Japhetite (also Japhethitic, Japhetic) in Abrahamic religions is a term for the peoples supposedly descended from Japheth, one of the three sons of Noah in the Bible. The other two sons of Noah, Shem and Ham, are the eponymous ancestors of the Semites and the Hamites, respectively.
In medieval ethnography, the world was believed to have been divided into three large-scale racial groupings, corresponding to the three classical continents: the Japhetic peoples of Europe, the Semitic peoples of Asia and the Hamitic peoples of Africa.
The term has been used in modern times as a designation in physical anthropology, ethnography and comparative linguistics. In anthropology, it was used in a racial sense for "white people" (the Caucasian race). In linguistics it was used as a term for the Indo-European languages. These uses are now mostly obsolete. In a linguistic sense, only the Semitic peoples still form a well-defined family. The Indo-European group is no longer known as "Japhetite", and the Hamitic group is now recognized as polyphyletic within the Afro-Asiatic family.
It is written in Genesis: "The sons of Japheth: Gomer, and Magog, and Madai, and Javan, and Tubal, and Meshech, and Tiras. and the sons of Gomer: Ashkenaz, and Riphath, and Togarmah. And the sons of Javan: Elishah, and Tarshish, Kittim, and Dodanim. By these were the Isles of the Gentile divided in their lands everyone after his tongue, after their families, in their nations." (Gen 10:2-5)
In the Bible, Japheth is ascribed seven sons and seven grandsons:
The intended ethnic identity of these 'descendants of Japheth' is not certain; however, over history, they have been identified by Biblical scholars with various historical nations who were deemed to be descendants of Japheth and his sons — a practice dating back at least to the classical encounters of Jew with Hellene, for example in Josephus's Antiquities of the Jews, I.VI.122 (Whiston). Josephus wrote:
- 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 detailed the nations supposed to have descended from the seven sons of Japheth.
Ancient and medieval ethnography
An ancient, relatively obscure text known as Pseudo-Philo and thought to have been originally written ca. 70 AD, contains an expanded genealogy that is seemingly garbled from that of Genesis, and also different from the much later one found in Jasher:
- Sons of Japheth: "Gomer, Magog, and Madai, Nidiazech, Tubal, Mocteras, Cenez, Riphath, and Thogorma, Elisa, Dessin, Cethin, Tudant."
- Sons of Gomer: Thelez, Lud, Deberlet.
- Sons of Magog: Cesse, Thipha, Pharuta, Ammiel, Phimei, Goloza, Samanach.
- Sons of Duden: Sallus, Phelucta Phallita.
- Sons of Tubal: Phanatonova, Eteva.
- Sons of Tyras: Maac, Tabel, Ballana, Samplameac, Elaz.
- Sons of Mellech: Amboradat, Urach, Bosara.
- Sons of Ascenez: Jubal, Zaraddana, Anac.
- Sons of Heri: Phuddet, Doad, Dephadzeat, Enoc.
- Sons of Togorma: Abiud, Saphath, Asapli, Zepthir.
- Sons of Elisa: Etzaac, Zenez, Mastisa, Rira.
- Sons of Zepti: Macziel, Temna, Aela, Phinon.
- Sons of Tessis: Meccul, Loon, Zelataban.
- Sons of Duodennin: Itheb, Beath, Phenech.
- Gomer: Scythians, Turks, Bulgars, Armenians, Welsh, Picts, Irish, Teutons (Germanic peoples)
- Magog: Scythians, Goths, Swedes, Finns, Huns, Slavs, Magyars (Hungarians), Irish;
- Madai: Mitanni, Mannai, Medes, more generally Persians, or even more generally Indo-Aryans;
- Javan: Ionians (Greeks)
- Tubal: Tabali, Circassians, Georgians, Italics, Iberians, Basques;
- Meshech: Phrygians, Moschoi, Meskheti, Georgians, Armenians, Illyrians;
- Tiras: Thracians, Etruscans, Teutons (Germanic peoples).
Renaissance to Early Modern ethnography
Book of Jasher
- Gomer (sons were Ashkenaz, Riphath and Togarmah)
- Magog (sons were Elichanaf and Lubal)
- Madai (sons were Achon, Zeelo, Chazoni and Lot)
- Javan (sons were Elishah, Tarshish, Kittim and Dodanim)
- Tubal (sons were Ariphi, Kesed and Taari)
- Meshech (sons were Dedon, Zaron and Shebashni)
- Tiras (sons were Benib, Gera, Lupirion and Gilak)
The term Caucasian as a racial label for Europeans derives in part from the assumption that the tribe of Japheth developed its distinctive racial characteristics in the Caucasus area, having migrated there from Mount Ararat before populating Europe. In the same vein, Georgian nationalist histories associated Japheth's sons with certain ancient tribes of the Caucasus area, called Tubals (Tabals, Tibarenoi in Greek) and Meshechs (Meshekhs/Mosokhs, Moschoi in Greek), who they claimed represented ancient pre-Indo-European and non-Semitic, possibly "Proto-Iberian", tribes of Asia Minor of the 3rd-1st millennias BC. This theory influenced the use of the term Japhetic in the linguistic theories of Nikolai Marr (see below).
During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the Biblical statement attributed to Noah that "God shall enlarge Japheth" (Genesis 9:27) was used by some preachers[who?] as a justification for the "enlargement" of European territories through imperialism, which they interpreted as part of God's plan for the world. The subjugation of Africans was similarly justified by the curse of Ham.
In a conflicting sense, it was also used by the Soviet linguist Nikolai Marr in his Japhetic theory, which was intended to demonstrate that the languages of the Caucasus formed part of a once-widespread pre-Indo-European language group.
- Book of Jasher (trans. Moses Samuel c. 1840, ed. J. H. Parry 1887) Chapter 7:3
- Book of Jasher (trans. Moses Samuel c. 1840, ed. J. H. Parry 1887) Chapter 7:4
- Book of Jasher (trans. Moses Samuel c. 1840, ed. J. H. Parry 1887) Chapter 7:6
- Book of Jasher (trans. Moses Samuel c. 1840, ed. J. H. Parry 1887) Chapter 7:7
- Book of Jasher (trans. Moses Samuel c. 1840, ed. J. H. Parry 1887) Chapter 7:8
- Book of Jasher (trans. Moses Samuel c. 1840, ed. J. H. Parry 1887) Chapter 7:9
- John N. Swift and Gigen Mammoser, "'Out of the Realm of Superstition: Chesnutt's 'Dave's Neckliss' and the Curse of Ham'", American Literary Realism, vol. 42 no. 1, Fall 2009, 3
- Kidd, Colin (2006). The Forging of Races: Race and Scripture in the Protestant Atlantic World, 1600-2000. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 9781139457538.
- Easton Bible dictionary about Japheth
- Smith's Bible Dictionary about Japheth
- International Standard Bible Encyclopedia: Japheth
- Japheth in the Jewish Encyclopedia