The Descendants of Japheth: Genesis 10:2–5

descendants of Japheth (3)

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c) Gen 10:2–5. To preserve our sanity, we’ll examine only the nations who had a significant effect upon biblical history or the Ancient Near East (ANE).

Since the descendants of Japheth included people-groups who had little contact with Israel, Moses gave them the briefest treatment.[1]

They lived to the north of Israel, spreading from Asia Minor to the Greek islands.[2] None of them bordered upon Israel.[3]



The prophet Ezekiel cited Magog as a future enemy of Israel (Ezek 38:2; Ezek 39:6).[4]

However, that nation remains one of the few groups in Gen 10 which we cannot precisely identify. Extant cuneiform texts never mention the name.[5]



On the other hand, the Madai (Medes) played an enormous role in Israel’s history.

They occupied Northwest Iran,[6] beginning around 1000 BC. The Medes repeatedly battled with the Assyrians until they formed an overwhelming army with the addition of the Persians late in the sixth century BC.[7]

This enabled the Medo-Persian Empire to defeat the Babylonians, eventually leading to Judah’s return to the promised land (Isa 13:17–22; Jer 51:10–12, 27–28; Dan 5:25–31).[8]

Judah’s deliverer, Cyrus the Great (reigned 550–530 BC), eventually ruled over Persia, Medea, Syria, Israel, and parts of modern Turkey (2 Chron 36:20–23).[9]



Despite appearing frequently in the Old Testament, the location of Tarshish remains uncertain.[10]

It could be anywhere in the Mediterranean or Indian Oceans,[11] ranging from Carthage in North Africa to Tartessus in southwest Spain.[12] However, the latter option would isolate it from the region of the other peoples named as descendants of Japheth.[13]

Solomon developed extensive trading ties with Tarshish, importing a variety of luxury items (1 Ki 10:21–22).[14]

Jonah intended to flee there when he sought to flee from obeying the Lord’s command to preach to the people of Nineveh (Jon 1:1–3).



Moses’s closing statement for this section implies that the Table of Nations does not include every descendant of Japheth.[15]

He wrote, “From these were separated the nations of the coastlands in their lands, by their languages, by their clans, among their nations.”

This verse implies that the events of Gen 11:1–9 had already occurred.[16]

Ancient people distinguished themselves from others by geographic regions, languages, and ethnic groups, not by racial divisions.[17]



Japheth’s offspring were associated with the seas.[18]

“These” refers to all his descendants, not only to the sons of Javan (Gen 10:4–5).[19]

Clans (mishpakhah) in Israel were larger than a household and smaller than a tribe, akin to an extended family (Josh 7:16–17; 1 Sam 10:20–21).[20]

A clay map dating to 7th-8th century BC Babylon names many descendants of Japheth.[21]

It confirms that people in the Ancient Near East perceived these groups as living on the far reaches of civilization.[22]

Image via Wikimedia Commons


Read Gen 10:2–5. How would you classify the descendants of Japheth?



Go to The Descendants of Ham (Gen 10:6–14)

[Related posts include Ancient Near Eastern Genealogies (Gen 5:1);  A Renewed Mandate (Gen 9:1); The Sons of Noah (Gen 9:18–19); Blessed Be the God of Shem (Gen 9:26–27); The Descendants of Noah (Gen 10:1); The Descendants of Ham (Gen 10:6–14); The Descendants of Canaan (Gen 10:15–20); The Descendants of Shem (Gen 10:21–31); Seventy Nations (Gen 10:32); A Plain in Shinar (Gen 11:1–2); Let Us Bake Bricks (Gen 11:3); A Stairway to Heaven (Gen 11:4); A Deity Descends (Gen 11:5–7); Dispersed over the Face of the Earth (Gen 11:8–9); Jesus Sends Seventy (Two) (Luke 10:1–2); Babel Reversed (Acts 2:9–11); and Author and Date of Genesis]

[Click here to go to Chapter 11: The Table of Nations (Gen 9:28–10:32)]


[1]Wenham, Genesis 1–15, 214.

[2]Hamilton, The Book of Genesis, Chapters 1–17, 334–5.

[3]Wenham, Genesis 1–15, 219.

[4]Hamilton, The Book of Genesis, Chapters 1–17, 332.

[5]Wenham, Genesis 1–15, 216.

[6]Waltke and Fredricks, Genesis: A Commentary, 167.

[7]Hamilton, The Book of Genesis, Chapters 1–17, 332.

[8]British Museum, “The Cyrus Cylinder,”

[9]T. Cuyler Young, Jr., “Cyrus (Person),” ABD 1:1231–2, 1231.

[10]Wenham, Genesis 1–15, 218.

[11]Hamilton, The Book of Genesis, Chapters 1–17, 333.

[12]Waltke, and Fredricks, Genesis: A Commentary, 167.

[13]Matthews, Chavalas, and Walton, IVPBBCOT, Gen 10:29.

[14]Hamilton, The Book of Genesis, Chapters 1–17, 333.

[15]Waltke and Fredricks, Genesis: A Commentary, 168.

[16]Wenham, Genesis 1–15, 219.

[17]Matthews, Chavalas, and Walton, IVPBBCOT, Gen 10:1–29.

[18]Matthews, Chavalas, and Walton, IVPBBCOT, Gen 10:29.

[19]Wenham, Genesis 1–15, 219.

[20]H.-J. Zobel, “מִשְׁפָּחָה” (mishpat), TDOT 9:79–86, 80.

[21]The British Museum, “The Map of the World,”

[22]Matthews, Chavalas, and Walton, IVPBBCOT. Gen 10:29.