Genesis 10
Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers

THE ETHNOLOGICAL TABLE (Genesis 10:1 to Genesis 11:9).

These are the generations (the tôldôth) of the sons of Noah.—The importance of this “table of the nations” can scarcely be over-estimated; and while numerous exceptions were taken only a few years ago to many of its details, the vast increase of human knowledge in recent times has proved not merely its general credibility, but the truth of such startling facts as the possession by the race of Ham not only of the Arabian peninsula, but of the country on the Tigris and Euphrates. Its position is very remarkable. It stands at the end of grand traditional records of the mighty past, but belongs to a period long subsequent, giving us a picture of the division of the world at a time when nations and kingdoms had become settled, and their boundaries fixed; and it couples this with the confusion of tongues, difference of language being the great factor in this breaking up of the human race. Now, it is important to remember that it is not a genealogical table. It concerns peoples, and not individuals, and no names are mentioned which were not represented by political organisations. Generally even the names are not those of men, but of tribes or nations. We must also bear in mind that it works backwards, and not forwards. Taking the nations at some particular time, it groups them together, and classifies them according to the line to which they belonged.

As regards the order, it begins with Japheth, the youngest son—for never was there a translation more opposed to the undeviating rule of such sentences than that of our version in Genesis 10:21. “Shem . . . the brother of Japheth the elder,” instead of “Shem, the elder brother of Japheth.” But Japheth is here placed first because so little was known of the nations sprung from him. It gives, moreover, the mere first division into main lines, and then, in spite of the grand future that awaited his descendants, it dismisses them in brief haste to their homes on the Black and Mediterranean seas. It next takes Ham. Now, Ham was to the family of Noah what Cain was to that of Adam: first in all worldly accomplishments, last in all the gifts of piety. Settling upon the Nile, the Tigris, and Euphrates, his progeny raised up mighty cities, while the Japhethites were wandering in barbarous hordes over Europe, and the Shemites were pasturing their cattle upon the chalk-downs of Syria; whence, nevertheless, they soon came to do battle with the Hamites for the possession of Mesopotamia. Of the Hamites, it brings the history down to the time of their settlement in Canaan, but as it mentions Sodom and Gomorrah as still standing, the document must be prior to the time of the destruction of those cities, eighteen centuries and more before I Christ; while, as it describes the Canaanites as even then in possession of Palestine, and as formed into tribes in much the same way as just before the time of Moses, it is evident that a much longer period must have elapsed between the flood and the birth of Abraham than is supposed in the ordinary chronology put in the margin of our Bibles. As the line of Shem was to be traced in subsequent tôldôth, it is not carried down so far as that of Ham, but stops at a great dividing line, at which the family breaks up into the race of Joktan and that of Peleg. To the former it ascribes thirteen nations, while the race of Peleg is left for future histories. The names of the Joktanite tribes also indicate the lapse of a lengthened period of time, as they abound in Arabic peculiarities.

Now these are the generations of the sons of Noah, Shem, Ham, and Japheth: and unto them were sons born after the flood.
(1) Shem, Ham, and Japheth.—This is the un-deviating arrangement of the three brothers. (See Note on Genesis 9:24; Genesis 10:21.)

The sons of Japheth; Gomer, and Magog, and Madai, and Javan, and Tubal, and Meshech, and Tiras.
(2) The sons of Japheth.—Of these, seven main divisions are enumerated, some of which are subsequently sub-divided; they are—

1. Gomer, whose name reappears in the Cimmerians. Their original settlement was between Magog and Madai, that is, between the Scythians and the Medes. After remaining some time on the Caspian and Black Seas, on which latter they have left their name in the Crimea, a powerful branch of them struck across the centre of Russia, and, skirting the Baltic, became the Cimbri of Denmark (whence the name of the Chersonesus Cimbrica, given to Jutland), the Cymry of Wales, &c. Generally they are the race to which the " name is given of Celts.

2. Magog. The Scythians, who once possessed the country north and south of the Caucasus. The Russians are their modern representatives, being descended from the Sarmatians, a Scythic race, with a small admixture of Median blood.

3. Madai. The Medes, who dwelt to the south and south-west of the Caspian. Mada, in the Accadian language, means land, and it was in the Median territory that Kharsak-Kurra, “the mountain of the East,” was situated, on which the Accadians believed the ark to have rested, whence possibly Media took its name, being “the land” above all others (Chald. Gen., p. 196).

4. Javan, that is, Ionia, the land of the Greeks.

5. Tubal. The Tibareni, on the south-east of the Black Sea.

6. Meshech. The Moschi, a people of Colchis and Armenia.

7. Tiras. According to Josephus and the Targum, the Thracians. Other races have been suggested, but this is probably right; and as the Getae, the ancestors of the Goths, were Thracians, this would make the Scandinavian race the modern representatives of Tiras.

In this enumeration the race of Japheth is described as occupying Asia Minor, Armenia, the countries to the west as far as the Caspian Sea, and thence northward to the shores of the Black Sea. Subsequently it spread along the northern shores of the Mediterranean and. over all Europe. But though unnoticed by the writer its extension was equally remarkable towards the east. Parthia, Bactria, the Punjab, India, are equally Japhethite with Germany, Greece, and Rome; and in Sanscrit literature the Aryan first showed that genius, which, omitting the greatest of all books, the Semitic Bible, has made this race the foremost writers in the world.

And the sons of Gomer; Ashkenaz, and Riphath, and Togarmah.
(3) Gomer has three main divisions:—

1. Ashkenaz, a region in the neighbourhood of Armenia (Jeremiah 51:27), whence, following the course of Japhethite migration, the race seems to have wandered into Germany. The derivations are all most uncertain; but the Jews call the Germans Ashkenazites, and are probably right.

2. Riphath, in 1Chronicles 1:6, is called Diphath (see Dodanim, below). Riphath is probably right, and the, inhabitants of the Riphæan Mountains (the Carpathians?) are the people meant. They were Celts.

3. Togarmah. Certainly Armenia.

And the sons of Javan; Elishah, and Tarshish, Kittim, and Dodanim.
(4) Javan has four main divisions:—

1. Elishah, a maritime people of Greece. Traces of the name occur in Aeolis and in Elis, a district of the Peloponessus. Some boldly identify with Hellas. The isles of Elishah are mentioned in Ezekiel 27:7.

2. Tarshish. At so early a period this could scarcely be Tartessus, but is more probably the Tyrseni, or Tyrrheni, a race once powerful in Italy, Corsica, Sardinia, and finally in Spain. Probably Tartessus, at the mouth of the Guadalquiver, in Spain, was founded by them, and took from them its name. At this time they; were apparently a small tribe of the Javanites; but while Elishah followed the sea-coast and colonised Greece, Tarshish took a course so far inland to the north of the Danube that it did not reach the sea until it had come to the northern districts of Italy.

3. Kittim. A plural, like Madai. The Kittim were a maritime race, who colonised Cyprus, the chief city of which was Kitium, and probably other islands and coast-districts of the Mediterranean. There was a Kitium also in Macedonia; and Alexander is called King of the Kittim in 1 Maccabees 1:1.

4. Dodanim. Another plural. The right reading is probably Rodanim, as in many MSS. in 1Chronicles 1:7 and in the LXX., and the Samaritan here. R and D are so constantly interchanged in proper names. owing to the similarity of their shape, that no dependence can be placed upon the reading. The Rodanim would be the Rhodians.

By these were the isles of the Gentiles divided in their lands; every one after his tongue, after their families, in their nations.
(5) Isles of the Gentiles.—The word rendered “isles” means any maritime region. As there were no Gentiles at this time, the phrase should be translated “the coast-lands of the nations.”

And the sons of Ham; Cush, and Mizraim, and Phut, and Canaan.
(6) Ham.—Many derive this word from a Hebrew root, and explain it as signifying hot, sunburnt, and so swarthy. Japheth they connect with a word signifying to be fair; and so Ham is the progenitor of dark races, Japheth of those of a fair complexion, while the olive- coloured spring from Shem. More probably it is Chemi, the old name of Egypt, “the land of Ham” (Psalm 78:51), called by Plutarch Chemia, and was taken from the black colour of the soil.

The Hamites are grouped in four principal divisions:—

1. Cush. Aethiopia, but not that of Africa, but of Asia. The home of the Cushites was on the Tigris and Euphrates, where Nimrod raised them to great power. Thence they spread into the southern peninsula of Arabia, and crossing the Red Sea at a later date, colonised Nubia and Abyssinia. In the Bible Cush is watered by the Gihon (Genesis 2:13); and Zipporah, the wife of Moses, and daughter of a priest of Midian, is in Numbers 12:1 called a Cushite. Their high rank in old time is marked by the place held by them in the Iliad of Homer.

2. Mizraim. Egypt. In form the word is a dual, and may point to the division of the country into Upper and Lower Egypt. If we choose to interpret a Hamite word by a Hebrew root, it may signify the narrowed land, but it is safer to leave these words till increased knowledge shall enable us to decide with some security upon their meaning. For the ancient name of Mizraim see Genesis 10:6, and for its extent see Genesis 10:14. From the study of the skulls and bodies of a large number of mummies Brugsch-Bey in his recent history has come to the conclusion that the ancient Egyptians did not belong to any African race, but to the great Caucasian family, “but not of the Pelasgic or Semitic branches, but of a third, Cushite.” He adds that the cradle of the Egyptian nation must be sought in Central Asia.

3. Phut. The Lybians of North Africa.

4. Canaan. See Note on Genesis 10:15-19.

And the sons of Cush; Seba, and Havilah, and Sabtah, and Raamah, and Sabtecha: and the sons of Raamah; Sheba, and Dedan.
(7) Sons of Cush.—Of Cush there are five subdivisions, of which one is again parted into two. These are—

1. Seba.—The name at this time of an Arabian tribe, which subsequently migrated into Africa, and settled in Meroë, which, according to Josephus, still bore in his days this appellation. They also left their name on the eastern side of the Red Sea, not far to the north of the Straits of Bab-el-Mandeb.

2. Havilah, upon the river Pison (Genesis 2:11), was undoubtedly a region of Arabia, situated probably upon the Persian Gulf. Havilah is again mentioned in Genesis 10:29.

3. Sabtah.—Probably Hadramaut, in Arabia Felix. (See Note on Genesis 10:26.)

4. Raamah, on the Persian Gulf, was divided into Dedan upon the south-west and Sheba in the centre, while Havilah lay upon the north-west side. Of these, Sheba subsequently rose to fame as the kingdom of the Himyarite Arabs.

5. Sabtechah.—Apparently still more to the south of Dedan, but placed by some on the eastern side of the gulf.

Thus, then, at the time when this table was written the southern half of Arabia was Cushite, and a swarthy race of men is still found there, especially in Yemen and Hadramaut, far darker than the light brown Arabians. Migrating from place to place along the sea-shore, the passage of the Cushites into Nubia and Abyssinia was easy. But their chief home was, at this period, in Mesopotamia, and the cuneiform inscriptions have now revealed their long struggle there with men of the race of Shem.

And Cush begat Nimrod: he began to be a mighty one in the earth.
(8) Cush begat Nimrod.—This does not mean that Nimrod was the son of Cush, but only that Cush was his ancestor. In the days of Nimrod population had become numerous, and whereas each tribe and family had hitherto lived in independence, subject only to the authority of the natural head, he was able, by his personal vigour, to reduce several tribes to obedience, to prevail upon them to build and inhabit cities, and to consolidate them into one body politic.

He began to be a mighty one.—Heb., gibbor= warrior. (See Note on Genesis 6:4.) The LXX. translate giant, whence in fable Nimrod is identified with the Orion of the Greeks, in Hebrew Chesil, and in Arabic Jabbar; but this identification is entirely fanciful, as is probably the idea that he is the Izdubar of the Chaldean legends (Chald. Genesis, p. 321). Following the unscholarlike method of explaining Hamite names by Hebrew roots, commentators interpret Nimrod as meaning rebel; but the Biblical narrative speaks rather in his commendation, and the foolish traditions which blacken his reputation date only from the time of Josephus. Mr. Sayce connects his name with the Accadian town Amarda (Chald. Gen., p. 191).

He was a mighty hunter before the LORD: wherefore it is said, Even as Nimrod the mighty hunter before the LORD.
(9) He was a mighty hunter.—When men were still leading a pastoral life, and were but poorly armed, the war with wild beasts was a most important and dangerous occupation. Probably from single combats with fierce animals, Nimrod, now recognised as a public benefactor, was led to organise hunts upon a large scale, and so, like Romulus, became the chief of a band of the most spirited and vigorous shepherds. “With their aid, he next undertook the more serious duty of introducing order and rule among men who had hitherto lived in scattered groups without control, and without the means of suppressing feuds and of punishing deeds of violence.

Before the Lord.—A strong superlative. (Comp. Genesis 13:13.)

And the beginning of his kingdom was Babel, and Erech, and Accad, and Calneh, in the land of Shinar.
(10) The beginning of his kingdom.—Nimrod’s empire began with the cities enumerated in this verse, and thence extended into Assyria, as is mentioned in Genesis 10:11. First, then, he established his sovereignty “in the land of Shinar: “that is, in Babylonia, the lower portion of Mesopotamia, as distinguished from Assyria, the upper portion. It is called Sumir in the cuneiform inscriptions. In Micah 5:6 Babylonia is called “the land of Nimrod.” His cities there were four.

Babel.—That is, Bab-ili, “the gate of God,” the literal translation in Assyrian of its previous Accadian name, Ca-dimirra (Chald. Gen., p. 168). In Genesis 11:9 the word is derisively derived from a Hebrew root meaning confusion, because of the confusion of tongues there.

Erech.—“At the time of the opening of the Izdubar legends, the great city of the south of Babylonia was Urak, called in Genesis Erech” (Chald. Gen., p. 192). It was ravaged by Kudur-nankhunte, king of Elam, in the year B.C. 2280, according to an inscription of Assurbanipal (B.C. 670). It lies about thirty leagues to the south-east of Babylon, and is now called Warka. From the numerous mounds and remains of coffins discovered there, it is supposed to have been the early burial-place of the Assyrian kings. (See also Rawlin-son’s Ancient Monarchies, 1, pp. 18, 156.)

Accad.—This name, which was meaningless fifty years ago, is now a household word in the mouth of Assyriologers; for in deciphering the cuneiform literature it was found that many of the works, especially in the library of Sargon, were translations from an extinct language; and as these were deciphered it gradually became evident that before any inhabitants of the Semitic stock had entered Chaldea it had been peopled by the Accadians, a black race, who had been “the builders of its cities, the inventors of the cuneiform system of writing, and the founders of the culture and civilisation afterwards borrowed by the Semites” (Chald. Gen., p. 19). This Sargon, who was king of Agané, in Babylonia, about B.C. 1800. is of course a different person from the Ninevite Sargon mentioned in Isaiah 20:1, who also was the founder of a noble library about B.C. 721; and as the Accadian language was already in his days passing away, this earlier or Babylonian Sargon caused translations to be made, especially of those works in which the Accadians had recorded their astronomical and astrological observations, and placed them in his library at Agané. Previously also “Semitic translations of Accadian works had been made for the library of Erech, one of the earliest seats of Semitic power” (Ibid, p. 21). Mr. Sayce places the conquest of Shinar by the Semites at some period two or three thousand years before the Christian era, and thus the founding of these cities and the empire of the Accadians goes back to a still more remote date, especially as the struggle between them and their conquerors was a very prolonged one (Ibid, p. 20).

Calneh.—The Caino of Isaiah 10:9, where the LXX. read, “Have I not taken the region above Babylon and Khalanné, where the tower was built?” It was thus opposite Babylon, and the site of the tower of Babel (see Chald. Gen., p. 75, and Note on Genesis 11:9). The other place suggested, Ctesiphon, is not in Shinar, but in Assyria.

Out of that land went forth Asshur, and builded Nineveh, and the city Rehoboth, and Calah,
(11, 12) Out of that land went forth Asshur.—So the LXX., Syriac, and Vulg.; but the Targum and most modern authorities rightly translate, “Out of that land he went forth into Assyria.” We have here nothing to do with Asshur the son of Shem (see Genesis 10:22), but are occupied with Nimrod and the Hamites, who, after firmly establishing themselves in Babylonia, subsequently extended their influence northward. This is confirmed by the cuneiform inscriptions, which prove that the southern portion of Mesopotamia was the chief seat of the Accadians, while in Assyria they came at an early date into collision with the Shemites, who drove them back, and ultimately subjugated them everywhere. It is not necessary to suppose that this spread of Hamite civilisation northward was the work of Nimrod personally; if done by his successors, it would, in Biblical language, be ascribed to its prime mover.

The Assyrian cities were:—

1. Nineveh.—So happily situated on the Tigris that it outstripped the more ancient Babylon, and for centuries even held it in subjection.

2. The City Rehoboth.—Translated by some Rehoboth-Ir, but with more probability by others, “the suburbs of the city:” that is, of Nineveh, thus denoting already the greatness of that town.

3. Calah.—A city rebuilt by Assur-natzir-pal, the father of Shalmaneser, and interesting as one of the places where the Assyrian kings established libraries (Chald. Gen., p. 26). The ruins are still called Nimroud.

4. Resen.—The “spring-head.” Of this town nothing certain is known. Canon Rawlinson places it at Selamiyah (Anc. Mon., 1:204), a large village half-way between Nineveh and Calah. As the vast ruins scattered throughout Mesopotamia are those of Assyrian buildings, Resen, though “a great city” in Hamite times, might easily pass into oblivion, if never rebuilt by the conquerors.

And Mizraim begat Ludim, and Anamim, and Lehabim, and Naphtuhim,
(13, 14) “With Mizraim are connected seven inferior African races, the names of which are given in the plural, namely:—

1. The Ludim.—There were two races of this name: one Semitic, descended from Lud, the son of Shem (Genesis 10:22), and mentioned in Isaiah 66:19; the other Hamite, and subject to the Pharaohs ( Jeremiah 46:9; Ezekiel 30:5). They seem to have inhabited the Nile valley, but their exact position is unknown.

2. The Anamim.—Knobel gives some reasons for supposing this race to have inhabited the Delta.

3. The Lehabim.—Probably the same as the Lubim of 2Chronicles 12:3; 2Chronicles 16:8; Daniel 11:43; Nahum 3:9. Their home was on the western side of the Delta.

4. The Naphtuhim.—Knobel explains these as “the people of Phthah, the deity worshipped at Memphis.” If so, they were the true Egyptians, as Egypt is Kah-Phthah, “the land of Phthah,’ or more correctly, according to Canon Cook, Ai-Capth. (See Note on Capthorim.)

5. The Pathrusim.—People of Pathros, or Upper Egypt. According to Canon Cook, Pa-t-res means “the land of the south.”

6. The Casluhim.—Probably the people of Cassiotis, a mountainous district to the east of Pelusium.

7. The Philistim.—The word Philistine means emigrant, and is translated alien, foreigner, by the LXX·We are here told that they came into Palestine as colonists from the Casluhim; but in Jeremiah 47:4, Amos 9:7, they are described as a colony from Caphtor. Probably the first Philistine settlers in Gerar (Genesis 26:1), and in the towns conquered by Judah (Judges 1:18), were Casluchians; but afterwards, at the time when they struggled with Israel for empire, in the days of Samson, Eli, and Saul, there had been a second and larger immigration from Crete. As they seem to have spoken a Semitic tongue, they had apparently adopted the language of the Canaanites among whom they had settled, and especially of the Avim (Deuteronomy 2:23). The objection to their being of Egyptian origin, brought from their neglect of the rite of circumcision, has but little weight. The Israelites all but discontinued it (Joshua 5:5), and colonists escaped from the dominion of the priests might gladly dispense with such a custom. There is also much reason for believing that the institution of circumcision in Egypt was of a date subsequent to this emigration.

8. The Caphtorim are generally connected with Crete, but Egyptologers derive the name from Kah-Phthah, “the land of Phthah.” According to this, the Caphtorim, like the Naphtuhim, would have been true Egyptians, and the Delta, with Memphis, for their capital, would have been their original home. The need of expansion, joined to the seafaring habits learnt on the shores of the Delta, may easily have led them to colonise Crete, while others of the race were going as settlers into Palestine. It is worth notice that while Cyprus and Rhodes are given to the sons of Javan (Genesis 10:4), no mention is there made of Crete.

It is plain from this survey that Mizraim at this time was not of very great extent, these seven tribes being confined to the lands closely bordering on the Delta and the upper part of the Nile valley. There is nothing to indicate that the great city of Thebes had as yet come into existence.

And Canaan begat Sidon his firstborn, and Heth,
(15-18) Canaan.—The meaning of this name is uncertain, as, most probably, it is a Hamitic word: if derived from a Semitic root, it may mean the lowland. Though the Canaanites spoke a Semitic tongue at the time when we find them in Palestine, yet the assertion of the Bible that they were Hamites is confirmed by the testimony of profane writers, who say that their original home was on the Indian Ocean. They had probably been driven thence by the pressure of Semitic races, with whose language they had thus already become familiar; and when, farther, they found a Semitic people thinly spread over Palestine, they may, while absorbing them, have been confirmed in the use of their tongue. So, subsequently, Abraham gave up Syriac for Hebrew; and though these are kindred dialects, yet they are often remote enough from one another (see Genesis 31:47). On the other hand, the whole character of the Canaanite religion and thought was Hamitic, and while they Were active in commercial pursuits, and in culture far in advance of the Greeks, to whom they gave their alphabet, they were intensely sensuous in their worship and voluptuous in their manners. They are divided into eleven tribes, namely:—

1. Sidon.—This is remarkable as being the only town mentioned in the account either of Mizraim or of Canaan. All the rest are apparently the names of tribes still wandering about; and thus we gain a clearer idea both of the antiquity of this early record, and also of the great advance made by Nimrod in founding so many cities. Sidon, situated on the sea-shore, about thirty miles north of Tyre, became thus early a settled community and the seat of social life, because of its advantages for fishing (whence its name is derived), and also for commerce.

2. Heth.—The Kheta, or Hittites, a powerful race, whose language and monuments have recently become the object of careful study. They seem subsequently to have possessed not only Syria, but a large portion of Asia Minor. (See Note on Genesis 23:3; Genesis 23:5.)

3. The Jebusite.—This race held the territory afterwards occupied by Benjamin, and retained Jerusalem until the time of David (2Samuel 5:6-9. See Note on Genesis 14:18.)

4. The Amorite.—Or rather, Emorite, that is, mountaineer. Next to the Kheta, or Hittites, they were the most powerful race in Palestine, holding the hill country of Judea, where they had five kings (Joshua 10:5), and a large district on the eastern side of the Jordan (2Samuel 9:10).

5. The Girgasite.—Mentioned in Joshua 24:11, but otherwise unknown.

6. The Hivite.—At Sichern (Genesis 34:2), at Gibeon (Joshua 9:7), and near Hermon and Lebanon (Joshua 11:3; Judges 3:3).

7. The Arkite.—Also in Lebanon.

8. The Sinite.—A small tribe in the same neighbourhood.

9. The Arvadite.—A more important people, inhabiting the island Aradus.

10. The Zemarite.—An obscure people, inhabiting Samyra, in Phœnicia.

11. The Hamathite whose city, Hamath, was the capital of Northern Syria. It was situated on the river Orontes, and though called Epiphaneia by the Macedonians, still retains its ancient name. The Kheta subsequently gained the supremacy at Hamath, and had their capital in the immediate neighbourhood.

Afterward were the families of the Canaanites spread abroad.—This may mean either that they spread inwards, or may refer to the numerous colonies of the Tyrians on the Mediterranean. While in Babylonia the Hamites are described as black, this branch was called Phœnicians, from their ruddy colour, in contrast with the olive-coloured Semitic stock. As they came by sea from the Indian Ocean, their earliest settlement was on the coast, and thus Sidon is called “the first-born” of Ham. Thence they advanced into the interior, and though few in number, absorbed by their superior culture the inhabitants of Palestine. It is probably this expansion inwards which is here referred to.

And the border of the Canaanites was from Sidon, as thou comest to Gerar, unto Gaza; as thou goest, unto Sodom, and Gomorrah, and Admah, and Zeboim, even unto Lasha.
(19, 20) The border . . . —The boundaries given are Sidon in the north, Gerar and Gaza in the south and south-west, and thence to the Dead Sea. The only Lasha known is a place famous for its hot springs on the east of the Red Sea Though the Phœnicians may-have occupied this town on their way to Palestine, it could not have been one of their boundaries, so that it is probably some place destroyed in the convulsion which overthrew the cities of the plain. We must notice also that while Sidon is Aradus and Hamath were considerably above it. It is probable, therefore, that both the Arvadite and the Hamathite were still wandering tribes without settlements when this table was drawn up.

Unto Shem also, the father of all the children of Eber, the brother of Japheth the elder, even to him were children born.
(21-23) shem . . . the brother of Japheth the elder.—Really, the elder brother of Japheth. Though the rules of Hebrew grammar will admit of no other rendering, it is remarkable that both the Syriac and the Vulg. make the same mistake as our own version. In designating Shem as “the father of all the children of Eber,” attention is called to the fact that the descendants of Peleg, his elder son, are omitted from this table, and reserved for the Tôldôth Shem. (See Genesis 11:10.)

The nations descended from Shem were:—

1. Elam.—According to Mr. Sayce (Chald. Gen., p. 196), “the primitive inhabitants of Elam were a race closely allied to the Accadians, and spread over the whole range of country which stretched from the southern shores of the Caspian to the Persian Gulf.” But just as the Semitic Asshur expelled a Hamite race from Assyria, so another branch of this conquering family occupied Elymais. It is now called Chuzistan, and was the most easternly of the countries occupied by the Semites. But see Excursus to Genesis 14 on the conquests of the Elamite Chedorlaomer.

2. Asshur.—This Semitic stock seems to have been the first to settle on the Tigris, as the Hamites were the first to settle on the Euphrates. Finally, as we have seen (Genesis 10:11), they conquered the whole country.

3. Arphaxad.—Heb., Arpachshad. We may dismiss the idea that he was connected with the region called Arrapachitis, for this correctly is Aryapakshata, “the land next the Aryans.” Really he appears as the ancestor of Eber and the Joktanite Arabs.

4. Lud.—Probably the Lydians, who, after various wanderings, settled in Asia Minor.

5. Aram.—As Asshur means plain, so Aram means highland. It was originally the name of the Lebanon ranges, and thus Damascus is called Aram in 2Samuel 8:5. Subsequently the race so extended itself as to possess Mesopotamia, a lowland country, but called, as early as Genesis 24:10, “Aram of the two rivers.” The greatness of Aram will be best seen by examining those places in our version where Syria and Syrian are spoken of, and which, in the Hebrew, are really Aram.

To the Aramæan stock belonged also four outlying dependencies—(1) Uz, the land of Job, a district in the northern part of Arabia Deserta; (2) Hul and (3) Gether, regions of which nothing is known; and (4) Mash, a desert region on the western side of the Euphrates (Chald. Gen., p. 276).

And Arphaxad begat Salah; and Salah begat Eber.
(24) Arphaxad begat Salah.—Heb., Shelah. The rest of the chapter is devoted to giving an account of the settlements of the Joktanite Arabs, who formed only one, apparently, of the races sprung from Arphaxad, as in this table even the Hebrews are omitted, although Eber’s birth is given with the view of showing that the right of primogeniture belonged not to Joktan, but to Eber. The name Arphaxad, as we have seen (Genesis 10:22), at present defies all explanation. For the rest, see the Tôldôth Shem, Genesis 11:10-26.

And unto Eber were born two sons: the name of one was Peleg; for in his days was the earth divided; and his brother's name was Joktan.
(25) Peleg; for in his days was the earth divided.—This may refer to the breaking up of the race of Shem into separate nations, which severally occupied a distinct region; and so, while Joktan took Arabia, and in course of time expelled the Hamites from that country, Asshur, Aram, and Peleg occupied the regions on the north and north-west. But as Peleg, according to the Tôldôth Shem, was born only 101 years after the flood, Noah’s family could scarcely have multiplied in so short a time to as many as 500 people; and Mr. Cyril Graham considers that the name refers to “the first cutting of some of those canals which are found in such numbers between the Tigris and the Euphrates.” This is made more probable by the fact that Peleg in Hebrew means water-course.

And Joktan begat Almodad, and Sheleph, and Hazarmaveth, and Jerah,
(26-31) Joktan.—“The little one,” as being a younger son. Of the thirteen divisions of his family, few are of any importance, though several of the names are curious from their connection with the Arabic language. The Joktanite country was Arabia Felix, or Yemen, and as the people led a pastoral life without founding cities, the traces of their tribal names are insignificant. Those worth noting are Almodad, because it has the full form of the article, retained as Al in Arabic, but shortened in Hebrew into Ha. Hazarmaveth, “the court of death,” so called because of the unhealthiness of its climate, is now Hadramaut. Abimael means “the father of Mael.” While in Hebrew and Syriac men took the name of their father, in Arabic they often take the name of a son, with Abu or Abi (“father of”) prefixed. Sheba, the region afterwards famous for its commerce and its wealth of spices and precious stones. A Sheba also occurs among the race of Ham (see Genesis 10:7). Opbir: the name, probably, at first of a district of Oman in Arabia, but afterwards given to some port in India or Ceylon, from some fancied similarity. Havilah: some commentators consider that this is the same district as that previously occupied by the Cushites (Genesis 10:7); others argue that the two Havilahs are distinct, and that this is the region called Chawlân, in Northern Yemen. It is, however, certain that the Hamites possessed this country prior to its being occupied by the Joktanites.

These are the families of the sons of Noah, after their generations, in their nations: and by these were the nations divided in the earth after the flood.
(32) After their generations.—Heb., according to their Tôldôth. This makes it probable that each family preserved in some way an historical record of its descent; and as this table is called the Tôldôth of the Sons of Noah, it was probably formed by a comparison of numerous Tôldôth, each showing the descent of various members of the three great families into which the sons of Noah were divided.

Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers

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