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Nations, The Seventy


NATIONS, THE SEVENTY , a conception based on the list of the descendants of Noah given in Genesis 10, usually called "The Table of Nations." According to the table, all the nations of the earth may be classified as descended from one or another of Noah's three sons, Shem, Ham, and Japheth. The principle behind the classification is generally geographic proximity rather than ethnic or linguistic connections. Those nations descended from Japheth are *Gomer (Cimmerians), Madai (Medes), Javan (Ionians), *Ashkenaz (Scythians), *Elisha and *Kittim (Cypriots), and others (10:2–4). The lands occupied by the Japhethites bordered the Fertile Crescent in the north and penetrated the maritime regions in the west. The principal subdivisions of the descendants of Ham are Cush (the peoples of the southern shore of the Red Sea), Miẓraim (Egypt), Put (location uncertain, probably Cyrene), and Canaan (10:6–20). The descendants of Cush are listed in 10:7 as Seba, *Havilah, Sabtah, Raamah, and Sabtecha. According to 10:8, Cush had another son, *Nimrod, whose rule extended over all Mesopotamia. That a Mesopotamian ruler is here linked to the peoples adjacent to the Red Sea stems from the confusion caused by the fact that there were two nations known by the name Cush, one in the Nile region ("Nubia, Ethiopia") and another in Mesopotamia (the Kassites; Akk. Kaššû). The Bible often telescopes the two. The inclusion of the Philistines and the Cretans (Caphtorim) in the list of the descendants of the Egyptians (Miẓraim; verses 13–14) is another problem, as there is clearly no ethnic or linguistic connection between these peoples. The reason for including the Philistines in the list must, therefore, have been geographic; Crete was included because it was the original home of the Philistines. The inclusion of the Ludim, if this refers to the Lydians, in this list is also a problem. It is possible that this refers to the invasion of Egypt by the Sea Peoples. Another Lud is also mentioned as a descendant of Shem (verse 22). The classifying of Canaan in the Hamite branch of nations is again perplexing, there being no ethnic or linguistic connections between the Canaanites and the Egyptians (verse 6). The subdivision of the Canaanites is problematic too: the inclusion of Phoenicia (Sidon) among the subdivisions of the Canaanites is appropriate, since the Phoenicians referred to their country as Canaan, and the Phoenician language is close to Hebrew. However, it cannot be on ethnolinguistic grounds that the Jebusites, Hittites, Hivites, and others are listed as Canaanites (10:15–18). It seems that once again the principle behind the classification is geographic proximity. The territory of the Hamites extended from Phoenicia, through western Palestine, to northeastern Africa. The Shemites included all the "children of Eber," the eponym of the Hebrews (10:21), and hence were therefore given prominence. The Assyrians, Arameans, and numerous tribes of Arabians were classified as Shemites. It is not clear why the Elamites, whose center was southwest Persia, were considered Shemites (10:22). Perhaps they were listed with Ashur (Assyria) because they were the nearest neighbor to the east of Mesopotamia. Arpachshad, listed as the grandfather of Eber, is otherwise unknown; the name appears to be non-Semitic.

That the table does not aim at completeness is suggested by verse 5a, "From these [sons of Japheth] the maritime nations branched out" – here unnamed. Moab and Ammon, the descendants of Nahor and Keturah, the Ishmaelite tribes and Edom, and Israel itself are intentionally omitted, for they find their place at later stages of the narrative. Unexplained is the omission of Babylon. The earliest dating of the table is determined by the presence of the Cimmerians and the Scythians, who appeared in Asia Minor only in the eighth century. In general, the horizon of the table agrees remarkably (with the exception of Babylon) with that of Jeremiah (e.g., 46:9; 51:27–28) and Ezekiel (27:1ff.; 38:2ff.; 39:1), and it is likely that the table in its present form was known to these prophets. Heterogeneous and inconsistent (cf. the discrepancy between verse 7 and verses 28–29 regarding Havilah and Sheba), the table is assumed to be a combination of various sources. The material is conventionally allocated between j (verses 8–19, 25–30) and p (all the rest). Together with the story of the Tower of Babel, the table marks the end of the primeval history of mankind and the transition to the patriarchal history, which is played out against a background of a world filled with nations. Like the genealogies of 11:10–30; 25:12–18; and 36:1ff., it enables the narrative to maintain its focus on the main line of Israel's descent by summarily disposing of all collateral lines. At the same time, it shows the fulfillment of God's blessing of Noah and his sons with fertility (9:1, 7), and locates the ancestors of Israel in relation to the rest of mankind. The Jewish tradition that mankind is made up of 70 nations is based on the count in the table–although a sum is not stated in the text (cf. the itemization in Pesikta Zutreta, No'aḥ) and seems to underlie Deuteronomy 32:8, which speaks of God's "dividing mankind… in accord with the number of the sons of Israel" (namely, 70; Gen. 46:27). On the other hand, the Septuagint and the 4q Deuteronomy fragment that read "the sons of God" (i.e., angels) instead of "the sons of Israel" reflect the notion, dated as early as the Persian period (Dan. 10:20) and possibly earlier (Ps. 82:7) that every nation has a divine patron – again, 70, in accord with Jewish tradition (Charles, Apocrypha, 2 (1913), 363 (late Hebrew Test. Patr., Naph. 9), Pesikta Zutreta, ibid.).

The Table of Nations served as the basis of later Jewish ethnography; for representative attempts to embrace contemporary ethnogeography under its rubrics compare Jubilees, chapters 8–9; Josephus, Antiquities, 1:122–147; Targum Jonathan to Genesis 10; Genesis Rabbah, 37; and for the late Middle Ages, Abrabanel, at the end of his commentary to Genesis 10.

In the Midrash

In early Christian sources 72 nations and tongues were assumed (e.g., Hippolytus, 10:26; Clement of Alexandria, Stromata 1:26), perhaps following the Septuagint version of Genesis 10. This chapter was considered a scientific account of the division of mankind into three races – Semitic, Hamitic and Japhethic – distributed in three separate zones (Jub. 7:10ff.). There are, however, varying opinions as to how many nations belonged to each "race." The commonest system (Mid. Ps. to 9:7; et al.) ascribes to Japheth 14 nations, Ham 30, and Shem 26 (total 70), while the Yalkut Shimoni, Genesis 61 gives a reckoning of Japheth 15, Ham 32, and Shem 27. From this total of 74, however, subtract Shem, Arpachshad, Shelah, and Eber, who were righteous, and thus again there is a total of 70.

There is, moreover, another tradition of 60 nations, based on an exegesis of the Song of Songs 6:8 (Mid. Hag. to Gen. 10:1). Numbers Rabbah 14:10 speaks of 70 nations and 60 kingdoms, giving a total of 130 (cf. Num. 7:13). The tradition of 72, which is found in A. Zacuto's Yuḥasin (ed. Cracow (1580–81), 135) is also echoed in Midrash Haggadah to Genesis 10:32. It has been suggested that the 72 nations are the 70 "Noahite" nations plus Israel and Edom. However, Abrabanel (on Gen. 10:2) states that a straightforward reading of chapter 10 suggests 73 nations; thus 72 may have been reached by excluding the Philistines, who in Genesis 10:14 are designated as a mixed race. Just as there were 70 nations, so there were 70 languages (cf. Targ. Jon., Gen. 11:7 and Deut. 32:8). Thus the law engraved on the tablets on Mt. Ebal (Deut. 27:2ff.) was written in 70 languages (Sot. 7:5), so that all nations might read it. For the same reason, the divine voice that made itself heard at Sinai divided itself into 70 tongues (Shab. 88b et al.). However, according to Aggadat Bereshit 14 there are 71 languages. Perhaps the Philistines were included in that reckoning. The motif of the 70 nations is widely used in rabbinic literature (as is its derivative, the 70 tongues, e.g., Sefer ha-Yashar, Mi-Keẓ). Thus the 70 sacrifices offered on Tabernacles are said to atone for the 70 nations (Suk. 55b). The silver bowls, which the princes of the 12 tribes offered to the Tabernacle (Num. 7:13) weighed 70 shekels; so too did 70 nations spring from Noah (Num. R. 14:12). The 70 members of the Sanhedrin were likewise thought to correspond to the 70 nations of the world (Targ. Yer., Gen. 28:3).


S. Krauss, in: Jewish Studies in Memory of G.A. Kohut (1935), 379ff.; J. Simons, in: ots, 10 (1954), 182–4; E.A. Speiser, in: idb, 3 (1962), 235ff. (incl. bibl.); For the 4q Deut. fragment see P. Skehan, in: basor, 136 (1954), 12–15; See also commentaries to Genesis. In the Midrash: Ginzberg, Legends, 5 (1925), 194f.; 7 (1938), 429; Guttmann, Mafte'aḥ, 2 (1917), 73ff.; M. Steinschneider, in: zdmg, 4 (1850), 150ff.; 57 (1903), 476f.; S. Krauss, in: zaw, 19 (1899), 1–14; 20 (1900), 38–43; S. Poznański, ibid., 24 (1904), 301–8.

[Daniel Sperber]

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