The Descendants of Noah

descendants of Noah (2)

b) Gen 10:1: Genesis 10, which some scholars call the Table of Nations, expands upon Gen 9:19.[1] It represents God’s concern for all people-groups.[2]

Moses introduced the descendants of each of Noah’s sons with a standard formula: “The sons of X were.” He ended each section by writing, “These are the sons of X according to their clans and languages in their countries by their nations.”[3]

The Table of Nations did not comprise a comprehensive list (Gen 10:5).[4] Instead, it functioned as a carefully crafted theological statement.[5]

In the Bible, the number seven signifies completion or fullness.[6]

Japheth had seven sons and seven grandsons.[7] Among the offspring of Ham are seven sons of Cush and seven sons of Mizraim (Egypt). Shem’s line down to Eber names fourteen descendants.[8]

Overall, the Table of Nations contains seventy names, equivalent to ten multiples of seven.[9]

Several significant differences exist between this genealogy and the ones in Gen 5 and in Gen 11:10–27.[10] In Gen 10, some of the names represent specific men while others signify people-groups or even locations.[11]

Other ancient genealogies, such as that of Hammurabi (reigned 1792–1750 BC), also feature the names of tribes and geographic regions.[12]

Thus, no one’s age appears in the list,[13] as it presents the relationships between various groups rather than focusing upon  individuals.[14]

A “son” (ben) typically refers to a direct descendant. However, the Hebrew language also allows the term to indicate a grandson or the distant offspring of a founding father (Gen 31:17–18, 26–28).[15]

For example, the “sons of Levi” answered Moses’s summons. However, many generations had been born and died since the lifetime of that patriarch (Gen 15:13; Exod 1:1–8; Exod 32:26).

Furthermore, in the Ancient Near East (ANE), the term “son” did not necessarily imply kinship. Participants in treaties employed similar language.[16]

A stela (ca. 1575 BC) discovered at Karnak Temple in Egypt says,[17] “I captured a message of his…upon a letter of papyrus. I found on it, in written words from the ruler of Avaris, ‘the Son of Re: Apophis, sending greetings to my son, the ruler of Cush.’”[18]

In Ugaritic, a language related to Hebrew, the same word (bn) could also refer to a person who lived in a particular city or country.[19]

The peoples in Gen 10 represented the major groups known to Israel (Gen 11:1).[20] By citing their common ancestry through Noah, this genealogy emphasizes the fundamental unity of those dwelling in the ANE.[21]

Yet, it also distinguishes between them in terms of their geographic locations, ethnicities, and political affiliations.[22]

Similarities of speech occurred across ancestral lines. For example, some of the sons of Ham spoke languages related to those of the sons of Shem.[23]

No hint of people living outside of the ANE occurs here.[24]

Moses achieved a two-fold purpose. First, he expressed unity through a common ancestor.[25] Then, he described the outcome of the settlement of North Africa, Mesopotamia, Syria, Palestine, and coastal areas of the Mediterranean.[26]

Many commentators concur that the names listed here point to an editor from the first millennium BC, as no extra-biblical record of some of these names appears until that time.[27]

However, it also appears that the author of the Table of Nations used preexisting material. A change in the customary format occurred by the sixth century BC (Cf. 1 Chron 1:5–23).[28]

Overall, the list consists of a three-part arrangement in accord with Noah’s pronouncement in Gen 9:24–27.[29]

Although some exceptions exist, the Shemites were nomadic, Hamites dwelt in cities, and the sons of Japheth were seafarers.[30]

As often occurs in Genesis, the editor began with the lines which God did not choose before discussing Israel’s ancestor (Gen 4:17–5:32; Gen 25:12–19; Gen 36:9–37:2).[31]

This genealogy begins with, “And this [is] the account of the sons of Noah: Shem, Ham, and Japheth. And sons were born to them after the flood.”

As we have seen elsewhere in Genesis, “This is the account of” opens a major new section of the text (Gen 2:4; Gen 5:1; Gen 6:9).[32]

By utilizing the passive voice to convey that “sons were born” to Noah’s progeny, this verse depicts the fulfillment of God’s blessing in Gen 9:1.[33]

Image via Wikimedia Commons


a) Read Gen 10.1. What hints do we have that this list is not a typical biblical genealogy? Why do you think the editor used groups of sevens for a total of seventy names? What is the purpose of the Table of Nations?






Go to The Descendants of Japheth

[Related posts include Ancient Near Eastern Genealogies (Gen 5:1); What Became of the Heavens and the Earth (Gen 2:4–6); Cain Dedicated a City (Gen 4:17); In Adam’s Likeness and Image (Gen 5:3–5); Righteous and Blameless (Gen 6:9–10); A Renewed Mandate (Gen 9:1); The Sons of Noah (Gen 9:18–19); A Slave of Slaves (Gen 9:24–25); Blessed Be the God of Shem (Gen 9:26–27);  The Descendants of Japheth (Gen 10:2–5);  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); Jesus Sends Seventy (Two) (Luke 10:1–2); Ancient Literature; and Author and Date of Genesis]

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


[1]Walton, Genesis, 367.

[2]Waltke and Fredricks, Genesis: A Commentary, 161.

[3]Wenham, Genesis 1–15, 213.

[4]Walton, Genesis, 367.

[5]Waltke and Fredricks, Genesis: A Commentary, 162.

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

[7]Wenham, Genesis 1–15, 213.

[8]Waltke and Fredricks, Genesis: A Commentary, 164–5.

[9]Ryken, et. al., “Seventy” in DBI, 775.

[10]Wenham, Genesis 1–15, 215.

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

[12]J. J. Finklestein, “The Genealogy of the Hammurapi Dynasty,” JCS 20 (1966): 99, 101, Http://

[13]Wenham, Genesis 1–15, 215.

[14]Walton, Genesis, 368.

[15]H. Haag, “בֵּן” (ben) TDOT, 2:145–59, 150, 152.

[16]Wenham, Genesis 1–15, 215.

[17]Pritchard, ANET, 554.

[18]Ka-Mose, “The War Against the Hyksos (Continued),” in ANET (trans. John A. Wilson), 555.

[19]J. Bergman, H. Ringgren, and H. Haag, “בֵּן” (ben), TDOT 2:145–59, 148.

[20]Wenham, Genesis 1–15, 214.

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

[22]B. Oded, “The Table of Nations (Genesis 10) – A Socio-Cultural Approach,” ZAW 98 (1986): 14, Http://

[23]Wenham, Genesis 1–15, 243.

[24]Walton, Genesis, 368–9.

[25]Wenham, Genesis 1–15, 215.

[26]Matthews, Chavalas, and Walton, IVPBBCOT, Gen 10:1.

[27]Wenham, Genesis 1–15, 214.

[28]Oded, “The Table of Nations (Genesis 10) – A Socio-Cultural Approach,” 30, Http://

[29]Waltke and Fredricks, Genesis: A Commentary, 162.

[30]Oded, “The Table of Nations (Genesis 10) – A Socio-Cultural Approach,” 22, 30, Http://

[31]Wenham,Genesis 1–15, 214.

[32]Waltke and Fredricks, Genesis: A Commentary, 83.

[33]Hamilton, The Book of Genesis, Chapters 1–17, 330