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Shem, son of Noah, 16th-century depiction by Guillaume Rouillé
FamilyJapheth and Ham (brothers)
Shem, Ham and Japheth by James Tissot 1904.

Shem (/ʃɛm/; Hebrew: שֵׁם Šēm; Arabic: سَام, romanizedSām)[a] was one of the sons of Noah in the Bible (Genesis 5–11[1] and 1 Chronicles 1:4).

The children of Shem were Elam, Ashur, Arphaxad, Lud and Aram, in addition to unnamed daughters. Abraham, the patriarch of Jews, Christians, and Muslims, was one of the descendants of Arphaxad.

In medieval and early modern European tradition he was considered to be the ancestor of the peoples of Asia,[2][3][4] and he gives his name to the title "Semites" formerly given to West Asian peoples.[5]

Islamic literature describes Shem as one of the believing sons of Noah. Some sources even identify Shem as a prophet in his own right and that he was the next prophet after his father.[6]

Geographic identifications for the Sons of Noah (Flavius Josephus, c. 100 AD); Shem's sons are in green.

In the Bible[edit]

Genesis 10[edit]

Genesis 10:21 refers to relative ages of Shem and his brother Japheth, but with sufficient ambiguity to have yielded different English translations. The verse is translated in the King James Version as: "Unto Shem also, the father of all the children of Eber, the brother of Japheth the elder, even to him were children born."[7] However, the New American Standard Bible gives: "Also to Shem, the father of all the children of Eber, and the older brother of Japheth, children were born".[8]

According to Genesis 10:22–31 (Jewish Publication Society translation of 1917):

22 The sons of Shem: Elam, and Asshur, and Arpachshad, and Lud, and Aram. 23 And the sons of Aram: Uz, and Hul, and Gether, and Mash. 24 And Arpachshad begot Shelah; and Shelah begot Eber. 25 And unto Eber were born two sons; the name of the one was Peleg; for in his days was the earth divided; and his brother's name was Joktan. 26 And Joktan begot Almodad, and Sheleph, and Hazarmaveth, and Jerah; 27 and Hadoram, and Uzal, and Diklah; 28 and Obal, and Abimael, and Sheba; 29 and Ophir, and Havilah, and Jobab; all these were the sons of Joktan. 30 And their dwelling was from Mesha, as thou goest toward Sephar, unto the mountain of the east. 31 These are the sons of Shem, after their families, after their tongues, in their lands, after their nations. 32 These are the families of the sons of Noah, after their generations, in their nations; and of these were the nations divided in the earth after the flood.[9]

Genesis 11[edit]

Genesis 11:10 records that Shem was 100 years old at the birth of Arphaxad, two years after the flood; and that he lived for another 500 years after this, making his age at death 600 years.

Excerpts from Genesis 11:10–27—(Jewish Publication Society translation of 1917):

'Shem was a hundred years old, and begot Arpachshad two years after the flood. ... Arpachshad lived five and thirty years, and begot Shelah. 13 And Arpachshad lived after he begot Shelah ... Shelah lived thirty years, and begot Eber. ... Eber lived four and thirty years, and begot Peleg. ... Peleg lived thirty years, and begot Reu. ... Reu lived two and thirty years, and begot Serug. '... Serug lived thirty years, and begot Nahor. ... Nahor lived nine and twenty years, and begot Terah. ... Terah lived seventy years, and begot Abram, Nahor, and Haran. ... and Haran begot Lot.

In later Jewish sources[edit]

The 1st-century historian Flavius Josephus told a legendary, non-scriptural account that Shem's five sons were the progenitors of the nations of Elam, Assyria, Chaldea, Lydia, and Levantine, respectively.[10]

According to some Jewish traditions (e.g., B. Talmud Nedarim 32b; Genesis Rabbah 46:7; Genesis Rabbah 56:10; Leviticus Rabbah 25:6; Numbers Rabbah 4:8.), Shem is believed to have been Melchizedek, King of Salem, whom Abraham is recorded to have met after the Battle of the Four Kings.[citation needed]

A rabbinic document that surfaced in the 17th century, claiming to be the lost Book of Jasher, provides some names not found in any other source.[clarification needed]

In Islam[edit]

Sunni Islam[edit]

Shem is regarded by scholars to be the successor to Noah, receiving prophetic knowledge, enlightenment, and leadership of his people. Shem was also one of the people whom God had Jesus resurrect as a sign to the Children of Israel.[11] Early Islamic historians like Ibn Ishaq and Ibn Hisham always included Shem's name in the genealogy of Muhammad.[12]

Shi'a Islam[edit]

In a Shiite tradition Imam Ja'far al-Sadiq has narrated to his companions that Jibrael visited Noah close to the time of his death, relaying God's message: "Oh Noah! Your prophethood has expired and your days are complete, so look to the Great Name, the inheritance and effects of the knowledge of prophethood, and hand these over to your son, Sam (Shem), for I do not leave the Earth except that there is a knowledgeable one by which obedience to Me (God) can be recognized..."[13]

In Gnosticism[edit]

The Paraphrase of Shem, which contains ideas unique to other Gnostic scriptures,[14] states that Shem was the first being on Earth. Unlike traditional Sethian literature, Seth is not seen as the father of the followers of Gnosticism, rather it is Shem, who receives a divine revelation from a spiritual savior named Derkedeas. Shem later helps bring his universal teaching of secret knowledge to humanity before the forces of darkness attempt to destroy the world with a great flood.[15]

In Mandaeism[edit]

In Mandaean scriptures such as the Ginza Rabba and Qolasta, Shem is referred to as Šum (or Shum; pronounced in Modern Mandaic as Šom (Shom)).[16] Shem is sometimes considered to be the progenitor of the Mandaeans and a prophet.[17][18]

Family tree[edit]

The following family tree contains information from the Hebrew Bible, without data from any other sources.


In popular culture[edit]

This T and O map, from the first printed version of Isidore's Etymologiae (Augsburg 1472), identifies the three known continents (Asia, Europe and Africa) as respectively populated by descendants of Sem (Shem), Iafeth (Japheth) and Cham (Ham).
Year Film Actor Note
1928 Noah's Ark Malcolm Waite Second role
1936 The Green Pastures Ray Martin All-black cast
1966 The Bible: In the Beginning... Peter Heinze
1988 Stowaways on the Ark Stefan Gossler Named as 'Sam'
1999 Noah's Ark (miniseries) Mark Bazeley
2007 Noah's Ark Oscar Cheda Animation film
2014 Noah Gavin Casalegno (juvenile)
Douglas Booth (adult)
2015 The Ark Michael Fox

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Greek: Σήμ Sḗm; Ge'ez: ሴም, Sēm


  1. ^ Genesis 5:32, 6:10; 7:13; 9:18, 23, 26–27; 10; 11:10
  2. ^ Reynolds, Susan (October 1983). "Medieval Origines Gentium and the Community of the Realm". History. 68 (224). Chichester, West Sussex: Wiley-Blackwell: 375–390. doi:10.1111/j.1468-229X.1983.tb02193.x. JSTOR 24417596.
  3. ^ Javakhishvili, Ivane (1950), Historical-Ethnological problems of Georgia, the Caucasus and the Near East. Tbilisi, pp. 130–135 (in Georgian).
  4. ^ Kidd 2004, pp. 28–31.
  5. ^ "Who Are the Semites?".
  6. ^ Scott B. Noegel and Brannon M. Wheeler (2002). "Shem". In the Historical Dictionary of Prophets in Islam and Judaism. p. 301
  7. ^ Genesis 10:21 KJV
  8. ^ Genesis 10:21 NASB
  9. ^ "Genesis 10:22–31". The Holy Scriptures. Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication Society of America. 1917.
  10. ^ Flavius Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, trans. William Whiston (University of Cambridge, 1737): book 1, ch. 6, v. 4; online at
  11. ^ Stories of the Prophets, Ibn Kathir, Story of Jesus
  12. ^ Ibn Ishāq, Sīrat Rasūl Allāh, tr. A. Guillaume (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004), p. 3
  13. ^ al-Kulayni, Muhammad ibn Ya‘qūb (2015). Al-Kafi (Volume 8 ed.). NY: Islamic Seminary Incorporated. ISBN 9780991430864.
  14. ^ Meyer, Marvin; Barnstone, Willis (June 30, 2009). "The Paraphrase of Shem". The Gnostic Bible. Shambhala. p. 438. ISBN 9780834824140. The document defies any obvious classification: though gnostic, it shares few features with other Sethian literature
  15. ^ Marvin Meyer; Willis Barnstone (June 30, 2009). "The Paraphrase of Shem". The Gnostic Bible. Shambhala. ISBN 9781590306314. Retrieved 2022-02-14.
  16. ^ Häberl, Charles (2022). The Book of Kings and the Explanations of This World: A Universal History from the Late Sasanian Empire. Liverpool: Liverpool University Press. p. 10. ISBN 978-1-80085-627-1.
  17. ^ Brikhah S. Nasoraia (2012). "Sacred Text and Esoteric Praxis in Sabian Mandaean Religion" (PDF). p. 45.
  18. ^ Drower, Ethel Stefana (1937). The Mandaeans of Iraq and Iran. Oxford At The Clarendon Press. p. 186.


Kishik, David (2018). The Book of Shem: On Genesis before Abraham. Stanford University Press. ISBN 9781503606760.

External links[edit]