B’reishit, Chapter 10: The descendants of Noah

This chapter tells us the children of Noah’s sons, Shem, Ham, and Yafet, as well as their grandchildren.  

According to this chapter, Noah’s grandchildren and great grandchildren were the parents of the different nations of the world.  They each had their own land and culture and they spoke different languages.  In fact, the names of Noah’s sons were used by early historians and linguists to label the peoples of the world: Shem became the father of the Semitic people, Ham became the father of the Afro-Asiatic, and Yafet became the father of Eurasians.  For example, we know that there are groups of languages that are related to one another — English is related both to German languages and to Romance languages in different ways.  Most linguists accept the idea that most European and some Asian languages are related to one another, called Indo-European languages.  The earliest term for those languages, however, was the Japhetic languages, coming from Noah’s son Yafet.  We still call “Semitic” languages by a name originating from the name Shem.  Linguists do not know if there was ever an original language which served as the parent of all the language in a family, so the original Indo-European language is known simply as “proto Indo-European.”  It is fascinating that the Bible makes note that cultures and languages are related to one another and divides the nations of the world into such groups.

Rabbi Roy Feldman

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B’reishit, Chapter 10: The descendants of Noah

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