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Religious Figures: Noah and his Sons

Whenever you hear of Noah (from the Bible), you probably think of his infamous mission that involved building and manning the ark that rose above the flood. In this article, you will meet some of his family , three sons named Shem, Japheth, and Ham.

Noah and the Ark , Genesis

Although the flood myth has been told across many different cultures, it is Noah (the ninth in descent from Adam) that represents the Genesis account. Noah lived during a time when the entire world had been touched with wickedness, corruption, and violence. When Noah was 600 years old, God orders him to construct an ark with his three sons (who are 100 years old at the time).

Noah is also told to bring a male and female specimen of every animal with instructions to make them board the ark. He was then told to set off in the ark with his wife, sons, and daughter-in-laws to avoid a universal flood that would take the lives of all other humans and animals. The tale goes on to introduce the dove, olive leaf and rainbow as symbols to represent peace and other bonds established between humanity and God.

When the waters of the flood recede, the ark settles in the Ararat mountains found in the eastern part of Turkey. Noah emerges from the ark and lives another 350 years , dying at the age of 950.

The Sons of Noah

Noah’s sons are important in the Bible because they are identified as the ancestors of all the central ethic groups associated with the ancient Jews.

The oldest son is Shem, who becomes the ancestor of the Semites, which includes the Jews, Arabs, Assyrians, Elamites, and Aramaeans. He is not related to the Canannites. The eldest son of Noah would live to reach 600 years old. Shem’s great-grandson named Eber is considered the ancestor of the Hebrews. The ninth descent from Shem was Abram (who was later called Abraham). He was born 291 years after the great flood had taken place.

There is a narrative in Genesis that suggests Japheth is the second son of Noah. However, there are some accounts that state he is the youngest of the three. Japheth is the father of Javan, where a connected to the Ionian Greeks is made. In general, Japheth is noted as the ancestor to all the Greek tribes. In later references, he is sometimes linked to the Greek Titan Iapetos, who was the father of Prometheus. Japheth not only gave lineage to the Greeks, but also other Mediterranean and island peoples, the Medes, the Armenians, and the inhabitants of Asia Minor (now known as Turkey).

Ham fathered four sons: Cush (ancestors of the Ethiopians), Mizrain (linked to the Gyptians), and Canaan (connected to the original Semitic inhabitants of Palestine). However, Ham’s life did not end in harmony. Noah is said to have been the first to turn the fruit of the vine into something intoxicating. Ham finds his father passed out from the wine and calls for his brothers. Shem and Japheth (who were more religious), clothed their father and do not observe him in his vulnerable state. When Noah is once again sober, he curses Ham’s son, Canaan, who becomes the slave of Shem and Japheth.