The name Shem (Strong’s H8034 and H8035) denotes “an appellation, as a mark or memorial of individuality; by implication honor, authority, character” (Strong’s s.v. Shem), “a good name or reputation” or “a celebrated name, fame” (Gesenius’ s.v. Shem). Accordingly Shem was the forebear of God’s elect Adamic lineage from whom sprang Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and, ultimately, Jesus Christ. Not only did the elect descend from Shem, but other Shemitic nations likewise found esteem, authority and fame which was allotted to their father.
There are many misconceptions about the Biblical Shemites which have coalesced into an erroneous modern idea of the Semite as something no credible ancient writer ever conceived of. Many scholars seek to define them as one specific linguistic group, speakers of the so-called “Semitic” language family, but this approach is absolutely contrary to the historical and Biblical records. Nothing in Scripture indicates that the Noahites were dispersed in an orderly manner with genealogies corresponding to languages and so I will not be restricting my research to any one linguistic group.
Ancient interpreters of Scripture such as Josephus or Hippolytus never conceived of unified languages among the Japhetic, Hamitic and Shemitic tribes and for good reason. As we shall see in this essay, the Shemites vastly transcend the “Semitic” language group and the broader Afro-Asiatic family of languages, forming a number of prolific Indo-European speaking tribes and at least one linguistic isolate.
Much of the seed of Shem came to be mingled with non-Adamic and mixed races at an early time producing bastards such as many modern Arabs, Syrians, Afghans, Iranians and Indians. Nonetheless, we can be certain that the Shemites originated as stock which we would today recognize as Aryan or Europoid, the unadulterated epitome of the Caucasoid race.
Ancient scholars associated Shem with unquestionably White peoples such as the ancient Armenians, Lydians, Paeonians, Persians, Medes, Bactrians, Arians, Hyrcanians, Parthians, Scythians and Germans (Hyppolytus, Chronica 190, Josephus, Antiquities 1.6.4). All of these tribes were certainly Aryan, and evidently these ancient interpreters believed that Shem had sired them.
The vast majority of the various Adamic peoples in Asia and Africa were at one time or another mixed with primitive aboriginal races, deteriorating into the modern populations of most of West, Central and South Asia as well as North and East Africa. To imagine that the founders of high civilization in these lands were identical to their descendants is a naive and inaccurate view of history. As the remnant of the Adamic race watches its once glorious nations fall into decay through miscegenation and population replacement we ought to reflect on the past cycles of our race which we see reoccurring in the present day.
The Shemites dwelt generally in Western Asia, their early habitations stretching from Anatolia to India and from Arabia to the Caucasus. We find one helpful clue to identify the settlements of the Shemites in a prophecy from the patriarch Noah where he says “May God make room for Japheth, and let him dwell in the habitations of Sem” (Genesis 9.27). We must therefore seek the Shemites largely in the vicinity of the Japhethites.
Flavius Josephus tells us of Shem’s firstborn; “Elam left behind him the Elamites, the ancestors of the Persians” (Antiquities 1.6.4). Wherever we see Elam in Biblical prophecy, we find the Persians fulfilling their role in history, for instance Isaiah 13 and 21. We consistently find mention of Elam along with the Iranic tribe of Madai or the Medes at Jeremiah 25.25, Daniel 5.28, 6.8-15, and Acts 2.9 indicating their proximity, a fulfillment of Noah’s prophecy at Genesis 9.27.
We might simply conclude that the Achaemenid Persians were the descendants of Elam, however the reality seems to be a bit more complex. Ancient Iran was host to the state known today as Elam which predates the emergence of the Persians as a distinct ethnic group by centuries. In the Elamite’s own tongue they refered to their nation as haltamti while in Akkadian the nation was known as elamtu. Teispes, son of Achaemenes, conquered Elamite Anshan in the mid 7th century BC and from that time onward Elam was gradually absorbed into the rising Achaemenid empire.
The Encyclopedia Iranica informs us: “The rise of the Achaemenid empire brought an end to the existence of Elam as an independent political power but not as a cultural entity. Indigenous Elamite traditions (e.g., the use of the title “king of Anshan” by Cyrus (q.v.); the “Elamite robe” worn by Cambyses (q.v.) and seen on the famous winged genii at Pasargadae; some glyptic styles; the use of Elamite as the first official language of the empire; and the persistence of Elamite religious personnel and cults supported by the crown formed an essential part of the newly emerging Achaemenid culture in Fārs.” (Elizabeth Carter, Elam II: The Archeology of Elam, Encyclopaedia Iranica vol. 3 pp. 313-325)
Cambridge World Archaeology states: “There is much evidence, both archaeological and literary/epigraphic, to suggest that the rise of the Persian empire witnessed the fusion of Elamite and Persian elements already present in highland Fars” (The Archaeology of Elam: Formation and Transformation of an Ancient Iranian State, Cambridge World Archaeology ch. 9). Certainly the Elamites must’ve remained a considerable element in Persian society and it seems that on account of this Elam was retained as the prophetic Hebrew name for Persia. Josephus was indeed correct in identifying Elam as an ancestor of many of the Persians of his day, though his explanation may be a bit too simplistic.
Josephus informs us that “Ashur lived at the city of Nineveh; and named his subjects Assyrians, who became the most fortunate nation, beyond others” (Antiquities 1.6.4). This matches Genesis 10.11-12 where we find the description of the Cushitic empire of Nimrod centered in Mesopotamia which is there given as the region from which Asshur first expanded. In the Septuagint Ashshuwr (Strong’s H804) is rendered as Ασσυρία/Assyria. It is worth noting that Josephus doesn’t necessarily count Asshur as the progenitor of those called Assyrians but only as their ruler. Undoubtedly early Assyria incorporated diverse peoples including former subjects of Nimrod’s empire.
While Asshur himself was undoubtedly of the same unadulterated Caucasoid stock as his Noahite brethren, it seems that the imperialism of Assyria brought calamity upon their race. Despite Assyria’s foundation as an Adamic nation it is evident from Scripture that Assyria was racially corrupted at an early time and thus was counted as a nation that Israel was forbidden to mingle with (Ezekiel 16.28, Jeremiah 2.18, 36).
Eventually Assyria would serve as the means by which God would punish Israel, leading them into captivity (1 Kings 14.5, 2 Kings 15.29, 17.6, 18.11, 1 Chronicles 5.26, Josephus, Antiquities 10.9.7 et al.).
Diodorus Siculus, discussing the conquests of certain Scythian kings, wrote “It was by these kings that many of the conquered peoples were removed to other homes … one was composed of Assyrians and was removed to the land between Paphlagonia and Pontus” (Diodorus Siculus, Library of History 2.43.5-7).
We are informed by Josephus that “Laud founded the Laudites, which are now called Lydians.” (Antiquities 1.6.4). In the Septuagint at Ezekiel 27.10 and 30.5 Luwd (H3865) is translated as Λυδοί/Lydians. We might also reasonably associate Lud with the Luwians, the predecessors of the Lydians, as both groups were related peoples speaking closely related Indo-European languages of the Anatolian family.
Given the geographical proximity, linguistic relation and the phonetic similarities between the names Luwd, Luwiya and Lydia, there seems little reason to doubt that the Biblical Ludites represent both the Lydians and the Luwians. The Ludites are also the most likely source of the Anatolian Indo-Europeans who conquered Hatti (the Biblical land of Heth) and came to be known as the Hittites.
The pseudepigraphal (but ancient) book of Jubilees tells us that Lud inhabited “the mountains of Asshur and all appertaining to them till it reaches the Great Sea” (Jubilees 9.6). Ostensibly this describes the whole Anatolian Peninsula to the West of Mesopotamia until the Aegean, the land known to the Assyrians as Luddu.
Herodotus (Histories 1.94), Strabo (Geography 5.2.2) and Tacitus (Annals of Rome 4.52 ff.) all state that the Etruscans were originally Lydians who departed Lydia under king Tyrsenus in response to famine. While this account of Etruscan origins has been met by scholars with some skepticism, recent linguistic research may support the Lydian-Etruscan connection.
The Tyrsenian language theory links the Lemnian/Tyrrhenic language of the Eastern Aegean with Etruscan and Rhaetian (see Helmut Rix, Rätisch und Etruskisch, Institut für Sprachwissenschaft der Universität Innsbruck and Stefan Schumacher, Sprachliche Gemeinsamkeiten zwischen Rätisch und Etruskisch, Der Schlern, 72:90–114). The Tyrsenian languages may be related to the Anatolian family of Indo-European languages spoken by the Lydians and Luwians (Dieter H. Steinbauer, Neues Handbuch des Etruskischen, St. Katharinen).
An alternative interpretation of the linguistic data and the accounts related by Herodotus, Strabo and Tacitus might be that the Etruscans under Tyrsenus came from the land of Lud in Anatolia while they actually descended from one of the Japhethic tribes, perhaps Thiras or Tarshish (consider Hippolytus of Rome, Chronica 71 where Tarshish is given as the father of the Tyrrhenians). Perhaps they were a fusion of Ludites and Japhethites. In any case we find another fulfillment of Genesis 9.27 with the cohabitation of Shemites and Japhethites in Anatolia and perhaps Italy.
Aram, Uz, Hul, Gether and Mash.
Throughout Scripture Aram is the Hebrew name for Syria, the Northerly neighbours of the Israelites. Josephus tells us “Aram had the Aramites, which the Greeks called Syrians” (Antiquities 1.6.4). In the Eblaite or Paleo-Syrian language Armi was the name of modern day Aleppo in Syria, known in Akkadian as Arman. Throughout the Septuagint Aram (Strong’s H758) is translated as Συρία/Syria. There seems to be some confusion concerning the name Syria in ancient times, or perhaps the Greeks purposely used the term to describe a broader region than just the land of Aram.
Palestine was regarded sometimes as a part of Syria (Herodotus, Histories 7.89) and Herodotus also refers to certain Cappadocians “who dwell about the rivers Thermôdon and Parthenius” as Syrians (ibid. 2.104). Some writers, including Strabo, sometimes mistook Assyrians for Syrians (Geography 16.1.3) due to the similarity of the names in Greek.
Strabo tells us that the Cappadocians “have to the present time been called ‘White Syrians’, as though some Syrians were black” (ibid. 16.1.2). We might thus infer that, as far as Strabo was concerned, the Syrians as a whole could be described as white. The tomb of Rekhmire in Thebes (Theban Tomb TT100) contains murals depicting red haired Syrian tribute bearers.
The ancient Syrians left behind many funerary reliefs depicting themselves. These clearly display the Europoid features of the offspring of Aram. In the Anatolian city of Edessa some funerary mosaics have been discovered which depict pale and sometimes grey-eyed Aramaeans. Even today many Syrians still exhibit clear Europoid features while some could even pass as European and might be reasonably described as white.
In 2 Kings 16.9 and Amos 1.3 we learn that the Assyrians took a portion of the Syrians captive, removing them to Kir (Strong’s H7024), which seems to correspond to the region of the Kura river basin (Gesenius’ s.v Qiyr) which spans parts of Anatolia, Georgia and Azerbaijan. Josephus tells us that the Assyrians “transplanted the people of Damascus into Upper Media” (Antiquities 9.2.3).
Josephus informs us that “Uz founded Trachonitis and Damascus: this country lies between Palestine and Celesyria.” (Antiquities 1.6.4). This identification is probable, there being a land named for Uz in the vicinity of the Levant (Jeremiah 25.20, Lamentations 4.21) and certainly many of the Aramites settled in Syria.
It is evident that some of the Aramites must have spread further North. Josephus explains that “Ul [Hul] founded Armenia” (Antiquities 1.6.4). In the War Scroll (4Q492 in the Dead Sea Scrolls, column 2 verse 11) we read “they shall fight against the rest of the sons of Aramea: Uz, Hul, Togar [Togarmah], and Mesha [Meshech], who are beyond the Euphrates”. As I have explained in my essay on the Japhethites, Togarmah is to be sought in Armenia and Meshech in the Caucasus and Russia.
In light of the oracle at Genesis 9.27 we should not be surprised to find Uz and Hul alongside Togarmah and Meshech in the region of Armenia. This is further supported by Amos 9.7 which places the early Aramites in Kir in the Caucasus region (Gesenius’ s.v. Qiyr). The pseudepigraphic (but ancient) book of Jubilees reports that all the mountains of Ararat were allotted to Shem (Jubilees 8.21), specifically Aram (ibid. 9.5).
The phrase “Beyond the Euphrates” used in the War Scroll is also found several times in the writings of Josephus, notably once in his Antiquities of the Judeans (11.133) and once in the preface to the Wars of the Judeans. In the preface to Wars the phrase describes those “with the Adiabeni”, Adiabene consisting of the plains beyond the Tigris bordering Babylonia to the South, Armenia to the North and Media in the East.
In Antiquities “beyond the Euphrates” describes the domain of the 10 tribes of Israel who had been deported to Media and far Northern Mesopotamia by the Assyrians. This general region in the Northern part of Western Asia in which the War Scroll seems to place the Uzzites and Hullites fits well within the broader domain of the Aramites.
In Hebrew Hul is correctly pronounced as Chuwl (see Strong’s spelling in his entry for H2343). Samuel Bochart offers the probable identification of Hul/Chuwl with Cholobetene in the vicinity of Armenia (Phaleg 2.9). We might also associate Hul with other similar place names in the vicinity of Armenia such as Cholus, Cholua, Choluata, Cholima, Colsa, Colana and Colchis (Ptolemy, Geography 1.5.13).
Aram (H758) means “the highland” (Strong’s s.v.), yet Syria proper can hardly be described as a highland region. The etymology of the name Armenia is uncertain, but I might propose that it derives from Aram in reference to the Armenian Highlands. Armenia is certainly better suited to the meaning “highland” than Syria. Since Amos 9.7 places the early Aramites in the Caucasus region, it seems plausible that Aram’s name might be left to that country.
Gether eludes clear identification. Josephus has him as the father of the Bactrians (Antiquities 1.6.4) but there is no other evidence to affirm this. It may be that his name was left to Cathara on the Tigris (Ptolemy, Geography 5.18), but this is only conjecture.
Josephus writes “Mesa [founded] the Mesaneans; it is now called Charax Spasini” (Antiquities 1.6.4). Charax Spasinu was the capital of Characene, otherwise known as Mesene. Presumably Josephus percieved him to be the forebear of the inhabitants of Durine, the Persian settlement at the site of the later Hellenistic city of Charax Spasinu. We might perhaps associate the sons of Mash with the Persian tribe of the Maspii (Herodotus, Histories 1.125). Like his brothers and cousins, Mash may have settled further North and West as well, perhaps settling about Mount Masius in the extreme North of Mesopotamia (Strabo, Geography 6.14.2, Pliny the Elder, Geography 5.18.2) as proposed by Bochart (Phaleg 2.2).
Herodotus informs us that the Mysians were kindred of the Lydians (Histories 1.171) and Strabo informs us that many in his day regarded the Mysians as Lydians (Geography 12.8.3). Strabo also tells us that the Mysian language was at least partially derived from Lydian (ibid.) As explained earlier, the Lydians were descendants of Lud, the uncle of Mash. It seems not improbable that some of the sons of Mash may have settled in Anatolia with Lud.
Quite near the Taurus Mountains, the city of Mazaca (modern Kayseri in Anatolia) was said in Armenian tradition to have been founded by and named after Mishak, a cousin and general of the patriarch Aram (William Francis Ainsworth, Travels and Research in Asia Minor, Mesopotamia, Chaldea, and Armenia, John W. Parker, West Strand pp. 222-223). Perhaps this account contains a memory of an Aramite presence in the region.
Arphaxad, Cainan, Selah, Eber and Peleg.
Arphaxad is the most elusive of Shem’s sons, but since Arphaxad sired the Hebrews and Israelites the Bible contains a wealth of detailed information about some of his descendants. Josephus tells us that “Arphaxad named the Arphaxadites, who are now called Chaldeans” (Antiquities 1.6.4), but the usefulness of this information is very limited.
We know from Biblical genealogies that the “Chaldeans” or Kasdiy were only one late branch of the Arphaxadites (see Genesis 22.20-22 and Strong’s and Gesenius’ entries for Strongs H3777 and H3778). Surely Josephus, a learned Judaean, also knew himself to be a descendant of Arphaxad.
In Gesenius’ Hebrew-Chaldee Lexicon in the entry for Arpakshad he remarks that it is not improbable that it corresponds to Arrapachitis/Arraphka (proposed by Bochart, Phaleg 2.4) in the Northern reaches of Assyria adjacent to Armenia and Media (Ptolemy, Geography 6.1). He also notes that von-Bohlen compares Arpakshad to the Sanskrit word Arjapakshata meaning “(a land) by the side of Asia” or more properly “by the side of Arya”.
Arrapachitis/Arraphka was a small Hurro-Urartian kingdom in the North Eastern reaches of Mesopotamia near ancient Armenia and Media. The Indo-Iranic Medes were known historically as Aryans (Herodotus, The Histories 7.62) and so the comparison of Arphaxad and Arraphka to Arjapakshata seems most appropriate, Arraphka bordering on Media.
While highly apocryphal, the Book of Jubilees states that Madai had married a daughter of Shem, and preferred to live among Shem’s descendants, rather than to dwell in Japheth’s allotted lands beyond the Black Sea. He begged his brothers-in-law, Elam, Asshur and Arphaxad, and finally received from them the land that was named after him, Media (10.50-51).
Another line in Jubilees (8.5) states that a daughter of Madai named Milcah married Cainan, who is an ancestor of Abraham also mentioned in the Septuagint version of Genesis and in the Gospel of Luke (3.36). Whether or not Jubilees is canonical or accurate, it may be considered an ancient witness to a neighbour and kin relationship between Arphaxadites and the Medes. Another ancient apocryphal source, Judith, features a king of Media named Arphaxad, which also lends support to the Arphaxadite-Mede connection and an Indo-European origin for the name Arphaxad.
The Hurrian language itself is considered by some linguists to be a sister language to Indo-European or an Indo-European language proper (see Arnaud Fournet; Allan R. Bomhard, The Indo-European Elements in Hurrian, academia.edu, La Garenne Colombes, Charleston and Arnaud Fournet, PIE Roots in Hurrian, academia.edu).
While most scholars have sought the Arphaxadites among the “Semitic” speaking peoples of the Near East, there is a great deal of evidence that the Arphaxadites were indeed Hurro-Urartian as the identification with Arraphka would suggest. In Joshua 24.2 and 15 the ancestors of the Israelites are described as being pagans who dwelt “beyond the river”, referring of course to the Euphrates.
As we have seen earlier in this essay when discussing the Aramites, the phrase “beyond the Euphrates” consistently refers to the Northern regions of Western Asia in the vicinity of the Caucasus, Anatolia and Northern Mesopotamia, a broad region well within the domain of the Hurro-Urartian cultures. There are cultural aspects of Abraham and his kindred possibly indicating a Hurrian cultural origin. This is evident when they are compared to data obtained from the Nuzi tablets, which was first noted by John Bright (A History of Israel, Westminster Press pp. 78-79).
In Hurrian culture property ownership was held by family clans and their household gods and its use was leased to individual family members. Control of the household gods and thus the family property was held by the senior male which explains the importance of the Biblical story of Rebekah’s theft of Laban’s idols (Genesis 31).
Jacob’s stealing of the birthright from Esau (Genesis 27) finds context in the Hurrian custom whereby the household gods would be passed down in a dying utterance to the eldest son, or sometimes the wife’s brother. It was Rebekah from Harran who instructed Jacob to deceive his father, Isaac by disguising himself as his older brother Esau (Genesis 27.5-13).
Abraham’s fear that his slave Eliezer would be his heir (Genesis 15.1-4) becomes understandable in the light of the Hurrian practice of slave adoption. Childless couples would adopt a son who would serve them as long as they lived and inherit upon their death. Should a natural son be born to them, the adopted son would have to yield the right of inheritance.
According to Hurrian custom a marriage contract obliged the wife, if childless, to provide her husband with a substitute, just as Sarah gave her slave Hagar to Abraham as a concubine (Genesis 16.1-4). Should a son be born of such a union, the expulsion of the slave wife and her child was forbidden. This explains Abraham’s reluctance to send Hagar and Ishmael away (Genesis 21.10-11).
In the case of the stories of Jacob and Laban the Nuzi texts are especially illuminating. The adoption of Jacob by Laban (suggested by Genesis 31.43), the condition laid on him to take no other wives than Laban’s daughters (Genesis 31.50) and the resentment of Leah and Rachel against Laban (Genesis 31.14) are all illustrated by Hurrian customs.
Abraham’s ancestor Terah was said to have come from Harran in Anatolia. At the time that Terah and Abraham dwelt there Harran was a city inhabited mainly by Hurrians and an important Hurrian centre as evidenced in the Nuzi tablets.
The Mitanni were a group of Indo-Europeans who ruled over a Hurrian population. The Mitanni empire lasted from roughly 1,500 to 1,300 BC and the land of Mitanni in northern Syria extended from the Taurus mountains to its West and as far East as Nuzi and the river Tigris. In the South, it extended from Aleppo across to Mari on the Euphrates in the East. The Mitanni were friendly neighbours of the Kassites. In Egyptian records the Mitanni kingdom is refered to as Naharin from the Assyro-Akkadian word for “river”. It may well be that Mitanni/Naharin corresponds to Biblical Aram Naharayim (Aram of the two rivers), Abraham’s homeland.
The renowned Assyriologist Archibald Henry Sayce came to this same conclusion stating that “At one time it was the Hittites who poured down the slopes of Mount Taurus and occupied the fertile plains and cities of northern Syria. At another time a kindred people from the highlands of Armenia established a kingdom in Mesopotamia known as that of Mitanni to its own subjects, as that of Aram-Naharaim to the Hebrews.” (Early Israel and the Surrounding Nations, E. R. Herrick ch. 4). That the Mitanni came to Syria from Armenia is an interesting detail, as it can be established (as has been explained previously in this essay) that the Aramites (the namesake of Aram Naharayim) were well established in Armenia and may have given their name to the district.
Evidently Sayce recognized that the people of Aram Naharayim were Indo-Europeans related to the Hittites. While it is beyond the scope of this discussion, it can be established that the Indo-European conquerers of Hatti, commonly refered to as the Hittites, are not the same people as the Canaanite hill tribes of the Hethites, but were Anatolian Indo-Europeans, probably descendants of Lud (the ancestor of the nearby Anatolian Indo-European Luwians and the later Lydians). All of this points to a migration of Shemitic Indo-European tribes out of Anatolia and Armenia into Syria and the Levant in the Middle Bronze Age.
Some skeptics of the Bible suggest that Kasdim in Genesis 11.28 is an anachronistic reference to Chaldaean Babylonia of the 8th century BC. However Ur was almost a ghost town by the 8th century and so a reference to “Ur of the Chaldaeans” makes no historical sense as an alleged 8th century anachronism. More challenging for this view however is a linguistic problem: there is no lamed in Kasdim, which instead has a sibilant as its second phoneme, whereas the name Chaldaeans is never historically attested without a lamed, or with a sibilant.
Attested in the the Nuzi tablets is a personal name; Ka-ši-du meaning “Kassite” which bears far more resemblance to the Hebrew word Kasdim than any form of Chaldaean. I would posit that there is no anachronism and that the Chaldaeans were merely called Kasdim in later times as they inhabited former Kassite Babylonia. For the same reason we see Chittiy/Hittite in Scripture refers both to the original Hattians and their later Indo-European conquerors who established the Hittite Empire. It is not at all uncommon in history for ethnonyms to be recycled as demonyms by a different people.
Efforts to classify the Kassite language have placed it in the Hurro-Urartian family, which should not surprised is given the Hurro-Urartian cultural affinities of the other Arphaxadites (Thomas Schneider, Kassitisch und Hurro-Urartäisch. Ein Diskussionsbeitrag zu möglichen lexikalischen Isoglossen, Altorientalische Forschungen 30:372–381).
The Kassites also seem to have often borne Indo-European personal names, if indeed Hurro-Urartian is to be considered separate from Indo-European (Sir John Lynton Myres, Who Were the Greeks?, University of California Press p. 102, Robert MacHenry, The New Encyclopaedia Britannica: in 32 vol. Macropaedia, India – Ireland, vol. 21, Encyclopedia Britannica p. 36, The Peoples of the Highland: Vanished Cultures of Luristan, Mannai and Urartu, Vanished Civilizations of the Ancient World, McGraw-Hill pg. 24 and Stuart Piggot, Ancient Europe, Transaction Publishers p. 81).
While Cainan is not mentioned in the Masoretic Text, he is to be found in Genesis 10.24 and 11.13 in the Septuagint and Luke 3.36 follows the Septuagint including him in the genealogy of Jesus. If ever there were grounds to doubt the validity of the mention of Cainan in the Septuagint, the support found in the Gospel of Luke should easily erase it. It is also evident elsewhere in the New Testament that Cainan was counted as one of the proclaimers of righteousness, though this is a complex topic beyond the scope of this essay.
In his work An Universal History, from the Earliest Account of Time: Asiatic History to the Time of Alexander the Great, T. Osborne vol. 5 pg. 291, two ancient sources are cited, informing us that “The Alexandrian Chronicle derives the Sarmatians from Cainan ; Eustachius Antiochenus the Soggodians”. While these identifications do not precisely match, are relatively late and might thus be met with skepticism, I believe there is reason to give them further consideration.
The Sarmatians and Sogdians were related Iranic tribes, both very similar in dress, speech, religion and mode of living and they could easily be confused for one another or any of the other Iranic tribes. The Sarmatians were regarded as an offshoot of the Medes or were perhaps confused with the Medes (Diodorus Siculus, Library of History 2.43.5-7, Pliny the Elder, Natural History 6.7.19) and as discussed previously concerning Arphaxad, the descendants of Arphaxad and Cainan were certainly tied to the Medes.
According to Jubilees 10.50-51 the Medes dwelt in the lands of Shem and according to Jubilees 8.5 Cainan married Milcah, a Median woman, the mother of Selah. Taken altogether the information supports the identification provided by Bochart (Phaleg 1.2) of Selah with the Susians and the city of Sele in Susiana (Ptolemy, Geography 1.6.3) and the association of the sons of Cainan with the Sogdians and Sarmatians. The descendants of Cainan and Selah must have been an element among the Iranian Indo-Europeans who invaded Iran in the Bronze Age.
There is some confusion among many students of Scripture surrounding the term Hebrew found in our Bible. Some associate this term only strictly with the Israelites, but it is evident that this is an error where Abraham, the great grandfather of the first Israelites, is called a Hebrew (Ibriy, H5680, Genesis 14.13). Strongs entry for Ibriy says “Patronymic from Eber [H5677]; an Eberite”.
Eber of course was a son of Arphaxad and grandson of Shem mentioned in Genesis 10 and Abraham’s lineage in Genesis 11. The Israelites are refered to in Scripture as Hebrews on occasion, but the founding Hebrew patriarch Eber predates Israel by many generations, and surely the broader Hebrews must have a history apart from that of Israel.
Throughout the Fertile Crescent inscriptions of the 2nd millennium BC refer to a people known as Habiru or ‘Apiru (the B becoming a P in Egyptian). They are described throughout these inscriptions as nomads, pastoralists, mercenaries, brigands and travelling labourers and they seem to typically sit on the fringes of civilized society. There they either lived as reavers or offered their services as mercenaries and labourers to various peoples of the Fertile Crescent.
The Hebrews of Scripture were a far-reaching people known for their tendency to explore and travel. The Hebrew patriarch Jacob is called a “wandering Aramaean” (obed (Strong’s H6) Arammi (H761)) in Deuteronomy 26.5 in the Hebrew text. In Genesis 14.13 in the Septuagint Abraham is called “Abraham the traveller” (perate, from Strong’s G4009). The King James reads “Abraham the Hebrew” as does Sir Lancelot Brenton’s Septuagint translation showing that both Sir Lancelot Brenton and the Septuagint translators understood Hebrew to mean traveller.
His sojourning through Syria, Egypt, Mesopotamia and Canaan with his hundreds of warriors (most likely Hebrews. Genesis 14.14), large caravan, herds and flocks seems quite in line with the mode of living attributed to the Habiru of profane inscriptions. The Habiru were pastoralists who travelled with their herds and this often contrasted them with their urban Mesopotamian, Hittite and Egyptian neighbours. When performing labour or mercenary services they often recieved their payments in livestock. Likewise the Hebrew patriarchs of Scripture were semi-nomadic pastoralists
The ethnonym Ibriy/Hebrew (Strong’s H5680) derives from Eber (H5676) which Strong’s Concordance defines as “against, beyond, by, from, over, passage … a region across … on the opposite side … against, beyond, by … from, over”. Eber derives from abar (H5674) which Strong’s defines as “alienate … beyond, bring over, through, carry over … to cross over … bring (over, through), carry over”.
Of course such a name would be very fitting for a people such as the Habiru who spread themselves so far and wide, throughout the whole of the Fertile Crescent and beyond. All of these words derive ultimately from the Semitic root ʕ-b-r meaning “beyond”, “other side” or “across”. Among Strong’s many definitions for abar (H5674) are “bring over”, “carry over” or “deliver”. Eber finds a likely Indo-European cognate, or perhaps even a root, in the proto-Indo-European root *bher- (compare to “Semitic” ʕ-b-r ) meaning “carry a burden”, “bring” or “give birth”.
While many Habiru personal names are of “Semitic” origin, many are of Hurrian and Indo-European origin (see Robert B. Coote, “Hapiru, Apiru”, Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible, Eerdmans p. 549-550 and Carol A. Redmount, Bitter Lives, The Oxford History of the Biblical World, Oxford University Press p. 98). More recently analysis of the Tikunani Prism has revealed that the majority of the Habiru bore Hurrian personal names (Thomas Richter, General Studies and Excavations at Nuzi, vol. 10/2, Studies on the Civilization and Culture of Nuzi and the Hurrians, Bethseda, Maryland vol. 9 pp. 125-134).
The fact that the Habiru had names with varied linguistic roots has been used to support the belief that the Habiru were not ethnically unified and thus not the Biblical Hebrews who claimed common descent from Eber. This position however is ignorant of the Biblical narrative and how it compares to archaeological sources. We know from Scripture that the Hebrews were nomads with varied cultural influences.
The Hebrews in the time of Abraham seem to have been a people without a land to call their own and thus Abraham and his ancestors are found sojourning in Anatolia, Syria and the Levant in the lands allotted to Aram and Canaan. Abraham’s family clearly sat at a cultural crossroads having “Semitic” names and speech while maintaining Hurrian customs. To posit that the varied linguistic roots of Habiru personal names precludes their identification with the Biblical Hebrews is simply to express ignorance of the Biblical narrative in the light of ancient Near Eastern texts.
Like the Indo-Europeans in general, the Hebrews originated as nomadic pastoralists persisting mainly on flocks and herds of sheep and cattle, a lifestyle refered to very frequently in Scripture from the time of Abraham onward. The Hebrews also had dairy as a staple of their diet (Genesis 18.8, 49.12, Deuteronomy 32.13-14, Song of Solomon 5.1, Isaiah 7.22, et al.) indicating lactose tolerance, a trait many scholars associate with the expansion of Indo-European peoples.
The Hebrews employed chariotry in war (Micah 5.10, Isaiah 2.7, 31.1, 2 Samuel 15.1, 1 Kings 4.26, 2 Kings 13.14, 2 Chronicles 1.14 et al.), technology which was first developed and spread by the Indo-Europeans. They were also well acquainted with horsemanship in general (Genesis 47.17, Psalm 32.9, 2 Kings 19.28, Isaiah 28.28, 30.28, 37.29 et al.), a vital part of the lifestyle of the early Indo-Europeans.
The Israelites certainly exhibited Europoid phenotypes which we would expect to see among Indo-Europeans. Artistic depictions show pale and ruddy skin and frequent red or blonde hair. Literary descriptions found in Scripture portray the Hebrews with skin comparable to ivory, milk and snow, eyes like pools of water and red hair, all features one would expect of Indo-Europeans and not the races generally associated today with so-called “Semites”.
The identification of the Habiru with the Hebrews (particularly the Israelite branch) is affirmed by a comparison of the Biblical record of the Hebrew conquest of Canaan with the El-Amarna letters documenting the incursions of the Habiru into Canaan. Abdi-Heba, Egypt’s apointed ruler of Jerusalem in the Amarna period, wrote a series of letters to the Pharaoh in which he complained about the incursions of the Habiru. He was concerned that the Habiru were plundering the lands of the Pharaoh.
“Why do you not hear my call for help? All the governors are lost; the king, my lord, does not have a single governor remaining! Let the king send troops and archers, or the king will have no lands left. … All the lands of the king are being plundered by the Habiru. If archers are here by the end of the year, then the lands of my lord, the king, will be saved, but if the archers are not sent, then the lands of the king, my lord, will be lost.”
-El-Amarna Letter 286
Compare the information in this letter with the following passage found in Joshua 10.1-5.
“1 Now it came to pass, when Adonizedec king of Jerusalem had heard how Joshua had taken Ai, and had utterly destroyed it; as he had done to Jericho and her king, so he had done to Ai and her king; and how the inhabitants of Gibeon had made peace with Israel, and were among them;
2 That they feared greatly, because Gibeon was a great city, as one of the royal cities, and because it was greater than Ai, and all the men thereof were mighty.
3 Wherefore Adonizedec king of Jerusalem, sent unto Hoham king of Hebron, and unto Piram king of Jarmuth, and unto Japhia king of Lachish, and unto Debir king of Eglon, saying,
4 Come up unto me, and help me, that we may smite Gibeon: for it hath made peace with Joshua and with the children of Israel.
5 Therefore the five kings of the Amorites, the king of Jerusalem, the king of Hebron, the king of Jarmuth, the king of Lachish, the king of Eglon, gathered themselves together, and went up, they and all their hosts, and encamped before Gibeon, and made war against it.”
The Bible states in Joshua 10.26 that Joshua defeated, captured and killed these kings, including the king of Jerusalem, Adoni-Zedek. It is very likely that Abdi-Heba and Adoni-Zedek are one in the same man. The reason being is that Adoni-Zedek is actually a title rather than a proper name. Adoni-Zedek means the “Lord of Zedek”, which is similar to the name Melchi-Zedek meaning “King of Zedek”.
Melchi-Zedek was the ruler of Salem according to Genesis 14.18 and so the Hebrews would have associated this title with the prince of Salem, Salem being an early name for the city of Jerusalem. Thus the letters written by Abdi-Heba, concerning the encroachment of the Hebrews, were most likely written by Adoni-Zedek, mentioned in Joshua 10.1, or alternately by Adoni-Bezek, another king mentioned in Judges 1.7 who was defeated by Joshua and buried in Jerusalem.
This next letter is from Shuwardata, governor of Gath, who makes a mention of the chief of the Hebrews, possibly a reference to Joshua himself.
“May the king, my lord, know that the chief of the Habiru has invaded the lands which your god has given me; but I have attacked him. Also let the king, my lord, know that none of my allies have come to my aid, it is only I and Abdi-Heba who fight against the Habiru chief. Zurata, the prince of Accho, and Indaruta, prince of Achshaph, were bribed with fifty chariots by the Habiru so that they would not come to my help; now they are against me. I plead with the king my lord, if you agree, send Yanhamu, and let us quickly go to war, so that the lands of the king, my lord, might be restored to their original boundaries!”
-Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament, Princeton University Press p. 487
Shuwardata of Gath is also mentioned in the following letter from Milkilu, a prince of Gezer and ally of Shuwardata.
“Let it be known to the king that there is great hostility against me and against Shuwardata. I ask the king, my lord, protect his land from the approaching Habiru.”
-El-Amarna Letter 271
These two men later seem to have offered allegiance to Joshua in the wake of his conquest as evidenced by a second letter from Abdi-Heba of Jerusalem.
“See the deed which Milkilu and Shuwardata have done to the land of the king, my lord! They have the troops of Gezer, troops of Gath, and troops of Qeila. They have seized the land of Rubute. The land of the king has fallen away to the Habiri. And now, even a city of the Jerusalem district, Bit-Lahmi [Bethlehem] by name, a city of the king, has fallen away to the side of the people of Qeila. Let the king listen to Er-Heba, your servant, and send an army of archers that they might restore the land of the king to the king. For if there is no army of archers the land of the king will fall away to the Habiri.”
-El-Amarna Letter 290
Many scholars assert that Southern Canaan was not Israelite territory until much later, but as we have seen in the previous letter, the Habiru were active in the region at the time of Joshua’s conquest of Canaan. Chapters 10 to 12 in Joshua record their conquest, with the very names listed in the Amarna letters, including Lachish, Gezer and Gath.
The El-Amarna letter 290 is particularly interesting because though Joshua destroyed most of the inhabitants of the cities he subdued, the city of Gath was spared. Joshua 11.22 states: “There was none of the Anakims left in the land of the children of Israel: only in Gaza, in Gath, and in Ashdod, there remained.”. Another letter indicates that the prince of Gezer and the prince of Shechem both surrendered to Joshua during the conquest of Canaan:
“See the actions taken by Milkilu [prince of Gezer], and the sons of Lab’ayu [princes of Shechem], who have handed over the land to the Habiru.”
-El-Amarna Letter 287
This letter also confirms the Scriptures as these two cities were also spared in Joshua’s conquest, and they are mentioned together in Joshua 21.21. These and many other Amarna letters, from this same time frame, mention cities that had either been conquered by, or were fighting against the enroaching Hebrews. These cities match exactly with the cities Israel had captured as listed in the Book of Joshua and in Judges chapter one. The cities and lands include Lachish, Gezer, Ashkelon, Hazor, Gath, Keilah, Acco, Bethlehem, Gaza, Jerusalem, Achshaph, Carmel, Beth-Shean, Megiddo, Shechem, Makkedah, Ajalon and Zorah.
One of the Amarna letters indicates to us that the Habiru were slaves of the Egyptians as described in Scripture. Here Abdi-Heba uses Habiru in the sense of a social distinction rather than an ethnographic one as the Israelites themselves used the term. Nonetheless he testifies to the fact that the Habiru conquerors of Lachish were indeed former slaves.
“The arm of the mighty king conquers the land of Naharaim and the land of Cush, but now the Habiru have captured the cities of the king … Behold Zimreda, the townsmen of Lachish have smitten him, slaves who had become Habiru.”
-El-Amarna Letter 288
A scene depicted in the tomb of Puyemre in Thebes (tomb TT39) dating to approximately 1475 BC during the reign of Thutmose III depicts a labourer straining wine. The accompanying inscription reads “straining out wine by the Habiru”. This shows that there were indeed Habiru in Egypt used for menial labour.
Both the records of Flavius Josephus and an honest study of the chronology of the period attest to us that an 18th Dynasty pharaoh named Thutmose (called Tethmosis by Josephus, Against Apion 1.91-94, most probably Thutmose III) was the pharaoh of the Exodus. Another four pharaohs bearing this name were all related. Hatshepsut was the fifth of the Thutmosid Dynasty, and it is probably she who became Moses’ adoptive Egyptian mother, perhaps giving him a form of her family name. The sixth and eighth pharaohs of the dynasty were Thutmose III and IV. Amenhotep III then reigned until Akhenaten took the throne.
Josephus regarded the Hyksos of Manetheo’s Aegyptica as being the same people as the Israelites (Against Apion 1.91-92, 103-104). While this is only partially correct, Manetheo evidently confusing or conflating the Hebrews and related Asiatic Shemites as the Hyksos in his account, this does help to establish the correct dating of the Egyptian captivity and Exodus to the early-mid 2nd millennium BC. This is the period during which the Hyksos are known to have dwelt in Egypt. These Hyksos are commonly associated with the spread of advances in chariot warfare, metallurgical advancements and a new style of composite bow which aided them in their conquest of Egypt.
Some scholars once thought that the Hyksos elite were Indo-European and/or Hurrian peoples who bore a higher equestrian military culture into Palestine and Egypt (e.g. W. Helck, Orientalia 62, Das Hyksosproblem pp. 60-66). Recent scholarship has denied this and favours the identification of the Hyksos as broadly “West Semitic”. What language they spoke is of little importance to me, as I would contend that the transient Arphaxadites of the Near East were adopting “Semitic” speech as they migrated through Syria and Canaan.
The Habiru also seem to have varied “Semitic”, Indo-European and Hurro-Urartian cultural elements, as I have explained previously. If the Israelites and the Hyksos were indeed of the same Arphaxadite or Hebrew stock and shared cultural influences, then this explains why the two peoples were errantly conflated under the name Hyksos by the later historians Manetheo and Josephus.
That an Asiatic stock alien to North Africa established a permanent racial presence after this time is wholly evident from the mummified remains of many Egyptians of the period. The cadavers of many nobles from the era subsequent to Hyksos rule exhibit blondism, rufosity and distinctive Nordic cranio-facial structures. This is the stock that ruled Egypt when the Israelites dwelt there.
Peleg has been associated by Bochart (Phaleg 1.2.14) with the city of Phalga situated on the Euphrates (Arrian, Parthica 10.8, Isodore of Charax, The Parthian Stations ch. 1). Phalga is situated at the confluence of the Khabur and Euphrates rivers and is not far from Arraphka and Nuzi, important Hurrian centers that are associated with the Arphaxadites and Hebrews as I have explained previously concerning these patriarchs.
Joktan, Almodad, Sheleph, Hazarmaveth, Jerah, Hadoram, Uzal, Diklah, Obal, Abimael, Sheba, Ophir, Havilah and Jobab.
Joktan is commonly regarded as the father of the most ancient and pure lineages of Southern Arabia (Edward Pocock, Specimen Historiae Arabum, Clarendon Press p. 3, 38) where he is known as Kahtan (see Gesenius’ entry for Yoqtan, H3355). The Qahtani of Arabia bear his name to this day. There is a city in the territory of Mecca called Baisath Jektan meaning “the seat of Joktan” (Bochart, Phaleg 1.2).
I regard the claims to Joktanite lineage among the Arabs with some skepticism as Joktan’s name means “he will be made little” (Strong’s), and certainly those claiming descent from him are much too numerous. Nonetheless, we can say with certainty that Joktan settled in Southern Arabia. Today some of his descendants may be found scattered among the mixed races of Arabia, mingled among the Cushites and infused with non-Adamic blood.
Almodad seems to have left his name to the Allumaeotae (Charles Forster, The Historical Geography of Arabia, Duncan and Malcom, vol. 1 pp. 77–175) who Ptolemy places in Arabia Felix (Geography 1.6.7). Arabic writers tell us Almodad had thirty one sons by one woman, but all, excepting two, left Arabia, and settled in India (Edward Pocock, Specimen Historiae Arabum, Clarendon Press p. 40). Most probably they settled there with other descendants of Joktan East of Arabia (Josephus, Antiquities 1.6.4). This matches the claim of Hippolytus that Almodad begat the Indians (Chronica 176).
Bochart identifies Sheleph with the Salapeni of Ptolemy (Phaleg 1.2, Geography 1.6.5). We might also connect Sheleph with the district of Salfie in Arabia (Carsten Niebuhr, Description de l’Arabie, At Utrecht p. 215). Hazarmaveth/Chatzarmaveth seems to have left his name to the Chatramotitae (Pliny the Elder, Natural History 1.6.28), called by Ptolemy Cathramonitae (Geography 1.6.5) and founded a district in South Arabia (Carsten Niebuhr, Description de l’Arabie, At Utrecht pp. 283-294).
I am unable to identify Jerah with any certainty and can only conjecture that Jerah is connected with Yerakh in Yemen (Marásid-al-Ittila s.v. Yerákh). Hadoram may have left his name to the Adramitae of Ptolemy (Geography 1.6.5). Bochart connects him rather with the Drimati mentioned by Pliny the Elder (Phaleg 1.2, Natural History 1.6.28) though I see no reason that Hadoram may not have left his name to both groups.
Uzal might be identified with Azal, an ancient name for Sana’a (Jacob Golias, Lexicon Arabico-Latinum s.v. Sanaa, Gesenius s.v. Uwzal, Strong’s H187). This seems to be the Ausar of Pliny the Elder (Natural History 1.12.16) where was a port he called Ocila (ibid. 1.11.19). This port was called by Ptolemy, Ocelis (Geography 1.6.5).
Diklah is quite elusive and I can only offer the conjecture of Charles Forster that he left his name to an Arab tribe in the region of Arabia Felix called Duklai, which is probably descended from Diklah (Charles Forster, The Historical Geography of Arabia, Duncan and Malcom, vol. 1 p. 115, 147). Obal unfortunately evades me entirely, and I can only conjecture that his posterity must be found among the mingled peoples of Arabia and perhaps India alongside his Joktanite brethren.
Abimael is supposed by Bochart (Phaleg 1.2.24) to be the father of Mali or the Malitae. Theophrastus makes mention of a place called Mali along with Saba, Adramyta, and Citibaena, in Arabia (Historia Plantarum 1.9.4). Gesenius seem to accept this identification provided by Bochart and this seems a very plausible conclusion since Abimael seems to mean “father of Mael” (Gesenius s.v. Abiyma’el, Strong’s H39).
The names Seba and Havilah occur both in the genealogies of the Cushites and later in the genealogies of the Joktanite Hebrews. This has led to much confusion in regards to the identities of these tribes. The name Seba appears in Josephus as “Sabeus” and Havilah appears to be “Euilat” and it seems that Josephus was attempting to distinguish them from the Cushitic Seba and Havilah with these variant spellings.
I have previously endeavoured to identify the Cushitic Seba and Havilah in my essay on the Hamites but I must state that there is some uncertainty in distinguishing the peoples and places named for these Shemites from those named for the Cushites. Both Cushites and Joktanites have shared the Arabian Peninsula and mingled extensively through the ages. Nonetheless I will try to offer the most probable identifications.
While Josephus identifies Seba and Havilah as various Northern, North Eastern African and Arabian tribes, when he discusses the Joktanites he tells us they “inhabited from Cophen, an Indian river [the Kabul river of modern Afghanistan], and in part of Asia adjoining to it.” (Antiquities 1.6.4). We might then seek Havilah in the vicinity of India, Afghanistan and the neighbouring parts of Asia.
Havilah’s name (Chavilah in Hebrew, Strong’s H2341) might be preserved in the town of Chwala or Chalus on the Iranian coast of the Caspian Sea and the Russian name for the Caspian Sea; Chwalinskoje More. Another name which may be derived from Havilah is Nagar Haveli on India’s West coast North of Mumbai, though a connection to the Cushititic Havilah is equally plausible, this port being as accessible via the Arabian Ocean as it would be via land from Afghanistan. The name of the Kabul river (the river Cophen in Josephus) itself may even derive from Chavilah, the vav in Hebrew often corresponding to a B in other languages.
Sheba and Jobab elude any clear identification, leaving us with only conjecture. The Jobabites may be the Jobarites of Ptolemy in Arabia Felix as proposed by Bochart (Geography 1.6.7, Phaleg 1.2.29). If indeed Bochart is correct, then we may also associate this name with the Jobares river of India (Edwin Francis Bryant, Krishna: a Sourcebook, Oxford University Press US p. 5). Sheba may have passed his name on to the Sibae of India (Ancient India as described by Megasthenes and Arrian, Dr. Schwanbeck and J.W. McCrindle pp. 128–129) and the gulf which Ptolemy calls Sinus Sabaracus (Geography 7.2.4).
In the Septuagint Owphyr (Strong’s H211) is rendered variously as Σωφηρά/Sophera (1 Kings 9.28), Σωφείρ/Sopheir (1 Kings 10.11), Σοφείρα/Sopheira (2 Chronicles 8.18) and Σοφείρ/Sopheir (2 Chronicles 9.10). Josephus renders it Σώφειρα/Sopheira (Antiquities 1.6.4). A form of this name has been retained in Egypt in the Coptic name for India; Sofir (Gesenius s.v. Owphyr, Strong’s H211). Gesenius offers the explanation that Ophir corresponds to the part of India known to the Greeks as Souphara (ibid.).
Josephus, speaking of the voyages of the ships of Tarshish under Hiram refers to “the land that was of old called Ophir, but now the Aurea Chersonesus: which belongs to India” (Antiquities 8.6.4). Aurea Chersonesus is a form of the Latin name for the Golden Peninsula (Χρυσῆ Χερσόνησος/Chryse Chersonesos). The precise location of this peninsula is disputed, but it certainly seems to have been somewhere in the Indian Ocean. In the Peryplus of the Erythrean Sea we read “there is an island in the ocean, the last part of the inhabited world toward the east, under the rising sun itself; it is called Chryse” (Fordham.edu ch. 63). This is perhaps the most remote Adamic colony recognizable in the historical record.
Gold, silver, ivory, apes and peacocks were among the things imported from Ophir (1 Kings 10.11, 22) commodities which can all be found in India, but nowhere else can they all be found. Linguistic evidence supports the position that the Israelites gained these products from India. The Hebrew words for ape (qowph, Strong’s H6971), ivory (shenhabbiym, H8143) and peacock (tukkiy, H8500) appear to be loanwords from the Sanskrit words kapi, ibha-s and sikhi respectively (Gesenius s.v. qowph, shenhabbiym, tukkiy).
Ptolemy places a land known as Abiria in or near what he calls Indoscythia to the North of Patalene (Geography 7.1) also referred to in The Periplus of the Erythraean Sea (Fordham.edu ch. 41). These seem to be references to the land of the people known in the Vedas as the Abhira. There being ample evidence that a large portion of the Joktanite Hebrews settled in the Western parts of India, it should be no surprise if the sons of Eber left their father’s name in the region.