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f) Gen 10:21–31: As often occurs in the genealogies of Genesis, the final line of descent in Gen 10 includes the people whom God chose as his own (Cf. Gen 25:12, 19–26; Gen 36:1; Gen 37:1–2).[1]

This post will address only those nations which impacted biblical or Ancient Near Eastern (ANE) history.



Elam, a non-Semitic nation east of the Tigris River in modern-day Iran,[2] dates to the third millennium BC.[3] Its inclusion here appears to relate to geography, rather than to ethnicity.[4]

At its height, this confederation of peoples stretched from the Caspian Sea to the Persian Gulf.[5]

In 722 BC, Assyria exiled Israelites to Elam (Isa 11:11) and transferred Elamites to Israel (Ezra 4:9).[6]



Arameans reached the height of their power near the end of the second millennium BC, dominating Mesopotamia.[7]

They enjoyed a close relationship with Israel’s patriarchs. Isaac married a descendant of Aram, and Jacob lived among his in-laws after fleeing from Esau (Gen 25:20; Gen 31:20; Deut 26:1–5).[8]



One ancestral line receives considerable attention here and in Gen 11:10–26.[9]

Although Eber lived at least three generations after Shem, his name occurs in this introduction.[10] His prominence likely derives from the link with the name “Hebrew” (Gen 14:13).[11]

Moses wrote, “And to Eber were born two sons. The name of the one [was] Peleg because in his days the earth was divided, and the name of the other [was] Joktan.”

Peleg” as both a noun and a verb occurs in at least fifteen ANE languages. Twelve of them connote similar meanings: “half” or “divide.”[12]



As with many names in the Bible, this moniker portended the future. However, the exact nature of this division has several contenders.[13]

In Akkadian and in Hebrew, the noun can mean “channel” or “ditch” (Ps 1:3; Isa 30:25; Isa 32:2).[14]

Therefore, “in his days” could refer to when people dug irrigation canals,[15] enabling sedentary agriculture as a way of life differing from a pastoral existence.[16]

Genesis 11:2 describes a mass migration of people to the southeast which may have resulted from to agricultural advancements.[17]

However, most commentators link this event with the scattering of the nations at Babel (Gen 11:1–9).[18] The verb form of peleg can depict the confounding of speech (Ps 55:9).[19]

Moses’s original audience likely knew exactly what the word palag represented, although time has obscured it for us. We cannot even determine whether this division portrays a positive or a negative event.[20]

Nevertheless, the division separated the blessed progeny of Peleg from the line of Joktan.[21]

Peleg’s genealogy continues in Gen 11:18–26.[22] His descendants include Abraham, the one through whom God would bring salvation to the world (Gen 3:14–15; Gen 12:1–3; Matt 1:1–2).[23]



The next few verses focus upon the thirteen sons of Joktan.

Although we cannot determine the precise range of the settlements of the sons of Joktan,[24] their names testify to their Arabian origin.[25]

Some commentators emphasize the polytheistic nature of these nations.

For example, Hazarmaveth means “oasis of Mot,” the god of death.[26]

This association may have developed because people harvested frankincense—a resin used for embalming corpses and covering the odor of death—from tree sap in this region of Oman.[27]

Moses closed this section of the genealogy of Shem by writing, “These [are] the sons of Shem according to their clans, and their languages, in their lands, by their people-groups.”

Image via Wikimedia Commons


Read Gen 10:21–31. Why would Moses mention Eber in the introduction of this genealogy when he had to be at least Shem’s great-grandson? How would you characterize the sons of Joktan? What do you think caused the division of the world during Peleg’s lifetime? Do you consider yourself to be more like Peleg’s or Joktan’s descendants? Why?






Go to Seventy Nations (Gen 10:32)

[Related posts include God Curses the Serpent (Gen 3:14); The First Good News (Gen 3:15); Ancient Near Eastern Genealogies (Gen 5:1); A Renewed Mandate (Gen 9:1); The Sons of Noah (Gen 9:18–19); Noah Planted a Vineyard (Gen 9:20–21); Ham Dishonors His Father (Gen 9:22–23); A Slave of Slaves (Gen 9:24–25); Blessed Be the God of Shem (Gen 9:26–27); The Descendants of Noah (Gen 10:1); The Descendants of Japheth (Gen 10:2–5); The Descendants of Ham (Gen 10:6–14); The Descendants of Canaan (Gen 10:15–20); 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); Exegesis and Hermeneutics; Author and Date of Genesis; and Ancient Literature]

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


[1]Hamilton, The Book of Genesis, Chapters 1–17, 343.

[2]Matthews, Chavalas, and Walton, IVPBBCOT, Gen 10:31.

[3]Wenham, Genesis 1–15, 228.

[4]Hamilton, The Book of Genesis, Chapters 1–17, 344.

[5]Franc̨ois Vallat, “Elam (Place),” ABD 2:424–9, 424.

[6]Wenham, Genesis 1–15, 228.

[7]Matthews, Chavalas, and Walton, IVPBBCOT, Gen 10:31.

[8]Wenham, Genesis 1–15, 230.

[9]Wenham, Genesis 1–15, 227.

[10]Hamilton, The Book of Genesis, Chapters 1–17, 343.

[11]Brown, F., Driver, S. R., & Briggs, “עֵבֶר” (ēber), BDB, 720,

[12]K.-D. Schunck, “פָּלַג” (palag), TDOT 11:54–8, 546–7.

[13]Wenham, Genesis 1–15, 230–1.

[14]Schunck, “פָּלַג” (palag), TDOT, 11:547.

[15]Hamilton, The Book of Genesis, Chapters 1–17, 345.

[16]Wenham, Genesis 1–15, 230–1.

[17]Matthews, Chavalas, and Walton, IVPBBCOT, Gen 10:31.

[18] Wenham, Genesis 1–15, 231.

[19]Waltke and Fredricks, Genesis: A Commentary, 173.

[20]Walton, Genesis, 371.

[21]Waltke and Fredricks, Genesis: A Commentary, 172.

[22]Wenham, Genesis 1–15, 231.

[23]Waltke and Fredricks, Genesis: A Commentary, 163.

[24]Wenham, Genesis 1–15, 231–2.

[25]Hamilton, The Book of Genesis, Chapters 1–17, 345.

[26]Wenham, Genesis 1–15, 231.

[27]W. W. Müller, “Hazarmaveth (Person),” ABD 3:85–6, 85.