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Shem, Sons of Noah Shem
Born1557 AM
(date disputed)[note 1]
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Shem, Sons of Noah Shem
Born1557 AM
(date disputed)[note 1]
Shem Ham and Japheth by James Tissot 1904.

Shem (Hebrew: שֵם, Modern Shem Tiberian Šēm ; Greek: Σημ Sēm; Arabic: سام Sām; Ge'ez: ሴም, Sēm; "renown; prosperity; name") was one of the sons of Noah in the Hebrew Bible as well as in Islamic literature. He is popularly regarded as the eldest son, though some regard him as the second son. According to some Rabbinic traditions, Shem was born without a foreskin (aposthia); which may indicate a basis for circumcision that predates the covenant of Abraham. There is however, no explicit indication of this in the Genesis text. [1][2] Genesis 10:21 refers to relative ages of Shem and his brother Japheth, but with sufficient ambiguity to have yielded different translations. The verse is translated in the KJV as "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 New American Standard Bible gives, "Also to Shem, the father of all the children of Eber, and the older brother of Japheth, children were born."

Genesis 11:10 records that Shem was still 100 years old at the birth of Arphaxad, (but nearly 101 - see Chronology note,) two years after the flood, making him barely 99 at the time the flood began; and that he lived for another 500 years after this, making his age at death 600 years.

The children of Shem were Elam, Asshur, Arphaxad, Lud, and Aram, in addition to daughters. Abraham, the patriarch of the Hebrews and Arabs, was one of the descendants of Arphaxad.

Islamic literature describes Shem as one of the believing sons of Noah. Some sources even identify Shem as a prophet in his own right and that he was the next prophet after his father.[3] In one Muslim legend, Shem was one of the people that God made Jesus resurrect as a sign to the Children of Israel.[4]

The 1st-century historian Flavius Josephus, among many others, recounted the tradition that these five sons were the progenitors of the nations of Elam, Assyria, Chaldea, Lydia, and Syria, respectively.

The associated term Semitic is still a commonly used term for the Semitic languages, as a subset of the Afro-Asiatic languages, denoting the common linguistic heritage of Arabic, Aramaic, Akkadian, Ethiopic, Hebrew and Phoenician languages.

According to some Jewish traditions (e.g., B. Talmud Nedarim 32b; Genesis Rabbah 46:7; Genesis Rabbah 56:10; Leviticus Rabbah 25:6; Numbers Rabbah 4:8.), Shem is believed to have been Melchizedek, King of Salem whom Abraham is recorded to have met after the battle of the four kings.

In a few of the many extra-biblical sources that describe him, Shem is also credited with killing Nimrod, son of Cush.[citation needed]

Shem is mentioned in Genesis 5:32, 6:10; 7:13; 9:18,23,26-27; 10; 11:10; also in 1 Chronicles 1:4.

Geographic identifications of Flavius Josephus, c. 100 AD; Japheth's sons shown in red, Ham's sons in blue, Shem's sons in green.

Proposed lineages from Shem[edit]

Descendants in Genesis 10 and 11[edit]

According to the Bible, Genesis 10:22-31

22 The children of Shem: Elam, and Asshur, and Arphaxad and Lud and Aram.
23 And the children of Aram; Uz and Hul, and Gether and Mash.
24 And Arphaxad begat Salah and Salah begat Eber.
25 And unto Eber were born two sons: the name of one [was] Peleg; for in his days was the earth divided;
and his brother's name [was] Joktan.
26 And Joktan begat Almodad, and Sheleph, and Hazarmaveth, and Jerah.
27 And Hadoram, and Uzal and Diklah,
28 And Obal, and Abimael and Sheba,
29 And Ophir, and Havilah, and Jobab: all these were the sons of Joktan.
30 And their dwelling was from Mesha, as thou goest unto Sephar a mount of the east
31 These [are] the sons of Shem, after their families, after their tongues, in their lands, after their nations.

Excerpts from Genesis 11:10-26—

Shem [was] an hundred years old, and begat Arphaxad two years after the flood ...
Arphaxad lived five and thirty years, and begat Salah ...
Salah lived thirty years, and begat Eber ...
Eber lived four and thirty years, and begat Peleg ...
Peleg lived thirty years, and begat Reu ...
Reu lived two and thirty years, and begat Serug ...
Serug lived thirty years, and begat Nahor ...
Nahor lived nine and twenty years, and begat Terah ...
Terah lived seventy years, and begat Abram, Nahor, and Haran ... and Haran begat Lot


Some believe that from Shem descend the whole of the European peoples. Ernest L. Martin writes, "...[The] Shemite tribes (people who were descendants of Shem and including some peoples who came from Abraham) later colonized the whole of southern Europe and replaced the people of Javan and his four descendants. Javan's people were pushed mainly into the northern areas of Europe where in turn they migrated farther east into Asia (along with Gomer the firstborn son of Japheth and his descendants)." [5]


Some scholars have claimed that the Anglo-Saxons are the descendants of Shem. "Alfred, king of the Anglo-Saxons [b. 849 A.D.] was... the son [descendant] of Sem [Shem]" (Church Historians of England, vol. 2, p. 443). Proponents of this theory also claim that Alfred the Great was a descendant of Shem because he claimed to descend from Sceafa, a marooned man who came to Britain on a boat after a flood.[citation needed]

Le Petit, a writer in 1601 mentioned King Adel, said to be descendant of Shem, ruler of Britain having 3 children that migrated to India.

Further, it is said[who?] that Tuitsch a German patriarch is none other than Shem himself (see Assyrian-German theory).

Hellenistic (Greek)[edit]

A text from the Islamic world claims that the Greeks derived from Shem: Tabari II:11 “Shem, the son of Noah was the father of the Arabs, the Persians, and the Greeks;...

In the Chronicles of George the Monk and Symeon Logothetes, the following genealogy occurs: "To the lot of Shem fell the Orient, and his share extended lengthwise as far as India and breadthwise (from east to south) as far as Phinocorura, including Persia and Bactria, as well as Syria, Media (which lies beside the Euphrates River), Babylon, Cordyna, Assyria, Mesopotamia, Arabia the Ancient, Elymais, India, Arabia the Mighty, Coelesyria, Commagene, and all Phoenicia."[6]


According to Abulgazi, Shem's original land was Iran while Japheth's was the country called "Kuttup Shamach," said to be the name of the regions between the Caspian Sea and India.[7]

According to Armenian tradition, Dr. Hales is quoted saying, "To the sons of Shem was alloted the middle region of the earth viz., Palestine, Syria, Assyria, Samaria (Shinar?) Babel (or Babylonia), Persia and Hedjaz (Arabia).[8]

In Mystery of the Ages, by Dr. James Modlish, it is said that that north-west part of South Asia is inhabited by Shemites.[9]

Hisham Ibn Al-Kalbi, a 19th-century Arab historian, states that al-Hind and al-Sind are of Ophir, the son of Joktan.[10] Isidore of Seville (c. 635) had also made Joktan the ancestor of the natives of north-west part of South Asia; his material was based on earlier enumerations made by Jerome and Josephus, who had stated that Joktan's descendants "inhabited from Cophen, an Indian river, and in part of Asia adjoining to it."

Racial connotations[edit]

Some writers have associated Noah's sons with different skin colors or alleged races. For instance the Jewish text Pirqei R. Eliezer, depicts God as dividing the earth among Noah's sons, Shem, Ham, and Japheth,[note 2] and attributing different skin colors to them (literally, "blessing" them with different skin colors): light colored skin for the Japhetites, medium dark or brown for the Semites, and very dark or black for the Hamites.[citation needed]

That passage from Pirqei R. Eliezer, a writing which was composed in Israel after[according to whom?] the Islamic conquest, is paralleled in an Arabic text of approximately the same period but gives some noticeably different information. The Persian historian Tabari quotes Ibn Abbas (d. 686-8) as saying: "Born to Noah were Shem, whose descendants' colors are a black complexion with a light-brownish undertone (bayādh) and a dark blackish brown (Udmah); Ham, whose descendants' colors are true black (sawād) and a few are a black complexion with a light-brownish undertone (bayādh qalīl); and Japheth, whose descendants are very fair-skinned (al-shuqrah) and olive-skinned (al-humrah)". (Tarikh al-Tabari)[full citation needed]

Tabari repeats that tradition again in the name of Ibn Abbas, but this time has dark, blackish brown (Udmah) and a few are a black complexion with a light-brownish undertone (bayādh qalīl) for Ham. So dark blackish brown (udmah) is used instead of true black (sawād). "Udmah" is described as deep sumra.[citation needed] Ibn Mandhur[who?] describes sumrah as wurqah, which is translated[by whom?] as blackness in the color of the earth (sawaad feel-ghabrah), and ranges all the way to true black (sawād).[citation needed]

Al-Tha'aalabi says in his book Fiqh Al-Lughah (Understanding Language) in chapter 13 titled 'The Degrees of Blackness in Humans': "If there is a slight blackness in his/her complexion, he/she is asmar (sumrah). If his/her blackness is more intense with some yellow showing, he/she is as-ham. If his/her blackness is more intense than asmar, he/she is Adam (udmah). If his/her blackness is more intense than that of Adam, he/she is asham. If he/she is extremely black, he/she is adlam (dalam)."[citation needed]

Bar Hebraeus speaks of Noah dividing the world among his three sons, with Ham getting the Land of the Blacks (sūdān), Shem the Land of the Browns (sumra), and Japheth the Land of the Reds (łuqra).[11][full citation needed]

Josiah Priest (1788–1851) believed that Shem, because he was a descendant in the Adamic line, and because "Adam" means reddish in Hebrew, that Shem too was of the "reddish race". Further, he believed that because Christ was a descendant in the line of Shem, that Christ was of "copper-colored stock".[12]

According to ISBE, Shem means "dusky", and Japheth means "fair." [13]

According to an Armenian tradition, "Shem had the region of the tawny, Japhet that of the ruddy, and Ham that of the blacks".[14]

Genealogies according to "Book of Jasher"[edit]

The genealogy of Shem to Abraham according to the Holy Bible, showing the origin of the Moabites, Israelites, Ammonites, Ishmaelites, Edomites, Midianites, Assurites, Leturites and Leumites.

A rabbinic document that surfaced in the 17th century, claiming to be the lost "Book of Jasher" provides some names not found in any other source. Some have reconstructed more complete genealogies based on this information as follows:

Shem. Also Sem Literal meanings are named or renown (father of the Semitic races - Shemites). The sons of Shem were:

See also[edit]



  1. ^ The 1557 Anno Mundi birthdate for Shem is based on the standard Massoretic text as represented in the Authorized Version. Septuagint and Samaritan texts have different values. See Chronology of the Bible.
  2. ^ "The names of Noah’s sons were prophetic. Shem signifies name or renown (the Scriptures have been given to us through the family of Shem, and Christ was of that family); Ham signifies hot or black (his descendants mainly peopled Africa); and Japheth signifies either fair or enlarged (his descendants are the white-faced Europeans, who have gone forth and established colonies in all the other grand divisions of the globe)." —Hassell, Cushing Biggs; Hassell, Sylvester (1886). "Page 60 footnote". History of the Church of God: From the Creation to A. D. 1885; Including Especially the History of the Kehukee Primitive Baptist Association (Google eBook). G. Beebe. p. 60. Retrieved 4 July 2013. 


  1. ^ "SHEM". Retrieved 2013-12-17. 
  2. ^ "Aposthia-A Motive of Circumcision Origin". Retrieved 2013-12-17. 
  3. ^ Historical Dictionary of Prophets in Islam and Judaism, Wheeler, Shem
  4. ^ Stories of the Prophets, Ibn Kathir, Story of Jesus
  5. ^ "Prophetic Geography and the Time of the End". 1943-05-22. Retrieved 2013-12-17. 
  6. ^ Serge A. Zenkovsky's, Cited from In Serge A. Zenkovsky's, Medieval Russia's Epics, Chronicles, and Tales, Medieval Russia's Epics, Chronicles, and Tales, Revised and Enlarged Edition. (NY: Meridian Books, 1974)
  7. ^ P. 94, Annals and Antiquities of Rajasthan
  8. ^ P. 27 Assyria: Her Manners and Customs, Arts and Arms: Restored from Her Monuments By Philip
  9. ^ Mystery of the Ages, by Dr. James Modlish
  10. ^ p. 1769 A dictionary of the Bible comprising its antiquities, biography, geography, and natural history. by William Smith, John Mee Fuller
  11. ^ [M. Sprengling and W.C. Graham, ed., Barhebraeus‘ Scholia on the Old Testament, pp. 34-35 and 44-45. Bar Hebraeus' father was a Jewish convert to Christianity (thus the name). The quotation is from J.B. Segal, The Encyclopedia of Islam, second edition, 3:805, s.v. Ibn al- Ibrī.]
  12. ^ The Forging of Races: Race and Scripture in the Protestant Atlantic World, 1600-2000 By Colin Kidd
  13. ^ McKissick, Beyond Roots. P. 108)
  14. ^ Sandys, William (1852). Christmastide: its history,festivities and carols. London: John Russell Smith. p. 162. Retrieved 4 July 2013. "(quote was continued from page 161 – the context is about the supposed three wise men of Christmas:) "Many of the ancient ecclesiastical writers endeavoured to find out mystical meanings in every sacred subject, in which, however, they have followers in the present day; so that the variety in appearance of the Three Kings may be supposed to have some reference to the three races of man..." 
  15. ^ Book of Jasher (trans. Moses Samuel c. 1840, ed. J. H. Parry 1887) Chapter 7:15
  16. ^ "The Table of Nations: Ham, Shem and Japheth, Sons of Noah - Courtesy of Return To Glory". Retrieved 2013-12-17. 
  17. ^ a b Book of Jasher (trans. Moses Samuel c. 1840, ed. J. H. Parry 1887) Chapter 7:16
  18. ^ a b Book of Jasher (trans. Moses Samuel c. 1840, ed. J. H. Parry 1887) Chapter 7:17

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