The haggadic assumption that there are seventy nations and languages in the world is based upon the ethnological table given in Gen. x., where seventy grandsons of Noah are enumerated, each of whom became the ancestor of a nation. The earlier Christian writers also took this table as determining the number of existing nations and languages; but reckoning with the Septuagint, which counts seventy-two grandsons of Noah, there must be seventy-two nations and languages (see Augustine, "De Civitate Dei"; Anio, in his commentary on the second book of Berosus; comp. Azariah dei Rossi, "Me'or 'Enayim, Imre Binah," xlviii.). The Haggadah seems to have followed in this case the theory of the Hellenists, who regarded the ethnological table as a scientific and complete division of mankind into three races, distributed among three separate zones. This theory is expounded in the Book of Jubilees; "and at the beginning of the thirty-third jubilee they divided the earth into three parts between Shem, Ham, and Japheth, according to their inheritance" (ch. viii.).
The majority of Palestinian and Babylonian scholars considered the ethnological table to be a simple historical narrative, enumerating, without any pretense to completeness, the descendants of Noah, and indicating the places they had chosen for their respective residences. This is clearly expressed by R. Huna of Sepphoris, who, interpreting Canticles vi. 8 as an allusion to the nations and their languages, says: "Sixty and eighty are one hundred and forty. Of these, there are seventy nations, each of which possesses a separate language but not a separate script, and seventy other nations, each of which possesses both a separate language and a separate script; as to the nations which possess neither a separate language nor a separate script, they are numberless" (Cant. R. l.c.). In a later midrash, the "Midrash ha-Gadol," it is inferred from Cant. vi. 8 that there were only sixty original nations, eliminating from the ethnological table the ten nations descended from Japheth, Gomer, Javan, Ham, Cush, Raamah, Shem, Mizraim, Aram, and Joktan. As to the languages, the "Midrash ha-Gadol" counts seventy-two, as do the Christian authorities. "The total number of the countries that the children of Noah divided among their descendants was 104; of islands, 99; of languages, 72; and of scripts, 16. To the share of Japheth fell 44 countries, 33 islands, 22 languages, and 5 scripts; Ham received 34 countries, 33 islands, 24 languages, and 5 scripts; Shem, 26 countries, 33 islands, 26 languages, and 6 scripts."