What happened to nations descended from Noah’s son Shem?
The 70 nations of the world came from and are named after the 70 descendants of the three sons of Noah which are listed in Gen. 10:1-32. Of these, 26 were descended from Shem, Noah’s youngest son. These are named in Gen. 10:21-31. For a complete commentary on the identity of these nations in modern terms, see Artscroll’s Bereishis (Genesis), vol. I, pp. 308-332. Many of the points below are taken from this source.
The Asian continent was originally apportioned by Noah to Shem and his descendants. This included the land that is now Israel, but they were later forcibly displaced from there by the Canaanite nations, who descended from Ham, Noah’s middle son (Gen. 10:6). (See Rashi’s comment on Gen. 12:6.) Shem was the original king of Jerusalem (which was originally called “Salem”), and he became known as Malkizedek (“Righteous King,” Gen. 14:18).
Shem had five sons who became nations:
Elam: Their territory was between Shushan (in Persia) and Media. In the days of Abraham (before Abraham had children), the nation of Elam had a king named Chedarlaomer (Gen. 14:1). He ruled by force over the five kingdoms of the metropolis of Sodom and Gomorrah. When those servant kingdoms rebelled against him, Chedarloamer allied himself with three other kings (including Amraphel = Nimrod) to fight and defeat them, as described in Gen. 14:1-16. Abraham subsequently fought and defeated the four kings in order to save his nephew Lot, whom they had kidnapped from Sodom.
Asshur: Asshur became the nation of Assyria, located to the north of Babylon. An individual by this name is mentioned in Gen. 10:11-12, in the story of the Tower of Babel. Rashi comments that when he saw that his children were listening to the wicked Nimrod and rebelling against G-d by building the Tower, he departed from them. He built several cities, including the famous Nineveh, which was known as “a great city unto G-d” (i.e. dedicated to G-d) (Jonah 3:3).
Arpachshad: According to Josephus, he was the ancestor of the Chaldeans. They first lived in the coastal area of the lower Euphrates, and later moved inland. Ur, the birthplace of Abraham, was one of their main cities.
Lud: Josephus seems to identify them with the Lydians of Asia Minor.
Aram: These are the Arameans, who lived in the area of Syria, with Damascus as their capital.
Aram had four sons who became nations: Uz, Hul, Gether and Mash.
Hul: Joshephus identifies this land as Armenia.
Mash: There is a Mount Mash in Mesopotamia that may have been named after this nation.
Arpachshad had one son who became a nation – Shelah. Shelah was the father of Eber (or Ever).
Eber: Eber was the great-grandson of Shem. He, along with Shem, received prophecy and was one of the great righteous people of the generations. Eber and Shem established an academy of Torah learning. They both outlived Abraham. Eber became a nation, and he had two sons who became nations – Peleg and Joktan.
Peleg: Abraham was descended by 5 generations from Peleg. The dispersion of the nations from the Tower of Babel in Babylonia (present-day Iraq), occurred in the year of Peleg’s death. (See Rashi’s comment on Gen. 10:25.) There is a city of Palga at the junction of the Euphrates and Chaboras rivers.
Joktan: He had 13 sons who became nations that settled in the area of Arabia. Among these are:
Hazarmaveth: He is identified with Hadarmaveth in Southern Arabia.
Hadoram: Doram is the name of a fortress in Southern Arabia.
Uzal: This is the original name of the San’a, the Arabian name for the capital of Yemen.
Dikalah: Diklah is used to refer to the palm-tree region in Judea.
Obal: The Samaritans refer Obal to the Mt. Eibal region in Samaria, near Shechem.
Sheba: Sheba is mentioned as a distant, wealthy people who were renowned for their gold, precious stones and frankincense. The Queen of Sheba became famous through her meeting with King Solomon. (I Kings 10:2,10) Some identify them with the Sabaeans of Southwest Arabia.
Havilah: Havilah is to the southeast of Arabia toward the Persion Gulf and India. There is a place Havilah in Bahrein on the Persian Gulf.
Jobab: Jobab is identified as the Egyptian coastal city of Jobabiti.
Abraham was personally acquainted with Noah, and he was 58 years old when Noah died at the age of 950. (Note that the numerical value of Noah’s name in Hebrew, No-ach, is 58, hinting that Abraham would be the one to take over Noah’s holy work.) Noah was the third in the line of Oral Tradition of the kabbalistic secrets of creation, and Abraham was the fourth (Adam – Lemech – Noah – Abraham). Abraham had two brothers, Nahor and Haran. Nahor was the grandfather of Rebecca (the wife of Isaac) and Laban. Laban was the father of Rachel, Leah, Bilhah and Zilpah, the four wives of Jacob. The wicked prophet Bilaam (Num., ch. 22-24) was descended from Laban.
Haran was the father of Sarah and Lot. Through his two daughters, Lot fathered the nations of Moab and Ammon after the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen. 29-38). The Middle-Eastern nations of Moab and Ammon, which border on Israel, are the Kenizzite and Kadmonite who are mentioned Gen. 15:19.