Table of Nations: Shem’s Descendants

Genesis 10

The descendants of Noah’s son Shem are listed in what is commonly called the Table of Nations, the Israelites’ oldest catalog of the peoples of the ancient Near East. While it is difficult to identify with certainty where many of these peoples lived, generally they are believed to have been located as shown here. Shem’s sons Elam, Arphaxad, and Aram each gave rise to other people groups cited in the list, so they have been shown as broad regions on the map rather than as specific people groups. Shems’s sons Asshur and Lud are displayed this way as well, though no specific peoples are listed as descending from them. The Israelites were descended from Arphaxad through Shelah, Eber (thus, the Hebrews), and Peleg. In Luke’s account of Jesus’ genealogy an ancestor named Cainan is inserted between Arphaxad and Shelah as well (Luke 3:35-36), suggesting that genealogies are sometimes abbreviated in the Bible, and the term son can convey the broader meaning of “descended from.” It is interesting to note that Peleg’s descendants are not further detailed while those of his brother Joktan is extensively delineated. Perhaps this is because the Israelites’ immediate ancestors would have already been very familiar to the readers, who were Israelites, so this did not require further explanation. It is also interesting to note a few areas of overlap between Shem’s descendants and the descendants of Ham and Japheth, such as Havilah, Sheba, and Meshech. Meshech in verse 23 reads Mash in Hebrew, but Meshech is the reading of the Septuagint and the parallel passage in 1 Chronicles 1:17, and it makes geographic sense by physically connecting Lud with the rest of the Shemite (also called Semite) peoples.

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