If you read Genesis 10 without doing some research, you will be bored. The treasures in the chapter are buried deep and you must do a little work to uncover them.
You probably don't recognize many of the names listed in Genesis 10, and it's not really your fault either. As time has progressed, more and more of the names in Genesis 10 have fallen into obscurity. Numerous linguistic barriers now exist, including Hebrew and Greek— and even if you were familiar with both of those languages, you would still run into problems. Why? Because there are also historical barriers that get in the way of understanding Genesis 10.
Josephus, a Jewish historian from around the time of Christ, explains this historical barrier:
After this [the destruction of the Tower of Babel] they [the descendants of Noah] were dispersed abroad, on account of their languages, and went out by colonies every where; and each colony took possession of that land which they light upon, and unto which God led them; so that the whole continent was filled with them, both the inland and the maritime countries. There were some also who passed over the sea in ships, and inhabited the islands: and some of those nations do still retain the denominations which were given them by their first founders; but some have lost them also, and some have only admitted certain changes in them, that they might be the more intelligible to the inhabitants. And they were the Greeks who became the authors of such mutations. For when in after-ages they grew potent, they claimed to themselves the glory of antiquity; giving names to the nations that sounded well (in Greek) that they might be better understood among themselves; and setting agreeable forms of government over them, as if they were a people derived from themselves.1Josephus tells us who we can "blame" for putting up a historical barrier and making Genesis 10 hard to understand: the Greeks. When they spread their culture throughout the world, they renamed many of the places they came across, thus erasing their original names (which appear in Genesis 10) from today's history books.
Josephus goes on to discuss many of the people in Genesis 10. In general, we can conclude that the descendants of Japheth spread northward and westward, taking possession of Europe. The descendants of Ham spread westward and southward, taking Africa. Finally, the descendants of Shem spread eastward, taking possession of Asia.
Since this post is only an overview of the names in Genesis 10, I don't intend to discuss all the names in the chapter. I do, however, want to mention a few them: Javan, Cush, Nimrod, Egypt, Canaan, and Peleg.
Javan was the father of the Greeks,2 a people who have had an incredible amount of influence on Western culture.
Cush was the father of the Ethiopians. From him descended Nimrod and Egypt. Nimrod founded many familiar ancient cities, including Nineveh and Babylon (Genesis 10:8-12). Egypt, of course, founded (you guessed it) Egypt. Egypt also had a son named Casluhim who was the father of the Philistines, a people who show up many times in Israel’s history.
Canaan was the father of many of the nations that Israel rooted out of the Promise Land. He was also the father of Sidon, from whom came the name of the ancient city of Sidon (you may recognize this name from Jesus' rebuke in Matthew 11:21-22).
Peleg is also an important name in Genesis 10. His importance, however, does not come from the nations that he founded, but from Moses' comment about him which suggests that the Tower of Babel was destroyed in his lifetime (Genesis 10:25).
There are many more names in Genesis 10. If you’re interested in pursuing this subject farther, a good place to start would be to read everything that Josephus says on this subject in Book 1, Chapter 6 of his Antiquities Of The Jews (which you can read here).
I've also written posts on two of the key people in Genesis 10: Nimrod and Peleg.
- Why Genesis 10 Is In The Bible
- The Genealogy: Adam to Noah
- The Tower Of Babel: Setting The Scene - Genesis 11:1-2