Where did people who survived the great flood live after the waters subsided? Which areas of the world did Noah's sons Shem, Ham and Japheth, along with their wives, migrate to after they left their father?
We first start with Noah who, at the age of 480, was commanded by God to build an ark (Genesis 6:3) to prepare for the flood to come. The purpose of the ark was to save him and his family from a deluge designed to wipe out an evil-obsessed humanity from the face of the earth (verses 5 to 7).
The Bible tells us that Noah, by the age of 500, had three sons. It will be these sons, along with their wives, who will not only survive the flood but also help repopulate the earth after the waters recede.
Genesis 10 is commonly referred to as the "table of nations" since it lists at least seventy descendants or peoples which sprang from Noah after the flood. Unfortunately, this pivotal Biblical chapter does not offer many details regarding where each of these descendants migrated to in the years after the deluge.
A few scant details in other parts of the Bible, and from secular history, provide much of the information regarding where people lived after the flood.
Japheth's name (a survivor of the flood referred to as "Japhet" in the above map) means "expansion" or "enlargement" (Strong's Concordance #H3315). Opinions differ regarding whether he was Noah's firstborn or second son. Genesis 10:21 seems to indicate that he was the oldest son and Shem was the second oldest.
While some commentaries (Adam Clarke's, Matthew Henry's, etc.) support the belief that Japheth was Noah's oldest son, many others (IBSE, Fausset's Bible Dictionary, Smith's Bible Dictionary, etc.) support the conclusion that Shem was the firstborn.
Interestingly, first century Jewish historian Josephus (Antiquities of the Jews, Book 1, Chapter 6) says that Japheth (Japhet) was Noah's first male child, followed by Ham and then Shem.
The seven sons of Japheth, which he had after the flood, are Gomer, Magog, Madai, Javan, Tubal, Meshech and Tiras (Genesis 10:2, 1Chronicles 1:5). Gomer's three sons were Ashkenaz, Riphath and Togarmah (Genesis 10:3, 1Chronicles 1:6). Javan's four sons were Elishah, Tarshish, Kittim and Dodanim (Genesis 10:4, 1Chronicles 1:7).
After the flood Japheth and his descendants are believed to have settled in areas around the Black and Caspian Seas, Asia Minor, the Greek islands (Aegean Sea Region), as well as the islands of Cyprus, Crete and Rhodes.
According to the first century historian Josephus (Antiquities of the Jews, Book 1, Chapter 6), the descendants of Japheth also populated the areas around the Taurus and Amanus mountains, living in Asia as far as the river Tansis and also inhabiting Europe to Cadiz.
Research done on the lost tribes of Israel by Steven M. Collins suggests that from Gomer, after the flood, sprung the oriental nations like China, from Magog sprung those who would live in Russia, and Javan produced those who would eventually migrate to Japan.
Japheth's descendants gave rise to peoples historically referred to as Cimmerians, Scythians, the Medians and Pares (who would later form the Medo-Persian Empire, which is considered the most powerful in ancient history), Phrygians and others.
Shem's name means "renown" (Hitchcock's Bible Names). His five sons sired after the flood were Elam, Asshur, Arphaxad, Lud and Aram (Genesis 10:22, 11:10). Aram's sons were Uz, Hul, Gether and Meshech (Genesis 10:23, 1Chronicles 1:17). Arphaxad firstborn son is Salah (Genesis 10:24).
Salah's firstborn was Eber, whose name was used to derive the term "Hebrew" for his descendants. Abram (Abraham), the great-great-great-great grandson of Eber, was known as "Abram the Hebrew" (Genesis 14:13). It was through the line of Shem that Jesus, the Savior of mankind, was born.
After the great flood, Shem and his descendants are believed to have primarily settled in areas on either side of the mighty Euphrates River and in the Arabian Peninsula. They also reached a section of Western Asia Minor and, according to Josephus, as far East as the Indian Ocean. Shem's progeny gave rise to the Persians, Assyrians, Chaldeans (Babylonians), Syrians, Lydians and others.
Ham, whose name means "hot, heat, brown" (Hitchcock's Bible Names), had four sons right after the flood. Their names were Cush, Mizraim, Phut and Canaan (Genesis 10:6, 1Chronicles 1:8). The six sons of Cush, Ham's oldest, are Seba, Havilah, Sabtah, Raamah, Sabtecha and the notorious Nimrod. Raamah's sons are Sheba and Dedan (Genesis 10:7 - 8, 1Chronicles 1:9 - 10).
According to Josephus (Antiquities of the Jews, Book 1, Chapter 6), after the flood the children of Ham lived in the lands of Syria and Amanus. They also populated many parts of northern and eastern Africa, including Egypt, Ethiopia, Libya, Algeria, Tunisia, and other areas. Canaan, Ham's fourth son, lived in the part of the Holy Land later known as Judea and lent his name to the designation of the general area (the Land of Canaan).