Table of Contents
Part I: The Part Played by Shem, Ham
and Japheth in Subsequent World History
The Threefold Framework as Reflected
burden of Scripture is the redemption of man. It is not surprising,
therefore, that the threefold framework of which we have been
speaking becomes more apparent in those portions of Scripture
which relate most specifically to this theme of redemption. This
will be evident at once from the five illustrations from Scripture
given below. This threefold framework is a key that wonderfully
opens up in an entirely new way the meaning of these familiar
passages. Moreover, it will be clear also that the order of introduction
of the leading characters in each example follows the same sequence:
first Shem, then Ham, and finally Japheth.
As one studies these little cameos
one further point is worth noting. It seems as though God was
determined to preserve the trilogy, by introducing characters
at the appropriate place who otherwise seem almost entirely incidental
to the main thread of the biblical narrative at the time. I have
in mind, for example, the "certain Greeks" who would
see Jesus (Illustration No.3.), or the Ethiopian riding in his
chariot (Illustration No.4), or Simon of Cyrene who was suddenly
called upon to share the burden of the Cross (Illustration No.5).
Here, then, are five such trilogies.
1. Abraham's Three Wives
three wives. The first was Sarah, a daughter of Shem (Genesis11:29).
The second was Hagar, the Egyptian, a daughter of Ham (Genesis16:3).
The third was Keturah (Genesis 25:1). According to Hebrew tradition
(presumably based upon genealogical records preserved in the
Temple prior to their destruction by fire in A.D. 70, records
which were priceless to the Jewish people, particularly where
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Abraham was concerned),
Keturah (4) was
descended in the line of Japheth.
It may be pointed out that in Genesis
10 the sons of Noah when grouped together are habitually put
in the same order -- Shem, Ham, and Japheth -- although it is
not absolutely certain that this is the order in which they were
born. As will be seen with reference to Abraham's wives, this
order is preserved. The implication of Scripture seems to be
that in Abraham, the father of the faithful and the father of
many nations, the whole race was in a unique way united into
a single family. The subsequent events of Hagar's life in no
way alter the fact that she had become a wife to Abraham.
2. The Three Synoptic Gospels
In the New Testament
recognition of this threefold division is consistently accorded.
The Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke are termed synoptic because
they deal with the events of our Lord's life in a way quite distinct
from the Gospel of John. It has always been recognized that these
three Gospels form a mosaic.
It has been observed from the time
of the earliest commentaries that Matthew presents a picture
of the Lord Jesus Christ as King, and wrote his Gospel primarily
with the Jewish people in mind. The opening genealogy traces
this King, appropriately, back to David and to Abraham. His Gospel
is full of references to the Old Testament and continually points
out how this or that event was a fulfilment of prophecy. This
was a message directed primarily to the children of Shem.
Remembering the order in
which the sons of Noah are always given, one might logically
expect that the second Gospel, Mark's, was directed to the children
of Ham. We believe that it is. In considering this aspect of
the subject, it is very easy to introduce the ideal of racial
superiority, for Mark wrote his Gospel with the clear intent
of portraying our Lord as a Servant of mankind. In doing this,
he may either be thought to have degraded the Lord to the level
of a servant or elevated the servant to the position of God's
Anointed. The former view which seems the most obvious, is most
false. One is reminded of Luther's hymn, which points out that
he who sweeps a floor as unto the Lord makes both the floor and
the action "fine." This is a wonderful truth. That
the children of Ham have been servants
4. Keturah: referred to in Hebraic Literature:
Translation from the Talmud, Midrashim and Kabbala, London,
UK, Dunne, Universal Classics Library, 1901, p.241.
par excellence to mankind (5) -- have in fact habitually served mankind better
than they served themselves -- is not to degrade them but to
acknowledge a debt which we, with our ethnocentric pride, have
been slow to admit. As we have already said, this is a point
to be considered more fully.
That Mark wrote from this point
of view seems clear. There is no genealogy of the Lord. A servant
is known by his service, not by his pedigree. Mark is full of
such phrases as immediately, straightway, forthwith, etc.
This Man commanded power. It is a striking thing that the gods
of Hamitic people on the whole were gods of power, whereas the
God of Shem was pre-eminently moral, and the gods of Japheth
were gods of illumination. Mark's Gospel is a Gospel of doing,
of ceaseless activity. There are some references to the sublime
position of a servant which are not found in the other Gospels.
(6) Here and there
Mark refers to people as servants where the other Gospels omit
the fact, and Mark himself is singled out elsewhere as of particular
service to Paul.
Luke's Gospel was clearly written
for the Gentiles. It appears traditionally that the term Gentile
was reserved for the children of Japheth. This is reflected in
Genesis 10:5, which we shall examine a little more fully subsequently.
In Genesis 9:27 the text reads, "God shall enlarge Japheth,
and he shall dwell in the tents of Shem." This occurred
when the Jewish people committed national suicide by rejecting
their King. The Kingdom was taken from them (Matthew 21:43) and
the responsibility for its administration was given to Japheth.
But this is a temporary arrangement, and when "the times
of the Gentiles" (Luke 21:24) are fulfilled, the original
division of responsibilities will be restored.
Luke wrote for these Gentiles.
Being himself Greek, this was an appropriate divine appointment.
In his Gospel, the genealogy of the Lord, quite properly, goes
back to Adam, and the characteristic delineation of the Lord
is as "Son of Man."
5. Servant of Servants: for evidence that
this phrase is not one of degradation as commonly assumed, see
"Why Noah Cursed Canaan Instead of Ham", Part III in
Noah's Three Sons, vol.1 in The Doorway Papers Series.
6. Mark's unique reference to the place of "service,"
is found in Mark 10:44. He himself is referred to as a particularly
valuable minister, by Paul in 2 Timothy 4:11.
It is also worthy of
note that the name Japheth means "fair" or "light,"
as the word Ham means "dark" (not necessarily
black). The word Luke also means "fair" or "light."
So we have three synoptic Gospels
which, by many internal evidences far too numerous to enter into
here, seem clearly to have been written under divine direction
specifically for Shem, Ham, and Japheth ‹ in this order.
It is not certain, of course, that the actual text of each Gospel
was completed in this chronological order, but the fact remains
that God has seen to it that they should be preserved for us
from the earliest times in the order in which we find them today.
There is no direct evidence, as far as I know, that the writers
or the receivers were conscious of this association, but the
association surely is clear.
3. Those Seeking the Lord Jesus Christ
In the New Testament
there were numerous instances of men being sought and found by
the Lord. There are cases also of those who went in search of
others to bring them to the Lord, such as when Andrew first found
his brother Peter. These cases seem to be the result of the ordinary
processes of daily association, though the results were always
extraordinary. We can say this because we are given further information
about what happened to these individuals.
But there were three delegations
of people who came deliberately looking for the Lord and who,
having found Him, disappear from view entirely and are never
mentioned again. The first of these delegations was composed
of shepherds, the second, the Wise Men, and the third, "certain
Greeks." It is quite obvious from the record that the first
delegation represents the family of Shem, for they were Israelites.
It is also quite clear that the third delegation represented
Japheth, for they were Greeks. (7) The question remains as to the identity of the Magi.
We might be accused at once of
bending the facts to suit the theory in this instance. However,
these Wise Men have always been a subject of peculiar interest,
partly because of the uncertainty surrounding their origin; consequently,
very determined efforts have been made to identify them. Needless
to say, imagination has supplied all kinds of fanciful details
with respect to their subsequent fortunes. We can discount these
7. Certain Greeks: see John 12:21.
ourselves to what may
reasonably be deduced from details of the record, particularly
the gifts they brought.
These gifts were gold, frankincense,
and myrrh. It is almost certain that they came from Southern
Arabia or even possibly the adjacent portions of Africa, namely,
Ethiopia and Somaliland. That these areas were sources of supply
and stimulated considerable trade via Southern Arabia up into
Palestine and from there to the Mediterranean world is well known,
constantly referred to by early historians and by the early Church
Fathers. This led to the almost universal opinion that the Magi
had come from Southern Arabia. Although it is commonly assumed
that Arabs are Semites, this is only part of the truth; Southern
Arabia was populated by people who were largely Hamitic in origin.
This was particularly true of Hadramaut and Yemen. Elliot Smith
pointed out that the peoples of Arabia conformed in all essentials
to the so-called Mediterranean race. The earliest inhabitants
of Mesopotamia, the Sumerians, are believed to have been members
of this Mediterranean race. (8)
A few years ago, the Rev. Eric
F. Bishop from the Newman School of Missions (Mount Tabor, Jerusalem)
remarked regarding the Wise Men: (9)
Very few people have given much
thought to Arabia as the home of the Magi, even though the Jewish
magician whom Paul met in Cyprus (Acts 13:6-8) actually had an
Arabic name ‹ Elymas. . . . Furthermore, the world's
supply of incense comes from Southern Arabia and it is generally
admitted that the best incense comes from Somaliland . . People
coming from Arabia could not be described as coming "from
the East," some will argue.There are certain things that
may be said in reply. First, several commentators take the phrase
"from the East" with the noun rather than the verb.
It was "Wise Men from the East" who came to Jerusalem,
i.e., Oriental astrologers.
The point here
is that the term "Wise Men from the East" had come
by usage to stand for a certain type of astrologer whether he
came literally from the East or not. To the Chinese, America
is eastward, yet the educated Chinese would refer to its culture
as Western Culture. The Chinese to us are still Orientals, i.e.,
8. Smith, Elliot: quoted by Henry Field in
"The Cradle of Homo Sapiens," (American Journal
of Archaeology, vol.34, no.4, Oct.-Dec., 1932, p.429)
referring both to Southern Arabia and to the Sumerians.
9. Bishop, Eric F., The Palestinian Background of Christmas,
Royal Army Chaplains' Dept., Middle East Forces, Jerusalem, 1943,
"Men from the East,"
though they almost certainly arrived in this country from the
West! Bishop points out that when Clement of Rome wrote to the
Corinthians sometime before the end of the first century and
discussed with them the fable of the Phoenix, he happened to
use two interesting phrases that bear upon this subject. He spoke
of "the marvellous sign which is seen in the region of the
East, that is, in the parts about Arabia" and then observes
that "when the time of its dissolution approaches, the Phoenix
makes for itself a coffin of frankincense, myrrh, and other spices."
Justin Martyr, who lived only forty miles from Bethlehem, mentions
three times in his Dialogue with Trypho the Jew that the
Magi came from Arabia. Murray's Bible Dictionary (10) says in this connection:
The Magi of Matthew 2 probably
came from Yemen in South Arabia. The inhabitants of this region
were brought much into contact with the Jews by trade, and were
considerably influenced by Judaism. They seem in fact to ultimately
have abandoned their original heathen religion for Judaism: for
while Yemen inscriptions of 270 A.D. speak of the heathen deities
of the land, those of 458 and 467 A.D. speak of One Rahman, a
name which seems to be connected with the Hebrew Rahman, "the
The old heathen
religion of Yemen included the worship of the sun and of the
moon, a matter of some significance in the light of Matthew 2:2,
9, 10. The district was then rich in gold, frankincense, and
myrrh (16 Strabo 4, 4). An inscription of Tiglath Pileser II
(733 B.C.) mentions Saba, the Seba of Genesis 10:7 who was one
of the sons of Cush, a Hamite. This district was part of Yemen
and is listed by the King as paying tribute in gold, silver,
and incense. In the Annals of Sargon (715 B.C.) Saba is again
mentioned as paying tribute in the form of gold and spices.
It was the queen of this land,
the Queen of Sheba, who visited Solomon bringing gifts of gold
and spices (1 Kings 10:2,10). Himyaric inscriptions in Southern
Arabia show that the early inhabitants of the region were not
Semites, and their language is said to have affinities with certain
Abyssinian tribes. This accords well with the traditions which
associate the Ethiopian monarchy with Solomon via the Queen of
Sheba who herself may have been black and very comely (Song of
10. Justin Martyr, "Dialogue with Trypho,"
Chapters 77 and 78, Ante-Nicene Fathers, edited by A.
Roberts and J. Donaldson, New York, Scribners, 1913, vol.1, p.237.
a recent quarterly journal there is a note regarding the Queen
of Sheba which bears on this: (11)
The latest American Archaeological
Expedition in South Arabia has proved that King Solomon's empire
and the empire of the Queen of Sheba were coexistent, contrary
to the theory held at present. According to Prof. W. F. Albright,
the Expedition was the first to carry out a proper archaeological
excavation in South Arabia, and established contrary to the hitherto
accepted view, that the rule of the Kingdom of Sheba preceded
that of other countries by many centuries
Empire was a military and commercial one which extended not only
to the coastal cities of Arabia but also to Ethiopia.
Hormuzd Rassam, writing in a paper
presented before the Victoria Institute in London, remarked:
There is one noticeable fact
in the history of the Queen of Sheba, which proves more than
anything else her sway extended to Ethiopia, and that is the
possession of such a quantity of gold and spices (fragrant and
aromatic), which could only be obtained in tropical climates
(cf. Herodotus VI. 20).
fragments together, it seems not unreasonable to argue that the
Wise Men were representatives of the family of Ham who brought
their gifts from Southern Arabia and came to Jerusalem and Bethlehem
along the so-called northern route, up from Jericho. They could
return via Hebron and the southern end of the Dead Sea, thus
going home by another way.
It should be pointed out that they
"saw His star in the East," a fact which indicates
that for at least part of this journey they came from the west.
It may also be noted in passing, though the point contributes
little to the argument, that there are church windows in Europe
which portray the Wise Men as Negroes.
It may be conceded then, whether
as a coincidence or by divine providence, that three delegations
did come to seek the Lord representing Shem, Ham, and Japheth
in this order, and having come and established the record of
their visit, are not again referred to in the New Testament.
Yet this is not the end of the matter, for the Gospel ws preached
specifically to representatives of these branches of the race
in the same order after the resurrection.
11. In the quarterly journal, The Fundamentals,
July-August, 1954, p.88.
12. Rassam, Hormuzd, "On Biblical Lands: their Topography,
Races, Religions, Languages, Customs," Transactions of
the Victoria Institute, vol.30, 1896, p.33.
4. The First Preaching
of the Gospel
The Gospel was
preached specifically to representatives of these branches of
the race in the same order after the resurrection.
Once again, there is no doubt about
the first and the last of the two branches to receive the Gospel.
The message was first to "ye men of Israel" (Acts 2:22)
and, subsequently, to the Centurion Cornelius of the Italian
Band, a Roman and a child of Japheth (Acts 10:34). Between these
two we have that incident of Philip telling the Gospel to an
Ethiopian who gladly heard the message and believed (Acts 8:35).
Although a casual reading of Acts
2:9‹11 might suggest that people of many races heard the
Gospel at the time of Pentecost ‹ Parthians, Medes, Elamites
and so forth ‹ it is clear from verse 5 that these were Jewish
people of the Dispersion. Yet proselytes are mentioned in verse
10. This might be taken to mean that when Peter preached his
first sermon he preached to representatives of mankind. However,
Scripture seems to make it clear that when Cornelius received
the Gospel, the Gentiles were for the first time brought under
the Covenant. It may be, therefore, that Acts 2:9‹11 does
refer only to Jewish people from these countries, who are distinguished
in much the same way as German Jews from Canadian Jews. It must
be admitted that the issue is not absolutely clear. There may
have been converts to Judaism who were not Jews in the congregation
who heard Peter proclaim the Gospel.
The case of the Ethiopian followed
by the Italian Centurion seems to stand in a different context.
These were individuals singled out, who were searching for the
truth but were not in any sense proselytes.
5. Those Playing an Official Role in the
of the race took a specific part in the crucifixion.
The moral responsibility was accepted
by Israel (Matthew 27:25); the physical burden of carrying the
Cross was placed upon a Cyrenian, a child of Ham (Luke 23:26);
the responsibility for execution was assumed by Japheth who,
in the soldiers, completed the sentence which only the Roman
authorities could perform (Matthew 27:26). As far as Semitic
responsibility is concerned, the issue is clear. They said, "His
blood be upon us and our children," though afterwards they
sought to unburden themselves of this responsibility (Acts 5:28).
It should be stated here that Japheth also shared in this moral
responsibility, though it seems that Pilate would have released
Jesus if he could have found a
way to do it without
endangering his own position. Washing his hands did not relieve
him of the moral responsibility, yet there is a sense in which
he did not have the same kind of moral responsibility as that
borne by the Jewish authorities. They set the stage and engineered
the course of events, and Pilate found himself trapped. However,
in Acts 4:27, Shem and Japheth are both held responsible. Ham
is omitted, and what Scripture omits to say is as important as
what it takes care to say. Simon of Cyrene was forced to do what
he did, and his share in this ghastly undertaking was an involuntary
one ‹ one might almost say a merciful one.
Who was Simon of Cyrene? F. F.
Bruce points out that one of the leaders of the church at Antioch
was a man named Simeon who bore the Latin name Niger meaning
"Black man", identified by some with Simon the Cyrenian
who carried the Cross of Jesus. (13) In Acts 13:1, two people are mentioned together,
Lucius of Cyrene and a man named Simeon Niger. Some commentators
have suggested that the words of Cyrene in this verse
are intended to be applied to both names, i.e., both to Lucius
and to Simeon. The name Simeon is simply another form of Simon.
In dealing with Simeon of Cyrene, Steven Trapnell makes the following
Cyrene was a colony founded
by the Greeks on the coast of North Africa. It is possible that
Simeon might have been a Jew who had come to Jerusalem for the
Passover; but it seems more probable that this Cyrenian who carried
the Cross of Christ was a Negro, coming as he did from North
Africa. Such an honour and privilege, initially granted to only
one man, was given not to a Jew but to a Gentile: not to a Judean
but to a Cyrenian; not to a white man but to a Negro.
applies the term Gentile here in the same way that Jews themselves
do, considering all non-Jews as Gentiles, not making any distinction
between Hamites and Japhethites. However, carrying Christ's cross
is a servant task which, according to our thesis, belongs specifically
to the Hamites. Thus all three families played a part in our
Lord's crucifixion, and again, the order is preserved ‹-
first Shem, then Ham, and finally Japheth.
There are one
or two brief observations that it seems desirable to make at
this juncture. First, when a new theory like this is proposed,
the elaboration of it may appear to be stilted and artificial.
But once the idea has been mulled over for a while, it begins
to be a little more reasonable, and in the end
13. Bruce. F. F., The Spreading Flame,
Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 1953, p.102.
14. Trapnell, Steven, "Simon of Cyrene," His,
April, 1956, p.2.
may seem plain and obvious.
My own impression is that Scripture is designed to teach this
important truth: that God has never lost sight of Shem, Ham,
and Japheth, nor ceased to work out His purposes, using certain
unique qualities which it can be shown have, by and large, characterized
their descendants. We shall return to this subsequently.
Copyright © 1988 Evelyn White. All rights
Secondly, it will be noted that
in each of these last three trilogies, the part taken by a representative
of one of the three branches of the race (not always the same
branch) is often of an apparently incidental nature. The incidents
of the Greeks, who desired to see Jesus, of Simeon of Cyrene
who happened to be passing, and of the Ethiopian who seemed quite
by chance to have met Philip -- all these seem incidental to
the main course of the narrative as a whole. They might, in fact,
have been omitted from the New Testament without greatly affecting
the story as a whole. However, "might" should perhaps
be emphasized, because if our interpretation is correct, each
of these incidents is an essential part of a theme recognizing
the real existence of three distinct groups of people -- Semites,
Hamites, and Japhethites ‹ each of whom singly, and all of
whom together, play a fundamental part in fulfilling the purpose
We turn now to the specific contributions
of each of these families.