The Peoples of the Old Testament according to Genesis 10 -- By: Eugene H. Merrill

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 154:613 (Jan 1997)
Article: The Peoples of the Old Testament according to Genesis 10
Author: Eugene H. Merrill


The Peoples of the Old Testament according to Genesis 10

Eugene H. Merrill

[Eugene H. Merrill is Professor of Old Testament Studies, Dallas Theological Seminary, Dallas, Texas.]

The origin of the human race and its incredibly diverse racial, ethnic, and cultural expression is one of the most profound and perplexing problems confronting contemporary anthropological, sociological, and biblical scholarship. Related to this are issues of the emergence of the human species, the development and distribution of languages, and the rise of ethnic, social, and cultural differentiations.

Each of these is of interest in its own right—and indeed they cannot be fully separated—but the focus of this study is specifically on the peoples of the Old Testament as delineated in Genesis 10, the so-called “Table of Nations.”

Such a narrow focus precludes consideration of the models of racial origins and development proposed by secular scholarship; the vexing questions pertaining to the relationships among language, ethnicity, and race; the ongoing debate about the cultural contributions of ancient racial and ethnic entities; and even the reprehensible scourge of contemporary racism.

Rather, the concern in this article is only to examine Genesis 10 and to discover what light, if any, it sheds on the question of the identity of Old Testament people groups. Every attempt will be made to let the text speak on its own terms without the dogmatic, philosophical, and even political agendas that all too often result in eisegetical methods and predetermined conclusions.

The Old Testament and Race

Given the preoccupation with race in current debate, it is surprising to discover how little interest or importance this issue holds in

the Old Testament. Part of the reason for such indifference lies, no doubt, in the fact that the Old Testament world was culturally, socially, and racially homogeneous.1 Geographically that world was bounded on the east by Iran, on the north by the Caucasus Mountains, on the west by the Mediterranean Sea, and on the south by the cataracts of the Nile River in Upper Egypt. The bulk of the population of this region, except for Egypt, was Semitic throughout much of the ensuing historical period. Inasmuch as the Hebrew (or Israelite or Jewish) people were Semitic and they were the focus of God’s redemptive purposes, it is not surprising that the perspective is rather narrow and “race insensitive.”

The Old Testament Terminology

In the abs...

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