Noah Had (at least) 5 Sons

You remember Noah’s three sons: Japheth, Shem, & Ham.  Scriptural record suggests that there were at least two other, older brothers, who, if they existed, perished in or before the great flood.

A matter of numbers

The record in the book of Moses has Noah’s granddaughters marrying prior to the great flood, but the timeline hardly allows for Shem, Ham, or Japheth to have had children of marrying age prior to the flood.  Rather, it has a vacuum which seems to expect the existence of earlier progeny, whose children would certainly have been of marrying age before the flood.

Admittedly, scriptural record has come under fire in the last 100 years, and consequently, timelines given prior to the divided kingdom of Israel will be taken lightly by critics, but in the face of criticism, the scriptural record tends to be vindicated where there is any evidence either to prove or disprove.

The age at which one becomes a father

The simplest hint that Noah had earlier sons is only circumstantial, but it had better be discussed first because the circumstance in question is integral to the weightier evidence to come.  The meat of it is that unless Noah had children earlier than Japheth, he was substantially slower to father children than his forebears were—4 times slower!

Moses chapters 6 and 7 records the age of each patriarch from Adam to Noah at the time each fathered his primogeniture*.  The generations before Noah yield the following ages:

130†, 105, 90, 70, 65, 162, 65, 187, 182

…and for Noah: 450.  That’s about 4.3 times the median age for all previous generations (105).

(*We may reasonably presume, at least, that the lineage given follows a line of filius primus, or at least, that of the first son who survived to carry on his father’s lineage.  This is not explicit in the record, however.)

(†This age actually represents the age at which Adam fathered Seth, who was preceded by at least two brothers.  Having Adam’s age in fact be younger even than 130 strengthens the evidence.)

Noah’s granddaughters

Moses 8 speaks of Noah’s granddaughters marrying wicked men‡ prior to the flood (indeed, their conduct is presented as though it were a significant incitement of the flood).  Significantly, Moses 8:14–15 speaks of them as the daughters of the sons of Noah, so if we imagine that Shem, Ham, and Japheth were the only sons of Noah, at least Japheth and Shem were old enough to have daughters of marrying age.

Noah was 492 when Shem was born, so if we give Shem the mean fathering age for his predecessors (105 years old), then Noah would have been approximately 597 years old at the time his granddaughters were born.

At what age would a woman of that period marry? It’s hard to say, but the earliest suggestion of the parity/disparity of a wife’s age to that of her husband in the descendancy that we’re dealing with is that of Sarai (Sarah) and Abram (Abraham).  Genesis 17:17 indicates that Sarai was 10 years younger than Abram.  This isn’t enough evidence to suggest that in the time of Noah (1000 years earlier) the practice was the same, but it is enough to destroy any assumption that Noah’s practice was associated with the marrying age at the time of Christ (~12 years old for a woman) (unless the marrying age for men was ~20, but that’s just not realistic, as it means that couples would generally put off procreating for ~100 years).

Regardless of whether the marrying age of Noah’s granddaughters was near to that of their husbands or much lower, however, the math still doesn’t work.  Genesis 7:6 states that “Noah was 600 years old when the flood of waters was upon the earth.”  If we keep our assumption that Shem married at age 105, his daughters would have to marry at the age of 3 for that to work.

If we back down Shem’s (and Japheth’s) fathering age to the very earliest had among their predecessors (65 years old), that leaves 43 years for the daughters.  Having Shem’s daughters marry at the age of 43 comes across unlikely since their husbands presumably got married at a mean age of 2.4 times as old (unless there was a consistent and significant gap between marriage and filius primus, which is doubtful).

(‡It is interesting to note at this point that we see quite the reverse of what is represented in Genesis viz. sons/daughters of god  and sons/daughters of men.  In Genesis, the sons of god take the daughters of men to wife, whereas in Moses, the daughters of the sons of god are taken to wife of the sons of men.)

It gets worse

Even if you discredit the foregoing assumptions—that is, if you suppose that:

  1. two of Noah’s sons married as young as the youngest in precedent
  2. (and)
  3. brides at the time of Noah’s grandchildren were less than half as old as their husbands
  4. (or)
  5. couples tended to wait a long time after marrying before birthing their primogeniture
  6. (and)
  7. two of Noah’s sons defied this convention, having daughters shortly after marrying

—even then, you still have problems with the timeline.  Look at Moses 8:15–17.  In verse 15, God decries the marriages of Noah’s granddaughters.  In verse 16, Noah undertakes a ministry.  In verse 17, God threatens to send the great flood.

The line to focus on is in verse 17: “all flesh shall die; yet his days shall be an hundred and twenty years; and if men do not repent, I will send in the floods upon them.”

It is possible that God’s pronouncement in verse 17 was given before the events of verses 15 and 16, but the organization of the chapter implies the contrary.  That means that the flood must have fallen no sooner than 120 years after the earliest marriages of the daughters of the sons of Noah.

Even if you outright omit Noah’s granddaughters and add that 120 years into the timeline right after the birth of Shem, Noah would be 612.  That’s 12 years after the flood.

If Noah had at least 5 sons…

If Noah had at least 5 sons, the math works (and so do the semantics of “daughters of [Noah’s] sons”).

We can suppose that Noah started fathering at the median time for his ascendancy (age 105).  Add another 105 years for his first sons to have children of their own (Noah reaches age 210).  Add another 105 years for his earliest granddaughters to get married (Noah reaches age 315).  Add another 120 years for God’s prophesy in Moses 7:17 (Noah reaches age 435).

That’s completely believable and there’s no shortage of wiggle room.  We just have to push the prophecy 165 years later, during which interim, we suppose it was business as usual, fathering more children, grandfathering more grandchildren.

Room for error

Admittedly, interpretation of scripture is notorious for being contradicted by other scriptures, and the matter of Noah’s children is no exception.

In particular, Moses 7:42–43 displays the prophecy (made in Enoch’s day) “that the posterity of all the sons of Noah should be saved with a temporal salvation.”  (Verse 43 makes it clear that the temporal salvation in question is indeed salvation from death in the flood.)

Tradition and 1 Peter 3:20 teach that none of Noah’s grandchildren was saved in the ark.  If our portrait of history relies on Noah’s earlier sons having daughters and on none of those daughters surviving the flood, then we have a conflict of source material.  I.e. if none of Noah’s grandchildren were spared the flood, then the posterity of his drowned sons was not saved with a temporal salvation.

It seems likely that our interpretation of one or more of the foregoing scriptures is in error.  The most likely error is an error in the semantics of “all” (not an unknown problem with transmitted, transmuted, or translated texts).  Perhaps “all the sons of Noah” as used in Moses 7 means only all the sons that are known.

There is good scope for creativity, however; the foregoing teachings might yet be reconciled at least one other way: a remnant of the houses of Noah’s earlier sons might have escaped the known world and so avoided the flood.  In such case, the whole (known) world would still be inundated, but the posterity of all the sons of Noah would be preserved.

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23 Responses to Noah Had (at least) 5 Sons

  1. Edwin says:

    Good stuff!
    Some additional insight:
    Verse 12 makes an innocent statement that I believe to be insightful. It says that he beget Shem, “of Her who was the mother of Japheth.”
    This insinuates that Noah had more than one wife. Additionally it does not make the same clarification for Ham. The reason/s for this can be wide and varying but I am one that follows the strain that nothing in scripture is without purpose.

    We know in the case of Adam and Eve that they had more children than what either Genesis or the POGP informs us of. For the fact that it makes reference to them in indirect ways without having previously given the possibility of their existence through naming them is instructive of scripture protocol. [Moses 5:2,3,11,12,13 are among some that give us evidence] Therefore it is not without precedent for one of the Patriarchs to have had children without an account of them.
    In fact if we believe that like Nephi, the Patriarchs had patterned the storing of information in such a cautious manner as to keep the account as small and yet relevant as possible overtime. It should come as no surprise that many children are left out.
    However your point regarding the prophecy making the impossibility of Noah temporally losing a descendent is at least worthy of looking at.

    I still personally hold the belief that Noah only had 3 sons. This is based on discrepancies that I find in the if-then type sequences posted above.

  2. Shawna Hilton says:

    Markham–thanks for your thoughts on this. I hadn’t really ever focused on your two main points, and will spend some time thinking about it. Peter tells us that 8 people were saved from the flood. Do you think that is figurative or real?
    Love, Aunt Shawna

  3. Janet Hales says:

    I actually have no problem with the thought that Noah having other sons– so many times the scriptural narrative is skeletal at best — usually microscopic — and only dealing with the main thrust of the story at hand. For me, the thought that he had other progeny only adds “flesh” onto the portrait of Noah, prophet and makes his life much more believable (and filled with pathos).

  4. aunty lynne says:

    dear markham,
    as a fellow pearl of great price fan, i hae crunched a few numbers myself. but i didn’t have the same problem with limiting noah to only 5 children–more like 50-100 was in my mind. after all adam had grandchildren before seth came along. i just use the idea from the new testament that one is “the seed of ” only when one lives after the manner of their father . . . which of course falls apart with wicked sons of noah . . . as you have shown. but i really don’t mind that they didn’t record the full genealogy.

    what do you think about shem possibly being melchizedek?

    • Markham says:

      @Shawna_Hilton, I actually took Peter’s record (re. 8 souls only) as an axiom while going through this exercise, and it is because of Peter’s statement that there must be a discrepancy (discussed under the final heading of my text). However, I find it rather unlikely. (And if it is indeed not the case, then that’s another way for the “discrepancy” to be resolved.)

      @aunty_lynne, that’s the first I’ve heard about Shem and Melchizedek. I have no idea what response to make and am entirely unfamiliar with the evidence which must have prompted the promulgation.

      • Kevin Humphries says:

        There are many references by “brethren” that Shem is Melkizedek. Even as simple as looking up Shem in the Bible Dictionary says he was known as “the great high priest”. It then says, “see also Melchizedek”. I think that is rather explicit, also considering that is in the Church’s own Bible Dictionary. I don’t think the Church would have put it there if it was in the least questionable

  5. ash speirs says:

    Hi my love! Are you sure you weren’t a lawyer or a logition n a past life? Thank you for bringing up thoughts and conflicts I had not even imagined. I’ll read between the lines more carefully the next time through.
    Your admiring sister,

  6. Jan Hilton says:

    Markham Darling, This blog has a different aura from former one, and while not witty is certainly provacative and interesting. I’ve often read of Shem and Melchizedek as being the same person, both are referred to in either orthodox or apocraphyl writings as the Great High Priest. Truman Madsen says (said) it was definitely not so. I read something the other day that caused me to agree with Truman, but it was not black and white definitive.–We do know, the righteous were also transported to the city of Enoch after it’s initial ascension, gradually leaving the wicked for the final flood…and was it truly universal? not the point here…But assuming this is so, Noah’s older sons could have been among that number, giving them the promised salvation…(You recall Enoch was only 65 when blessed–ordained…I did not check your math because I know it would be accurate, however I also know that the three of the surviving sons, Shem, Ham and Japeth had to be young enough and have wives young enough to procreate after the flood, and that Noah preached repentance for 120 years before the rains fell…It would be nice to think there may have been a few noble converts who were translated, or even died of natural causes. Your blog has piqued my interest so that when I retire relatively early tonight, I plan to read Moses. Grams.

  7. Matt says:

    Excellent article, Markham. You make some interesting points.

    If you continue your chronology, you’ll discover that Shem actually outlived Abraham. I suspect that this is the major impulse behind the Shem = Melchizedek hypothesis. I’d say the most compelling argument against it is D&C 84:14—

    Which Abraham received the priesthood from Melchizedek, who received it through the lineage of his fathers, even till Noah;

    The word fathers suggests that at least two ancestors (and likely more) intervene between Melchizedek and Noah. If Melchizedek were Shem, then this passage would instead say “who received it from his father, Noah”.

  8. Edwin says:

    I have also read that Melchizedek could have been Jesus himself.
    Margaret Baker had some good stuff on that.

  9. Luther says:

    While I cannot argue with the math here, nor with the oddness of the granddaughters if Japeth was indeed the oldest of Noah’s sons Markham, on the other side is the observation that Noah is the only antediluvian male with (other than Methusael and Lamech) who has any children listed without the statement he had “other sons and daughters”. The exception of Lamech is interesting because his offspring are worded in such a way as to seem exhaustive.

    @Jan_Hilton, can you give a source for your statement “We do know, the righteous were also transported to the city of Enoch after it’s initial ascension”? I’ve heard is postulated but never considered it more than postulate.

    • Markham says:

      @Luther, an incisive observation, which I definitely did not notice. I’m cogitating…

      @Edwin, what? Who is Margaret Baker? (I did a search and mostly come up with results for an actress.)

  10. Jonathan says:

    Another option which would only overly expand and complicate the matter is that there is some speculation as to the meaning of the flooding of the world. Tradition says that this is literal: the whole world was underwater for a time. However some scholars take world to mean the “known” world or the valleys where Noah dwelt. That means that some progeny could have escaped the flood by leaving the known world. (Much like Columbus did.)

  11. Fern says:

    Markham, I loved reading and rereading this blog. To support Jonathan’s comment, 3 Nephi 8 reports what occurred from the Nephite’s vantage point at the time of Christ’s crucifixion–”the awhole face of the land was changed, because of the tempest and the whirlwinds, and the thunderings and the lightnings, and the exceedingly great quaking of the whole earth” (vs 12) and “the face of the whole earth became deformed, because of the tempests, and the thunderings, and the lightnings, and the quaking of the earth” (also see 3 Nephi 8:6). Only Matthew 27:51 speaks of an earthquake when the temple veil “was rent in twain from top to bottom…and the rocks rent” and only Matthew 28:2 mentions “there was a great earthquake: for the angel of the Lord descended from heaven, and came and rolled back the stone from the door.” Regarding this time period, none of the other gospels mentions any upheaval and none of the four gospels gives any indication of widespread destruction in Jerusalem, nor of a similar duration of time as of that involved in the New World.

  12. Matt says:

    A motive occurs to me for the Scriptural account not mentioning Noah’s earlier sons, if he had any. There are many examples in the Scriptures of deviation from the law of primogeniture (with respect to patriarchal lineage). For example:
    Abel was born after Cain, but was favored to receive the birthright (and in the Genesis account it is implied that Cain is the firstborn; cf. Genesis 4:1 and Moses 5:2, 16). After Abel is slain the birthright goes to Seth, also not the firstborn.
    It’s possible that Abraham was younger than Haran since Abraham 2:1–2 suggests that Abraham and his brother Nahor married around the same time and by that time Haran had a daughter old enough to marry Nahor.
    Ishmael is Abraham’s firstborn son, but the birthright goes to Isaac.
    Esau is Isaac’s firstborn son, but he forfeits it to Jacob (and Jacob resorts to a little trickery).
    Reuben is Jacob’s firstborn son but the birthright goes to Joseph (and when Joseph was believed dead, Benjamin was favored next).
    Aaron is Amram’s firstborn (Exodus 7:7) but the birthright goes to Moses.
    Jesse has eight sons, but it is the youngest, David, who is chosen to be king of Israel.
    Lehi’s oldest son is Laman, but the birthright goes to Nephi and then Jacob, both younger children.
    Joseph Smith, Sr.’s third (living) son, Joseph Smith, Jr., was chosen as the prophet of the restoration, not either of the two older sons (Alvin and Hyrum).
    I could probably dig up more (e.g. Solomon), but I think this list will suffice. These cases where the younger son received the patriarchal line of authority, instead of the firstborn, could be intended to symbolize the supremacy of the last Adam (i.e. Christ) over the first (1 Cor. 15:45).

    If this is really an intentional trend in the Holy Writ, then omitting Noah’s older sons creates a passage where the (apparent) firstborn, Japheth, is superseded by a younger sibling (Shem), just as Adam was superseded by Christ who came thousands of years later.

  13. Fern says:

    For Matt-outside of Samuel, son of Hannah who had other children after Samuel, can you think of any literal firstborn son in the Old Testament that was the most righteous of the family’s sons? I wonder (only) if when it comes to the notion of personal integrity, righteousness, birth rights and inheritance, that if being the FIRSTBORN is indicative not of birth order, but instead, if it is title given with it’s accompanying responsibilities and privileges. How much of a type and shadow is it? In reference to the premortal world and spiritual-body creation, was Christ, who is the firstborn, in reality given his spirit body after that of Lucifer? I don’t know, but I wonder if Christ did follow Lucifer in birth order because of the long list of the most worthy sons in the OT not being the birth order firstborn in their mortal families. Regardless if that is true or false, I trust God’s ability to read hearts accurately and that despite the messiness of life, all inheritance will be just and fair, not given because one happens to be descended from Abraham alone.

    • Kevin Humphries says:

      There are MANY instances in scriptures where the “not the first born son” was far more righteous and became the one that carried the story line of the family, Nephi being a poignant example.

      B. H. Roberts, being recognized in this dispensation as THE foremost scriptorion, in multiple surveys of the general authorities, says, “No where in all the scriptures does it say that Lucifer is a BROTHER of Christ, or that is actually a SON of our Heavenly Father. While it is true he is referred to as “a son of the morning”, I believe that is referring to the fact that was there in the beginning. It must have been so since every single spirit coming after had to have the one on the one hand and the other on the other hand in order for agency to have existed. See Nephi ch 2. We know that agency existed in our pre-earth experience.

      If you are the pondering sort, then ponder on all that for a while. There is much more to the story whenhigh can be taught by the spirit.

      On Noah’s children, it is my belief that Noah, like all his forefathers, had MANY sons and daughters, even multiple wives. It is then very sad that he could only be instrumental in seeing his one wife and only 3 sons come aboard. I also believe that is why the Lord sealed the door of the ark shut at the right moment. I’m sure Noah’s “others” were among the first to have realized there error and come crying, “Daddy, please! It’s me, open up. I’m sorry.” How VERY, VERY hard that must have been for Noah. Had it simply, and only, been Noah that shut the door he would absolutely have opened it. Wouldn’t you? Of course, that would have lead to a huge disaster and could simply not have been allowed.

  14. Court Hilton says:

    Very interesting. Your thesis made great discussion conversation on a 4.5 hr drive we took while ferrying scouts to the tallest sand dunes in North America. (Go Colorado!)

  15. Matt says:

    The disparity in birth order (if it is indeed meant to be a symbol) refers only to the fact that Jesus Christ was born after Adam. The Scriptures are quite clear that Jesus Christ was the firstborn of God’s spirit children (D&C 93:21), not Jesus.
    There are lots of firstborn sons who were righteous (at least, insofar as the Masoretic text of the OT is complete and correct):
    •Seth’s son Enos •Enos’ son Cainan (not to be confused with Canaan, the son of Ham) •Cainan’s son Mahalaleel •Mahalaleel’s son Jared •Jared’s son Enoch •Enoch’s son Methuselah •Methuselah’s son Lamech (not to be confused with the son of Methusael) •Lamech’s son Noah •Nun’s son Joshua •etc.
    You may choose to quibble, however, since these men received the birthright but are never explicitly stated to be the firstborn.
    P.S. I thought of another case of the latter-born receiving the birthright: Manasseh was born before Ephraim, but Ephraim was favored for the birthright.

  16. Stan says:

    I think Lynn is on it – lots of kids, most not covenant keepers and hence destroyed by water (what did Peter mean, saved by water – vs saved by the ark, or was it a baptism allusion?). If the flood were a total immersion of the physical landmasses on the earth, where did it drain to after the flood? I think it was a local flood over “all the earth” that mattered to them – some point to villages near the shoreline, but 300′ below the current level of the black sea, and a theory that the narrows at the Dardenelles opened up at the time of Noah and flooded from the mediteranean sea for the first time, into the black sea, flooding the world known to Noah.

  17. Jul says:

    Comment on Noah having five sons. According to Arab/Muslim legends and Babylonian flood account of Utnapashtim. Noah also known as Utnapashtim had two other wives before his marriage to his third wife usually according to Jewish apocrypha and legends known as Naamah-Emzara or Haykel the Mother of Shem,Ham and Japheth. There names are given as Waila or Waala and Mubiyna. Waila was considered an evil woman she gave birth to Noah’s pre-flood sons and daughters.One of Waila’s sons name was Raya and he drowned in the flood.He could have been saved and Noah did love him but he refused to change his ways. Mubiyna was Noah’s second wife was killed by enemies of Noah who looking to kill Noah found her and tried to sexually assault her.There were six men.She managed to kill two of her assailants before the other four in retaliation for her murdering their comrades murdered her. Mubiyna and Noah had no children.Sometimes legends from the Jews and the neighboring countries provide more detail on unnamed individuals mentioned in the scriptures. I am also an LDS and the Lord has put it on my heart for the past two years to do in depth study of the Holy Scriptures and the people of the scriptures I read 36 chapters of scriptures weekly but will be cutting back to 34. I found your website on a google search and thought I would share my findings with you. Sincerely yours,Jul.

  18. EAC says:

    The Qur’an has a record on someone whom Noah considered as his son, who was drowned away during the Flood. It is in Surah Hud (11) at Ayah 42~47. After that happened; a sad, depressed, and feeling betrayed Noah asked on why that happened; because he was promised that his family would be saved. The reply? ‘The Son’ is not his family, and also his deeds are not righteous.

    In another statement in Surah At-Tahrim (66) Ayah 10, it is stated that Noah’s Mrs betrayed him. The statement is accompanied with statement about the betrayal of Lot’s Mrs. An interpretation here is that Noah thought that the boy is his, when it is actually the son of another man. The same could also be applied to ‘Lot’s daughters’.

    Anyway. It is possible that Noah had a relatively big family before the flood, however a lot of them could have been murdered by the pre-flood communities. The Ark could also doubled as a sizable defense fortress against the nearby hostile communities.

    Also, it seems that Nannan, the Summerian Moon God is actually Noah. Nannan is connected to BOTH the Moon and the Boat, many images potrayed him as just a Moon or a Boat instead of a man. Though the exact nature on how the Moon is connected to Noah, that is something most people do not realise.

    And also Shamash the Sun God, the son of Nannan the Moon God. He could have been Noah’s son Shem.

    In reading the Bible and comparing its contents with the known ancient civilizations, do not use the Ussher chronology. The same goes for Carbon dating, which is imprecise due to all of those big climate changes in the past.

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