"Japhet third son of Noah", as depicted in Promptuarii Iconum Insigniorum (c. 1553)

Japheth /ˈfɛθ/ (Hebrew: יֶפֶת Yép̄eṯ, in pausa יָפֶתYā́p̄eṯ; Greek: Ἰάφεθ Iápheth; Latin: Iafeth, Iapheth, Iaphethus, Iapetus; Arabic: يافث Yāfith) 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, Caucasus, Greece, and elsewhere in Eurasia.[1] In medieval and early modern European tradition he was considered to be the progenitor of the European peoples.[2][3][4]


The meaning of the name Japheth (יפת‎: y-p-t) is disputable. There are two possible sources to the meaning of the name:[5]

In the Book of Genesis

Main article: Genesis flood narrative

Noah's Drunkenness, painting by James Tissot (between 1896 and 1902), Jewish Museum (Manhattan, New York). The painting depicts Noah lying in his tent; Shem and Japheth are holding up the cloak with their back to Noah; Ham is standing to the side.

Japheth first appears in the Hebrew Bible as one of the three sons of Noah, saved from the Flood through the Ark.[5] In the Book of Genesis, they are always in the order "Shem, Ham, and Japheth" when all three are listed.[6][7] Genesis 9:24 calls Ham the youngest,[7] and Genesis 10:21 refers ambiguously to Shem as "brother of Japheth the elder", which could mean that either is the eldest.[8] Most modern writers accept Shem–Ham–Japheth as reflecting their birth order, but this is not always the case: Moses and Rachel also appear at the head of such lists despite explicit descriptions of them as younger siblings.[9] However, Japheth is considered to have been the eldest son of Noah in Rabbinic literature.[5]

Following the Flood, Japheth is featured in the story of Noah's drunkenness.[5] Ham sees Noah drunk and naked in his tent and tells his brothers, who then cover their father with a cloak while avoiding the sight; when Noah awakes he curses Canaan, the son of Ham, and blesses Shem and Japheth:[5] "Blessed be the Lord God of Shem and may Canaan be his slave; and may God enlarge Japheth and may he dwell in the tents of Shem, and may Canaan be his slave!"[10] Chapter 10 of Genesis, the Table of Nations, describes how earth was populated by the sons of Noah following the Flood, beginning with the descendants of Japheth:


Ethnogenetic interpretations

A map showing the distribution of the descendants of Noah according to the Table of Nations. The descendants of Japheth are shown in red.

Japheth (in Hebrew: Yā́p̄eṯ or Yép̄eṯ) may be a transliteration of the Greek Iapetos, the ancestor of the Hellenic peoples.[11][12] His sons and grandsons associate him with the geographic area comprising the Aegean Sea, Greece, the Caucasus, and Anatolia: Ionia/Javan, Rhodes/Rodanim, Cyprus/Kittim, and other places in the Eastern Mediterranean region.[12][13] The point of the "blessing of Japheth" seems to be that Japheth (a Greek-descended people) and Shem (the Israelites) would rule jointly over Canaan (Palestine).

From the 19th century until the late 20th century, it was usual to see Japheth as a reference to the Philistines, who shared dominion over Canaan during the pre-monarchic and early monarchic period of Israel and Judah.[14] This view accorded with the understanding of the origin of the Book of Genesis, which was seen as having been composed in stages beginning with the time of King Solomon, when the Philistines still existed (they vanished from history after the Assyrian conquest of Canaan). However, Genesis 10:14 identifies their ancestor as Ham rather than Japheth.[11]

Biblical descendants

Main article: Japhetites

Further information: Generations of Noah

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

In the Hebrew Bible, Japheth is ascribed seven sons: Gomer, Magog, Tiras, Javan, Meshech, Tubal, and Madai. According to the Roman–Jewish historian Flavius Josephus in Antiquities of the Jews, I.VI.122 (Whiston):

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.

The Sefer haYashar ("Book of Jasher"), written by Talmudic rabbis in the 17th century, attributed some new names for Japheth's grandchildren which are not found in the Hebrew Bible, and provided a much more detailed genealogy. In the Jewish tradition, Abraham's wife Keturah is sometimes considered a descendant of Japheth.[15]


Shem, Ham, and Japheth, painting by James Tissot (between 1896 and 1902). Jewish Museum (Manhattan, New York).
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).

In the 7th century AD, Hispano–Roman archbishop and scholar Isidore of Seville wrote his noted encyclopedic-historical treatise titled Etymologiae, in which he traces the origins of most of the European peoples back to Japheth.[16][17] Scholars in almost every European nation continued to repeat and develop Isidore of Seville's assertion of descent from Noah through Japheth into the 19th century.[4]

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)

The Georgian historian and linguist Ivane Javakhishvili associated Japheth's sons with certain ancient tribes, called Tubals (Tabals, in Greek: Tibarenoi) and Meshechs (Meshekhs/Mosokhs, in Greek: Moschoi), who claimed to represent non-Indo-European and non-Semitic, possibly "Proto-Iberian" tribes that inhabitated Anatolia during the 3rd-1st millennia BC.[3]

In the Polish tradition of Sarmatism, the Sarmatians, an Iranic people, were said to be descended from Japheth, son of Noah, enabling the Polish nobility to believe that their ancestry could be traced directly to Noah.[4] In Scotland, histories tracing the Scottish people to Japheth were published as late as George Chalmers's well-received Caledonia, published in 3 volumes from 1807 to 1824.[18]

In the Islamic tradition

Main article: Noah in Islam

Further information: Biblical and Quranic narratives and Biblical people in Islam

Japheth (in Arabic: Yāfith)[19] is not mentioned by name in the Quran but is referred to indirectly in the narrative of Noah (Quran 7:64, 10:73, 11:40, 23:27, 26:119).[19] Muslim exegesis of the Quran, however, names all of Noah's sons, and these include Japheth.[20] In identifying Japheth's descendants, Muslim exegesis mostly agrees with the Biblical tradition.[21]

In the Islamic tradition, he is usually regarded as the ancestor of the Gog and Magog tribes. Islamic tradition also tends to identify the descendants of Japheth as including the Turks, Khazars, Chinese, Mongols, and Slavs.[19][22] According to Abū'l-Ghāzī who wrote the 17th-century ethnographic treatise Shajara-i Tarākima ("Genealogy of the Turkmen"), the descendants of Ham went to Africa, Shem to Iran, and Japheth went to the banks of the Itil and Yaik rivers, and had eight sons named Turk, Khazar, Saqlab, Rus, Ming, Chin, Kemeri, and Tarikh. As Japheth was dying he established Turk, his firstborn son, as his successor.[citation needed]

According to the 18th-century Hui Muslim writer Liu Zhi, after Noah's flood, Japheth inherited China as the eastern portion of the Earth, while Shem inherited Arabia as the middle portion, and Ham inherited Europe as the western portion.[22] Some Muslim traditions narrated that 36 languages of the world could be traced back to Japheth.[19]

In popular culture

Main article: Children of Eden

Japheth is a major character in the second act of Stephen Schwartz's musical, Children of Eden. In this rendition, Japheth has fallen in love with the family servant, Yonah (created entirely for the show). He wants to bring her onto the ark to allow her to survive the flood, but Noah forbids this as Father (God) is trying to wipe the world free of those descended from Cain. Yonah is descended from Cain, despite her good heart and love from the family. Japheth secretly brings her aboard, and she is eventually discovered by Ham and Shem. Japheth defends her from Noah and is about to kill Shem in his rage. Yonah stops and calms him, and Noah decides to let her stay. The flood passes and the brothers all depart for different regions to populate the world, but Japheth and Yonah decide they want to search for Eden. Noah blesses their journey by passing the staff of Adam to Japheth. Smaller casts of the show usually have the actor who portrays Cain to also portray Japheth.

See also



  1. ^ Hunt 1990, p. 430.
  2. ^ Reynolds, Susan (October 1983). "Medieval Origines Gentium and the Community of the Realm". History. 68 (224). Chichester, West Sussex: Wiley-Blackwell: 375–390. doi:10.1111/j.1468-229X.1983.tb02193.x. JSTOR 24417596.
  3. ^ a b Javakhishvili, Ivane (1950), Historical-Ethnological problems of Georgia, the Caucasus and the Near East. Tbilisi, pp. 130–135 (in Georgian).
  4. ^ a b c Kidd 2004, pp. 28–31.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g Hirsch, Emil G.; Seligsohn, M.; Schechter, Solomon (1906). "Japheth". Jewish Encyclopedia. Kopelman Foundation. Archived from the original on 17 October 2012. Retrieved 27 February 2024.
  6. ^ Genesis 5:32, 9:18, and 10:1.
  7. ^ a b Haynes 2002, pp. 204, 269.
  8. ^ Garcia Martinez 2012, p. 33 fn.7.
  9. ^ Greenspahn 1994, p. 65.
  10. ^ Genesis 9:20–27.
  11. ^ a b Day 2014, p. 39.
  12. ^ a b Glouberman 2012, p. 112.
  13. ^ Gmirkin 2006, p. 165 fn.192.
  14. ^ Day 2014, pp. 38–39.
  15. ^ "Keturah". Retrieved 2024-02-08.
  16. ^ Leyser, Karl (1994). Communications and Power in Medieval Europe: The Carolingian and Ottonian Centuries. A & C Black. p. 5. ISBN 9781852850135. Retrieved 10 August 2019. Already in Isidore of Seville they were the founders of towns and regions in Europe, Asia and Africa.14 The whole human race must be descended from them and they, Shem, Ham and Japheth therefore divided the world between them. Europe was Japheth's share, and his numerous offspring and their descendants in turn were the ancestors of all the greater European peoples: Franks, Latins, Alemans and Britains, to name but some.
  17. ^ Richard Cole (2015). "Proto-Racial Thinking and its Application to Jews in Old Norse Literature". In Heß, Cordelia; Adams, Jonathan (eds.). Fear and Loathing in the North: Jews and Muslims in Medieval Scandinavia and the Baltic Region. Walter de Gruyter GmbH & Co KG. p. 258. ISBN 9783110346473.
  18. ^ Kidd 2004, p. 52.
  19. ^ a b c d 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, Second Edition. Leiden and Boston: Brill Publishers. doi:10.1163/1573-3912_islam_SIM_7941. ISBN 978-90-04-16121-4.
  20. ^ Tabari, Volume I: Prophets and Patriarchs, 222
  21. ^ Tabari, Volume I: Prophets and Patriarchs, 217
  22. ^ a b Leslie, Donald Daniel (1984). "Japhet in China". Journal of the American Oriental Society. 104 (3). American Oriental Society: 403–409. doi:10.2307/601652. ISSN 0003-0279. JSTOR 601652.