Who Are the Gentiles?
Any study of the origins of the Gentiles must commence with an investigation into the Flood. At that time, the Lord commanded the prophet Noah to build an ark because He informed Noah of the impending destruction that awaited the wicked inhabitants of the earth as a result of their many injustices committed against the weak and their neighbors. The Lord’s patience had worn thin after He had sent numerous prophets and messengers whom the people decided to ignore, though these men apprised the masses of the coming consequences. To better understand this narrative, the Book of Moses must be consulted. Herein a portion of Enoch’s testimony reveals how this great prophet lamented the portending calamity about to befall the people. Yet, despite this grime prognostication, Enoch received the knowledge that Noah’s children would be the vessels through which the earth would be repopulated. Thus, the Plan of Salvation, in effect, would be rebooted. Undoubtedly, this is an interesting concept to contemplate.
After the effects of the reset, Noah and his family found themselves alone again in the dreary world. And this situation required the earth to be repopulated by Noah’s three sons: Japheth, Shem, and Ham. In the so-called “Table of Nations,” which comprises Genesis chapters 10-11, we learn about these sons and their offspring multiplying to replenish the inhabitants of the earth. Within these chapters, important clues emerge as the writer catalogs each son’s offspring, but what the narrative mentions about Japheth and his descendants concerns this post and provides a launching point into further investigations in future posts. Genesis 10 provides a genealogy constituting Japheth and his people as the Gentiles:
The sons of Japheth; Gomer, and Magog, and Madai, and Javan, and Tubal, and Meshech, and Tiras. And the sons of Gomer; Ashkenaz, and Riphath, and Togarmah. And the sons of Javan; Elishah, and Tarshish, Kittim, and Dodanim. By these were the isles of the Gentiles divided in their lands; every one after his tongue, after their families, in their nations. 1
Notice that the delineation of who the Gentiles are entails neither the descendants of Shem nor those of Ham, but the Genesis account strictly defines this group as being connected with Japheth.
Japheth’s descendants would eventually migrate to inhabit Western and Southern Europe, some parts of Asia, as well as the remote, northern regions of the earth. The extension of his dominion harmonizes with the meaning of his name derived from the Aramaic root פתה. Connotations associated with this root are widely extensive, or enlargement. Outside of the Hebrew tradition, the Greeks too made mention of Japheth, having called him Iapetos within their religious traditions. Though this information provides some insights concerning this man and his descendants, he didn’t receive the birthright from under the hand of his father Noah. Instead, this role fell to Shem, Noah’s second son. And it was promised that through Shem the lineages of the Gentiles would receive blessings.
The Birthright of Shem
Even though Japheth’s seed came to possess an expansive dominion on the earth, his children would not be the vessels through which the blessings of God would be administered; rather, Shem’s seed possessed the rights and privileges attached to the covenants of the Lord. This man’s descendants became known as the Shemitic people, which today we call the Semitic people, comprising several different cultures and nations of the ancient world: the Hebrews, the Arabs, the Phoenicians, the Syrians (otherwise known as the Aramians), Babylonians, and the Assyrians. These are only a few examples representative of Shem’s people and should not be considered exhaustive.
If one ventures to read extra-biblical texts, like the Books of Jubilees and Jasher, the reader learns that many demographic changes took place among this people when enemies prosecuted military campaigns against them.2 But a narration of this must wait for another time. What is important is that Shem, holding the birthright over his people and over the children of his brethren, presided as the great lawgiver. Furthermore, to buttress this description of lawgiver, Shem also went by the name of Melchizedek, the great high priest to whom Abraham paid tithes and offerings. The Book of Jasher, a book some still consider to be the original creation account before being lost, received recognition in both Joshua 10:13 and 2 Samuel 1:18, sheds further light concerning Shem’s other alias.3
When reading the Book of Jasher, certain phrases and words provide clues signaling to the reader that Shem and Melchizedek are in fact that same person, and yet there is an additional name used to identify Shem, namely Adonizedek. Here is the account on this:
And Adonizekek, king of Jerusalem, the same was Shem, went out with his men to meet Abram and his people, with bread and wine, and they remained together in the valley of Melech. And Adonizedek blessed Abram, and Abram gave him a tenth from all that he had brought from the spoils of his enemies, for Adonizedek was a priest before God. 4
This is an almost identical account in comparison with the Joseph Smith Translation (JST) of the Bible. When comparing these verses with what is rendered in the King James Bible, it too bears remarkable resemblance. Here, however, I offer only the JST rendering:
And Melchizedek, king of Salem, brought forth bread and wine; and he break bread and blest it; and he blest the wine, he being the priest of the most high God. And he gave to Abram, and he blessed him, and said, Blessed Abram, thou art a man of the most high God, possessor of heaven and of earth; and blessed is the name of the most high God, which hath delivered thine enemies into thine hand. And Abram gave him tithes of all he had taken. 5
Examining these scriptures closely, along with the information provided in the Bible Dictionary of the LDS Standard works, reveals that Shem, Melchizedek, and Adonizedek are all different names that identify the same person to whom Abraham traveled and from whom he received the high priesthood of God, with this latter fact being revealed in the Book of Abraham account found in the Pearl of Great Price. Moreover, the Hebrew meaning of each of these names provides some interesting bits of information. Shem means “name,” Melchizedek means “my king of righteousness,” and Adonizedek mean “my Lord of righteousness.” Also, notice that in each verse quoted here Melchizedek administers the sacrament, the bread and wine, to Abram. There seems to be much more about this person than what the scriptures offer at face value, but I leave the reader to muse on this.
Returning to our discussion of the Gentiles, why is Shem, or Melchizedek, important here? Well, it is from the descendants of Shem that the children of Israel would spring. Eber, one of Shem’s descendants, is the name from which the word Hebrew is derived. In ancient times, Abraham lived in the land Ur which was part of Chaldea, or where some say is present day Basra, Iraq. And, according to Genesis 11, his genealogy connects with Eber. Since Shem’s lineage received the birthright, they have an obligation to administer covenant blessings to those who do not have access to them, and therefore the Lord, knowing that Japheth and his descendants would need access, made provisions for incorporating them into the covenant at a future time. How would the Lord accomplish this? This is an interesting question for which the scriptures offer a clue.
God shall enlarge Japheth, and he shall dwell in the tents of Shem. 6
Notice that Japheth’s enlargement refers back to the etymological meaning of his name. From this we can infer that his offspring will become a great people and a multitude of nations. The latter part of the verse says Japheth will one day “dwell in the tents of Shem.” What exactly does this mean? Well, it appears to mean that at a certain date an adoption will occur that will allow the willing descendants of Japheth to enter into the covenant house of Shem. Over the course of a few blog post, this concept should become clear to the reader, so please continue to follow along.
Genesis 10:2–5 JST
The Book of Jasher had been suppressed, during the compilation of the Septuagint in 200 B.C., and then subsequently rediscovered numerous times, having finally remained in the light of day since 800 A.D. (See 1906 Jewish Encyclopedia Vol. 7, p. 74)
Today, it is considered an apocryphal text since it does not corroborate perfectly with the current, compiled Bibles. Many do not believe it since it does not align with their beliefs system, which was the reason it had been previously tossed by the Church Fathers and some Jews. Yet Joseph Smith used it in an editorial he wrote in the Times and Season that gives a description of the persecution Abraham suffered at the hands of his enemies. An exerpt of this editorial is in the Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith. (See Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 260)
Jasher 16:11-12 quoted from Parry, J. H. trans. The Book of Jasher (New York, NY: Cosimo Classics, 2005), 41.
Genesis 14:17-20 JST
Genesis 9:31 JST