JAPHETH (Heb. יֶפֶת), son of Noah, brother of *Shem and *Ham. In all the lists of Noah's sons, Japheth invariably appears in the third place (Gen. 5:32; 6:10; 7:13; 9:18; 10:1; I Chron. 1:4). However, on one occasion Ham is called the "youngest son" of Noah (Gen. 9:24). If this is not to be explained as the result of a corruption in the text, it must reflect a variant tradition, unless some principle other than chronological governs the order of the listings. Japheth was married before the *flood (7:13), which he survived, together with his family, inside the ark. When his intoxicated father lay naked in the tent, Japheth, together with Shem, displayed great modesty and delicacy in covering him up (9:23). For this act he was blessed by Noah as follows: "May God enlarge Japheth, and let him dwell in the tents of Shem; And let Canaan be a slave to them" (9:27). The full meaning of this passage is obscure, and it has been variously interpreted as referring to either a Philistine-Israelite alliance against Canaanites (perhaps in Davidic times) or the future participation of the Japhethites – perhaps the Greeks – in the religion of Israel. In the Table of Nations (see The Seventy *Nations) Japheth is assigned seven sons and seven grandsons (Gen. 10:2–4; I Chron. 1:5–7). He is thus portrayed as the eponymous ancestor of various ethnic groups living to the west and north of Israel in the Aegean and Anatolian areas, largely composed of Indo-European stock. The origin of the name Japheth is unclear. The blessing referred to above implies a folk etymology grounded in a Hebrew root meaning "to enlarge," "make spacious." It has variously been connected with the Greek Titan, Ιαπετός (cf. Javan = Ionia, Gen. 10:2), and with Kafti, the Egyptian name for the Eteo-Creteans.
[Nahum M. Sarna]
In the Aggadah
Although Japheth was the eldest of the three sons of Noah, he was the least endowed with wisdom, and for this reason his name is recorded last (e.g., Gen. 6:10; Sanh. 69b). In the act of covering Noah's nakedness (Gen. 9:23) the initiative was taken by Shem and Japheth merely helped him. Shem's reward was therefore greater than Japheth's in that the Temple built by his descendant (Solomon) was more holy than that built by Japheth's (Cyrus; PR 35, 160a). Nevertheless, on account of the respect he had thus shown to his father, Japheth was rewarded with a pallium (a cloak befitting that dignity of his Greek descendants), and by the fact that Gog, his descendant, would have the privilege of being buried in Ereẓ Israel (cf. Ez. 39:11) and would therefore enjoy the messianic era (Gen. R. 36:6). The verse "God enlarge Japheth" (Gen. 9:26ff.) is interpreted to mean that the culture ("beauty") of Japheth, particularly the Greek language, would "dwell in the tents of Shem" (Meg. 9b). In the Midrash (Gen. R. 36.8) this is made to refer particularly to the Septuagint, and the same passage also interprets it to mean that Cyrus, a descendant of Japheth, would build the Second Temple. It also taught that God blessed Japheth by making his descendants entirely white, and by giving them the desert and its fields for an inheritance (PdRE 23).
A.H. Sayce, Races of the Old Testament (1891), 39–50; J. Simons, in: OTS, 10 (1954), 155–84; L. Hicks, in: IDB, 2 (1962), 802 (incl. bibl.); A. Reubeni, Ammei Kedem (1970), 162–84; Ginzberg, Legends, 1 (1961), 169–70; 5 (1955), 179–80, 192; 6 (1959), 459; I. Ḥasida, Ishei ha-Tanakh, 222.
Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.