Table of Nations: Shem
By: Date: September 13, 2019 Categories: Uncategorized
Shem was the middle brother who settled the Middle East

This is the last in a series on Genesis 10, sometimes called the Table of Nations. Some of the better commentary on it suggests the best way to understand the seventy “nations” is to take them as regions, and not as people groups. I agree that the regional view simplifies references to state actors by these names in prophesy, but I’m not completely satisfied with the simplification. 

Life is messy. People groups migrated, mingled, conquered territories, or were driven out of them by their conquerors. Governments relocated entire populations. Empires rose and fell, redefining their borders on a constant basis. Some people groups had a nomadic way of life. Some prospered as merchants who traveled great distances by land and sea, setting up colonies in the places they traded.

We have very little to go on from historical sources, and even less from the Bible itself. Traditional research has focused on place-names and family-names because names are more resistant to change over time than languages are. Ethnic traditional information can be helpful. Modern genetic science has offered us new tools for tracking the migrations of populations, but what we know is still considerably less than what we don’t know.

The Chinese have a tradition that their first king, Fu-hi or Fohi (Chinese Noah), made his appearance on the Mountains of Chin, was surrounded by a rainbow after the world had been covered with water, and sacrificed animals to God (corresponding to the Genesis record). Sin himself was the third generation from Noah, a circumstance which would provide the right time interval for the formation of early Chinese culture. In addition, the Miao tribe of southwest China had a tradition similar to the Genesis account, even before they met Christian missionaries.  According to their tradition, God destroyed the whole world by a flood because of the wickedness of man, and Nuah (Noah) the righteous man and his wife, their three sons, Lo Han (Ham), Lo Shen (Shem), and Jah-hu (Japheth) survived by building a very broad ship and taking on it pairs of animals.

-Tim Osterholm

Note that in the above passage, Ham the youngest is mentioned first, as he was their likely ancestor by Sin (Sinites), from Canaan. The Bible lists Shem last, as a segue into Abraham’s genealogy. 

The Christian Bible places Shem as the middle son of Noah and ancestor of Abraham. He founded Salem, a city in the Judean hill country that was later called Jebus by the Canaanite Jebusites, and Jebu-Salem by King David. Due to his long life of 600 years, Shem actually outlived Abraham, and would have been king and high priest of Salem when Abraham defeated the kings that took Lot captive. According to the Chalzaic writings, the oral wisdom of the Jewish sages, his title was Melchi-Zedek, meaning “My King Righteous” in respect of his great age and offices. Melchizedek was the proper address, as today we would say, “Your Majesty” for a king, or “Your Holiness” for a Pope. Shem was both. 

Shem had five sons, four named grandsons, one named great-grandson, two named great-greats, and thirteen triple-greats, for a total of 26 counting him.

Shem means Name, Renown (or Infamy), Character, or Glory. He was father to the Persians, Assyrians, Chaldeans (but not the invader Nimrod), Hebrews, Arabians, Jordanians, Lydians, Syrians, and the original Lebanese (but not the Phoenicians who conquered and ruled it afterward).

5 Sons of Shem

Elam means Always or Eternity; Hidden, Concealed; having unseen potential, therefore a Youth. He was father to the Elamites (Persians) inhabiting modern Iran

Asshur means a Step or Level Plain, therefore also Righteous, Just, Fortunate, or Happy. His name in various forms was used in the worship of the Queen of Heaven or Fortuna: Inanna, Anat, Isis, Ishtar, Astarte, Ashtoreth, Astghik, Asherah. In Hebrew it also means Assyria, the land he inhabited along the Tigress River. He is mentioned with Nimrod, probably as an important vassal Semite kingdom, and not as Hamites. Today they are called Kurds, a stateless people living in North Iraq, and parts of Iran, Turkey, and Syria

Arphaxad (Arphachad) probably means Border of Chaldea, but some say “I Shall Fail” based on how it sounds in Hebrew. He was father of the Chaldeans, from which came Abraham, hence the Hebrews, Arabs, and peoples of Jordan. His principal city is Ur of the Chaldees in the far South of Iraq

Lud means Strife. If from the same root as Luz could also mean Crooked, Bending, or Almond Wood which is crooked in appearance. There are two people groups called Lydians, one in North Africa (Hamites) and another in Western Turkey that is Semite, also called Ludim, Lubim, Ludu, or Chubs

Aram means Exalted, Elevated, or in Hebrew means Syria, the land he settled. His city is Damascus, the oldest continuously inhabited city in the world. He is connected to the Aramaic-speaking peoples, principally Syria and Lebanon, but they spread out across Mesopotamia

4 Sons of Aram

Uz means Counsel, Counsellor, Contemplation – a land renowned in the time predating Moses for its wise men. Job the Sage of Edom was from Uz. Local names place it near Mt. Seir South of Bozrah – that was also inhabited by Horites

Hul means Whirling or Writhing in a circular motion, Circle, or Cycle. His people settled West of Uz in the Negev of Edom

Gether is thought to combine Winepress + Vision or Survey, possibly a location with a winepress and a good view of the surrounding lands. He settled in Aram with his father

Mash means Departed or Drawn Out, same meaning as Meshech. He “departed” from his father Aram and built a city in Mesopotamia

Of Arphaxad

Salah (or Shelah, or Siloam) means Send. It means to send anything from messages to arrows. His descendants settled in Judah. The Pool of Siloam bears the same name

Of Salah

Eber (or Heber), meaning from the region beyond, or He Who Passed Over. He is called a holy man by the Jews, the father of the Eberites (Hebrews), and therefore all the people groups arising from Abraham also. He was Chaldean from Ur.

2 Sons of Eber

Peleg means Division, a reference to the division of languages and people groups at the tower of Babel. He settled along the Euphrates River. He was the first (mentioned) to die after the flood from all the descendents of Noah, living until after the birth of Abram. If this is correct, it means that at the time of Abram’s birth, everyone from the Ark was still living. The generations following were Peleg>Reu>Serug>Nahor>Terah >Abram

Joktan means Small or He Will Be Made Small, similar in meaning to Paul. He is the last generation before the Tower was built and the people groups scattered. His people settled near Kabul, Afghanistan

13 Sons of Joktan

Almodad means Beloved of God, or How God Loves. Settled in Southern Arabia and Yemen

Sheleph means Drawn Out, as a sword unsheathed. Settled along the Red Sea in West Yemen

Hazarmaveth is a dual name meaning Court or Village + Death. He settled in Southwest Arabia

Jerah means Moon, the Ruler of Night from creation. Same meaning as Jericho. He also settled in Southwest Arabia

Hadoram means Exalted Glory or High Honor. He settled in Yemen

Uzal means to Take Off or Vanish; Going Away. His people settled Medina

Diklah means Wave like a palm branch or Palm Tree. Everyone agrees his name suggests an oasis, but Jews say he settled the Jordan Valley. Others suggest the Red Sea coast of Arabia

Obal means Not + Hidden, Bare; possibly Clear Skies. He settled Shechem in what later became Samaria

Abimael means Father + My + God. Thought to have settled on the Red Sea coast of West Arabia also

Sheba means different things in different languages – Man, Drunk, Captive, Splinter. They became the Sabeans of SW Arabia

Havilah means Circle, Trembling with Pain, Languishing; from Whirl. They settled on Bahrain Island in the Persian Gulf

Jobab means Crying Out, or Cry Shrilly. They settled Mecca in Arabia.

Shem’s name list, taken in order and using available meanings, we get something like this:

Renown concealed
The just
From the border of Chaldea
Strive in Syria
Receiving counsel
As if circling
A winepress of visions
Departing Ur
Sent passing over
To be divided
And made small
Beloved of God
Drawn out 
From the Court of Death
And Ruler of the Night
To high honor
Going away
Like a waving palm branch
Not hidden
From my fathers’ God
We tremble with pain
Crying out to Him

For previous articles on name lists, visit: 

Name Lists, Part One and Part Two