Shem was the son of Noah and the brother of Ham and Japeth. Noah became their father at the age of 500 (Genesis 5:32). A century later, all four, and their wives, entered the ark to survive the Great Flood. (Genesis 7:11-13)

After the flood, Noah planted a vineyard and became drunk. Ham witnessed his father's nakedness; he told his older brothers, but did nothing else. Shem and Japeth entered Noah's tent (walking in backwards, so they wouldn't see their father naked) and covered him with a garment. Once sober, Noah cursed Ham (more specifically, Ham's son Canaan) and blessed Shem and Japeth. The descendants of Canaan would forevermore be servants to the descendants of Shem and Japeth. (Genesis 9:20-27).

Shem became the ancestor of the Semetic peoples of Western Asia. The sons of Shem were Elam, Asshur, Arpachshad, Lud, and Aram. These became the ancestors of Persia, Assyria, Chaldea (including Abraham generations later), Lydia, and Syria. (Genesis 10:21-31). The Semetic language group includes Hebrew, Arabic, Aramaic (and Syriac), Phoenician, Akkadian, and Ethiopic.

Arpachshad was born two years after the Great Flood. (Genesis 11:10-11) Shem was 98 at the time of the flood, and lived to be 600 years old. Shem outlived Abraham by 35 years, and lived long enough that he might have seen Isaac, Jacob, and possibly Jacob's elder sons.

The Babylonian Talmud identifies Shem with Melchizedek, the priest-king of Salem (later Jerusalem) who blessed Abraham. (Genesis 14:18-20). Interestingly, Genesis 14:2 mentions "Shemeber, king of Zeboiim." Eber was Shem's great-granson, and the ancestors of the Hebrews (sometimes identified with the Habiru in the archaeological record).

Shem is also mentioned in the geneologies of 1 Corinthians 1:4,17,24 and Luke 3:36.

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