Westermann, in his commentary of Genesis 10, voices the discomfort of those who would like to think of geography in ANE according to a Cartesian paradigm: "The sons of Japheth however, the nations of the far north, have nothing at all to do with a genealogy of the sons of Noah; this is not possible because they only became known to Israel in the 7th century (the greater number of these names occur also in Ezekiel)" (WG 503).
No relief to the perplexed comes from the constatation that Japheth is the third son of Noah (Gn 10:9), nonetheless his genealogy comes first in Genesis 10. To explain the many inconsistencies of this bizarre document, the so-called "Table of Nations", the exegetes have resorted to the theory of Documentary sources, and that’s how Westermann deals with Genesis 10:21: "To Shem also sons were born, to him who was the father of all the sons of Eber, to the elder brother of Japheth", surmising it is an addition from the Jahvistic source: "’the elder brother of Japheth’ is also directed to Shem’s exaltation. The genealogy of Shem takes the third place in Gen 10: this could give a negative impression. The author therefore following the sequence in 9:18, underscores the fact that Shem, not Japheth, is the eldest son of Noah" (WG 525). Cassuto, who represents the most adamant opposer of the Documentary Hypothesis, tried to make sense of another disputed verse, which seems to bewilder any grip of order: "Noah awoke from his wine and knew what his youngest son had done to him" (9:24), advocating a more flexible view of lists. Ham was the middle son and the commentators have always thought that "the usual order in which the sons were listed in the Bible […] represented the order of seniority" (CG1 164).
A correct understanding of Genesis 10, of what may look like a garbled geographical manifesto, a dazibao of inscrutable ideologies (Oded 1986 : 14), depends on the recognition of its phraseology. One of the expressions that require an explanation is "son of": Gomer "son of" Japheth would mean that Gomer has settled in the territory of Japheth (Mazzarino 1989 : 134). From this standpoint, a few interesting conclusions may follow, about Gomer, to begin with. Scholars agree that the "Gomer" of Genesis stands for the Cimmerians (WG 504), a people known to the chronicles of ancient courts (Lanfranchi 1990 ; Ivantchik 1993 ), who invaded the kingdom of Lydia between 695 and 675 B. C. ca. (Hartman 1962 ; Lombardo 1980 ), and was driven back around 630 (Kõiv 2008 ), after the death of their king Tugdamme (Adalı 2013 ).
The Cimmerians showed up in the Urartian chronicles in 715 B. C., according to the reconstruction of Salvini (1998 : 140-141; Maniori 2010 : 204-205; see Lipinski 1994  and Fuchs 2010  for the Assyrian records). Albeit no definite historical record is available on the final expulsion of the Cimmerians from Anatolia, the presence of Gomer in the Table sets two landmarks for any attempt to reconstruct the historical background of Genesis: 1) the terminus post quem of the Table must be the Cimmerian invasion, pending an earlier historical reference; 2) Japheth, his "father", represents Anatolia (Lipinski 1990 ; Louden 2013 ). From this point of view, Genesis shows to be dependent on Assyrian and Babylonian sources, which define as Iavan/Iaman the southwestern part of Anatolia (Brinkman 1989 ; Rollinger 1997 ; Parker 2000 ; Rollinger 2001 ; Kuhrt 2002 ; Fantalkin 2006 ; Boardman 2006 ; Bremmer 2008 ; Rollinger 2011 ).
Being Javan the son of Japheth, "Gomer, Magog, Madai, Javan, Tubal, Meshech and Tiras" (Gn 10:2) are to be confidently considered Anatolian peoples, and the Cimmerians should be the last player in this scenario. However, the supposition that this kind of logic may be at work in Japheth’s genealogy has to be checked against the details of the other ethnics in the list. As Tugdamme dies around 630 a. C., when the Lydian king Alyattes (Bouzek 1983 : 146) succeeds in expelling the Cimmerians from Asia Minor, we should find the kingdom of Lydia mentioned before Gomer. If the Table dates to an age between the arrival of the Cimmerians and their expulsion, in the 7th century, Lud (=Biblical Lydia) should have been among the sons of Japheth and not among the sons of Shem and Ham (Gn 10:13, 22; WG 512-513).
Before going further to investigate the case of Lydia among Japheth’s sons, it is advisable to make a point about the children of Gomer: "Ashkenaz, and Riphath and Togarmah" (Gn 10:3). The prevailing idea among the historians is that Togarmah corresponds to Tagarimmu or Tilgarimmu (WG 506; Yamada 2006 ) in the Assyrian chronicles or to Tegarama in the ancient-Assyrian sources of Cappadocia (Barjamovic & Gander 2012 ). In fact, it seems more consistent with a northern location of Japheth’s family to interpret "Togarmah" as an ethnonym, namely as "the inhabitants of Tahara/Dahara" (Matthews & Glatz 2009 ; Forlanini 2013 ; Forlanini 2014 ; Cammarosano & Marizza 2015 ; Cammarosano 2016 ), already in the tablets of Kultepe (Bayram 1997 : 53), probably the same as Taḫaramma of the Hittite sources (Miller 2013 : 196-197; De Martino 2017 : 116).
Both Ashkenaz and Togarmah contain Anatolian suffixes used to form ethnics, respectively –(a)z(a/i) as in the Luwian Hieroglyphic Karkamisaza ("of Carchemish"), the Luwian Cuneiform and the Lycian Wahñteze/i- ("of Phellos," Glyk 415–416, DLL 80), but also Atãnaze/i- (DLL 6), Sppartaze/i- (DLL 59), Sureze/i- (DLL 59), etc. and –(m)ma (Güterbock 1958 ; Neumann 1969 : 220-224; EDHIL 674-675, s. v. piḫa-). As for Riphath or Diphath (1Chr 1:6), the toponym may be read as Luwian, thinking of Tiwara (RGTC6/1 431-432; RGTC6/2 171), a city present in the Hittite sources (Forlanini 1992 : 288, 307; Klengel 1998 : 111–112; Carnevale 2017–18 : 160–161), and to be located in ancient Paphlagonia, as Josephus already had argued (2000 : 45; WG 506).
The toponym Tiwara would correspond to the Luwian Tiwat (Beckman 2012 ; Steitler 2017 ; Melchert 2019 ), given that in the Hittite language the opposition between voiced and unvoiced is not relevant in the initial position (Bernard 2013 ), and -ra o -ta are equivalent in the final position, due to rhotacism (Morpurgo Davies 1982 : 250; Popko 1984 ; Bader 1993 : 5; Melchert 1994: 237; Stivala 2004 : 40 and n. 24; Rieken & Yakubovich 2010 ; Yakubovich 2015 : § 9). Reconnecting Diphat to North-central Anatolia would also provide a Lydian background to explain the voiceless labial fricative f: "For Lydian w as a voiced labial fricative [v] or [ß] compare lews/lefs as the Lydian rendering of ‘Zeus’" (Melchert : 153). Moreover, Diphat and Ashkenaz would belong to neighboring areas if we give credit to Homer (Iliad 2.862; Carrington 1977 : 118-121; Mazzarino 1989 : 134; von Kamptz 1982 : 287), who located Phrygians’ homeland in the area around Lake Ascania (TIB13 428-429), not far from Sinope, which teste Herodotus was conquered by the Cimmerians (4.12, Sauter 2000 : 157-158).
After these considerations on the sons of Gomer, I would draw a provisional conclusion. As already evident in Japheth’s genealogy, in Gomer’s, too, his three "children" apparently belong to the same area just for having played a political role in that territory. The introduction of the Phrygians (=Ashkenaz) - whose records go back to the Early Iron Age (Muscarella 1995 ; Heider 2007 ) - as "late" occupants (=sons) of a territory whose eponym (=father) is still Gomer, is a symptom to interpret, toward the definition of a more precise chronotope for Genesis’ "World Atlas."
The conflation of many Anatolian nations into the umbrella term "Phrygians" has been studied (Hall 1988 ; Staltmayr 1991 ; Hall 1991: 38-40; Munn 2006 : 67-68; Hardie 2007 ), and scholars have tried to pinpoint the reasons of what remains a historical hocus-pocus. One of them may be the installation in Dascylium of the Achaemenid satrapy, whose "borders varied, extending as far south as the Mysian plain and the southern Troad and east into the land of the Bithynian peoples" (Weiskopf 1994 ). The Persian satrapy, defined "Hellespontine Phrygia" by the Greeks (Kuhrt 2010: 129, 229, 296-298), may have had a catalyzing effect for the diffusion of the term "Phrygian". In any case, the Hebrew scribes piecing together the Table of Nations (WG 498-501) would not have set Gomer as youngest son of Japheth were the Cimmerians not anything remarkable, at least in the memories, of Genesis’ audience.
Later I will develop the hypothesis that there was a rest of Cimmerians in the Hellespontine Phrygia after the fall of Sardis - whose traditional chronology (547) has been disputed (Rollinger 2003 : 314 n. 124, 315 n. 128) - and tackle first the question of a missing protagonist in the Anatolian scenario of Japheth. It seems that the importance tributed to the fleeting Gomer - who apparently did not survive the death of his king Tugdamme around 630 a. C. - obfuscates in Genesis 10 the Lydian empire, which opposed to his thrust.
In fact, the kingdom which ruled Central Anatolia in those days is mentioned after Gomer, but in a curious disguise, as Magog, a "formula" (WG 504-505; Lust 1999 ; Bøe 2001 : 91-93, 97ss.) that reminds King Gyges, who died in 644, trying in vain to halt the Cimmerians (Tadmor 2011 : 395ff.). We know of these events from Herodotus (1.15 and 52; Pedley 1972 : 21-22; Harmatta 1990 ), and Magog, namely the "land of Gog", alias Gyges, leads to thinking of a voluntary censorship. This interpretation relies on the occurrences of "Magog" out of Genesis, mainly in the following passage of Ezekiel: "Gog in the land of Magog, supreme prince of Meshech and Tubal" (38:2), and on cases such as Mazamua (mat Zamua), maybe a spelling variant of Zamua in Assyrian annals (Levine 1973 : 16 n. 53; Medvedskaya 2000 : 442; Hämeen-Anttila 2000 : 23).
Considered that after Magog comes Madai, evidently a proxy for the Medes (Cobbe 1967 ; Medvedskaya 2002 ), we could envisage a historical coherence in the list of Japheth’s sons, because in 585 the king of Lydia Alyattes defeated the Median king Astyages (Rollinger 2008 ; Liverani 2003 ; Waters 2010 ). The hypothesis I am advancing here is that Japheth's genealogy puts the Lydian empire and in particular Croesus on the sidelines, to extol Persian primacy and give prestige to Cyrus’ civilizing mission, against the forces of chaos, the Cimmerians, who presumably maintained a nook in the Troad until the time when King Croesus began his rise to power, around 575.
Should we read the first triad in the list of Japhethites according to this chronological order? Gomer (575, the Cimmerians are expelled from Antandros, their last stronghold in Asia Minor), Magog (585, Alyattes defeats the Median king Astyages), Madai (625-585). These 40 years would correspond to the reign of Cyaxares, when the Medes expand in Anatolia reaching the river Halys (Kuhrt 2010 : 21; Leloux 2016 ) and threatening Javan, maybe under Syennesis the king of Cilicia (Weiskopf 1992 ).
Unfortunately, not knowing about the real western expansion of the Median empire, I cannot elaborate much further, but the extensive research of Rollinger on the subject provides a chance to ponder on the analogy between the "genealogical method" followed in Genesis 10 and the view of history Herodotus endorses, largely defective on the Medes (Tuplin 2004 ; Radner 2013 ), nonetheless illuminating for my purpose: "In this respect we should be aware that Herodotus' concept of political history especially for the more remote past was schematic. Taking his cue from the role of the Achaemenid Empire he creates a succession of "superpowers" that dominate the history of Asia like political building blocks, ultimately to be united in the Persian Empire" (Rollinger 2003 : 316).
I think this outlook on the genealogies of Genesis 10, viewed as a chain of "superpowers" within the limited scenario of one ancestor, such as Japheth, might give the impulse to reformulate the many questions arising from the interpretation of this difficult text. For example, within this hypothetical framework, it would be reasonable to wonder who, among the sons of Javan, was the likely target when Madai (the Medes) came in to wreak havoc in Japheth’s territory. Within this domain, his children are not associated to him out of ethnical ties whatsoever, but simply for their abode in the territory of the eponym ancestor. This consideration seems to be valid for Javan’s children too: "Elishah and Tarshish, Kittim and Dodanim" (Gn 10:4). There is scholarly consensus in deriving the first son’s name from the ancient designation of Cyprus: Alashiya (Carruba 1968 ; Artzy & Perlman 1976 ), revived in ʾlsy, a toponym read on a Phoenician ostracon from Idalion, dating 306/305 B. C.
One interesting aspect of this discovery lies in what the authors commented: "So, at the beginning of the Hellenistic period the name Alashiya reappears in the preserved Phoenician sources, denoting the whole island." That is why the Ptolemies used the title ’DN MLKM "lord of kings", "the same title having been used some centuries earlier by the Persian kings (cf. Eshmunazor, KAI 14), showing their sovereignty over an empire (such as that of the Achaemenids)" (Amadasi-Guzzo & Zamora 2018 : 87). A remark which provides a clue about what I would call "FiFo logic" ("First in-First out"), to explain the order of the lists I have dealt so far. As for Japheth’s sons, Gomer is younger than Magog, provided that the latter stands for Gyges. Still, the former’s recency is not just a chronological matter ("first-out") but represents an ideological position ("first in"), too.
As I have tried to show, the first three children of Japheth (=Anatolia): Gomer (575), Magog (585), Madai (625-585) are "super-powers", whose dates of expulsion from the scenario (="father") they belonged to hinges on the reign of King Cyaxares, who forced Javan (=Cilicia) to resort to a successful mediation between Lydia and the Medes (Desideri & Jasink 1990 : 172-175). The idea that Gomer is the last one to have excelled in Anatolia relies on Aristotle’s witness (fr. 478 Rose; Ethnica1 209, § 326), who credits the survival of a Cimmerian rest in Antandros until about 575 B. C. (Pedley 1972 : 23; Lombardo 1980 : 324, 344, 360; Balcer 1985 : 44; Mitchell 2004 ; Nollé 2017 : 35-82) or maybe even later, because we don’t know the beginning of their secular abode on Mt. Ida’s slopes.
The primacy of Gomer in the Table of Nations may be explained as a record of his presence until the years when Croesus was just king of Adramyttium (Kaletsch 1958 : 35, 47; Roosevelt 2012 : 901; Wallace 2016 : 175). What I have called "FiFo logic" might be defined "agenda-setting", too. Gomer had to come IN first because he had to be sold OUT first. In other words: once accepted that the chronotope of Genesis 10 corresponds to the Achaemenid empire, for the Hebrew scribes writing in that political and cultural domain, it would have been reasonable to be reticent about a few things:
1) The Persian supremacy, because it was part of the ideology shared by the priestly intelligentsia, who believed that "the LORD roused the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia" (2Cr 36:22), to endorse a vision of the Hebrew people so distant from the Davidic celebration of power.
2) The absence of any reference to Israel as kingdom. The Table of Nations, so rich of anachronistic details about the Arabian tribes or the nations of the far north, which "have nothing at all to do with a genealogy of the sons of Noah", as remarked by Westermann in a quote above, is silent on the kingdoms of Israel and Judah (Gmirkin 2006 : 142), represented by Arpachshad , father of Shelah, who "begot Eber" (Gn 10:24), pale counter-figure of the Jewish kingdoms in history.
As von Rad noted, the history of Israel is hidden "in the loins of Arpachshad". Von Rad’s goes straight to the key problem of Genesis World-Atlas: "it makes no mention whatsoever of Israel. This omission may of course be explained away by saying that, in the time of the sons of Noah, Israel was not as yet in existence. But in its picture of the spread of the nations, the Table far anticipates historical development, and does not hesitate to put into the list nations which only very much later— in fact, in the seventh century — came within the range of Israel’s political field of vision. But there is no mention of Israel — Israel is ‘in the loins of Arpachshad’; that is, she is hidden in a name which does not have the slightest theological relevance for Jahwism" (von Rad 2001 : 161-162).
Von Rad uncovers the wound and lets it bleed: "Indeed, where is Israel in the table? The omission of Israel appears to us as one of its most striking characteristics; so striking that one could make the impossible assumption that here a view of history and the world belonging to a nation other than Israel was adopted. In any case, here Israel is not the center of the nations (Ezek. 5.5), the ‘world navel' a notion that occurs so frequently in the polis religions. Israel is represented in the table of nations by a name that is completely neutral for her faith and for sacred history — Arpachshad!". Unfortunately von Rad, after noticing "the omission of the Persians, who appeared on the scene in the sixth century," concludes it "does not really mean much", because "the recognizable signs point more to the historical picture of the seventh century" (von Rad 1972 : 144-145).
The most plausible explanation for such a glaring omission is the inclusion of the kingdom of Judah in the Persian Empire, which does not allow any nationalist claims. The absence of any Jewish state form in Genesis is consistent with the "political landscape" that emerges from the patriarchal sagas, "quite unreal and rarefied" (Liverani 2007 : 260).
3) The omission of continental Greece and the reduction of the north-western part of the known world to an archipelago of islands facing the Ocean as in the Babylonian map (Horowitz 1990 ). “It was a roaring silence, a silence full of stifled threats.”. I borrow this metaphor from Sinclair Lewis, to hint at a topic that deserves copious attentions, to meet the avid eyes of the Persian explorers on reconnaissance tour along Dardanelles.
I will summarize some issues that will deserve further attention, to underline their compatibility with a Persian worldview: the Lydian empire of Croesus is absent, on the contrary the spotlights are put on the Cimmerians, who inhabited Antandrus while Croesus was still a petty king in the near city of Adramyttium (Asheri 2007 : 87). This betrays the will to conceal the last monarch of Lydia, who in vain opposed the Persians of Cyrus. In a way, the rule of the Lydians in Anatolia becomes only a souvenir, committed to the dimension of myth, and a negative one, because the "land of Gyges" is basically the land of an usurper, who died because of a Cimmerian raid. The primacy given to these raiders within an Achaemenid worldview appears as the only concession to self-congratulation in the Table of Nations, while the foreground granted to Ashkenaz among Gomer’s children and to Elishah among Javan’s represents the will to credit the vision of a pacified family of nations, re-united through Noah, a new Utnapishtim from a revamped universal myth in Ancient Near East.
Originally Published: July 13, 2021
Last updated: July 14, 2021