Kittim is listed as one of the four “sons” of Javan, although the name appears only in the plural form in all Scriptural references. (Ge 10:4; 1Ch 1:7) The name thereafter is used to represent a people and region.
Josephus (Jewish Antiquities, I, 128 [vi, 1]) referred to Kittim as “Chethimos” and associated it with Cyprus and with “the name Chethim given by the Hebrews to all islands and to most maritime countries.” The ancient Phoenicians referred to the people of Cyprus as Kitti. Modern authorities generally agree with such identification of Kittim with Cyprus.
The city of Kition (Citium) on the SE coast of Cyprus is best known as a Phoenician colony, and so some scholars have viewed the listing of Kittim among the descendants of Japheth as out of place. (Ge 10:2, 4; 1Ch 1:5, 7) However, the evidence shows that the Phoenicians were relative latecomers to Cyprus and their colony at Kition is considered to date from only about the ninth century B.C.E. Thus, after The New Encyclopædia Britannica (1987, Vol. 3, p. 332) identifies Kition as the “principal Phoenician city in Cyprus,” it adds: “The earliest remains at Citium are those of an Aegean colony of the Mycenaean Age (c. 1400-1100 BC).”—See also Vol. 16, p. 948.
That Kittim may embrace other areas in addition to the island of Cyprus is indicated by Josephus’ statement, quoted earlier, about the Hebrew usage of the term as embracing other Mediterranean islands and countries bordering the sea, Cyprus being but the nearest (to Palestine) of the Kittim lands. This seems to be borne out by the references to the “islands” or “coastlands” of Kittim at Ezekiel 27:6 and Jeremiah 2:10. Some commentators consider that Kittim is also used in this larger sense at Numbers 24:24, where the prophet Balaam, who lived contemporaneously with Moses, foretold that “ships from the coast of Kittim” would afflict Assyria and Eber but that the attacker would eventually perish. This view would allow for the attack perhaps to originate from the seacoast region of Macedonia, from which country Alexander the Great advanced, conquering the land of “Asshur” (Assyria-Babylonia) along with the Medo-Persian Empire; others suggest that the attackers were Romans from the Mediterranean coastlands of Italy. The Latin Vulgate uses “Italy” in place of “Kittim” at Numbers 24:24, and the Targum of Onkelos reads “Romans”; but the Apocryphal book of 1 Maccabees (1:1, JB) uses Kittim to represent the land of Macedonia.
In Isaiah’s pronouncement against Tyre, Kittim (likely Cyprus) is the point at which the eastbound ships of Tarshish receive the news of Tyre’s downfall, and “the virgin daughter of Sidon” is told by Jehovah to “cross over to Kittim itself,” in a vain effort to find refuge. (Isa 23:1, 11, 12) This is in harmony with the historical evidence for Phoenician colonies in Cyprus at the time of Isaiah’s prophesying (c. 778–a. 732 B.C.E.). An inscription of Sennacherib relates the flight of King Luli of Sidon to the island of Iadnana (Cyprus) as the result of the Assyrian attack. (Ancient Near Eastern Texts, edited by J. Pritchard, 1974, pp. 287, 288) Similarly, many from Tyre evidently sought haven in Cyprus during Nebuchadnezzar’s 13-year siege of Tyre, in fulfillment of Isaiah’s proclamation.
Final mention of Kittim (by that name) comes in Daniel’s prophecy of the rivalry between the “king of the north” and “king of the south,” where an attack by the “king of the north” is thwarted by “the ships of Kittim.”—Da 11:30; see CYPRUS.