In his translation of Genesis, E. A. Speiser notes that the descendants of Noah listed in Genesis 10:1-32 are often simply Hebrew names for various ethnic groups and are often grammatically plural (65, 71). Note also the reference to "nations" at 10:5 and 10:32. Here are some modern ideas on which nations the sons of Noah represent:
1. Sons of Japeth (Iapetos?): races in Asia Minor, the Aegean sea (Greeks), and beyond.
Javan = Yawan in Hebrew, i.e., "Ionians"
Gomer = Gimmirray in Akkadian; "Cimmerians" in Greek
Ashkenaz = Ashguza in Akkadian "Scythians"
Elishah = Alashiya in Akkadian "Cyprus"
Kittim is the Greek Kition, modern Larnaka in Cyprus.
2. Sons of Ham: races located around Egypt.
Cush, either Ethiopia or as in Genesis 2:13 possibly the land
of the Kassites, in Mesopotamia.
Put, is Punt, or Libya.
Canaan, Canaanites, later called Phoenicians. Note that Canaan's first-born son at 10:15 is Sidon, a city in Phoenicia (and modern day Lebanon).
Other cities and lands: Babel = Babylon; Erech
Shinar = Sumer. Ninevah and Calah are both Assyrian cities, the latter built in the thirteenth centry B.C.
Caphtorim, possibly inhabitants of Crete.
Jebusites, Hurrians who ruled Jerusalem around 1400 B.C.
3. Sons of Shem: Semites, or people speaking Semitic languages. However, Semitic-speaking enemies of the Hebrews (Canaanite and Mesopotamian peoples) are classed under the "cursed" race of Ham.
Eber = eponymous ancestor of the Hebrews
Elam = Elamites, non-Semitic speakers, but "neighbor and traditional rival of Mesopotamian states" (70).
Aram = eponymous ancestor of the Aramaens, the most widespread of all Semitic groups. Aramaic later replaced Hebrew as the commonly spoken language of Israel. This is the language Jesus spoke. Joktan's sons are "various Arabian tribes."
Compare this list of Noah's descendants with Deucalion's son and grandsons:
Hellen, ancestor of the Hellenes, or Greeks. (The Greeks, both
ancient and modern, call their country Hellas.) Hellen's sons were Dorus
(Dorians), Aeolus (Aeolians), and Xuthus. Xuthus' sons were
Ion (Ionians) and Achaeus (Achaeans), thus accounting for
the four major divisions of Greek peoples. Chronology:
|Hebrew texts sung and written
J text: c. 950 B.C. (Two kingdoms split 922 BC)
|Greek texts sung and written
Homer: 800-650 B.C.