Glossary of Terms



Harper’s Bible Dictionary

edited by Paul J. Achtemier (San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1985)

You are strongly recommended to add to your library the excellent revised edition of Harper's Bible Dictionary titled, The Harper Collins Bible Dictionary, Revised Edition [book review], edited by Paul J. Achtemeier, with the Society of Biblical Literature (NY: Harper Collins, 1996). It is currently the best one-volume Bible dictionary in English, and it is available at Border's Books, Christian Science Reading Rooms,, or

Shem (Heb., ‘name,’ ‘renown’), one of the three sons of Noah. Shem occupies a special place among the sons of Noah because he was the eldest (Gen. 5:32; 9:18), the recipient of special blessing (Gen. 9:26, rsv), and the ancestor of a group of peoples that included the Hebrews (Eber, Gen. 10:21, 24). The term ‘Semite’ (‘Shemite’) has been applied in modern times to peoples speaking the Semitic languages. It has also been used as a racial designation. However, the list of Shem’s descendants in Gen. 10:21-30 includes non-Semitic peoples (e.g., the Elamites, v. 22), showing that the basis for the grouping was geographical or political rather than linguistic or racial. In Gen. 9:20-27, Shem is the ancestor of Israel and is located in Palestine together with his two brothers, Ham (father of Canaan, representing the original inhabitants of the land) and Japheth (ancestor of the Philistines and other ‘Sea Peoples’). Canaan is cursed for dishonoring his father in the latter’s drunken stupor and is made the slave of his brothers, who ‘covered their father’s nakedness.’ Shem is rewarded by a special relationship with God (Gen. 9:26, rsv) and Japheth with an enlarged dwelling place ‘in the tents of Shem’ (i.e., in the territory of Israel).


Topical index of terms
Edited for by Robert Nguyen Cramer
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