Bible Topic Japheth
“Japheth. One of Noah’s three sons (Gn 5:32; 7:13; 9:18, 23, 27; 10:1–5; 1 Chr 1:4–6) who, along with his wife, was among the eight human survivors of the great flood. Because Japheth and his brother Shem acted with respect and modesty in covering their father’s nakedness while he was in a drunken condition (Gn 9:20–23), they were both blessed in Noah’s prophetic pronouncement of Genesis 9:26, 27. Of Japheth, Noah said, “God enlarge Japheth, and let him dwell in the tents of Shem; and let Canaan be his slave.” There are two common interpretations of the meaning of this prophecy. Some understand the “enlargement of Japheth” to be a reference to a great increase in numbers of descendants. “To dwell in the tents of Shem” is understood as Japheth’s sharing in the blessing of Shem. According to this view there is to be a time when God will work primarily with Shem (the people of Israel); but then at a later time Japheth will be brought into connection with the faith of Israel and share in its promises. In this view fulfillment is found in the opening of the gospel to the Gentiles at the inception of the NT church. Others understand the “enlargement of Japheth” to refer to territorial enlargement and the “dwelling in the tents of Shem” as the conquest of Shemite territory by Japhethites. In this view fulfillment is found in the Greek and Roman conquests of Palestine.
In the table of nations in Genesis 10, Japheth is listed as the father of Gomer, Magog, Madai, Javan, Tubal, Meshech, and Tiras (vv 1–5). These are the ancestors of peoples who lived to the north and west of Israel, and who spoke what today are classified as Indo-European languages.”
Elwell, W. A., & Beitzel, B. J. (1988). Japheth. In Baker encyclopedia of the Bible (Vol. 2, pp. 1095–1096). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House.
“JAPHETH (Heb. yep̱eṯ). One of the sons of Noah, usually mentioned last of the three (Gn. 5:32; 6:10; 7:13; 9:18, 23, 27; 1 Ch. 1:4), but his descendants are recorded first in Gn. 10 (and 1 Ch. 1:5–7). He was the ancestor of a number of tribes and peoples, most of whom had names which in historical times are associated with the regions to the N and W of the Middle East, especially Anatolia, and the Aegean (*NATIONS, TABLE OF). Japheth and his wife were among the eight people who escaped the Flood, and in a later incident he and Shem covered the nakedness of their father, Noah. In Noah’s prophetic declaration after this episode he prayed that God might enlarge Japheth, and that he might dwell in the tents of Shem, and have Canaan as a servant (Gn. 9:27). Many commentators take he to refer to God rather than Japheth, though either interpretation is possible.
If the latter alternative is followed the reference may be to the benefits of the gospel which, coming first to the descendants of Shem, were later extended to the N peoples. In the above verse the word used for ‘may he enlarge’ is yap̱t, but this is probably only a play on words and does not have anything else to do with the name Japheth (yep̱eṯ), which does not occur elsewhere in the Bible or in the ancient inscriptions. Some have connected Japheth, however, with the Gk. mythological figure Iapetos, a son of earth and heaven, who had many descendants. The name is not Gk., so may be a form of the biblical name.
BIBLIOGRAPHY. P. Dhorme, ‘Les Peuples issus de Japhet, d’aprés le Chapître X de la Genése’, Syria 13, 1932, pp. 28–49; D. J. Wiseman, ‘Genesis 10: Some Archaeological Considerations’, JTVI 87, 1955, pp. 14ff.; D. Neisman, ‘The Two Genealogies of Japheth’, in H. A. Hoffner (ed.), Orient & Occident, 1973, pp. 119ff.
T. C. MITCHELL.”
Mitchell, T. C. (1996). Japheth. In D. R. W. Wood, I. H. Marshall, A. R. Millard, J. I. Packer, & D. J. Wiseman (Eds.), New Bible dictionary (3rd ed., p. 543). Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
“JAPHETH, SON OF NOAH (יֶפֶת, yepheth). One of Noah’s three sons who survived the flood of Gen 7 and helped repopulate the Earth; attributed as the ancestor of the Greeks and Persians in extrabiblical sources.
Japheth in the Old Testament
Japheth primarily appears in the flood account and subsequent events in Gen 6–10. He is listed as Noah’s third son (Gen 5:32; 1 Chr 1:4), but the exact birth order is unknown; Gen 10 lists Japheth’s genealogy first among Noah’s sons. After the flood, Japheth’s family helped populate the Earth along with Noah’s other sons, Shem and Ham. He receives God’s blessing in Gen 9:1 and Noah’s blessing in Gen 9:27, after he and Shem cover Noah’s nakedness.
Genesis 10:2–5 lists Japheth’s seven children and seven grandchildren. These descendants are seldom mentioned in the Old Testament outside of this genealogy, though there may be references to them in the books of Isaiah and Ezekiel (Isa 66:19; Ezek 27:13; 32:26; 38:2–3, 6; 39:1, 6). In contrast, Shem and Ham’s sons are mentioned numerous places in the Old Testament.
Japheth in Jewish Writings
Several works outside of the Old Testament briefly mention Japheth. While deuterocanonical literature makes genealogical references to him, the book of Jubilees gives him a more extensive treatment (particularly his land portion in Jubilees 8:25–30). Jubilees 7:15 may attribute the founding of Athens to Japheth. Additionally, Jewish tradition designates Japheth as the ancestor of the Greeks and therefore of Abraham’s wife Keturah, whose children were considered the “uncles” of Israel (Ginzburg, Legends, 154, 244n314).
Jewish legends hold that Japheth was responsible for caring for the reptiles in the ark, while Noah cared for the wild beasts, Ham the birds, and Shem the domestic animals (Ginzberg, Legends, 148n37). Jewish writings suggest that Japheth had a smaller role in covering Noah’s nakedness after the flood than Shem, assisting only after Shem had already begun covering their father. Because of this, Shem’s blessing was greater than Japheth’s, and Noah pronounced a blessing in which Japheth’s descendants would receive beautiful land but would be subjected to Shem’s descendants (Ginzberg, Legends, 154).
Jewish legend also identifies Japheth as the ancestor of the Persians. Thus Japheth’s Persian descendant Ahasuerus was worthy to marry Esther because Japheth had acted righteously toward Noah (Ginzberg, Legends, 1144n68). Furthermore, Tannaitic and Amoraitic teachers saw the rebuilding of the temple under Cyrus of Persia as the fulfillment of Noah’s pronouncement over Japheth in Gen 9:27. Other rabbinical sources, however, argue that Gen 9:27 actually refers to the law being taught in the Greek language.
Ginzberg, Louis. Legends of the Jews. Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication Society, 2003.
Josephus. The New Complete Works of Josephus. Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 1999.
J. CHASE FRANKLIN”
Franklin, J. C. (2016). Japheth, Son of Noah. In J. D. Barry, D. Bomar, D. R. Brown, R. Klippenstein, D. Mangum, C. Sinclair Wolcott, … W. Widder (Eds.), The Lexham Bible Dictionary. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.
“JAPHETH (PERSON) [Heb yepet (יֶפֶת)]. The name of the third son of Noah. Japheth appears in the Hebrew Bible 11 times, in the primeval history and the Chronicler’s history (Gen 5:32; 6:10; 7:13; 9:18, 23, 27; 10:1, 2, 21; 1 Chr 1:4, 5).
A. The Name
The etymological origin and meaning of the name Japheth is uncertain. Some modern interpreters, following Saadia Gaon (9th century C.E.), take it to mean “fair, beautiful,” from yph “to be fair, beautiful.” According to some earlier Talmudic sages the beauty refers to the Greek language. However, this etymology was already correctly rejected by Abraham Ibn Ezra (12th century). Others suggest that the name is related to the Egyptian Keftiu (Crete) or to the name of the Greek mythological Titan Iapetos, father of Atlas, Prometheus, and Epimetheus. A possible meaning of Japheth is hinted at in the Hebrew pun yapt ʾĕlōhı̂m lĕyepet, “May God make wide for Japheth” (Gen 9:27). Thus the name may mean “spacious,” an allusion, at least in Genesis, to an expanded inheritance of land by Japheth. This possible interpretation is based in the name’s derivation from the root pty, “to be wide, spacious.”
B. Biblical Data
Japheth is the youngest of Noah’s 3 sons, the brother of Shem and Ham (Gen 5:32; 6:10). According to the genealogical table, Japheth comes first (10:1–5). Therefore, some modern scholars (as some Talmudic sages) consider him the eldest; but this is merely conjectural. Japheth, together with his brothers Shem and Ham and their wives, joined Noah in the Ark and escaped the Flood (6:9; 7:13–15; 9:1–18). He also shares together with his brothers the divine blessing and covenant (9:1, 17). Children were born to him, as to his other brothers, after the flood (10:1). In the story of Noah’s drunkenness (Gen 9:20–27), Japheth, after receiving the report of his father’s nakedness from his brother Ham, discreetly walked backward, together with his other brother Shem, and covered his father. As a result, he became the beneficiary of his father’s blessing. See also HAM.
Japheth had 7 sons (Gomer, Magog, Madai, Javan, Tubal, Meshech, and Tiras) and 7 descendants (Gen 10:2–5; 1 Chr 1:5–7). Unlike the sons and descendants of Shem and Ham, who are mentioned in numerous places throughout the Hebrew Bible, the sons and descendants of Japheth are conspicuous by their absence from most of the biblical books. Outside the genealogical tables in Genesis and Chronicles, four of Japheth’s sons—Gomer, Javan, Tubal, and Meshech—are mentioned chiefly in two books: Isa 66:19 (Javan, Tubal, and Meshech) and Ezek 27:13; 32:26; 38:2, 3, 6; 39:1, 6 (Gomer and Tubal). Of Japheth’s descendants, the best known are two of Javan’s sons: Tarshish (mentioned about 29 times in the Hebrew Bible) and Kittim (mentioned 5 times). According to ethnographic conceptions informing the primeval history, Japheth is the ancestor of the peoples who inhabit the lands N of Canaan. According to later Jewish tradition he also occupies the far east (cf. Jdt 2:25, “east of Gog”; Jub. 8:29, “east … as far as the region of the waters”; cf. 9:7–13).
C. Jewish Tradition
Hardly any references are made to Japheth in the Apocrypha or Pseudepigrapha outside of the genealogical references to Noah’s family (2 En. 73:5; Apoc. Adam 4:1; T. Sim. 6:5; T. Isaac 3:15; L.A.B. 1:22; 4:1ff.). The most-extensive such reference to Japheth is in Jubilees: his birth (4:33), his role in the Noah story (7:9, 12), and his inheritance in the divine land distribution (8:10, 12, 25, 29; 9:7–13; 10:35, 36). Jubilees also gives the most detailed information about Japheth’s land portion, “The third part [of the earth] was assigned to Japheth, the land beyond the Tina river to the north of its mouth … the direction of the northeast, all the area of Gog and all the land east of it, all the way to the farthest north … towards the mountains of Qelt … towards the Ma’uk Sea … east of Gadir … west of Fereg … towards the Me’at Sea … toward Mount Rafa … five big islands and a huge land in the north …” (8:25–30). “The land given to Ham is hot, to Japheth cold, to Shem neither cold or hot” (ibid.). Josephus says that Phrygia belongs to Japheth. See Fig. GEO.05.
An interesting detail given in Jubilees about Japheth is that he became jealous of Ham and built a city named Adataneses (Athens?) after his wife (7:15). His granddaughter Melka, daughter of Madai (8:5), married Arphaxad, Shem’s son. In the quasi-Jewish Sibylline Oracles—in which the sons of Noah are given the names of Greek gods—Shem is identified with Cronos, Ham with Titan, and Japheth as Iapetus (3:110–15). Sethian Gnostic tractate Apocalypse of Adam (V,5 72:17; 73:14, 25; 74:11; 76:13–14) deals with the division of the world and empires among the sons of Noah.
Tannaitic and Amoraitic teachers considered Japheth the eldest of Noah’s sons. They held Shem to be Noah’s youngest son, and said that in the Bible he is mentioned first among the members of his family because he was the most righteous, wisest, and most-important son, not because he was the oldest (Sanh. 69b; Gen. Rab. 26:3; 37:7). Japheth assisted Shem in covering Noah’s nakedness and was blessed with a burial place for his sons Gog [Gomer?] (cf. Ezek 39:1) and Magog (Gen. Rab. 36; cf. Ezek 39:11). The sages propounded Gen 9:27 (see above) as referring to the rebuilding of the Temple by Cyrus, King of Persia, a descendant of Japheth (Yoma 10a). Another rabbi argued that Gen 9:27 refers to the teaching of the Law in the Greek language (Gen. Rab. 36: Deut. Rab. 1).
D. Christian and Islamic Literature
In the NT Japheth is mentioned, but his descendants Gog (see above) and Magog figure in the major international war of Revelation (20:8). In the early Christian literature, particularly in Irenaeus of Lyon, Lactantius, Hyppolytus of Rome, Clement, Origen, Epiphanius, and Eusebius, the sons of Noah and their generations are often alluded to but without much elaboration.
Isaac, E. (1992). Japheth (Person). In D. N. Freedman (Ed.), The Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary (Vol. 3, pp. 641–642). New York: Doubleday.