For other uses, see Japheth (disambiguation).

"Japheth third son of Noah", as depicted in Promptuarii Iconum Insigniorum (c. 1553)
Born 1557 AM
2568 BCE
(date disputed)[note 1]
Children Gomer
Parent(s) Noah

Japheth /ˈfɛθ/ (Hebrew: יָפֶת/יֶפֶת Yapheth , Modern Hebrew: Yefet ; Greek: Ἰάφεθ Iapheth ; Latin: Iafeth, Iapheth, Iaphethus, Iapetus ; Arabic: يافث), meaning "enlarge", 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").

In Biblical tradition, Japheth is considered to be the progenitor of European, and East Asian, peoples.[1][2][3] In medieval Europe various nations and ethnicities were given genealogies tracing back to Japheth and his descendants. Religious syncretists later adopted the euhermistic argument that Japheth's memory was distorted into mythical figures such as Iapetus and Neptune.

Order of birth

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 King James Version 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. Further uncertainty about the birth-order is suggested by a passage in Genesis 9:24, which says Noah realized what his "younger" (or "youngest") son had done to him, referring to Ham.[4]

They are listed in the order "Shem, Ham, and Japheth" in Genesis 5:32, 9:18 and 10:1. It is disputed whether or not this is a birth-order. Frederick E. Greenspahn says that "Most moderns accept the common sequence of names as reflecting birth order and understand 10:21 as describing Shem as Japheth's older brother. Although Ham is commonly listed in the middle position, Gen 9:24 identifies him as the youngest." However, he notes that Biblical lists of family names are not always in birth order: "Moses and Rachel also appear at the head of such lists despite explicit descriptions of them as younger siblings. Shem, too, is always named first among Noah's sons, although his brother Japheth may have been considered older in at least one passage."[5] Historian Stephen R. Haynes writes that "Biblical commentators have suggested many solutions to the enigma of birth order—for instance, that Shem and Ham are listed in succession because their descendants live in proximity, or that the arrangement Shem, Ham, and Japheth is 'euphonic rather than chronological'.".[4]

Another explanation based on a Jehovah's Witness understanding of the Bible gives the likelihood to Japheth as being the eldest.[6] To start with, Genesis 5:32 (KJV) states, "And Noah was five hundred years old: and Noah begat Shem, Ham, and Japheth." The Bible also mentions that the Flood came when Noah was 600 years old—a hundred years after he became a father. (Genesis 7:6[7]) Thus, Noah's eldest son should be 100 years of age at the time of the Flood. Genesis 11:10[8] notes that Shem had only been 100 years of age two years after the Flood. From this, Jehovah's Witnesses consider it would be logical to conclude that Japheth would be the eldest, who should be two years older than Shem, while Ham would be the youngest. (Genesis 9:24[9])

Place in Noah's family

The world as known to the Hebrews (based on 1854 map).
Main article: Sons of Noah

For those who take the genealogies of Genesis to be historically accurate, Japheth is commonly believed to be the father of 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:

William Shakespeare's play Henry IV, Part II contains a wry comment about people who claim to be related to royal families. Prince Hal notes of such people,

...they will be kin to us, or they will fetch it from Japhet. (II.ii 117-18)

Family tree


Genesis 10:5 was often interpreted to mean that the peoples of Europe were descended from Japheth.


Main article: Japhetic
Geographic identifications for the Sons of Noah (Flavius Josephus, c. 100 AD); Japheth's sons shown in red

In the Bible, Japheth is ascribed seven sons: Gomer, Magog, Tiras, Javan, Meshech, Tubal, and Madai. According to Josephus (Antiquities of the Jews I.6):

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 by Talmudic rabbis in the 17th century, provides some new names for Japheth's grandchildren not found in the Bible, and provided a much more detailed genealogy (see Japhetic).


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.[1] Scholars in almost every European nation continued to repeat and develop Saint Isidore's assertion of descent from Noah through Japheth into the nineteenth century.[3]

Ivane Javakhishvili associated Japheth's sons with certain ancient tribes, called Tubals (Tabals, Greek: Tibarenoi) and Meshechs (Meshekhs/Mosokhs, Greek: Moschoi), who they claim represent non-Indo-European and non-Semitic, possibly "Proto-Iberian" tribes of Asia Minor of the 3rd-1st millennia BC.[2]

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.[3]

In Scotland, histories tracing the Scottish people to Japheth were published as late as George Chalmers' well-received Caledonia, published in 3 volumes from 1807 to 1824.[10]


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.

In Islamic tradition

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.[11] In identifying Japheth's descendants, Muslim exegesis more-or-less agrees with the Biblical traditions.[12] He is usually regarded as the ancestor of the Gog and Magog tribes, and, at times, of the Turks, Khazars, and Slavs. Some traditions narrated that 36 languages of the world could be traced back to Japheth.[13]

Proposed correlations with deities

Japheth has been identified by medieval and later scholars with figures from other religious systems and mythologies, including Iapetus (Japetus), the Greek Titan.[14][15][16] Scholars Jed Z. Buchwald & Mordechai Feingold write that there was a long tradition of "scripture-based Euhemerism" (interpreting mythical figures as distorted memories of real individuals) which "became part of time-honored Christian apologetics... Most commentators, for example, agreed that Saturn had been modeled on Noah, as both were considered to be the common parents of mankind who divided the world among their three sons—Shem (Pluto), Japheth (Neptune), and Ham (Jupiter)."[17]

Arts and literature

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.

Japheth is a major character in Stephen Schwartz's musical Children of Eden. In this adaptation, Japheth has fallen in love with the family servant girl, Yonah, and wants to bring her onto the Ark to survive the flood, but is forbidden because Yonah is descended from Cain. He manages to sneak her onto the Ark, and stands by her when she is discovered by the family. However, Noah goes against God and marries them. Upon the flood ending, Japheth and Yonah decide that the land they want to settle in will be Eden, even if they have to search their whole lives for it. Noah gives Japheth his blessing by giving him the staff of Adam (which Adam carved from the destroyed Tree of Knowledge and was passed down through his generations) to plant in Eden when they find it. Smaller productions of the American version have the actor cast as Cain doubling as Japheth.

See also


  1. The 1557 Anno Mundi birthdate for Japheth is based on the standard Masoretic text as represented in the Authorized Version. Septuagint and Samaritan texts have different values. See Chronology of the Bible.


  1. 1 2 Susan Reynolds, "Medieval origines gentium and the community of the realm," History, 68, 1983, pp. 375-90
  2. 1 2 Ivane Javakhishvili. "Historical-Ethnological problems of Georgia, the Caucasus and the Near East" (a monograph), Tbilisi, 1950, pp. 130–135 (in Georgian)
  3. 1 2 3 Colin Kidd, British Identities before Nationalism; Ethnicity and Nationhood in the Atlantic World, 1600-1800, Cambridge University Press, 1999, p. 29
  4. 1 2 Stephen R. Haynes, Noah's Curse: The Biblical Justification of American Slavery, Oxford University Press, New York, 2002, pp.204; 296.
  5. Frederick E. Greenspahn, When Brothers Dwell Together: The Preeminence of Younger Siblings in the Hebrew Bible, Oxford University Press, New York, 1994, p.65
  6. Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania, Insight on the Scriptures—Volume 2, Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of New York, Inc., Brooklyn, New York, 1988, p. 919-20.
  7. Online verse of Ge 7:6
  8. Online verse of Ge 11:10
  9. Online verse of Ge 9:24
  10. Colin Kidd, British Identities before Nationalism; Ethnicity and Nationhood in the Atlantic World, 1600-1800, Cambridge University Press, 1999, p. 52
  11. Tabari, Volume I: Prophets and Patriarchs, 222
  12. Tabari, Volume I: Prophets and Patriarchs, 217
  13. Encyclopedia of Islam, Yafith, 236
  14. Robert Graves, The Greek Myths, vol. 1, 146
  15. John Pairman Brown, Israel and Hellas (1995), 82
  16. Matthew Poole, Commentary on the Holy Bible (1685), vol.1, 26
  17. Jed Z. Buchwald & Mordechai Feingold, Newton and the Origin of Civilization, Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ., 2013, p.156.
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