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Japheth, as depicted in Promptuarii Iconum Insigniorum (c. 1553)
Japheth // (Hebrew: יָפֶֿתֿ, יֶפֶֿתֿ Yapheth , Modern Hebrew: Yefet ; Greek: Ἰάφεθ Iapheth ; Latin: Iafeth or Iapetus ; Arabic: يافث) is one of the sons of Noah in the Abrahamic tradition. In Arabic citations, his name is normally given as Yafeth bin Nuh (Japheth son of Noah).
Order of birth
Japheth is often regarded as the youngest son, though some traditions regard him as the eldest. They are listed in the order "Shem, Ham, and Japheth" in Genesis 5:32 and 9:18, but treated in the reverse order in chapter 10.
Genesis 10:21 refers to relative ages of Japheth and his brother Shem, but with sufficient ambiguity to have given rise to different translations. The verse is translated in the KJV as follows, "Unto Shem also, the father of all the children of Eber, the brother of Japheth the elder, even to him were children born". However, the Revised Standard Version reads, "To Shem also, the father of all the children of Eber, the elder brother of Japheth, children were born." The differing interpretations depend on whether the Hebrew word ha-gadol ("the elder") is taken as grammatically referring to Japheth, or Shem.
Genesis 5:32 states that Noah had three sons when he was five hundred years old. Genesis 11:10 records that Shem was one hundred years old when his son Arphaxad was born, two years after the Flood. If Noah was six hundred years old (Genesis 7:13), then Shem was ninety-eight years old at the Flood. Ham is further implied to be the middle son in Gen. 9:24 (which says Noah realized what his "younger son" had done to him.)
The Book of Jubilees indicates in 4:33 that Shem was born in the year of the world (after creation) 1205, Ham in 1209, and Japheth in 1211.
Place in Noah's family
For those who take the genealogies of Genesis to be historically accurate, Japheth is commonly believed to be the father of the Europeans. The link between Japheth and the Europeans stems from Genesis 10:5, which states, "By these were the isles of the Gentiles divided in their lands." According to that book, Japheth and his two brothers formed the three major races:
- Japheth is the father of the Japhetic race
- Shem is the father of the Semitic race
- Ham is the father of the Hamitic race
- ...they will be kin to us, or they will fetch it from Japhet. (II.ii 117-18)
Genesis 10:5 was often interpreted to mean that the peoples of Europe were descended from Japheth. Clearly, then, any two Englishmen must have at least this one ancestor in common, and thus any individual could claim kinship with the king.
- "Japhet, the son of Noah, had seven sons: they inhabited so, that, beginning at the mountains Taurus and Amanus, they proceeded along Asia, as far as the river Tanais (Don), and along Europe to Cadiz; and settling themselves on the lands which they light upon, which none had inhabited before, they called the nations by their own names."
Josephus subsequently detailed the nations supposed to have descended from the seven sons of Japheth.
The "Book of Jasher", published in the 17th century, provides some new names for Japheth's grandchildren not seen in the Bible or any other source, and provided a much more detailed genealogy (see Japhetic).
Japheth is not mentioned by name in the Qur'an but is referred to indirectly in the narrative of Noah (VII: 64, X: 73, XI: 40, XXIII: 27, XXVI: 119). Muslim exegesis, however, names all of Noah's sons, and these include Japheth. In identifying Japheth's descendants, Muslim exegesis more-or-less agrees with the Biblical traditions. He is usually regarded as the ancestor of the Gog and Magog tribes, and, at times, of the Turks and Khazars. Some traditions narrated that 36 languages of the world could be traced back to Japheth.
In the seventh century, Isidore of Seville published his noted history, in which he traces the origins of most of the nations of Europe back to Japheth. Scholars in almost every European nation continued to repeat and improve upon Saint Isidore's assertion of descent from Noah through Japheth into the nineteenth century.
Georgian nationalist historians such as Ivane Javakhishvili associated Japheth's sons with certain ancient tribes, called Tubals (Tabals, Tibarenoi in Greek) and Meshechs (Meshekhs/Mosokhs, Moschoi in Greek), who they claim represent non-Indo-European and non-Semitic, possibly "Proto-Iberian" tribes of Asia Minor of the 3rd-1st millennia BC.
In the Polish tradition of Sarmatism, the Sarmatians were said to be descended from Japheth, son of Noah, enabling the Polish nobility to imagine themselves able to trace their ancestry directly to Noah.
Proposed correlations with deities
Japheth has been identified by some scholars with figures from other religious systems and mythologies, including Iapetus (Japetus), the Greek Titan; the Indian figures Dyaus Pitar and Pra-Japati, and the Roman Iu-Pater or "Father Jove", which became Jupiter.
The term "Japhetic" was also applied by William Jones and other early linguists to what became known as the Indo-European language group. In a different sense, it was also used by the Soviet linguist Nikolai Marr in his Japhetic theory.
Japheth is a major character in the Madeleine L'Engle novel Many Waters (1986, ISBN 0 374 34796 4). He is characterized as thoughtful and intelligent, a kind-hearted young man who is on good terms with feuding family members Noah and Lamech, with the seraphim, and with visiting time travelers Sandy and Dennys Murry. Depicted in the book as Noah's younger son, Japheth is barely into adulthood, but at Noah's instigation is already married. His equally kind wife is an unusually fair-skinned woman with black hair, who may have been sired by one of the nephilim.
- The 1557 Anno Mundi birthdate for Japheth is based on the standard Massoretic text as represented in the Authorized Version. Septuagint and Samaritan texts have different values. See Chronology of the Bible.
- Tabari, Volume I: Prophets and Patriarchs, 222
- Tabari, Volume I: Prophets and Patriarchs, 217
- Encyclopedia of Islam, Yafith, 236
- Susan Reynolds, "Medieval origines gentium and the community of the realm," History, 68, 1983, pp. 375-90
- Colin Kidd, British Identities before Nationalism; Ethnicity and Nationhood in the Atlantic World, 1600-1800, Cambridge University Press, 1999, p. 29
- Ivane Javakhishvili. "Historical-Ethnological problems of Georgia, the Caucasus and the Near East" (a monograph), Tbilisi, 1950, pp. 130–135 (in Georgian)
- Colin Kidd, British Identities before Nationalism; Ethnicity and Nationhood in the Atlantic World, 1600-1800, Cambridge University Press, 1999, p. 52
- Robert Graves, The Greek Myths, vol. 1, 146
- John Pairman Brown, Israel and Hellas (1995), 82
- Matthew Poole, Commentary on the Holy Bible (1685), vol.1, 26
- Easton Bible dictionary about Japheth
- Smith's Bible Dictionary about Japheth
- International Standard Bible Encyclopedia: Japheth
- Japheth in the Jewish Encyclopedia
- Japheth's family tree at complete-bible-genealogy.com