Kittim is listed as one of the four “sons” of Javan, although the name appears only in the plural form in all Scriptural references. (Gen. 10:4; 1 Chron. 1:7) The name thereafter is used to represent a people and region.
Josephus (Antiquities of the Jews, Book I, chap. VI, par. 1) referred to Kittim as “Cethimus” and stated that he “possessed the island Cethima: it is now called Cyprus; and from that it is that all islands, and the greatest part of the sea-coasts, are named Cethim by the Hebrews: and one city there is in Cyprus that has been able to preserve its denomination; it has been called Citius by those who use the language of the Greeks, and has not, by the use of that dialect, escaped the name of Cethim.” 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 (Citius) 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. (Gen. 10:2, 4; 1 Chron. 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 eighth or ninth century B.C.E. Additionally, the Encyclopoedia Britannica (1959 ed., Vol. 5, p. 728) says concerning Kition: “The earliest remains go back to an Aegean colony of Mycenaean age (c. 1400-1100 B.C.), but in historic times [i.e., centuries later] Citium is the centre of Phoenician influence in Cyprus.” Hasting’s A Dictionary of the Bible (1903 ed., Vol. III, p. 7) comments on certain inscriptions discovered near Larnaka, the ancient Kition, and written in a Greek dialect but employing Phoenician letters, saying: “This seems to indicate that the people from whom these inscriptions have come down to us were a Greek people, ethnographically belonging to the family of Javan, retaining their language and modes of thought, but largely influenced by the presence of a Phoenician immigration. That they adopted the Phoenician letters and mode of writing is just the sort of result we should have expected, seeing that the Phoenician colonists were enterprising merchants, who would naturally lead in matters of commerce and correspondence with those around.” As late as the seventh century B.C.E. an inscription of Assyrian King Esar-haddon shows nine Greek kings on the island of Cyprus but only one Phoenician king there. So the identification of Kittim primarily, though not exclusively, with the island of Cyprus seems to harmonize well with the Biblical record.
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 coastland regions, 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 the attackers to be Romans from the Mediterranean coastlands of Italy. The Targum and the Vulgate both use “Italy” in place of “Kittim,” at a certain text. (Num. 24:24, Vg; 1 Chron. 1:7, Targum); while 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, as well as subsequent to, Isaiah’s prophesying (c. 778-732 B.C.E.). An inscription of Esar-haddon relates the flight of King Luli of Sidon to Cyprus as the result of the Assyrian’s attack. Similarly, many from Tyre evidently sought haven in Cyprus during Nebuchadnezzar’s thirteen-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 enigmatic “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.”—Dan. 11:30; see CYPRUS.