The Descendants of Ham

descendants of Ham (3)

d) Gen 10:6–14: The names listed here include Israel’s nearest neighbors.[1] Not only did these nations surround Israel,[2] conflict often erupted between them.[3]

Typically, the peoples named here dwelt in cities, representing the apex of social and political civilization in the Ancient Near East (ANE).[4]

We’ll examine only the people-groups who had a significant effect upon biblical history or that region.

Consistent with Noah’s curse (Gen 9:20–27), the genealogy of Canaan does not feature seven people-groups,[5] the number of fullness or completion.[6]

In his introduction, the editor listed Ham’s descendants geographically, from south to north.[7]

He wrote, “And the sons of Ham [were] Cush, and Mizraim, and Put, and Canaan.”

Cush lies south of Egypt, in the modern-day territories of Ethiopia and North Sudan. Its rich gold mines led to frequent conflict with Egypt, its neighbor to the north. By the time of Moses, Egypt deployed renowned soldiers from Cush into Canaan.[8]

Moses married a woman of Cushite origin (Num 12:1).

Mizraim (Mitsraim) is the Hebrew name for Egypt. Since that nation consisted of Upper and Lower Egypt, this proper noun occurs in plural form.[9]

Initially, Egypt served as a gracious host to Israel before subjecting Moses’s original audience to cruel slavery (Gen 47:1–6; Exod 1:8–14).[10]

Most verses in the Greek Old Testament (OT) translate “Put” as “Libya.” This is the only one of Ham’s sons without any children mentioned in this genealogy. The OT speaks of the men of Put as warriors (Jer 46:9; Ezek 30:5; Nah 3:9).[11]

The descendants of Cush settled in or near to Arabia. “Havilah” is related to the word “sandy.” Therefore, whether it represents the location mentioned elsewhere in the OT remains uncertain (Gen 2:11; Gen 25:16–18; 1 Sam 15:7).[12]

Moses cited Sheba among the descendants of Abraham and his second wife (Gen 25:1–3; 1 Chron 1:32).[13]

During Solomon’s reign, Sheba’s queen traveled to Jerusalem bearing costly gifts of gold and spices (1 Ki 10:1–2).[14]

According to Ethiopian legend, she gave birth to Solomon’s son after returning to her home. Years later, Menelik visited his father and stole the ark of the covenant before returning to his mother.[15]

After mentioning five sons and two grandsons of Cush, the editor of the Table of Nations penned an extended section on Cush’s sixth son (Gen 10:8–12).[16]

Most likely, this was a later insertion, as it concerns the origin of the two empires which exiled Israel and Judah, Assyria and Babylonia.[17]

He wrote, “And Cush fathered Nimrod. And he began to be a mighty one on the earth. He was a mighty hunter before the Lord, and so it is said, ‘like Nimrod, a mighty hunter before the Lord.’”

Many commentators claim that Nimrod means “We shall rebel,”[18] foreshadowing the events in Babel (Gen 11:1–9).[19] This view indicts him as the supreme example of insurrection against God.[20]

Yet, nothing in these verses explicitly links Nimrod to the Tower of Babel.[21]

Some scholars associate him with Babylon’s patron deity Marduk or with Ninurta, the god of war and hunting.[22]

However, this genealogy affirms Nimrod’s humanity. Therefore, several other options are worth exploring.

For example, Sargon the Great ruled over Akkad, the first known ANE empire, close to 2300 BC. However, he did not descend from Cush.[23]

A powerful pharaoh named Amenhotep (Amenophis) III (1386–1353 BC) was also known as Nimmureya in the Amarna Letters. During his reign, he undertook major building programs.[24]

He issued several commemorative scarabs, with one depicting him capturing 102 lions.[25]

On the other hand, one messianic OT text equates Assyria with the land of Nimrod (Mic 5:5–6).[26]

The Assyrian ruler Tukulti-Ninurta I (ca. 1246–1206 BC) defeated Babylon and took the statue of Marduk from its temple into captivity.[27] By doing this, he asserted the superiority of his gods over those of Babylon.[28]

In order to finance his enormous building projects, he imposed high taxes upon his subjects.[29]

Since none of these options fits perfectly, “Nimrod” may represent the ANE standard for a nation’s ruler.[30]

He achieved his power by military invasions, not merely by spreading peacefully into new regions.[31]

The term used to describe him refers to someone of surpassing might (gibor) who accomplishes great deeds (Gen 6:4; Judg 11:1; Prov 30:30).[32]

Within the ANE, kings boasted of their skill in hunting large game.[33]

In fact, the royal hunt as a symbol of military might took on an aspect of propaganda, especially in Assyria and Egypt.[34]

The British Museum contains seventh century BC reliefs from Nineveh depicting a lion hunt which cover an entire room’s walls.[35]

A stela about the exploits of Thutmose III (1490–1436 BC) says:

I speak…of what he did, without lying and without equivocation…without a phrase of boasting therein. If he spent a moment of recreation by hunting in any foreign country, the number of that which he carried off is greater than the bag of the entire army.

He killed seven lions by shooting in the completion of a moment. He carried off a herd of twelve wild cattle within an hour…

He carried off a rhinoceros by shooting, in the southern country of Nubia, after he proceeded to Miu (Sudan) to seek him who had been rebellious to him in that country.[36]

The phrase “before the Lord” does not suggest that God approved of Nimrod’s exploits. Indeed, he may have functioned as a despot, for an Arabic word related to “mighty” connotes tyranny and audacity.[37]

Most likely, the phrase functions as a superlative, asserting that he exhibited overweening power to evoke great fear.[38]

As a result, even God acknowledged his abilities.[39] This resulted in a proverb citing his prowess (Gen 10:9).[40]

The editor continued, “The beginning of his kingdom [was] Babel, and Erech, and Akkad, and Calneh in the land of Shinar. From that land, he went out to Assyria. And he built Nineveh, and Rehoboth-Ir, and Calah, and Resen between Nineveh and Calah. It [is] the great city.”

“Beginning” (reshith) has several nuances, all of which inform our understanding of this verse. It means “chief,” “best,” “first fruits,” and “first in time.”[41]

In addition to the early dates of the founding of the cities named here, most of them achieved political prominence in the ANE.[42]

Babylonians understood “Babel” to mean “the gate of God.”[43]

Dating to the third millenium BC,[44] this city became a major world power by the first millenium BC. Eventually it symbolized all Mediterranean civilization,[45] much like Rome did in the Middle Ages.[46]

Unlike Greek writers, who praised the great city, biblical authors condemned Babylon for its wickedness (Isa 14:3–6, 16–21; Isa 47; Jer 50:13–15).

Babylon began the first wave of deportations from Judah in 597 BC, and Nebuchadnezzar II installed Zedekiah as his vassal (2 Ki 24:1–4; 2 Ki 24:10–17). His army left only some of the poorest people in the land (Jer 52:12–16).

After Zedekiah rebelled, the Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem and the temple in 586 BC (2 Ki 24:18–20; 2 Ki 25:8–12).

The people of Judah remained outside of the promised land until 538 BC, seventy years after Babylon exiled Israel’s aristocracy.

Erech (Uruk) served as a Sumerian cultural hub.[47] One of the early centers of civilization,[48] it reached its height in the fourth and third millennia BC.[49]

Since Gilgamesh reigned from Erech,[50] a few commentators equate Nimrod with him.[51]

After deporting the inhabitants of the Northern Kingdom of Israel in 722 BC, the Assyrians relocated people from Erech into their land (Ezra 4:8–9).[52]

Sargon the Great founded Akkad on the Euphrates River (ca. 2350 BC).[53] However, its precise location remains undiscovered.[54]

Like Hebrew, Akkadian falls within the Semitic language group.[55]

Whether “Ashur” represents all of Assyria or only the capital bearing that name remains unknown.[56]

Assyria overthrew and exiled the Northern Kingdom of Israel, replacing the population with refugees whom they called Samaritans (2 Ki 17:1–6, 24, 41). At that time, Israel ceased to exist as a nation.[57]

Assyrians practiced exceptional cruelty, even by ancient standards (2 Chron 33:11; Isa 37:21–29).[58]

Ashurbanipal (668–627 BC) reported:

Tanis and of all the other towns which had associated with them to plot, they did not spare anybody among (them). They hung their corpses from stakes, flayed their skins and covered (with them) the wall of the town(s).

Those kings who had repeatedly schemed, they brought alive to me to Nineveh. From all of them, I had only mercy upon Necho and granted him life.[59]

Aside from the capital, Nineveh was the most prominent of Assyrian cities. Founded in approximately 4500 BC,[60] its ruins lie along the Tigris River in Mosul, Iraq.[61]

Fear that God would forgive Assyrian violence led Jonah to flee in the opposite direction from Nineveh (Jon 3:1–4:2).

Grammatically, “the great city” seems to refer to Calah.[62]

However, that site remained insignificant until it became Assyria’s capital in the ninth century BC.[63] Therefore, this phrase likely describes Nineveh (Jon 1:1–2; Jon 4:11).[64]

Overall, Nimrod’s empire encompassed all of Mesopotamia, from Babylon to Assyria.[65]

He descended from Ham. Yet his territory was surrounded by kingdoms ruled by men who claimed Shem as their ancestor (Gen 10:21–31).[66] They repeatedly experienced conflict.

The Casluhim remain unidentified.[67]

Their significance arises from the editor’s note which says, “…and Casluhim (from which came out the Philistines).”

Philistines entered Canaan over land from modern day Turkey and by ships which sailed from Crete and Cyprus.[68]

Since Amos 9:7 asserts that the Philistines came from Crete (Caphtor) even as Israel came from Egypt, they may not have originated there (Jer 47:4).[69]

The presence of Philistines in Canaan during the lifetimes of Abraham and Isaac may indicate that a small group of Philistines settled there before 1200 BC (Gen 21:32–34; Gen 26:1). After the Sea Peoples ended Egyptian control over Palestine, many Philistines entered the region.[70]

Beginning with the years when judges ruled over Israel until early in David’s reign, warfare against the Philistines occurred often (Judg 13:1–5; 1 Sam 4:10–11; 1 Sam 17:50–54; 2 Sam 5:17–25).

In 589 BC, a coalition of Egyptian and Philistine soldiers drew Nebuchadnezzar’s forces from Jerusalem. At that time, Assyria deported the Philistines from their cities (Jer 37:5–10; Jer 47:1–7).[71] Three years later Jerusalem also fell (2 Ki 25:1–12).

Image via Wikimedia Commons

 

Read Gen 10:6–14. How would you characterize the descendants of Ham? What does the omission of sets of seven tell us about these people-groups? Why did the editor focus upon Nimrod? What impact did these nations have upon Israel and Judah?

 

 

 

 

 

Go to The Descendants of Canaan

[Related posts include Ancient Near Eastern Genealogies (Gen 5:1); Nephilim in the Land (Gen 6:4); 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 Japheth (Gen 10:2–5); 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); Ancient Literature; Greek Translation of the Old Testament; 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, 219.

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

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

[4]B. Oded, “The Table of Nations (Genesis 10)–A Socio-Cultural Approach,” ZAW 98 (1986): 28, Http://www.elamit.net/depot/resources/oded1986.pdf.

[5]Waltke and Fredricks, Genesis: A Commentary, 165.

[6]Ryken, Wilhoit, and Reid, “Seven,” DBI, 775.

[7]Wenham, Genesis 1–15, 221.

[8]Hays, From Every People and Nation: A Biblical Theology of Race, 88.

[9]Hamilton, The Book of Genesis, Chapters 1–17, 336. In Hebrew, one pluralizes a masculine noun by adding “im” at its end.

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

[11]Hamilton, The Book of Genesis, Chapters 1–17, 336.

[12] Wenham, Genesis 1–15, 221.

[13]Hamilton, The Book of Genesis, Chapters 1–17, 337.

[14]Wenham, Genesis 1–15, 222.

[15]E. A. Wallis Budge, trans., The Kebra Nagast (London: Humphrey Milford, 1932), xliii-xlv, http://www.sacred-texts.com/chr/kn/kn000-5.htm.

[16]Wenham, Genesis 1–15, 222.

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

[18]Hamilton, The Book of Genesis, Chapters 1–17, 338.

[19]Wenham, Genesis 1–15, 222.

[20]Hamilton, The Book of Genesis, Chapters 1–17, 338.

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

[22]Wenham, Genesis 1–15, 222.

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

[24]Hamilton, The Book of Genesis, Chapters 1–17, 338.

[25]The British Museum, “Collection Online: Commemorative Scarab,” http://www.britishmuseum.org/research/collection_online/collection_object_details.aspx?objectId=141170&partId=1.

[26]Hamilton, The Book of Genesis, Chapters 1–17, 338.

[27]Hamilton, The Book of Genesis, Chapters 1–17, 337.

[28]Niehaus, Ancient Near Eastern Themes in Biblical Theology, 124.

[29]Hamilton, The Book of Genesis, Chapters 1–17, 337.

[30]Wenham, Genesis 1–15, 222.

[31]Waltke and Fredricks, Genesis: A Commentary, 169.

[32]H. Kosmala, “גָּבַר” (gabar), TDOT 2:373–82, 373.

[33]Waltke and Fredricks, Genesis: A Commentary, 169.

[34]Edwin Firmage, “Zoology (Fauna): Background Issues and Methods,” ABD 6:1109–1119, 1112.

[35]Osama S. M. Amin, “Assyrian Lion-Hunting at the British Museum,” http://etc.ancient.eu/photos/assyrian-lion-hunting-british-museum/.

[36]M. S. Drower (trans.), “Pharaoh as Sportsman,” in ANET, 243–4.

[37]Brown, Driver, and Briggs, “גִּבּוֹר” (gibor), BDB, 150.

[38]Wenham, Genesis 1–15, 223.

[39]Waltke and Fredricks, Genesis: A Commentary, 169.

[40]Hamilton, The Book of Genesis, Chapters 1–17, 339.

[41]S. Rattray and J. Milgrom, “רֵאשִׁית” (reshith), TDOT 13:269–72, 269.

[42]Waltke and Fredricks, Genesis: A Commentary, 169.

[43]Helmer Ringgren, “בָּבֶל” (babel), TDOT 1:466–6, 466–7.

[44]Wenham, Genesis 1–15, 223.

[45]Jean-Claude Margueron, trans. Paul Sager, “Babylon (Place),” ABD 1:563–5, 563.

[46]Waltke and Fredricks, Genesis: A Commentary, 169.

[47]Matthews, Chavalas, and Walton, IVPBBCOT, Gen 10:29–31.

[48]Waltke and Fredricks, Genesis: A Commentary, 169.

[49]Hamilton, The Book of Genesis, Chapters 1–17, 339.

[50]Matthews, Chavalas, and Walton, IVPBBCOT, Gen 10:29–31.

[51]Wenham, Genesis 1–15, 222.

[52]Waltke and Fredricks, Genesis: A Commentary, 169.

[53]Hamilton, The Book of Genesis, Chapters 1–17, 339.

[54]Waltke and Fredricks, Genesis: A Commentary, 169.

[55]Wenham, Genesis 1–15, 243.

[56]Hamilton, The Book of Genesis, Chapters 1–17, 339–40.

[57]Paul R. House, 1, 2 Kings (ed. E. Ray Clendenen, Kenneth A. Mathews, and David S. Dockery; NAC; Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 1995), 340.

[58]Waltke and Fredricks, Genesis: A Commentary, 169.

[59]Assurbanipal II, “Campaigns Against Egypt, Syria, and Palestine,” in ANET (trans. Daniel David Luckenbill), 295.

[60]Wenham, Genesis 1–15, 224.

[61]Hamilton, The Book of Genesis, Chapters 1–17, 340.

[62]Wenham, Genesis 1–15, 224.

[63]A. Kirk Grayson, “Calah (Place),” ABD 1:807–8, 808.

[64]Hamilton, The Book of Genesis, Chapters 1–17, 340.

[65]Waltke and Fredricks, Genesis: A Commentary, 169.

[66]Walton, Genesis, 369.

[67]Wenham, Genesis 1–15, 225.

[68] H. J. Katzenstein, “Philistines: History,” ABD 5:326–8, 326.

[69]Waltke and Fredricks, Genesis: A Commentary, 170.

[70]Matthews, Chavalas, and Walton, IVPBBCOT, Gen 26:6.

[71]H. J. Katzenstein, “Philistines: History” in ABD, 5:326–328, 328.