Monday, March 25, 2013

In search of the meaning of Japheth. (a story of dishonesty in the Bible translation)

This a slightly old story, something that happened during 2007-2008. I was very active on Yahoo!Answers and Yahoo!Groups in those days. Unfortunately, my Yahoo! account got deactivated, otherwise I could have provided some support material for this post from the conversations that I had in that account. Anyways, there is no point in crying over spilled milk.

Disclaimer: 
  • I am not a great Hebrew scholar. 
  • I am not sorry if your understanding of the scriptures is based on the errors I expose in this post.
  • I am not a racist.


Abraham and Lot separates from one another, a reminder. 


Before we get on to Japheth, let me remind you of the tussle between the herdsmen of Abraham and Lot (Genesis 13). Then they were dwelling in the land of Bethel. They had lots of had flocks and herds and tents. We are told that "the land was not able to bear them, for dwelling together, for their wealth was great, so that they could not dwell together" (Gen 13:6).

Noah blesses/curses his children after the flood.


Gen 9:25 And he said, Cursed be Canaan. He shall be a slave of slaves to his brothers
Gen 9:26 And he said, Blessed be Jehovah, the God of Shem; and may Canaan be his slave. 

Gen 9:27 God shall enlarge Japheth, and he shall live in the tents of Shem, and Canaan shall be their slave. 

Now, God shall enlarge Japheth and he will live in the tents of Shem. If Abraham and Lot could not dwell together in the land of Bethel, how an enlarged Japheth can dwell with Shem in his tent? Is it reasonable to think that a tent can be as large as, or even larger than the land of Nageb (in which Bethel is located)?


The Hebrew word translated as enlarge.


The Hebrew word rendered as "enlarge" is: 

H6601 (פּתה paw-thaw'): A primitive root; to open, that is, be (causatively make) roomy; usually figuratively (in a mental or moral sense) to be (causatively make) simple or (in a sinister way) delude: - allure, deceive, enlarge, entice, flatter, persuade, silly (one).

Notice that James Strong has placed everything that pertains to enlarge or expand as the primary meaning of the word. I call this dishonesty, because of the 28 occurrences of the same Hebrew word only the one in Gen 9:27 is given the meaning of enlarge/expand. 

Elsewhere the word is translated as:
From a reading of the scriptures it becomes abundantly clear that the word means entice, allure or persuade when used as verb. Even the scriptures where it is translated as "to deceive" would read better if "to entice" or "to persuade" were used:


Job 31:9 If mine heart have been deceived (read: enticed, allured)  by a woman, or if I have laid wait at my neighbor's door
Deu 11:16 Take heed to yourselves, that your heart be not deceived (read: enticed, allured), and ye turn aside, and serve other gods, and worship them;

How can a word with negative connotations can become "enlarge"? Miracle‽


Analyze Gen 9:25-27 again. The curse that was given to Canaan (son of Ham, whom saw the nakedness of his dad) was that he would be a slave to a slave. Read it again, "He shall be a slave of slaves to his brothers". In other words, his master would be a slave to someone else.

Let us say that I, Tomsan, is made to dwell in your home; will I have the same rights in your home as you? Will not my stay depend on your good pleasure? Will I not be inferior to you in rights and powers?

Same was/is the case with Japheth. Japheth was persuaded by God to dwell in the tent of Shem. At least there is one (pre KJV) version that honestly translates this verse:

(Geneva) Gen 9:27 God persuade Japheth, that he may dwell in the tents of Shem, and let Canaan be his servant.

Even commentators like Matthew Henry knew that the correct translation is "to persuade". He wrote: we should read it, God shall persuade Japheth (for so the word signifies), and then, being so persuaded, he shall dwell in the tents of Shem.

Once Japheth dwells in the tents of Shem, Japheth becomes a slave or dependent of Shem. And we are told that Canaan becomes a slave to him, fulfilling the curse that he should be a slave to a slave. (Japheth is Shem's slave and Canaan is Japheth's slave).

The meaning of Japheth.


James Strong's Hebrew lexicon tells us that the meaning of Japheth is expansion.

H3315 יפת (yeh'-feth) From H6601; expansion; Jepheth, a son of Noah; also his posterity: - Japheth.

It is beyond the comprehension of any sane human being as to how a word like yeh'-feth can be derived from paw-thaw. Additionally, of all the given meanings of paw-thaw (H6601) how it can derive only from "to expand". Why can't it be derived from "to persuade", "to deceive", "to allure" ... and become persuasion, deception, allurement ... respectively.

No word is derived without a pattern. For instance the word Elohim (H430) is derived from Eloah (H433). No word has an outlandish derivation like the one suggested by James Strong for Japheth.

The Yahoo! story.


While I was troubled by the derivation of the meaning of Japheth, I contacted many Hebrew scholars and Jewish Rabbis on Yahoo!Answers and Yahoo!Groups, some 68 of them!

Almost all of them promptly copied and pasted Strong's definition!

During that time I met online a person by name David, who is a Jew migrated from Kolkata, India, to Israel. He was then a research scholar in the Hebrew University, Jerusalem. This David made an extensive search of the libraries in Jerusalem, but could not find the derivation of the word Japheth. However, he offered me that he would continue his search.

David decided to consult his former research guide (a Rabbi) in Paris and called him up, only to find out that even his guide had not much to offer. But, as though by divine providence, once while this Rabbi was in a fruit market in Paris, he heard vendors shouting out "jafee mangue" (mangue being French for mango). Intrigued as he is, the Rabbi inquired them about the meaning of "jafee" and he was told in Hebrew it means beautiful, and they are selling mangoes from Israel, which had a special shine to them! The Rabbi referred the lexicons to realize that the fruit vendors know things better than him. 

David was overjoyed to tell me this story, but I was not surprised at all, because I know that Japheth means beautiful/shining.

Let us examine the words that come closer to Japheth (H3315) in Strong's lexicon:

H3314 (יפעה yif-aw'): From H3313; splendor or (figuratively) beauty: - brightness.

Translated as brightness in:


Eze 28:7 Behold, therefore I will bring strangers upon thee, the terrible of the nations: and they shall draw their swords against the beauty of thy wisdom, and they shall defile thy brightness
Eze 28:17 Thine heart was lifted up because of thy beauty, thou hast corrupted thy wisdom by reason of thy brightness:


H3313 (יפע yaw-fah') A primitive root; to shine: - be light, shew, self, (cause to) shine (forth).

Translated as "to shine" in:


Job 37:15 Dost thou know when God disposed them, and caused the light of his cloud to shine?
Job 3:4 Let that day be darkness; let not God regard it from above, neither let the light shine upon it.

No, this is not a thesis on the derivation of the word Japheth. As I have stated earlier, I am not a Hebrew scholar, but it takes only common sense to know that it is highly probable that the word might have derived from yif-aw (brightness) or  yaw-fah (to shine) than paw-thaw, which is already mistranslated in connection with Japheth in Gen 9:27.

What can be the reason Gen 9:27 is wrongly translated?


Once I mailed Mr. Jeff A Benner of the so called The Mechanical Translation of the Hebrew Bible to find out how his translation also renders paw-thaw as "spread wide". He had no answers. After a lot of enticing and persuasion (paw-thaw!) he had to agree that he was just following Strong's Lexicon! You can be sure that most of the translations are just following Strong's Lexicon (which is notoriously weak), than honestly translating the Hebrew text.

I learned that some have a notion that Europeans are the descendants of Japheth and if the Bible says Japheth is persuaded to dwell in the tents of  Shem, then that will make Europeans to be inferior to Asians (supposed to be the descendants of Shem). The very thought itself is absurd and pointless. By wrongly translating Gen 9:27 can they wish away the fact that one of the nations that comes against the Holy city are the descendants of Japheth?

Gen 10:2 The sons of Japheth; Gomer, and Magog, and Madai, and Javan, and Tubal, and Meshech, and Tiras

Rev 20:8 And shall go out to deceive the nations which are in the four quarters of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them together to battle: the number of whom is as the sand of the sea

Tail piece: The meaning of Jephthah also may be wrong in Strong's lexicon.