny or dark-complexioned, syn. asmar,“ umra means whiteness, and łuqra implies some mix of red and white, the common classification for a light-skinned complexion (Lane, An Arabic-English Lexicon, pp. 37a, 640c [see also 642a, a mar], and 1581b).]
  13. [M. Sprengling and W.C. Graham, ed., Barhebraeus‘ Scholia on the Old Testament, pp. 34-35 and 44-45. Bar Hebraeus‘ father was a Jewish convert to Christianity (thus the name). The quotation is from J.B. Segal, The Encyclopedia of Islam, second edition, 3:805, s.v. Ibn al- Ibrī.]
  14. McKissick, Beyond Roots. P. 108)
  15. P. 162 Christmastide: Its History, Festivities, and Carols By William Sandys
  16. The Forging of Races: Race and Scripture in the Protestant Atlantic World, 1600-2000 By Colin Kidd

External links

This page uses content from the English Wikipedia. The original article was at Shem. The list of authors can be seen in the page history.