{21}   STUDY: Noah’s Descendents


        Chapter 10 lists the 70 nations, originated from Noah’s 3 sons. Despite being from the same family, these nations became different racial groups on Earth. How did this happen? The black races have passed through horrendous history. Can this be traced to Noah’s curse on Canaan?



In which year was Adam created?

[1] Estimates for the creation of Adam are usually based on the timing of Abraham who was born in or about 2000 BC. Gen 11 and Gen 12:4 indicates that 353 years passed between the Flood and the birth of Abraham. Gen 5 and Gen 7:6 indicates that 1656 years passed between Adam’s creation and the Flood. Therefore, about 2000 years had elapsed from Adam to Abraham.

[2] Archbishop (of Ireland) James Ussher published a biblical chronology in 1650-54. He dated creation in 4004 BC [and the Great Flood in 2350 BC]. His calculations were based on the genealogy of Genesis as recorded in the Hebrew Bible, the Masoretic Text. If Septuagint and Samaritan texts were used, the creation dates will be different.

o        Different scholars put the creation date at 4004 BC, 5490 BC, 10842 BC, and 12028 BC; and the date of the Flood at 2348 BC, 3228 BC, 4819 BC, and 5799 BC respectively. The first two dates are based on the Ussher method applying to Mesoretic text and the Septuagint. The last two dates are based on the “patriarchal-age method” proposed by Harold Camping. He proposed that unless it was obvious from the text that there was a direct father-son relationship, there was instead an ancestrial relationship with the named descendant being born during the year of the death of the patriarch.

o        There is another method when the “samech” characters are considered. In the Hebrew text there are overlooked occurrences of a single Hebrew letter separator interjected within the text of chapters 5 and 11 (8 times in ch.5, 8 times in ch.11, and a total of only 15 more times in the other 48 chapters of Genesis). That is the 15th Hebrew letter “samech” (equivalent to the English letter S). The letter itself can be used to stand for the number 60. It occurs between sets of verses pertaining to many, but not all, of the patriarchs and would seem to indicate separate paragraphs. These indicate that the text is not intended to be treated as one continuous chronological record. It is proposed that each patriarch is indeed the ancestor of the next listed patriarch, but there were many non-listed generations between them. With this method, the Flood is estimated to happen at 8,000 BC to 10,000 BC and the creation at 12,000 BC to 14,000 BC.

[3] Dr. John Lightfoot (same time as Ussher) said creation happened on Oct 23, 4004 BC at 9 am. John Urquhat (1902) dated creation in 8167 BC.

[4] However, there are clearly genealogical gaps (e.g. Gen 11:12 missing Cainan between Arphaxad (also spelt Arpachshad) and Shelah, as recorded in Lk 3:36). The reason is not because of inaccuracy of the Bible. In Jewish custom, “father” can mean “ancestor”, “son” can mean “descendent”. Sometimes the omission is deliberate (Mt 1:11). Because of these proven gaps in the Biblical genealogies, the date of creation was thought to be 8,000 to 10,000 years ago. However, if the genealogies were only 10% complete, the creation of Adam could be as far back as 60,000 years ago.

o        In biblical Hebrew, ab (father) can be used to mean grandfather, great-grandfather or even before, while ben (son) can mean grandson, great-grandson or even later.

o        “When X had lived Y years, he became the father of Z” can mean “When X had lived Y years, he became the father of a family line that included or culminated in Z.” However, most Bible scholars believe that the gaps are not large.

o        The ten-name schemes from Adam to Noah and from Noah to Abraham may be symbolic in creating the effect of a compressed history. For example, Matthew used an artificial symmetry in the 14-generation schemes to report Jesus’ descent. Also a comparison of Ezra’s priestly genealogy (Ezr 7:1-5) with its parallel information (1Ch 6) indicates how the former has omitted 6 names. However, in some cases, the descent has clearly no gaps, for example, Adam and Eve named Seth and Lamech named Noah.


How did different racial groups originate?

[1] When were the different races first described in the Bible?

The origin of different racial groups remains a mystery. In the Bible, racial diversity existed at least by the time of the Jewish exodus from Egypt. Moses’ siblings rebuked him from marrying a dark-skinned woman (Nu 12:1). Then, the dark skin colour of the Nubians and Ethiopians were contrasted with the lighter complexions of the Egyptians, Jews, and Mesopotamians (Jer 13:23).

[2] Secular explanation of the origin of races—natural selection and adaptation:

How did human beings develop such distinct skin colours and other more subtle differences in the relatively short time from the days of Noah to the days of Moses? Secularists believe that races were the result of human evolution as a response to the various environments that the human groups are exposed to. For example, because of the large amount of sunlight in Africa, Africans develop dark-coloured skins which offer more protection against solar ultraviolet radiation damage.

However, the explanation based on natural adaptation seems inadequate because:

[a] The rapid changes in many different racial traits are impossible to develop within the few thousand years. Genetic and anthropological research shows that natural selection cannot work as rapidly as necessary to offer a plausible explanation.

[b] The significant genetical differences are difficult to explain by natural occurrences.

[c] Genetical changes based on environment cannot be observed today. (Example: Caucasians who have lived in Africa for many many generations still give birth to entirely white babies.)

[d] Sun sensitivity works poorly as a selection effect. For example, the advantage of dark-coloured skin is too small to discourage people of light-coloured skin from settling in the tropics. Nor is the biological cost of producing dark-coloured skin high enough to give light-coloured people a survival advantage over dark-coloured people in the polar regions. Evidence for how weakly natural selection favours one skin colour over another comes from the observation that dark-skinned Eskimos live in the arctic and fair-skinned Greeks live on Mediterranean islands.

[3] Process for genetic diversification:

The Bible does not explicitly give us the origin of the different “races” or skin colors of humanity. In the beginning, there was only one race because every human being was a descendant of both Adam and Noah. Admittedly, there could be much diversity in skin color and other physical characteristics but still there was only one race.

Genetic research shows the possibilities of hybridization and breed development through selective pairing. Highly selective pairing among humans (such as marrying people with similar characteristics such as living habits or intelligence) might have facilitated the development of racial diversity. For example, if those who were more physically active married other physically active people, the new families might become doubly more physically active than the rest of the people. Eventually, they would become a distinct group. As a result of this process, many distinct or diverse groups might form out of the original single race. These groups later became different races.

Another possibility is that Adam and Eve possessed the genes to produce children with different skin tones. This would be similar to how a mixed-race couple often has children that vary greatly in color from one another. Later, the only survivors of the Flood were Noah and his three sons and their 4 wives, eight people in all (Genesis 7:13). Perhaps Noah’s, Shem’s, Ham’s, or Japheth’s wives were all of different races. Maybe all 8 of them were of mixed race, which would mean that they possessed the necesssary genes to produce children of different races.

[4] Is race related to the confusion of languages at Babel?

Some speculate that when God confused the languages at the Tower of Babel (Genesis 11:1-9), He also instituted racial diversity. God’s intention at Babel was to break up the destructive unity and to motivate people to spread throughout Earth’s habitable land masses. The separation could be achieved by diversifying language as well as introducing by God some new genetic material that caused external changes—those we recognize as racial distinctives. This assignment of genetic racial differences by God could be based on the geographic location each racial group would eventually settle so that they could adapt more easily.

The two types of change (linguistic and racial) would seem to complement each other in causing mankind to segregate. Just as geographical barriers and distinct languages helped move and keep the nations apart, they might be even more effective with the addition of superficial but noticeable differences of skin, hair, eyes, etc. Time has proved that geographical barriers by themselves do not guarantee separation, nor do distinct languages by themselves, but the three together erect a barely adequate fence—at least until the late 20th century. That this was God’s intent seems indicated in Gen 10:5,20,31 where the world’s peoples are differentiated according to their clans, languages, lands, nations.

While this is a distinct possibility, there is no explicit Biblical basis for this view. The races or skin colour of man are nowhere mentioned in connection with the Tower of Babel.

[5] Stabilization of racial traits: (continuation of the genetic diversification process in point [3] above)

After the Flood, when the different languages came into existence, groups that spoke one language moved away with others of the same language. In doing so, the gene pool for a specific group shrunk dramatically as they no longer had the entire human population to mix with. Closer inbreeding took place, and in time certain features were emphasized in these different groups. As further inbreeding occurred through the generations, the gene pool got smaller and smaller, to the point that people of one language family all had the same or similar features, thus intensifying the previously minor genetical differences.


Which of Noah’s sons was the ancestor of the Chinese people?

[1] Because Chinese are located in Asia, the most common belief is that Chinese are the descendants of Shem whose descendants live in Asia.

[2] Because Chinese have skin tone whiter than the Middle East people (who according to the Bible are Shem’s descendants), some believe that Chinese are the descendants of Japheth whose descendants are the white races. In addition, China was quite far from the Middle East and could only be reached by long travellers like the expanding Japhethites (Gen 9:27).

[3] For some, Semitic people are from Shem, and Caucasian people from Japheth. As Chinese are non-Semitic and non-Caucasian, they are from Ham.

[4] For some, Chinese are very different from the yellow races of the Middle East, the black races of Africa, and the white races of Europe so they believe that the Chinese were descendants not from the 3 sons but directly from a child (or children) of Noah born after the Flood.

In conclusion, the ancestry of Chinese has been regarded as a mystery by many Biblical scholars.


Why was Canaan cursed, not Ham?

[1] Perhaps some copyist made a mistake by leaving out the word “father” after Canaan’s name. However, there is no such support in manuscripts.

[2] Septuagint has a note that the curse should have been on Ham. The name on the Genesis manuscript was later changed to Canaan by some unknown person because Canaanites were the enemies of the Israelites in Joshua’s and David’s time.

[3] Perhaps Canaan was morally the worst son out of Ham’s 4 sons (Gen 10:6) so he was cursed.

[4] Canaan was paying for the sin of his father.

[5] Noah’s words were prophetic (similar to Isaac’s in Gen 27:27-29 and Jacob’s in Gen 49:2-27). He was prophesying the future of Ham’s descendants. This is why the word used is “shall”, not “may” (which is commonly used in curses). Later facts proved that Canaanites “defiled” themselves in sexual sins (Lev 18:24).

The last two explanations are reasonable.


Was dark skin of Africans the penalty of Ham’s sin?

[1] Some argue that Canaan’s descendants may not have dark skin.

Gen 9 gives no hint that a change of skin colour marked the change in Canaan’s future. For some unknown reason, the penalty fell only on Canaan; Ham’s other named sons, Cush, Mizraim, and Put, were excluded. The historical record shows us that few if any of Canaan descendants lived long on Earth. The OT records that the nations moving in to occupy the ancient land of Canaan wiped out the inhabitants who were Canaan’s descendants.

There is no archaeological evidence that the Canaanites had dark skin. They were later known as Phoenicians by the Greeks because from Tyre and Sidon they traded in purple dye and purple-dyed cloth garments (the Greek word for purple is phoinix). The last of the Canaanites died in the Roman-Punic wars when Carthage was destroyed. So there is no definitive proof that Ham’s descendants had dark skin.

However, most Biblical scholars believe that dark-skinned Africans are descendants of Ham.

[2] History and World Events:

Some people do not believe the curse on Canaan extends to any ethnic groups because they argue that Noah’s curse does not involve the issue of ethnicity. This line of argument is perhaps the result of compliance to modern political correctness (which often trumps truth). Noah’s curse clearly involved the descendants from Ham and Canaan.

As we have witnessed from history, the black people are indeed an unfortunate race. In history, they were conquered and were taken as slaves. Their land was colonized by white people until the mid-20th century. They were culturally backward.

Baker (1974) did an extensive analysis of ancient cultures. He drew up 21 criteria to evaluate cultures: [1] clothing, [2] cleanliness, [3] no mutilation, [4] construction, [5] roads, [6] cultivation, [7] husbandry, [8] metallurgy, [9] wheels, [10] money, [11] laws, [12] witnesses in defence, [13] no torture, [14] no cannibalism, [15] no widespread superstitions, [16] writing, [17] mathematics, [18] calendar, [19] education, [20] fine arts, [21] value in pure knowledge.

Caucasoids in ancient times developed all 21 components of civilization in 4 locations: [a] Sumerian of the Tigris-Euphrates Valley, [b] Crete, [c] Indus Valley, and [d] Egypt. The ancient Mongoloids developed a full civilization in China. The ancient Amerindians achieved about half of the 21 components in the Mayan society; the Inca and Aztec societies had slightly fewer components. The ancient Negroids and the Australian aborigines achieved virtually none of the criteria of civilization.

Today, the black people face a multitude of disasters. Physical disasters include frequent droughts, famines, and AIDS. Human disasters include Rwanda massacre (1994), ongoing massacre in the Darfur region of Sudan, totalitarianism in many countries such as in Zimbabwe, internal military struggles such as in Ethiopia, religious struggles in Nigeria, all of these resulting in massive deaths. All the countries are economically backward with little prospect of improvement, many of them in extreme poverty. It is truly a dark continent.

Yet, God is still merciful to them. Spiritually, the continent is no longer dark. Many countries have a growing Christian population (although Islam is also growing and spreading from the north). We need to pray for a miraculous relief of their sufferings.

[3] Christian Position on racial discrimination:

Some people used Noah’s curse to justify the systemic discrimination of black people, such as apartheid (racial segregation system in South Africa, disbanded in 1989). This is unwarranted. If a racial group is cursed by God, it is up to God to dispense judgment. To us, each person in that group is still an image of God, deserving the same dignity as everyone else. Racial discrimination is always wrong.



        All races are originated from the same source (Adam) and all are in the image of God (Ac 17:26). Any form of racial discrimination and segregation should not be tolerated.

        Most important of all, God opens the door of salvation for everyone in the world. As Peter said: “Truly I understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.” (Ac 10:34-35)