Commentary on Genesis 10

Last updated: May 24, 2009

English Translation (ESV)

1These are the generations of the sons of Noah, Shem, Ham, and Japheth. Sons were born to them after the flood.

2The sons of Japheth: Gomer, Magog, Madai, Javan, Tubal, Meshech, and Tiras. 3The sons of Gomer: Ashkenaz, Riphath, and Togarmah. 4The sons of Javan: Elishah, Tarshish, Kittim, and Dodanim. 5From these the coastland peoples spread in their lands, each with his own language, by their clans, in their nations.

6The sons of Ham: Cush, Egypt, Put, and Canaan. 7The sons of Cush: Seba, Havilah, Sabtah, Raamah, and Sabteca. The sons of Raamah: Sheba and Dedan. 8Cush fathered Nimrod; he was the first on earth to be a mighty man. 9He was a mighty hunter before the LORD. Therefore it is said, “Like Nimrod a mighty hunter before the LORD.” 10The beginning of his kingdom was Babel, Erech, Accad, and Calneh, in the land of Shinar. 11From that land he went into Assyria and built Nineveh, Rehoboth-Ir, Calah, and 12Resen between Nineveh and Calah; that is the great city. 13Egypt fathered Ludim, Anamim, Lehabim, Naphtuhim, 14Pathrusim, Casluhim (from whom the Philistines came), and Caphtorim.

15Canaan fathered Sidon his firstborn and Heth, 16and the Jebusites, the Amorites, the Girgashites, 17the Hivites, the Arkites, the Sinites, 18the Arvadites, the Zemarites, and the Hamathites. Afterward the clans of the Canaanites dispersed. 19And the territory of the Canaanites extended from Sidon in the direction of Gerar as far as Gaza, and in the direction of Sodom, Gomorrah, Admah, and Zeboiim, as far as Lasha. 20These are the sons of Ham, by their clans, their languages, their lands, and their nations.

21To Shem also, the father of all the children of Eber, the elder brother of Japheth, children were born. 22The sons of Shem: Elam, Asshur, Arpachshad, Lud, and Aram. 23The sons of Aram: Uz, Hul, Gether, and Mash. 24Arpachshad fathered Shelah; and Shelah fathered Eber. 25To Eber were born two sons: the name of the one was Peleg, for in his days the earth was divided, and his brother’s name was Joktan. 26Joktan fathered Almodad, Sheleph, Hazarmaveth, Jerah, 27Hadoram, Uzal, Diklah, 28Obal, Abimael, Sheba, 29Ophir, Havilah, and Jobab; all these were the sons of Joktan. 30The territory in which they lived extended from Mesha in the direction of Sephar to the hill country of the east. 31These are the sons of Shem, by their clans, their languages, their lands, and their nations.

32These are the clans of the sons of Noah, according to their genealogies, in their nations, and from these the nations spread abroad on the earth after the flood.

Notes

1 These are the generations of the sons of Noah, Shem, Ham, and Japheth. Sons were born to them after the flood.

The similar wording in verses 1 and 32 bracket this passage. The passage is structured by the names of Noah’s three sons and the formulas “The sons of X” and “These are the sons of X . . . nations”.

Though this table of nations appears on the first sight to be very similar to the genealogies in the primeval history (cf. chaps. 5, 11), there are important differences that should make us chary of assuming that all the names refer to specific individuals. First, no ages are mentioned, unlike 5:1-32 and 11:10-32. Second, while many names are personal – e.g., Japhet, Nimrod – others are obviously place names – e.g., Sidon, Sheba – names of peoples – e.g., Ludim, Caphtorim – or gentilics – e.g., Amorites, Girgashites. Third, the terms used to express the relationship between those listed are more flexible than in genealogies: “The sons of . . . were . . .” alternates with “X fathered . . . .” These observations make it unlikely that all the names in this list should be regarded as eponyms, i.e., the putative ancestor of the group that bears the name. Some fit such a description; others do not. Fourth, “sonship” and “brotherhood” could be used in ancient times to refer to a treaty relationship as well as blood-based kinship. So here “sons of” or “fathered” might well be referring to people’s political or geographical affiliation, not its genealogical links. Nevertheless, while the terminology of this chapter does not demand that all the names be personal eponyms, the phrases “sons of” and “fathered” do express the idea that all mankind known to Israel is descended from a single stock. All men are sons of Noah as well as sons of Adam.1

It is noteworthy that seventy nations are mentioned in the Table of Nations. The number seventy was “used for rhetorical effect to evoke the idea of totality, of comprehensiveness on a large scale, as opposed to the use of seven on a smaller scale”2. In this passage, the number seventy “is a literary device to convey the notion of the totality of the human race”3.

2 The sons of Japheth: Gomer, Magog, Madai, Javan, Tubal, Meshech, and Tiras.

The nations descended from Japheth had the least to do with Israel and are thus, understandably, given a shorter description than the descendants of Ham and Shem. Gomer refers to the Cimmerians4, Madai refers to the Medes5, and Javan refers to the Ionian Greeks6.

4 The sons of Javan: Elishah, Tarshish, Kittim, and Dodanim.

Elishah refers to Cyprus7 and Kittim refers to the city of Kition on Cyprus (near modern Larnaka)8.

6 The sons of Ham: Cush, Egypt, Put, and Canaan.

The descendants of Ham were some of Israel’s closest neighbors. Cush was located to the south of Egypt in northeast Africa9, Put refers to an African location, traditionally Libya10, and Canaan refers to the territory of modern Israel, Lebanon, and parts of Syria11.

7 The sons of Cush: Seba, Havilah, Sabtah, Raamah, and Sabteca. The sons of Raamah: Sheba and Dedan.

The sons of Cush are to be found in Arabia or nearby. According to a South Arabian Minean inscription, Raamah was a city near Ma’in in southwest Arabia12. Sheba was a kingdom in southwest Arabia13 and Dedan can confidently be identified with Al-Alula, 70 miles southwest of Tema14.

8-9 Cush fathered Nimrod; he was the first on earth to be a mighty man. He was a mighty hunter before the LORD. Therefore it is said, “Like Nimrod a mighty hunter before the LORD.”

Nimrod cannot be definitively identified with any ancient Near Eastern figure, though there are a number of suggestions. That Nimrod was a mighty hunter “before the LORD” need not imply that God approved of his actions for it can mean that he stood out as remarkable15.

10 The beginning of his kingdom was Babel, Erech, Accad, and Calneh, in the land of Shinar.

Babel refers to Babylon16, Erech refers to ancient Uruk and modern Warka17. Accad refers to the capital city of of the dynasty of Sargon but has never been found18, and the land of Shinar refers to Babylonia19.

11-12 From that land he went into Assyria and built Nineveh, Rehoboth-Ir, Calah, and Resen between Nineveh and Calah; that is the great city.

The Hebrew can be understood to say either Nimrod or Ashur (Assyria) went out from Shinar20. It is true that Sumerian civilization spread from the south (Shinar) to the north (Assyria)21. Nineveh’s ruins are opposite modern Mosul22 and Calah can be identified with modern Nimrud23. “The great city” is probably Nineveh24.

13-14 Egypt fathered Ludim, Anamim, Lehabim, Naphtuhim, Pathrusim, Casluhim (from whom the Philistines came), and Caphtorim.

The Pathrusim were the people of Pathos25 and the Caphtorim were the inhabitants of Crete26.

15-18 Canaan fathered Sidon his firstborn and Heth, and the Jebusites, the Amorites, the Girgashites, the Hivites, the Arkites, the Sinites, the Arvadites, the Zemarites, and the Hamathites. Afterward the clans of the Canaanites dispersed.

Sidon is halfway between Tyre and Beirut27. Its attribution as “firstborn” and “the absence of Tyre, which later supplanted Sidon in importance, suggests that the table reflects an early second millennium understanding of the nations”28. Heth, in the Hebrew Bible, does not refer to the Hittite empire whose capital was Hattusas. Rather the “land of the Hittites” and “the kings of the Hittites” appear to refer to Syrian kings who once belonged to the great Hittite empire29. The Jebusites lived in and around Jerusalem30. The Hebrew Bible uses the term Amorites rather loosely. It may refer to pre-Israelite inhabitants of Canaan31 or Transjordan32 or people who dwelt in the hill country33. Arqa, called Caesarea Libani by the Romans, is twelve miles northeast of Tripoli34. Arvad is modern Ruad, an island city two miles off shore, 50 miles north of Byblos35. Hamath is modern Hama on the Orontes36.

19 And the territory of the Canaanites extended from Sidon in the direction of Gerar as far as Gaza, and in the direction of Sodom, Gomorrah, Admah, and Zeboiim, as far as Lasha.

The boundaries of Canaan are important because they correspond to the not-yet-promised land. Sidon and Gerar, probably modern Tell Abu Hureira, are the northernmost and southernmost points along the Mediterranean Sea. Gaza is not farther south than Gerar. Sodom, Gomorrah, Admah, and Zeboiim probably refer to the southeastern part of Canaan near the Dead Sea and Jordan Valley. Lasha’s location is unclear37.

21 To Shem also, the father of all the children of Eber, the elder brother of Japheth, children were born.

As usual in Genesis, the chosen line is dealt with last. Genesis 10:24 and 11:13-14 make it clear that Shem was the great-grandfather of Eber. Therefore the term “father” in this verse means “forefather” or “ancestor”. The word “Hebrew” is the gentilic of “Eber” and therefore looks forward to the Hebrews emerging from Shem’s line38.

22 The sons of Shem: Elam, Asshur, Arpachshad, Lud, and Aram.

Elam was the eastern neighbor of Mesopotamia39, Asshur was the capital of the Assyrian Empire40, and Aram refers to the Aramean states of Syria41.

25 To Eber were born two sons: the name of the one was Peleg, for in his days the earth was divided, and his brother’s name was Joktan.

The reasoning behind Peleg’s name may point forward to the dispersal of people at Babel in 11:1-942. Peleg’s offspring are picked up in 11:18-26. Joktan’s sons are associated with South Arabia43.

26-29 Joktan fathered Almodad, Sheleph, Hazarmaveth, Jerah, Hadoram, Uzal, Diklah, Obal, Abimael, Sheba, Ophir, Havilah, and Jobab; all these were the sons of Joktan.

Hazarmaveth refers to the district of Hadramaut east of Yemen44.

32 These are the clans of the sons of Noah, according to their genealogies, in their nations, and from these the nations spread abroad on the earth after the flood.

The spreading out of the nations fulfills the divine imperative of 9:1 and foreshadows the events at Babel (11:1-9). The dispersal of the nations is both a result of God’s blessing and his displeasure45.

Bibliography

JPSTCGen: Nahum M. Sarna, The JPS Torah Commentary: Genesis, 1989

NACGen1: Kenneth A. Matthews, The New American Commentary: Genesis 1-11:26, 1996

NICOTGen1: Victor P. Hamilton, The Book of Genesis, Chapters 1-17, 1990

WBCGen1: Gordon J. Wenham, Word Biblical Commentary: Genesis 1-15, 1987

1[WBCGen1] 215

2[JPSTCGen] 69

3[JPSTCGen] 69

4[NACGen1] 440; [NICOTGen1] 332; [WBCGen1] 216

5[NACGen1] 440; [NICOTGen1] 332; [WBCGen1] 217

6[NACGen1] 440-441; [NICOTGen1] 332; [WBCGen1] 217

7[NACGen1] 441; [NICOTGen1] 333; [WBCGen1] 218

8[NACGen1] 442; [NICOTGen1] 333; [WBCGen1] 218

9[NACGen1]444-445; [NICOTGen1] 336; [WBCGen1] 221

10[NACGen1] 445; [NICOTGen1] 336; [WBCGen1] 221

11[NACGen1] 445-446; [NICOTGen1] 336; [WBCGen1] 221

12[NICOTGen1] 337

13[NICOTGen1] 337; [WBCGen1] 222

14[WBCGen1] 222

15[WBCGen1] 222-223

16[NACGen1] 451; [NICOTGen1] 339; [WBCGen1] 223

17[NACGen1] 451; [NICOTGen1] 339; [WBCGen1] 223

18[NACGen1] 451; [NICOTGen1] 339; [WBCGen1] 223

19[NACGen1] 451; [WBCGen1] 223

20[WBCGen1] 223-224

21[WBCGen1] 224

22[NACGen1] 451; [WBCGen1] 224

23[NACGen1] 451; [WBCGen1] 224

24Jonah 1:2; 3:2-3; 4:11

25[NACGen1] 453; [NICOTGen1] 340; [WBCGen1] 224

26[NACGen1] 453; [NICOTGen1] 341; [WBCGen1] 225

27[WBCGen1] 225

28[NACGen1] 455

29[WBCGen1] 225

30Judges 19:10-11

31Joshua 10:5

32Deuteronomy 3:8

33Joshua 11:3

34[WBCGen1] 226

35[NACGen1] 457; [WBCGen1] 226

36[NACGen1] 457; [WBCGen1] 226

37[WBCGen1] 227

38[WBCGen1] 228

39[NACGen1] 461; [NICOTGen1] 344; [WBCGen1] 228

40[NACGen1] 461; [NICOTGen1] 344

41[NICOTGen1] 344; [WBCGen1] 230

42[NACGen1] 463-464

43[NACGen1] 464; [NICOTGen1] 345; [WBCGen1] 231

44[NICOTGen1] 345; [WBCGen1] 231

45[NICOTGen1] 347

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