JAPHETH (n;), in the Bible, the youngest son of Noah 1 according to the Priestly Code (c. 450 B.C.); but in the earlier tradition 2 the second son, also the "father" of one of the three groups into which the nations of the world are divided. 3 In Gen. ix. 27, Noah pronounces the following blessing on Japheth "God enlarge (Heb. yapht) Japheth (Heb. yepheth), And let him dwell in the tents of Shem; And let Canaan be his servant." This is probably an ancient oracle independent alike of the flood story and the genealogical scheme in Gen. x. Shem is probably Israel; Canaan, of course, the Canaanites; by analogy, Japheth should be some third element of the population of Palestine - the Philistines or 'the Phoenicians have been suggested. The sense of the second line is doubtful, it may be "let God dwell" or "let Japheth dwell"; on the latter view Japheth appears to be in friendly alliance with Shem. The words might mean that Japheth was an intruding invader, but this is not consonant with the tone of the oracle. Possibly Japheth is only present in Gen. ix. 20-27 through corruption of the text, Japheth may be an accidental repetition of yapht "may he enlarge," misread as a proper name.
In Gen. x. Japheth is the northern and western division of the nations; being perhaps used as a convenient title under which to group the more remote peoples who were not thought of as standing in ethnic or political connexion with Israel or Egypt. Thus of his descendants, Gomer, Magog, 4 Tubal, Meshech, Ashkenaz, Riphath and Togarmah are peoples who are located with more or less certainty in N.E. Asia Minor, Armenia and the lands to the N.E. of the Black Sea; Javan is the Ionians, used loosely for the seafaring peoples of the West, including Tarshish (Tartessus in Spain), Kittim (Cyprus), Rodanim 5 (Rhodes). There is no certain identification of Tiras and Elishah.
The similarity of the name Japheth to the Titan Iapetos of Greek mythology is probably a mere accident. A place Japheth is mentioned in Judith ii. 25, but it is quite unknown.
In addition to commentaries and dictionary articles, see E. Meyer, Die Israeliten and ihre Nachbarstamme, pp. 219 sqq. (W. H. BE.)
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