The Table of the 70 Nations Revised
The genealogy of the 70 nations in Genesis 10 traces their origin back to the common father of mankind, Noach. After the universal deluge, Noach’s family settled in the plain of the land of Shinar, where they multiplied into many families.
The genealogy of Noach aka the Table of the 70 Nations, through his sons Shem, Cham, and Yaphet, prepares the reader for the event which led to the division of the one human race into 70 nations with distinct languages and cultures. Those 70 nations were then scattered over the face of the earth by the means of the confusion of their common language after their attempt to build the Tower of Bavel in the land of Shinar.
In this introduction to our survey, we would like to clarify certain ideas that the traditional Jewish commentators have touched upon and much has been written on. But here we will also try to show that the question of the 70 nations is far from being conclusive and hope to provide a revised reading of the Table of Nations.
A good departure point of our survey is to explain the genealogy of the 70 nations in Genesis 10, as we will have more to say upon this point presently.
The genealogy of the 70 nations
The genealogy of the 70 nations begins thus,
And these are the generations of the sons of Noach: Shem, Cham, and Yaphet. And sons were born to them after the flood. … (Gen 10:1)
The meaning of this brief introduction with which the genealogy opens up is to let the reader know that all these generations of Noach’s sons were born after the deluge and that the mankind received a new start. Radak in his commentaries says,
We have already seen when these sons of Noach had entered the ark that they had not yet had any children. Why then was it necessary to write the line “children were born to them?” The only reason the Torah wrote this line is to tell us that neither of Noach’s sons engaged in marital intercourse while in the ark so that no children were born in the ark. … The Torah explains in greater detail that only Shem, Cham, and Yaphet are the sons of Noach, and only they and their wives entered the ark together with him and his wife.
A closer look at the Table of Nations will show that in many instances the origin of the 70 nations is handed down to us with names which cannot be identified with absolute certainty. To make the things even more obscure for the reader, on account of brevity or by design, some descendants of the sons of Noach are not even recorded in the genealogy.
There is however another issue in the Table of Nations. This issue we want to employ in order to challenge the careful reader to reconsider the whole idea that the whole world has sprang from those 70 original nations. We are thus coming to the subject of our survey which we intend to develop diligently in the following vein.
Were there indeed 70 original nations?
According to the Rabbinic tradition, which is not well established, there were 70 original nations from which all nations of the world sprang: 14 Yaphetic, 30 Chamitic, and 26 Shemitic nations, as we read the commentary of the thirteenth century rabbi Chizkiah ben Manoach in Chizkuni ,
These are the families of the sons of Noach”, in this verse we find the 70 descendants of Noach that sprang from his three sons: 14 descendants of Yaphet; 30 of Cham, and 26 of Shem. These are the founding fathers of the 70 nations of the earth.
This interpretation, however, is problematic, as we will argue below.
After the confusion of their language in the days of Peleg of the lineage of Shem, the people were scattered from the valley and were dispersed throughout the entire land where they formed their own nations according to their tongues. The 70 nations took over the vacant territories (the earth was unpopulated after the Flood), built cities, and named them after their fathers, that is to say, all the nations that stemmed from them bear the names of these founding fathers of the renewed mankind.
Although only 14 descendants came out of Yaphet, they quickly multiplied to become today the largest ethnic group that occupies the vast land stretching from Japan to Iceland. The 30 descendants of Cham settled in Africa and became the fathers of the African peoples, while Shem, who gave birth to 26 descendants, is represented today by the smallest ethnic group that occupies the land which is known today as “the Middle East”. Thus far the Rabbis.
But how many were these families?
The mistaken idea of a new world
The patriarch Noach brought forth three sons, Shem, Cham, and Yaphet, from whom all other nations sprang. Originally, they were in the fullest sense of the word “united”: they had a common ancestor Noach, who was still alive, they spoke one language and were in agreement to build a society in which they could live together as one family.
The builders of the Tower of Bavel were not fools to believe that they could build a brick structure to actually ascend the heavens, much less that they could challenge Elohim in any way after they knew that He was their Creator. Neither were they afraid of another flood, because Noach and his sons, to whom the Creator swore never to wipe out the world again, were there and regarded as the founding fathers. Nor was their intent to rebel against Him, because then the righteous Noach and Shem would have stopped them. What they wanted was to build a great city with a tower to ensure their name, that is their remembrance, would last in the future generations, as long as the tower stood.
Note: The Tower of Bavel was made from clay brick, not from stones (Gen 11:3) and most probably abandoned at early stage of construction after the confusion of the languages. The Torah has not recorded that the tower was finished, much less reaching to heavens. This explains why no artifacts were ever found in the plain of Shinar proving the existence of the tower; as it is well known clay bricks are friable and susceptible to the natural elements, while stone can last forever. This answers to all the charges of those who question the credibility of the Scripture
So, what was their sin, if there was a sin at all? Their “sin” was the attempt to build one world, in which the people would live like a family. That attempt was not a sin at all, because there was no law against it, but it was an ideal society that was 5,000 years ahead of its time. They did not know that the ideal world was not theirs to build. Simply, at that time the will of their Creator for the people was to see the earth populated, developed, and evolved in many nations with diverse cultures, according to the clauses of His everlasting covenant with Noach and every living being,
Be fruitful and increase and fill the earth. … (Gen 9:1)
And then Elohim gave them the laws of His covenant.
Table of the 70 United Nations
Below is the Table of United Nations in Genesis 10:1-32, which lists the descendants of Noach and the nations they founded,
1. the Philistines
2. the Kaphtorim
3. the Yevusite
4. the Amorite
5. the Girgashite
6. the Chivite
7. the Arkite
8. the Sinite
9. the Arvadite
10. the Tsemarite
11. the Chamatite
Total descendants of Shem:
Total descendants of Cham:
Total descendants of Yaphet:
Again, according to the Rabbinic tradition, there were total of 70 nations: 14 Yaphetic, 30 Chamitic, and 26 Shemitic nations. But nothing in the text of Genesis 10 suggests that number 70 for the original nations was intended. This interpretation is not grounded well in the text, as the number 70 is never raised or even hinted at in the context of the genealogy of the nations.
This argument is best understood by way of comparison. A closer examination of the text shows that the Torah is not merely being informative here providing particular numbers for the nations.
When these numbers are compared to the actual list of the descendants of Noach’s sons in the Table of Nations, a certain discrepancy emerges: the descendants of Cham are not 30, but 31, because we obtain for Shem 26, for Cham 31, and for Yaphet 14: in all 71 names, if we are correct in this plain arithmetic.
Number 30 for the descendants of Cham could have only obtained, perhaps, by not reckoning Nimrod among the Kushites, for he was reckoned somehow separately from the sons of Kush, son of Cham, being the first ruler of the mankind. This notion is suggested in the Rabbinic commentaries on the Table of Nations.
For example, according to Ramban, Nimrod the son of Kush did not become a head of a nation. But this is a weak argument from silence, for Nimrod was indeed son of Kush, son of Cham, and should be counted as a nation as the other sons were counted. We read thus concerning Nimrod,
And Kush brought forth Nimrod, he began to be a mighty one on the earth. (Gen 10:8)
It looks like the omitting of Nimrod from the total number of the nations is quite arbitrary. And as the Rabbinic calculations are perfectly arbitrary, and the number 70 for the nations is nowhere given in the Torah or hinted at, we can neither regard number 70 as intended, nor come upon it as a perfect number multiple of 7.
Another arbitrary comment of Chizkuni comes to explain the omitted generations of Magog, Modai, Tuval, Meshech, Tiras, sons of Yaphet, in the Table of Nations, as we read thus,
The reason why the Torah does not mention by name the sons of Magog, Modai, Tuval, etc., is because none of them became founders of nations, so that only a single one of them became a founder of a nation. The same pattern is applied by the Torah when describing the offspring of Phut son of Cham.
Yet, Magog, Madai, Tuval, Meshech, Tiras, sons of Yaphet; Phut, son of Cham, and Eylam, Assur, and Lud, sons of Shem are indeed recorded as nations in the last verse 32. The genealogy of the sons of Noach ends with the statement that “these are the families of the sons of Noach”,
These were the families of the sons of Noach, according to their generations, in their nations. And from these the nations were divided on the earth after the flood. (Gen 10:32)
Magog, Madai, Tuval, Meshech, Tiras, Phut, Eylam, Assur, and Lud had families which became nations. Why they are omitted in the Table of Nations is a subject of a further study, but it suffices for now to disagree with the sages that the Table of Nations, as recorded in Genesis 10, contains 70 nations, because it does not. The table contains 71 names of the sons of Noach, but not 70 nations, as we will explain below.
But the most evident flaw in the claim of the sages that the original nations were 70 can be found in the table itself, namely, that the fathers are reckoned along with the sons. A good example is the Arpachshad-Shelach-Ever-Peleg case. Arpachshad is counted by the Rabbis as a separate nation along with his son Shelach, Shelach with his son Ever, and Ever with his son Peleg. Thus, according to the reckoning of the sages, there are four nations, while in fact there is only one nation: the nation of the last in the lineage of Arpachshad: Peleg.
A good illustration in support of our reasoning against the opinion of the sages is the case of Yoseph. In Egypt, Ya’akov-Israel adopted Yoseph’s sons, Ephrayim and Menasheh. By this act of adoption Ephrayim and Menasheh became legally equal to the rest of Ya’akov’s sons, and thus by the adoption the nation of Israel consisted of 13 tribes, not twelve (when Levi is counted). Yoseph did not father other sons after the adoption of Ephrayim and Menasheh, and he thus ceased being a separate tribe. Had he fathered more sons, he would have developed as a separate tribe within the nation, but he did not. We have argued this case in the article How many are the tribes of Israel? – Time of Reckoning Ministry.
So, how did the Rabbis come to number 70?
What it takes to misread the teacher
Mosheh in his last address to the nation of Israel said,
When the Most High gave to the nations their inheritance, when He separated the children of men, He set the borders of the peoples according to the number of the children of Israel. (Deu 32:8 JPS)
There are various interpretations in the Rabbinic literature of this verse. But altogether they can be summarized in this: the phrase “according to the number of the children of Israel” means: The Most High let mankind remain in existence for the sake of Israel, who was destined to descend from Shem, and for the sake of the number of the seventy souls who went down to Egypt. Therefore, according to this number 70, “He set the borders of peoples”, i.e., Elohim separated mankind into 70 nations, according to the number 70 of the Ya’akov’s family.
In other words, at that time, due to the confusion of their languages, the 70 nations moved away from each other and established their own cultures, according to the language. That was the generation of the dispersion. Elohim separated them into 70 nations and established their territorial boundaries.
Can we rethink this and provide our interpretation in return?
New reading of the Table of Nations
The words, “When the Most High gave to the nations their inheritance”, is not to be restricted to one act of the confusion of the language and the division of the nations, but they embrace the whole period of the development of mankind from one family (the family of Noach) into separate families [of his sons] and nations [of his grandsons] and their settlement on the earth in their territories.
The simple meaning therefore of the story of the Tower of Bavel is that after the confusion of the language, YHVH Elohim scattered mankind over the face of the earth, and thus separate nations were formed from the families of the sons of Noach in their lands.
As for the division of mankind into “70 nations”, the Scripture says nothing about such a division but simply shows that the formation of the nations from families and tribes and their possession of the lands, according to their numbers, is to be traced to the Most High; it was His work of supernal providence and government, not theirs.
And when the time came for the chosen nation to be born, the Sovereign determined the boundaries of Israel, according to its (Israel’s) number, that His people must receive the land of inheritance as the other peoples had already received their lands. As the large nations received large lands, and small nations received small lands, so the twelve tribes of Israel (Levi did not receive a land) received their own lands: to each according to the numbers. This is just and fair.
The application of this reciprocal justice is that as the Sovereign of the universe gave the families of the sons of Noach lands to live in and develop into nations, so did He give a land to the nation He chose for Himself, so that no nation should say, “Why has Israel occupied our land?” For further knowledge on the matter, the reader will do well to read what we have written in the articles, The Arabs: The land does not belong to Israel and The Most Contested Piece of Land.
That is to say, as He gave all nations their inheritance, even before the nation of Israel was born, so did He give a land to the chosen nation. He wishes to give to whom He wishes to give, and no one has the right to rearrange what had already been arranged.
And a second application of the reciprocal justice is this: if a nation of the world threatens Israel and its boundaries, this nation or nations will be threatened accordingly, so that what was prophesied to Avraham and his descendants, according to the promise, must be fulfilled,
And I shall make you a great nation and bless you and make your name great, and you shall be a blessing! And I shall bless those who bless you and curse him who curses you. And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed. (Gen 12:2-3)
But where does Israel stand in the history of the nations?
The youngest nation
With all that considered, the genealogy of the nations in Genesis 10 is not an attempt of Mosheh to trace the genesis of the original 70 nations, for it were his intent, he would have said it plainly. Nor is it the ethnographical connection of Israel with the other nations of the earth, but a historical record of the renewed mankind that develop from one family of eight: the family of the patriarch Noach.
All nations, as found today in the U.N. assembly, stemmed from the original nations the Most High dispersed after the confusion of the languages in the plain of Shinar. The families became nations, and some of the original nations merged into one nation, others changed their identity or simply faded away in the history not to be remembered any longer.
Avraham was not born, and Israel was yet to be born three generations after him. Then the children of Israel lived many years in the house of Mitsrayim, the son of Cham, that is Egypt.
And at Sinai the children of Israel became a nation but had to journey in the desert for forty more years without land, when all nations of the world already had their own land. When the forty years ended, Israel took possession of the land of Kana’an, son of Cham, because their iniquities had reached the heavens. Israel thus appeared on the stage of history when all other nations had long been in existence in their lands. This makes Israel the youngest nation among the nations of the world; the youngest and the chosen.
Knowledge known to only a few will die out. If you feel blessed by these teachings of Time of Reckoning Ministry, help spread the word!
May we merit seeing the coming of our Mashiach speedily in our days!
This page contains sacred literature and the Name of the Creator. Please, do not deface, or discard, or use the Name in a casual manner.