The Part Played by Shem, Ham, and Japheth
In Subsequent World History
1968 Doorway paper No. 28, published privately by Arthur C. Custance
1975 Part I in Noah’s Three Sons, vol.1 in The Doorway Papers Series, published by Zondervan Publishing Company
1997 Arthur Custance Online Library (html)
2001 2nd Online Edition (corrections, design revisions)
THIS STUDY was begun in 1938. It started with one of those incidental observations that occasionally end up proving exceptionally fruitful. Some fifteen years later the material had more or less become organized into a tentative philosophy of history. Shortly afterwards it was presented as a paper to a Scientific Affiliation in the United States. Its fate was swift and terrible to behold.
Probably it deserved it at the time. But it was not the basic idea that was faulty. It was the presentation which suffered because the author lacked formal training in certain fields that figure prominently in the thesis. This I believe has now been corrected, and a fresh attempt to communicate the central idea seems justified. One of the main stumbling blocks to early acceptance has been thoroughly swept away by subsequent research. In fact, the Canadian Government was sufficiently impressed by the evidence to undertake to publish for internal use a 250-page report on the matter,(1) which was then supplied to a number of their research laboratories.
The thesis contains a simple concept, the kind of concept which is either beautifully true and correspondingly useful, or is bound to become self-evidently false and will simply die a natural death. Every year supplies new evidence for the essential truthfulness of it. Yet even if it should, after all, prove to be mistaken, it can still be of real value as a working hypothesis. It is not so much false theory as mistaken observation of fact that is dangerous. Dr. A. Lewis (2) observed that history is filled
2 Lewis, Aubrey, Professor of Psychiatry, University of London, in The Lancet, Jan. 25, 1958, p.171. He even quotes De Morgan as saying, “Wrong hypotheses, rightly worked, have produced more useful results than unguided observations.” E. R. Leach, “Primitive Time Reckoning,” gives an excellent illustration (vol.1 of A History of Technology, Oxford, 1954, p.111).
with instances where false theories proved fruitful because they stimulated the imagination of competent people, who were then led to undertake further research and purify the concept.
Now, it is obvious that in such a wide ranging thesis as this turns out to be, there are bound to be some errors in basic information, and personal bias is almost certain to have coloured the selection of data, as well as their interpretation. Neverthcless, while personal factors are unavoidable, a very serious effort has been made to keep close to the facts. Yet certain problems presented themselves from the start, especially in the matter of terminology. For example, it seems logical to call the descendants of Ham Hamites, as the descendants of Shem are called Shemites. But the term Hamitic has come to be applied by anthropologists and ethnologists in a rather restricted way to a group of people which it seems evident from Genesis 10 by no means now represents all the nations that can with some justification be traced back to Ham. So I have to remind the reader that I am reverting, in my use of the terms Hamite and Hamitic, to their older and strictly biblical meaning.
A second problem arises from the current confusion of technology witll science, a confusion which I feel has been very detrimental to our understanding of the nature of each. James B. Conant has dealt excellently with this in his little book On Understanding Science, (3) and many other writers have underscored the fundamental distinction between the two areas of human endeavour. Technology is directed towards the solution of specific problems: what has been aptly termed “mission oriented.” Science, by contrast, is ideally concerned only with understanding; the laws of nature, understanding for its own sake rather than to make use of nature. Technology is often a spin-off from scientific endeavour, but technology existed for centuries and became highly developed in some countries where science in the pure sense was not only of no interest, but was essentially unknown at all. The Hamitic people have al1 been, virtually without exception, technologically oriented and extremely adept, whetlher highly civilized or very primitive. Japhethites, or Indo-Europeans, have essentially carried the torch of pure science.
The reader is urged to keep this distinction between technology, which is applied to practical ends, and science, which is
directed toward intellectual satisfaction, constantly in mind throughout the followillg five Papers.
This is a study of the contribution to civilization made by the descendants of the three sons of Noah: Shem, Ham, and Japheth. My basic thesis is that the tenth chapter of’ Genesis, thc oldest Table of Nations in existence, is a completely authentic statement of how the present world population originated and spread after the Flood in the three families headed respectively by Shem, Ham, and Japheth. I further propose that a kind of division of responsibilities to care for the specific needs of man at three fundamental levels — the spiritual, the physical, and the intellectual — was divinely appointed to each of these three branches of Noah’s family. History subsequently bears out this thesis in a remarkable way. .Scripture itself clearly takes this into account and makes consistent allowance for it, even in respect to one notable exception which wil1 be considered in due course. The interaction of these contributions has at times wholly obliterated their specific nature, but a discerning view of history permits us to identify each stream, so that although the currents mingle quite freely, careful analysis can often still separate thern, allowing each to be traced back to its individual source. Rightly understood, the thesis is a key that proves to be an exciting tool of research into the spiritual, the technological, and the intellectual history of mankind since the Flood.
Whether this thesis receives a favourable hearing or not will depend to a large extent on the attitude of the reader towards Scripture. This is particluarly true, for example, on whether one takes the genealogy of Nations, given in Genesis 10, at its face value. If this Table is a historically trustworthy document and its generalized conclusions are valid (particularly the universality of verse 32), then it is clear that the present population of the world has been derived from the eight souls who survived the Flood, and can be grouped together under three family heaclings: Shemites or Semites, Japhethites or Indo-Europeans, and Hamites. No people exist or have existcd anywhere in the world since the Flood who are not members of one of tlhese three family groupings. The second Paper examines this point.
With this settled, the Semites are not difficult to identify. The lndo-Europeans, or Japhethites, also seem clearly to be a related family of people. The balance of mankind, in short what might comprehensively be referred to as “the coloured races,”
must then be members of the third family group, the Hamites. And by coloured races I have in mind simply al1 those who would not in common parlance list themselves under the heafing, “The White Man.”
It is at this point, probably, that the most violent exception to the thesis of these Papers will be taken, since it is not customary to lump together such peoples as the Mongoloids and thc Negroids. It is more usual to set forth the racial divisions of mankind as being Caucasian, Mongoloid, and I\ egroid. The Semitic people are seldom singled out as a race (or stock). There are good reasons for this reluctance since racial mixture, especially in Europe, has proceeded so far that an attempt to classify a segment of the population such as the Jewish people, along racial lines is not considered possible.
It sometimes helps however, to stand back from a situation and view it over-simply. Almost al1 philosophies of history do this, and for many people some kind of philosophy of history seems essential. Such pcople create patterns because their minds work that way, and thus they satisfy a need to assure themselves that there is some meaning to life as a whole. These imposed, or discovered, patterns can be highly stimulating, and as long as it is recognized that a particular view is to some extent a mental creation which inevitably reflects the bias of the originator, not too much harm wil1 be done. Those who are horrified at such ethnological over-simplification as we are proposing may find some comfort in the knowledge that the author is keenly aware of the extent to which this thesis cuts across pretty well-established orthodoxies of modern anthropological opinion.
An extensive study of the identification of all the names listed in Genesis 10 will be foind as the second Paper in this volume. It may be said in anticipation that the Semites would include such people as the Jews, the Arabs, certain people in Asia Minor, and the ancient Babylonians and Assyrians. The Japhethites would inclulde the Indo-Europeans who, although now strictly denominated by their languages, seem for the most part to have preserved a certain racial character in spite of considerable mixture with Semites and Hamites. The Hamites, according to my thesis, include virtually all the people who in ancient tirnes were the originators and creators of civilization in both the Old and the New World. It is this fact, for which we now have massive evidence, that comes as such a surprise to most Indo-European readers, and which, in the words of one high
Canadian Government authority, came almost as a “revelation.” Out of Ham have been derived all the so-called coloured races — the “yellow,” “red,” “brown,” and “black” — the Mongoloid and the Negroid. Their contribution to human civilization in so far as it has to do with technology has been absolutely unsurpassed. The contribution of Japheth has, by contrast, been essentially in the realm of thought. The contribution of Shem, in terms both of true and false religious conceptions, has been in the realm of the spirit. Where Japheth has applied his philosophical genius to the technological genius of Ham, science has emerged. Where Japheth has applied his philosopllical genius to the spiritual insights of Shem, Theology has emerged. The interaction of these three contributions is the theme of history. Human potential reaches its climax when all three brothers (in their descendants) jointly make their common contribution with maximum effectiveness.
These are brash statements as they stand, but the remarkable thing is that they can be substantiated to a degree quite unsuspected by most students of history up to the present time.
Let us turn, then, to Scripture itself in order to examine to what extent the continuance of the threefold division of mankind, which originated with Shem, Ham, and Japheth, was subsequently preserved throughout the historical period covered by the biblical record.