Japheth

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JAPHETH jā’ fĭth (יֶ֜פֶת, pausal form of yĕphĕth LXX ̓Ιάφεθ meaning: God will make wide or enlarge [Gen 9:24]). One of the three sons of Noah.


Sometime after the Flood, Noah planted a vineyard and became drunk from the wine that he made. In a drunken stupor he lay uncovered in his tent. His “youngest son,” Ham (Gen 9:22, 24), broke the contemporary moral code by looking upon his father’s nakedness. Apparently the episode came quite by accident, but intentionally or not, it was a sin in that time. Ham seems to have immediately told his brothers what had happened. Shem and Japheth placed a garment on their shoulders and walking backward covered their father without looking upon him. Thus they were not guilty of committing the sin. When Noah awoke and learned of the matter, he pronounced a curse upon Canaan the son of Ham (see Canaan). Noah then blessed Shem (see Shem) and Japheth.

God enlarge Japheth,

and let him dwell in tents of Shem;

and let Canaan be his slave (Gen 9:27).

Later generations considered this as a prediction that the descendants of Shem and Japheth would live amicably together, and the Canaanites would be their servants. The subjugation of the Canaanites in the time of Joshua is supposed to be fulfillment of Noah’s curse.

The blessing pronounced upon Japheth by his father carried with it the idea that his descendants would be greatly multiplied (enlarged) in the future. The Table of Nations recorded in Genesis 10 indicates that Japheth became the father of a wide-ranging family of peoples, whose homes lay to the N and (mostly) W of Pal. In fact, fourteen nations of Japhethites are listed in Genesis 10. The area of their occupation ranged all the way from the smelting plants of Tarshish (Spain) on the W to the Caspian Sea on the E. This included what is now the steppes of southern Russia, much of Asia Minor, the islands of the Mediterranean, and the coasts of southern Europe. Japheth is said to be the father of Gomer, Magog, Madai, Javan, Tubal, Meshech, and Tiras (Gen 10:2; 1 Chron 1:4). These are the progenitors of the Indo-European (Caucasian) family of nations.

Although all the descendants of Japheth are more or less important to Biblical history, the writer of Genesis 10 appears to single out the sons of Gomer and Javan for special attention. The descendants of Gomer seem to be the Gimirrai, or Gimirraya, of the Assyrian chronicles, but known to the Greeks as Cimmerians. The sons of Javan are the Greeks, i.e., the Ionians of Homer, and esp. the Ionians who lived along the coast of western Asia Minor and the islands of the Aegean Sea.

Bibliography

C. H. Gordon, Introduction to Old Testament Times (1953), 25-28; M. F. Unger, Archaeology and the Old Testament (1954); 73-82; S. Sandmel, The Hebrew Scriptures, An Introduction to Their Literature and Religious Ideas (1963), 53, 54; G. L. Archer, A Survey of Old Testament Introduction (1964), 201-203.

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)

(yepheth; yapheth; Iapheth):

1. Etymologies of Japheth:

This name, in Ge 9:27, seems to be explained by the phrase "may God make wide (yapht, the American Standard Revised Version "enlarge") for Japheth," where yapht and Japheth are represented by the same consonants, but with different vowel-points. The root of yapht is pathach, "to make wide." This etymology, however, is not universally accepted, as the word-play is so obvious, and the association of Japheth with Shem ("dark") and Ham ("black") suggests a name on similar lines--either gentilic, or descriptive of race. Japheth has therefore been explained as meaning "fair," from yaphah, the non-Sem and non-Hamitic races known to the Jews being all more or less whiteskinned. The Targum of Onkelos agrees with the English Versions of the Bible, but that of Jonathan has "God shall beautify Japheth," as though from yaphah.

2. His Descendants:

The immediate descendants of Japheth were seven in number, and are represented by the nations designated Gomer, Magog, Madai, Javan, Tubal, Mesech, and Tiras; or, roughly, the Armenians, Lydians, Medes, Greeks, Tibarenians, and Moschians, the last, Tiras, remaining still obscure. The sons of Gomer (Ashkenaz, Riphath and Togarmah) were all settled in the West Asian tract; while the sons of Javan (Elisah, Tarshish, Kittim and Dodanim or Rodanim) occupied the Mediterranean coast and the adjacent islands.

3. His Place among the Sons of Noah:

In Ge 9:27, as in other passages, Japheth occupies the 3rd place in the enumeration of the sons of Noah, but he is really regarded as the 2nd son, Ham being the youngest. In the genealogical table, however (Ge 10:1 ), the descendants of Japheth are given first, and those of Shem last, in order to set forth Semitic affinities at greater length. Though this would seem to indicate that the fair races were the least known to the Jews, it implies that the latter were well disposed toward them, for Japheth was (ultimately) to dwell in the tents of Shem, and therefore to take part in Shem’s spiritual privileges.

4. Japheth and Iapetos:

It seems unlikely that the Greek giant-hero, Iapetos, father of Prometheus, who was regarded by the Greeks as the father of the human race, has any connection with the Hebrew Japheth. The original of the Hebrew record probably belongs to a date too early to admit borrowing from the Greek, and if the name had been borrowed by the Greeks from the Hebrews, a nearer form might be expected.

See Shem; Ham; TABLE OF NATIONS.


A region mentioned only in Judith 2:25, where no particulars are given which may lead to its identification. Holofernes "came unto the borders of Japheth, which were toward the south, over against Arabia."