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This T and O map, from the first printed version of Isidore's Etymologiae (Augsburg 1472), identifies the three known continents (Asia, Europe and Africa) as respectively populated by descendants of Sem (Shem), Iafeth (Japheth) and Cham (Ham). T and O map Guntherus Ziner 1472.jpg
This T and O map, from the first printed version of Isidore's Etymologiae (Augsburg 1472), identifies the three known continents (Asia, Europe and Africa) as respectively populated by descendants of Sem (Shem), Iafeth (Japheth) and Cham (Ham).

Japhetite (in adjective form Japhethitic or Japhetic) in Abrahamic religions is an obsolete historical Biblical terminology for race coined in 18th century ethnology and linguistics 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 Semitic peoples of Asia, the Hamitic peoples of Africa and the Japhetic peoples of Europe.

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 form a well-defined family. The Indo-European group is no longer known as "Japhetite", and the Hamitic group is now recognized as paraphyletic within the Afro-Asiatic family.

Among Muslim historians, Japheth is usually regarded as the ancestor of the Gog and Magog tribes, and, at times, of the Turks, Khazars, and Slavs. [1]

Biblical genealogy

It is written in the Book of 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." (Genesis 10:2-5)

In the Hebrew Bible, Japheth is ascribed seven sons and seven named 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 the Roman Jewish historian Josephus states in the Antiquities of the Jews , I.VI.122 (Whiston) that:

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: [2]

Later writers

Some of the nations that various later writers (including Jerome and Isidore of Seville, as well as other traditional accounts) have attempted to described as Japhetites are listed below:

Renaissance to Early Modern ethnography

Book of Jasher

The "Book of Jasher", a midrash (Jewish elaboration of the biblical text) first printed in 1625, ostensibly based on an earlier edition of 1552, provides some new names for Japheth's grandchildren.


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.[ citation needed ] 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 millennia 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 [9] as a justification for the "enlargement" of European territories through imperialism, which they interpreted as part of God's plan for the world. [10] The subjugation of Africans was similarly justified by the curse of Ham. [10]


The term Japhetic was also applied by William Jones, Rasmus Rask and others to what is now known as the Indo-European language group.

The term was used in a different sense by the Soviet linguist Nicholas 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.

See also

Related Research Articles

Japheth Biblical figure

Japheth, is one of the three sons of Noah in the Book of Genesis, in which he plays a role in the story of Noah's drunkenness and the curse of Ham, and subsequently in the Table of Nations as the ancestor of the peoples of the Aegean Sea, Anatolia, and elsewhere. In medieval and early modern European tradition he was considered to be the progenitor of European and, later, East Asian peoples.

Tarshish bible city

Tarshish occurs in the Hebrew Bible with several uncertain meanings, most frequently as a place far across the sea from Phoenicia and the Land of Israel. Tarshish is currently the name of a village in the Mount Lebanon District of Lebanon. Tarshish was said to have exported vast quantities of important metals to Phoenicia and Israel. The same place-name occurs in the Akkadian inscriptions of Esarhaddon and also on the Phoenician inscription of the Nora Stone in Sardinia; its precise location was never commonly known, and was eventually lost in antiquity. Legends grew up around it over time so that its identity has been the subject of scholarly research and commentary for more than two thousand years.

Generations of Noah genealogy of the sons of Noah and their dispersion into many lands after the Flood

The Generations of Noah or Table of Nations, broadly referred to as Origines gentium, is a genealogy of the sons of Noah, according to the Hebrew Bible, and their dispersion into many lands after the Flood, focusing on the major known societies. The term nations to describe the descendants is a standard English translation of the Hebrew word "goy", following the c. 400 CE Latin Vulgate's "nationes", and does not have the same political connotations that the word entails today.

Tubal, in Genesis 10, was the name of a son of Japheth, son of Noah.

Meshech biblical figure

In the Bible, Meshech or Mosoch is named as a son of Japheth in Genesis 10:2 and 1 Chronicles 1:5.

Magog (Bible) Son of Japheth in Genesis 10, and people descended from him

Magog is the second of the seven sons of Japheth mentioned in the Table of Nations in Genesis 10.

Mushki Iron Age people of Anatolia

The Mushki were an Iron Age people of Anatolia who appear in sources from Assyria but not from the Hittites. Several authors have connected them with the Moschoi (Μόσχοι) of Greek sources and the Georgian tribe of the Meskhi. Josephus Flavius identified the Moschoi with the Biblical Meshech. Two different groups are called Muški in Assyrian sources, one from the 12th to the 9th centuries BCE near the confluence of the Arsanias and the Euphrates and the other from the 8th to the 7th centuries BCE in Cappadocia and Cilicia. Earlier Assyrian sources clearly identify the Western Mushki with the Phrygians, but later Greek sources then distinguish between the Phrygians and the Moschoi.

Togarmah Son of Gomer and Biblical nation

Togarmah is a figure in the "table of nations" in Genesis 10, the list of descendants of Noah that represents the peoples known to the ancient Hebrews. Togarmah is among the descendants of Japheth and is thought to represent some people located in Anatolia. Medieval traditions variously claimed Togarmah as the mythical ancestor of peoples in the Caucasus and western Asia, including the Georgians, the Armenians and some Turkic peoples.

Javan Biblical character, son of Japheth

Javan was the fourth son of Noah's son Japheth according to the "Generations of Noah" in the Hebrew Bible. Josephus states the traditional belief that this individual was the ancestor of the Greeks.

Tiras was, according to Genesis 10 and Chronicles 1, the last-named son of Japheth who is otherwise unmentioned in the Hebrew Bible. The name is sometimes associated by scholars with the Teresh or Tursha, one of the groups which made up the Sea Peoples, a naval confederacy which terrorized Egypt and other Mediterranean around 1200 BCE. These Sea People are referred to as "Tursha" in an inscription of Ramesses III, and as "Teresh of the Sea" on the Merneptah Stele.

Kittim Biblical figure

Kittim was a settlement in present-day Larnaca on the east coast of Cyprus, known in ancient times as Kition, or Citium. On this basis, the whole island became known as "Kittim" in Hebrew, including the Hebrew Bible. However the name seems to have been employed with some flexibility in Hebrew literature. It was often applied to all the Aegean islands and even to "the W[est] in general, but esp[ecially] the seafaring W[est]". Flavius Josephus records in his Antiquities of the Jews that

Gomer was the eldest son of Japheth, and father of Ashkenaz, Riphath, and Togarmah, according to the "Table of Nations" in the Hebrew Bible.

Elishah, or Eliseus was the son of Javan according to the Book of Genesis (10:4) in the Masoretic Text. The Greek Septuagint of Genesis 10 lists Elisa not only as the son of Javan, but also a grandson of Japheth. His name is spelled differently in Hebrew to the prophet Elisha, ending in a hei instead of an ayin.

Riphath was great-grandson of Noah, grandson of Japeth, son of Gomer, younger brother of Ashkenaz, and older brother of Togarmah according to the Table of Nations in the Hebrew Bible. The name appears in some copies of 1 Chronicles as "Diphath", due to the similarities of the characters resh and dalet in the Hebrew and Aramaic alphabets.

Dodanim or Rodanim, was, in the Book of Genesis, a son of Javan. Dodanim's brothers, according to Genesis 10:4, were Elishah, Tarshish and Chittim. He is usually associated with the people of the island of Rhodes as their progenitor. "-im" is a plural suffix in Hebrew, and the name may refer to the inhabitants of Rhodes. Traditional Hebrew manuscripts are split between the spellings Dodanim and Rodanim — one of which is probably a copyist's error, as the Hebrew letters for R and D are quite similar graphically. The Samaritan Pentateuch, as well as 1 Chronicles 1:7, have Rodanim, while the Septuagint has Rodioi. The Dodanim were considered either kin to the Greeks or simply Greeks.

Ashkenaz descendant of Noah in the Hebrew Bible

Ashkenaz in the Hebrew Bible is one of the descendants of Noah. Ashkenaz is the first son of Gomer, and a Japhetic patriarch in the Table of Nations. In rabbinic literature, the kingdom of Ashkenaz was first associated with the Scythian region, then later with the Slavic territories, and, from the 11th century onwards, with Germany and northern Europe.

Baath mac Magog

Baath or Baath mac Magog is a figure in Irish legendary history. He was a son of Magog, son of Japheth, the progenitor of the Scythians, son of Noah, and the father of Fénius Farsaid, according to a version "M" of Lebor Gabála Érenn, also known as the Great Book of Lecan. He is described as being from Scythia, and the Goths, or the Gaedil. According to the same version of the story, he had four brothers, Ibath, Barachan, Emoth, and Aithechta. But the story further states that "...Feinius Farrsaid was son of Baath, son of Ibath, son of Gomer, and son of Iafeth (Japheth)".

Ezekiel 27 Book of Ezekiel, chapter 27

Ezekiel 27 is the twenty-seventh chapter of the Book of Ezekiel in the Hebrew Bible or the Old Testament of the Christian Bible. This book contains the prophecies attributed to the prophet/priest Ezekiel, and is one of the Books of the Prophets. This chapter contains a lamentation for the fallen city of Tyre.

Ezekiel 38 Book of Ezekiel, chapter 38

Ezekiel 38 is the thirty-eighth chapter of the Book of Ezekiel in the Hebrew Bible or the Old Testament of the Christian Bible. This book contains the prophecies attributed to the prophet/priest Ezekiel, and is one of the Books of the Prophets. This and the following chapter form a section dealing with "Gog, of the land of Magog".

Biblical terminology for race

Biblical terminology for race has been used to classify human races, based on proposed Biblical lineage from the Table of Nations in Genesis 10, since antiquity.


  1. Heller, B.; Rippin, A. (2012) [1993]. "Yāfith". In Bearman, P. J.; Bianquis, Th.; Bosworth, C. E.; van Donzel, E. J.; Heinrichs, W. P. (eds.). Encyclopaedia of Islam (2nd ed.). Leiden: Brill Publishers. p. 236. doi:10.1163/1573-3912_islam_SIM_7941. ISBN   978-90-04-16121-4.
  2. Pseudo-Philo
  3. Parry, J. H. (ed.). "7:3". Book of Jasher. Translated by Moses, Samuel.
  4. Parry, J. H. (ed.). "7:4". Book of Jasher. Translated by Moses, Samuel.
  5. Parry, J. H. (ed.). "7:6". Book of Jasher. Translated by Moses, Samuel.
  6. Parry, J. H. (ed.). "7:7". Book of Jasher. Translated by Moses, Samuel.
  7. Parry, J. H. (ed.). "7:8". Book of Jasher. Translated by Moses, Samuel.
  8. Parry, J. H. (ed.). "7:9". Book of Jasher. Translated by Moses, Samuel.
  9. Meagher, James L. "The Bread, Wine, Water, Oil, and Incense in the Temple" How Christ Said The First Mass. New York: Christian Press Association, 1908. 95-96. Internet Archive. Web. 4 Jun. 2017
  10. 1 2 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

Further reading