From BiblePortal Wikipedia

Fausset's Bible Dictionary [1]

Noah's oldest son, as the order implies ( Genesis 5:32;  Genesis 6:10;  Genesis 7:13;  Genesis 9:18;  Genesis 10:1;  1 Chronicles 1:4). (See Ham .) Usually named first, but in  Genesis 10:21 last, because from that point forward Scripture traces the history of his descendants. Translated "the elder brother of Japheth," as Arabic, Syriac, and Vulgate. If "Japheth the elder" had been meant Hebrew idiom would have added "son," "the elder son of Noah." His descendants dwelt chiefly in western Asia, Shem of the Asiatic Japhethites, in an uninterrupted line from the Mediterranean to the mountains of Luristan and the Indian Ocean, Lydia, Palestine, Syria (Aram), Chaldaea (Arphaxad), Assyria (Asshur), Persia (Elam), northern and central Arabia (Joktan). Shem means in Hebrew name, and may have been a designation subsequently given him as the one of note or great name among Noah's sons; as Ham, the settler in the warm regions of Africa; Japheth, the one whose descendants spread most abroad ( Genesis 9:18-27).

Noah's words after Shem's dutifulness in covering his father's shame, in filial reverence, with Japheth (Compare The Blessing,  Exodus 20:12 ) , "blessed be Jehovah, the God of Shem, and Canaan shall be his servant," not only bless God for putting the pious feeling into his heart, but prophesy that Jehovah should be especially the God of Shem, which was fulfilled in choosing Abraham and Israel his descendants as God's peculiar people. "Japheth shall dwell in the tents of Shem," fulfilled in part now, more fully hereafter ( Isaiah 60:3;  Isaiah 60:5;  Ephesians 3:6). All the Japhetic nations almost are believers in the God of Shem, even the Aryan races in Asia are tending toward Christianity. Others less probably (As  Genesis 9:27 Refers To Japheth'S Future Rather Than Shem'S) , "God shall dwell in the tents of Shem" (Compare  John 1:14 , The Son Of God "Tented ( Eskeenosen ) Among Us".) The Hamitic Babel tower builders perhaps sneered at the religion of Shem the father of the faithful, the worshipper of "Jehovah God of Shem."

"Go to, let us build us a city and tower ... let us make us a name" ( Shem ). Noah had reached 500 (In Round Numbers, Strictly 502) years before the birth of his first son, Shem. When Shem was 98 and Noah 600 the flood came; two years later Shem the heir of the blessing ( Genesis 9:18-27) begat Arphaxad ( Genesis 5:32;  Genesis 7:6;  Genesis 11:10). He died at 600. Methuselah and Shem were the two links between Adam and Isaac, so that the record of creation and man's fall came to Isaac on the testimony of the original chief actor, transmitted by only two intervening links. SEMITIC or Shemitic Languages Ethnologists, from the facts of language, divide the Semitic into five main branches, the Aramaean, the Hebrew, the Phoenician, the Assyrian or Assyro Babylonian, and the Arabian. Scripture in Shem's genealogy notices four out of the five: Asshur for the Assyrian, Aram for the Syrian or Aramaean, Eber for the Hebrew, and Joktan for the pure Arabic.

Moses omits the Phoenicians, as they had not in his time yet made the movement which first brought them into notice, namely, from the shores of the Persian gulf to those of the Mediterranean (Herodotus i. 1). Moses adds to the Semitic races the Elamites and Ludites, concerning which ethnology says nothing. The Japhetic and Hamitic races are geographically contiguous; the Japhetic spread over the northern regions, Greece, Thrace, Scythia, Asia Minor, Armenia, Media; the Hamitic over all the southern and south western regions, N. Africa, Egypt, Nubia, Ethiopia, southern and south eastern Arabia and Babylonia; the Semitic are located in one region, namely, the central one intermediate between the Japhetic on the N. and the Hamitic upon the S. The intermediate position of the Shemites brought them in contact with the Japhetic races in Cappadocia, and on the other hand with the Hamitic in Palestine, in the Yemen (Arabia Felix), in Babylonia and Elymais. The harmony between Genesis 10 and ethnology strikingly confirms Scripture.

The Scythic (Hamitic) race at a remote period overspread Europe, Asia, and Africa ( Genesis 10:18;  Genesis 10:20); the Semitic and. Aryan races subsequently occupied the places respectively assigned them by Providence in Canaan and elsewhere; but the Semitics were probably (As The Semitic Melchizedek Exemplifies) in Canaan originally, and the Hamite Canaanites acquired their language. The dead languages of the Semitic are Ethiopic and Himyaritic (Inscriptions) , both related to Arabic dialects; Hebrew, Samaritan, Carthaginian Phoenician (Inscriptions) ; Chaldee, Syriac, Assyrian (Cuneiform Inscriptions) . (See Phoenician; Hebrew ) Letters probably passed from the Egyptians to the Hebrew, who under divine guiding improved them ( Exodus 24:4;  Exodus 31:18;  Leviticus 19:28;  Numbers 5:23). The names of the letters, 'Αleph ( א ) (an "ox"), Gimel ( ג ) (a "camel"), Lamed[H] ( ל ) (an "ox-goad"), Τet[H] ( ט ) (a "snake"), suit a nomadic people as the Hebrew, rather than a seafaring people as the Phoenicians; these therefore received letters from the Hebrew, not vice versa.

Triliteral or bi-syllabic stems or roots are a distinctive mark of Semitic languages. The Indo-Germanic have monosyllabic roots. The Arabic is now the richest of the Semitic languages; but Hebrew possesses in the bud all the contrivances which, if they had been duly developed, would have made it a rival of the present Arabic. The Aramaic has endured longer than Hebrew; but it is poor lexically and grammatically, needing frequent periphrases and particles in aid, and wanting in flexibility and harmony. Semitic lacks the Japhetic power of creating compound words, also the delicate shades and gradations of meaning observable in the latter class of languages. divine wisdom shows itself in choosing as the vehicle for the Old Testament revelation a language so solid, self contained, immovable, and reflective as Hebrew. The Aramaic was too coarse and vague, the Arabic too earthy. When the New Testament revelation for all mankind was to be given, a different vehicle with more flexibility and variety was needed. By that time the Japhetic had ripened fully, and Greek was the tongue so happily chosen for expressing with its wonderful variety, flexibility, and logical power the fully developed doctrines of the gospel.

Morrish Bible Dictionary [2]

Eldest son of Noah and one of the three heads of mankind after the flood. Shem is specially blessed: "Blessed be Jehovah, the God of Shem, and Canaan shall be his servant. God shall enlarge Japheth, and he shall dwell in the tents of Shem."  Genesis 9:26,27 . This was verified by Jehovah being the God of the descendants of Shem through Abraham; the sons of Japheth (Gentiles) came into the tents for blessing.

The portions of the earth occupied by the descendants of Shem intersect as it were the portions of Ham and Japheth, and stretch from the Mediterranean to the Indian Ocean. Shem had five sons:

ELAM — originally settled in the province of Persia, of which Susa was the capital.

ASSHUR — strictly Assyria, but in an extended sense may have included Babylonia and the land of the Chaldees.

ARPHAXAD — recognised by Josephus and others as the father of the Chaldees. The name is supposed to have been preserved in the province Arrapachitis in northern Assyria.

LUD — said by Josephus to have been the father of the Lydians of Asia Minor (these are distinct from the Lud and Ludim in Africa).

ARAM — the name of Syria, but more especially, referring to the high land of Lebanon.  Genesis 5:32;  Genesis 9:18-27;  Genesis 10:21-31;  Genesis 11:10,11;  1 Chronicles 17:24 . In  Luke 3:36 the same name is called SEM.

Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary [3]

the son of Noah,  Genesis 6:10 . He was born A.M. 1558. It is the opinion of the generality of commentators, that Shem was younger than Japheth, and the second son of Noah, for reasons given under the article See JAPETH . See also  Genesis 9:22-25 . He lived six hundred years, and died A.M. 2158. The posterity of Shem obtained their portion in the best parts of Asia. The Jews ascribe to Shem the theological tradition of the things that Noah had learned from the first men. Shem communicated them to his children, and by this means the true religion was preserved in the world. Some have thought Shem the same as Melchisedec, and that he himself had been at the school of Methuselah before the deluge: that he gave to Abraham the whole tradition, the ceremonies of the sacrifices of religion, according to which this patriarch afterward offered his sacrifices. But this opinion has no adequate support. Lastly, the Jews say, that he taught men the law of justice, and the manner of reckoning months and years, and the intercalations of the months. All that can be said as to these speculations is, that Noah and all his sons were the depositaries of the knowledge which existed among men before the flood, and were perhaps both specially qualified by God first to attain it, and then to transmit it to their descendants. Shem had five sons, Elam, Asher, Arphaxad, Lud, and Aran, who peopled the richest provinces of Asia.

Smith's Bible Dictionary [4]

Shem. (Name). The eldest son of Noah.  Genesis 5:32. He was 98 years old, married, and childless at the time of the flood. After it, he, with his father, brothers, sisters-in-law and wife, received the blessing of God,  Genesis 9:1, and entered into the covenant. With the help of his brother, Japheth, he covered the nakedness of their father and received the first blessing.  Genesis 9:25-27. He died at the age of 630 years.

The portion of the earth occupied by the descendants of Shem,  Genesis 10:21;  Genesis 10:31, begins at its northwestern extremity with Lydia , and includes Syria (Aram ), Chaldaea (Arphaxad ), parts of Assyria (Asshur ), of Persia (Elam ), and of the Arabian peninsula (Joktan ). Modern scholars have given the name of Shemitic or Semitic to the languages spoken by his real or supposed descendants. See Hebrew Language .

Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible [5]

SHEM . The word signifies ‘name,’ which can also denote ‘fame,’ ‘renown’ (cf. ‘the men of name,’   Genesis 6:4 ). Possibly it is an abbreviation; cf. Shemuel (Samuel), ‘name of God.’ In one of the two traditions combined in J [Note: Jahwist.] (  Genesis 6:18 f.,   Genesis 10:21-31 ) Shem, the ‘son’ of Noah, is the eponymous ancestor of several peoples, occupying, roughly speaking, the central portions of the known world. P [Note: Priestly Narrative.] has a parallel list in   Genesis 11:10-26 . It is clear that Shem (from which is formed the frequently used title Shemites or Semites ) stands merely for a geographical division, for some of the nations traced to him e.g. Elam, and Lud (probably Lydians) are certainly not Semitic. In the other tradition (  Genesis 9:20-27 ) ‘Shem’ stands for a people in Palestine the Hebrews, or some portion of them with whom ‘Japheth’ lived in close conjunction, and to whom ‘Canaan’ was subjugated. See Ham.

A. H. M‘Neile.

American Tract Society Bible Dictionary [6]

A son of Noah,  Genesis 5:32   6:10 , always named before Ham and Japheth, as the eldest son; or, as some think, because he was the forefather of the Hebrews. In  Genesis 10:21 , the word elder may be applied to Shem, instead of Japheth. He received a blessing from his dying father,  Genesis 9:26 , and of his line the Messiah was born. He had five sons, and their posterity occupied the central regions between Ham and Japheth, and peopled the finest provinces of the East. The languages of some of these nations are still called the Shemitic languages, including the Hebrew, Chalee, Syriac, Arabic, Ethiopic, etc.; but in this general class are found several languages spoken by nations descended from Ham.

Holman Bible Dictionary [7]

 Genesis 5:32 Genesis 6:10 Genesis 7:13 Genesis 9:18-27 Genesis 10:1 10:21-22 10:31 Genesis 11:10-11 Genesis 9:26-27

People's Dictionary of the Bible [8]

Shem ( Shĕm ), Name. The eldest son of Noah. His conduct toward his father on one occasion is noted with praise.  Genesis 9:20-27. The Jews are his descendants, and, besides, there are the Aramæans, Persians, Assyrians, and Arabians. The languages spoken by the descendants of Shem—the Hebrew, Chaldee, Assyrian, and Arabic-are called Semitic languages.

Easton's Bible Dictionary [9]

 Genesis 5:32 6:10 Genesis 10:21  Genesis 11:10-26 1 Chronicles 1:24-27

Hawker's Poor Man's Concordance And Dictionary [10]

Son of Noah. ( Genesis 6:10) The genealogy of Shem on account of the promised seed, is more particularly recorded than the other sons of Noah in the Bible. The name of Shem means eminency or renown.

Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament [11]

SHEM. —The patriarch, mentioned as a link in our Lord’s genealogy ( Luke 3:36).

Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature [12]

(Heb. id., שֵׁ , Name ; Sept. [and New Test. Luke 3:39] Σήμ , Josephus Σήμας [ Ant. 1, 4, 1]; Vulg. Sent ), the son of Noah, born ( Genesis 5:32) when his father had attained the age of 500 years. B.C. 2613. He was 98 years old, married, and childless, at the time of the flood. After it he, with his father, brothers, sisters-in-law, and wife, received the blessing of God ( Genesis 9:1), and entered into the covenant. Two years afterwards he became the father of Arphaxad ( Genesis 11:10), and other children were born to him subsequently. With the help of his brother Japheth he covered the nakedness of their father, which Canaan and Ham did not care to hide. In the prophecy of Noah which is connected with this incident ( Genesis 9:25-27), the first blessing falls on Shem. He died at the age of 600 years. B.C. 2013.

Assuming that the years ascribed to the patriarchs in the present copies of the Hebrew Bible are correct, it appears that Methuselah, who in his first 243 years was contemporary with Adam, had still nearly 100 years of his long life to run after Shem was born. Again, when Shem died Abraham was 148 years old, and Isaac had been nine years married. There are, therefore, but two links Methuselah and Shem between Adam and Isaac. Thus the early records of the creation and the fall of man which came down to Isaac, would challenge (apart from their inspiration) the same confidence which is readily yielded to a tale that reaches the hearer through two well known persons between himself and the original chief actor in the events related. (See Longevity). There is, indeed, no chronological improbability in that ancient Jewish tradition which brings Shem and Abraham into personal conference. (See Melchizedek).

The portion of the earth occupied by the descendants of Shem ( Genesis 10:21-31) intersects the portions of Japheth and Ham, and stretches in an. uninterrupted line from the Mediterranean Sea to the Indian Ocean. Beginning at its northwestern extremity, with Lydia (according to all ancient authorities, though doubted by Michaelis [see Gesenius, Thesaur. p. 745]), it includes Syria (Aram), Chaldaea (Arphaxad), parts of Assyria (Asshur), of Persia (Elam), and of the Arabian peninsula (Joktan) (See Ethnology); (See Shemitic Languages).

The servitude of Canaan under Shem, predicted by Noah ( Genesis 9:26); was fulfilled primarily in the subjugation of the people if Palestine ( Joshua 23:4;  2 Chronicles 8:7-8). It is doubtful whether, in  Genesis 10:27, God. or Japheth is mentionied as the dweller in the tents of Shem. In the former sense the verse may refer to the special presence of God with the Jews, and to the descent of Christ from them; or, in the latter sense, to the occupation of Palestine and adjacent countries by the Romans, and, spiritually understood, to, the accession of the Gentiles to the Church of God ( Ephesians 3:6). See Pfeifferi Opera, p. 40; Newton, On The Prophecies, Diss. 1.

Buttmann has conjectured (from the resemblance of ש ֵׁ with, שָׁמִיַ ) that Shem was the original of Saturn or Uranus (Abhandl. d. Berliner Akad. 1816; 1817, p. 150 sq.; Philos. Classe und im Mythol. 1, 221 sq.); but there is no good ground for such a fancy. Comparative Ages of Noah's Sons. In  Genesis 10:21 occurs a statement on this point, but the original is unfortunately ambiguous: כָּלאּבְּנֵיאּעֹבֶר אֲחַי יֶפֶת הִגָּדוֹל׃וּלְשֵׁ םיֻלִּד גִּ םאּהוּא אֲבַ 8 י . This may be rendered either, "And to Shem [there] was born also [to] him [a son], [the] father of all [the] sons of Eber, [the] brother of [the] elder Japheth, " or "[the] elder brother of Japheth." The English A.V. adopts the former rendering ("brother of Japheth the elder"), following the Sept. ( Ἀδελφῷι᾿Άφεθ Τοῦ Μείζονος [Vat. and Alex.; Sin. is wanting]), Symmachus, the Targum of Onkelos ( אֲחיּהַי דְיֶפֶת רִבָּא ), and the Masoretic accents (as given above); and this view is also taken by Rashi, Aben-Ezra, Luther, Junius, Piscator, Mercer, Montanus, Le Clerc, J. D. Michaelis, Mendelssohn, De Sola, Jervis, and other eminent Hebraists. The other rendering is adopted by the Samaritan Codex, the Latin Vulgate ("fratre Japheth majore"), the Peshito-Syriac, the Arabic of Saadias, and most modern commentators (Rosenmuller, Turner, Bush, Philippson, Kalisch, Conant, Lange, Tayler Lewis, Keil, Murphy, etc.). To our mind both the diplomatic and the linguistic arguments are conclusive for the common English rendering.

(I.) Chronological Considerations. These may be briefly stated as follows:

1. Noah had a son born when he was himself 500 years old ( Genesis 5:32). This must have been either his oldest or his youngest son, for it would be entirely nugatory to say that the middle one of his three sons was then born, unless that middle one were Shem himself.

2. The son then born was not Shem, for

a. In that case he would have been 99 years old at the beginning of the flood ( Genesis 7:1; in Noah's 600th year, not when he was 600 years old), or 100 years old at its close ( Genesis 8:13).

b. On the contrary, Shem was not 100 years old till two years after the flood ( Genesis 11:10).

3. Nor was Ham the son there referred to, for

a. Shem himself, we have seen, was not born so early as when Noah was 500 years old.

b. Much less could Ham, who was younger than Shem ( Genesis 9:24), have been, born so early.

4. It hence necessarily follows that Japheth was the son then born, and that he was the oldest of the three.

5. The three sons are not mentioned in the order of age, but of familiarity and importance to the Hebrews. Hence Ham, although the youngest, is named second. So likewise Arphaxad, although the first born ( Genesis 11:10), is named third ( Genesis 10:22). A precisely analogous case appears in the family of Terah ( Genesis 11:26), where the second son, Abram, is named first, as being the most important, and the oldest, Haran, last, as having died early.

6. The efforts of commentators to evade the force of these considerations betray the weakness of their cause. They all proceed upon the unfounded assumption that the numbers in the texts above considered are merely vague statements ("round numbers"), and may therefore be neglected in an exact calculation. They especially dwell upon the fact that all three sons are assigned to the same year. (Noah's 500th), whereas that expression evidently refers to the oldest, or the heir, only, as the foregoing comparisons show; in any other sense the assertion would be irrelevant or absurd.

(II.) Grammatical Considerations. On this point most later commentators and translators seem content to follow implicitly the views of Rosenmuller ( Schol. ad loc.): "In this clause the word הִגָּדֹל the elder,' is ambiguous as to whether it should be joined with Japheth, thus indicating him as the senior, or with Shem. The former has seemed to many interpreters probable chiefly because, inasmuch as Noah is said to have begotten the first of his sons who survived the flood in the one hundredth year before the flood ( Genesis 5:32), and Shem is said to have lived his one hundredth year two years after the flood ( Genesis 11:10), therefore the latter could not have been the first born. But since it is not at all likely that Noah begot in one and the same year the three sons mentioned in  Genesis 5:32, it is credible that in that passage round numbers only are named, as often occurs, and that the five hundredth year is set down in the same connection instead of the five hundred and second, as that in which Noah began to be a father. Hence it does not appear from this passage that Japheth was the oldest son. On the contrary, since in the preceding context the sons of Noah are six times mentioned in such order that Shem is set in the first place, Ham in the second, and Japheth in the third ( Genesis 5:32;  Genesis 6:10;  Genesis 7:13;  Genesis 9:16;  Genesis 9:23;  Genesis 10:1) passages so clear as to admit of no doubt it follows that in the present passage likewise the term the elder' is to be joined to אֲחי , the brother of, ' so as to make Shem the oldest. But there is also another grammatical reason.: If the writer in this place had wished to say that Japheth was the oldest son of Noah, he would doubtless have written בֶּןאּנוֹחִ הִגָּדֹל the older son of Noah; for הִגָּדֹל , the elder, ' thus placed Nude, nowhere else occurs (with reference to a person's age), but is always joined either with] בֵּ , son, ' or with אָח , brother.' All this has been fully set forth by J.F. Schelling in his monograph entitled Ueber die Geburtsfolge der Sohne Noah, at the beginning of part 17 of his Repertorium Biblicoe et Orientalis Literaturoe." These points, however, are not well taken; for

1. It is Not usual for the sacred writers to employ round numbers in chronological accounts. In this Cyclopoedia we have thoroughly examined every date in the Bible, and find no such instance. Each definite number is susceptible of explanation as being precisely correct, except a very few corruptions of the text. In this case, particularly, all the leading chronologers from Usher, Jackson, Hales, and Clinton down to Browne and the author of Palmoni take the date as being exact. It is a superficial evasion of a difficulty to resort to this slur upon the accuracy of Scripture chronology.

2. The sacred writer might indeed have said, if he had chosen, "the brother of Japheth the elder son of Noah;" but this is a tedious and awkward phrase, and would have been Just As Ambiguous as the one he has employed, its sense entirely depending upon the interpunction.

3. גָּדֹל does occur in as "nude a form" as here in at least one passage ( Ezekiel 21:14 [Hebrews 19]), as noticed below. It is true the adj. there does not refer to comparative Age, but that makes no difference in the grammatical construction. The assertion that גָּדֹל does not occur (in the sense of age) without the addition of] ב or אח expressed is not true, as may be seen from  Genesis 29:16;  Genesis 44:2, and other instances where one of these nouns is merely Implied, precisely as in the case before us. In fine, the adj. is not here "nude" or independent at all; it regularly belongs to the second noun, brother of the elder Japheth."

4. The argument from the Order of the names is amply refuted (as above) by the analogous cases of Arphaxad ( Genesis 11:22), Abraham ( Genesis 11:27), and, indeed, almost every other patriarch. They were arranged in the order of proximity and importance to the Hebrews; Among the arguments on the other side we may note

a. The chronological point is irrefragable, except by the evasion above noticed.

b. The position of the words, although ambiguous, certainly Allows the construction of the Authorized Version. We append a few instances of the same adj. qualifying a noun after a construct:

 Numbers 35:28, bis מוּת הִכֹּהֵןהִגָּדֹל  Joshua 20:6 the same.  Isaiah 36:13 דַּבְרֵי הִמֶּלֶךְ הִגָּדֹל  Ezekiel 47:9— דְּגִת הִיָּ םהִגָּדֹל  Daniel 10:4. יִד הִנָּהָר הִגָּדֹל Had the word יֶפֶת preceding the qualifying adj. in the passage in question not been a proper name; it would have taken the article, as in these instances, and thus all ambiguity would have been avoided. An instance strictly parallel is  Ezekiel 21:14 [Heb. 19], הִגָּדֹל חֶרֶב חָלָל , where the adj., being masc. Must belong to the second noun, though neither has the art. Others similar doubtless occur, if not with גָּדֹל or] קָט , yet with other adjectives.

c. Had the sacred writer intended the adj. in the passage in question to apply to the last noun, he could scarcely have, expressed his meaning in any other way than he has. On the other hand, had he meant it to refer to the former, he would undoubtedly have added מַמֶּנּוּ , as in  Judges 1:13;  Judges 3:9 ( אֲחַי כָּלֵב הִקָּטֹןמַמֶּנּוּ ), which are the only strictly parallel cases of usage under that view (the adj. being קָטֶןֹ , however, instead of גָּדֹל ).  Judges 9:5 ( בֶּןאּיְרֻבִּעִל הִקָּטן ) is not a case in point, as there could be no ambiguity there.

d. The Masoretic accents are clearly for the old rendering. In all the above instances the adj. is connected by a conjunctive with the noun immediately preceding, and the first noun (though in the construct) is separated by a disjunctive. In cases of the other construction the reverse interpunction prevails invariably, so far as we have examined. The authority of the Masorites countervails that of all modern scholars, most of whom seem to have given the subject but a cursory examination. The criticism of Keil ( Commentary On The Pentateuch, 1, 156, Clark's ed.) is particularly lame. Josephus ( Ant. 1, 6, 4) calls "Shem the third son of Noah, " but elsewhere (1, 4, 1) he names them in a different order, that of relative familiarity ("Shem and Japheth and Ham"). As to the other ancient versions, as above noted, the Sept. (the translator of which in this part was a good Hebraist) refers the adj. to Japheth, although some printed editions have it otherwise, in order to correspond with the Vulg., which reflects the Jewish national pride. The Samaritan, Syriac, and Arabic of course follow the Vulgate but the Targum of Onkelos has "the brother of Japheth the great." Schelling, whom Rosenmuller (as above) refers to ( Repertorium, etc. [1785], 17, 8 sq.), thinks that the lists in Genesis only mean that Noah had passed his five hundredth year before he had any heir, since in any case the three sons could not have been all born in the same year, to which they are all equally assigned; and that therefore only the round number or approximate date is given" (p. 20).

e. The reason why the sacred writer adds the epithet "elder" brother to the name of Japheth, is precisely to prevent the inference that would otherwise naturally be drawn from the continual mention of Shem first in the lists elsewhere, that he was the oldest son; and to explain why the names are here inverted. In the present chapter, however, as usual in detailed genealogies ( 1 Chronicles 1:29 sq.;  1 Chronicles 2:1 sq.,  1 Chronicles 2:42;  1 Chronicles 3:1 sq., etc.), the strict order of primogeniture is observed. Had Shem been the oldest, there seems to be no good reason why in this pedigree the same order should not have been observed as elsewhere. Rosenmuller's remark that this was done "in order that the transition from the lineage of Shemn to the history of Abraham might be more easy, " does not apply; for the next chapter begins with an account of the Tower of Babel, which is neither Abrahamic nor Shemitic history in particular, but rather Hamitic (see  1 Chronicles 3:10); so that this list of Shem's descendants is thrust in between two portions of Ham's history arbitrarily, unless for the sake of chronological order.

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia [13]

shem ( שׁם , shēm  ; Σήμ , Sḗm ):

1. Position in Noah's Family: His Name:

The eldest son of Noah, from whom the Jews, as well as the Semitic ("Shemitic") nations in general have descended. When giving the names of Noah's three sons, Shem is always mentioned first ( Genesis 9:18;  Genesis 10:1 , etc.); and though "the elder" in "Shem the brother of Japheth the elder" ( Genesis 10:21 margin) is explained as referring to Shem, this is not the rendering of Onkelos. His five sons peopled the greater part of West Asia's finest tracts, from Elam on the East to the Mediterranean on the West. Though generally regarded as meaning "dusky" (compare the Assyr-Babylonian sâmu - also Ham - possibly = "black," Japheth, "fair"), it is considered possible that Shem may be the usual Hebrew word for "name" ( shēm ), given him because he was the firstborn - a parallel to the Assyr-Babylonian usage, in which "son," "name" ( šumu ) are synonyms ( W. A. Inscriptions , V, plural 23, 11, 29-32abc).

2. History, and the Nations Descended from Him:

Shem, who is called "the father of all the children of Eber," was born when Noah had attained the age of 500 years ( Genesis 5:32 ). Though married at the time of the Flood, Shem was then childless. Aided by Japheth, he covered the nakedness of their father, which Ham, the youngest brother, had revealed to them; but unlike the last, Shem and Japheth, in their filial piety, approached their father walking backward, in order not to look upon him. Two years after the Flood, Shem being then 100 years old, his son Arpachshad was born ( Genesis 11:10 ), and was followed by further sons and daughters during the remaining 500 years which preceded Shem's death. Noah's prophetic blessing, on awakening from his wine, may be regarded as having been fulfilled in his descendants, who occupied Syria (Aramaic), Palestine (Canaan), Chaldea (Arpachshad), Assyria (Asshur), part of Persia (Elam), and Arabia (Joktan). In the first three of these, as well as in Elam, Canaanites had settled (if not in the other districts mentioned), but Shemites ruled, at some time or other, over the Canaanites, and Canaan thus became "his servant" ( Genesis 9:25 ,  Genesis 9:26 ). The tablets found in Cappadocia seem to show that Shemites (Assyrians) had settled in that district also, but this was apparently an unimportant colony. Though designated sons of Shem, some of his descendants (e.g. the Elamites) did not speak a Semitic language, while other nationalities, not his descendants (e.g. the Canaanites), did. See Ham; Japheth; Table Of Nations .

Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblial Literature [14]

Shem (name), one of the three sons of Noah , from whom descended the nations enumerated in , sq., and who was the progenitor of that great branch of the Noachic family (called from him Shemitic or Semitic) to which the Hebrews belong. The name of Shem is placed first wherever the sons of Noah are mentioned together; whence he would seem to have been the eldest brother. But against this conclusion is brought the text , which, according to the Authorized, and many other versions, has 'Shem the brother of Japheth the elder;' whence it has been conceived very generally that Japheth was really the eldest, and that Shem is put first by way of excellency, seeing that from him the holy line descended. But this conclusion is not built upon a critical knowledge of the Hebrew, which would show that 'the elder' must in this text be referred not to Japheth but to Shem, so that it should be read 'Shem… the elder brother of Japheth.'