The Dark Side of Noach’s Curse
There is something curious in the Noach story. The apostle called Noach “a preacher of righteousness” (2Pe 2:5), but the only time he opened his mouth was to curse his grandson Kanaan. Why?
Noach and his family left the ark to see a world devoid of living souls; they were the mankind on the face of the earth.
The first thing Noach did was to plant a vineyard and grow the fruits of the vine. Then, he got drunk, because the righteous Noach struggled with his feeling of guilt for not having done enough to convince the people to repent, and the only path before him was to escape from the harsh reality through drunkenness.
What happened next we studied in the article “The abomination to uncover the nakedness of the father“.
So, they left the ark, as we read,
And the sons of Noah, that went forth from the ark, were Shem, and Ham, and Japheth; and Ham is the father of Canaan. (Gen 9:18 JPS)
“And Ham is the father of Canaan”: Why was it necessary to say this here just after the making the covenant between the Creator and the mankind? Did they not just leave the ark and were they not only eight people in it: Noach and his wife, Yaphet, Shem, and Ham and their wives (1Pe 3:20)? Why was the name of Kanaan even mentioned?
Evidently this phrase was given right here, because the story proceeds to deal with Noach’s drunkenness, in which Ham sinned, and as result of which his son Kanaan was cursed. And since the generations of Ham were not yet written, it was necessary to say here in order to introduce us to the story that “Ham was the father of Kanaan”.
Noach became drunk and Ham saw the nakedness of his father, and told his two brothers. Not content with finding pleasure in the repulsive sexual act with his mother, he proclaimed his disgraceful pleasure to his brothers (Gen 9:22).
They, on the contrary, with respectful manner covered their father’s nakedness, that is, their naked mother, with a garment, walking backwards that they might not see her (Gen 9:23), and thus manifesting their respect and honor. For this they receive their father’s blessing, but Ham reaped for his son Kanaan his father’s curse.
In Gen 9:24, Ham is called “his (Noah’s) youngest son”, but it is questionable whether the adjective is to be taken as comparative in the sense of “the younger”, or as superlative, meaning “the youngest”. Or perhaps neither. We read in JPS,
And Noah awoke from his wine, and knew what his youngest son had done unto him. (Gen 9:24 JPS)
The Hebrew word rendered “youngest” is קָטָן katan, which means “abbreviated”, that is, diminutive in stature, literally (in quantity, size or number) or figuratively (in age or importance); it also means “least”, “less” (-ser), little, small one.
Katan comes for the primitive root קוּט kut, to properly mean to “cut off” literally, but figuratively “to detest”. Hence, we can render katan as diminished or little.
From Gen. Rabbah 16:7 we learn that the Sages interpreted katan to mean “the worthless and despicable one”, like its use in Jer. 49:15: “Behold I have made you small among the nations; despised among men”. And Noach said, “Cursed is Kanaan, let him become a servant of servants to his brothers”. (Gen 9:25)
Therefore, neither was “the younger”, nor “the youngest” meant here, but “worthless” or “despicable” one. But, why “worthless” or “despicable”?
In order to better understand what and why happened, we need to look into the word Noach used to “curse” his grandson Kanaan.
The Hebrew word behind it is אָרַר arar, which literally means to spit, as one shows a cursing by spitting on the ground before the cursed one or even in his face. In other words, we may say, Noach (figuratively) spit on Kanaan. Why? Because he was an offspring of incest. His spitting on his grandson probably was meant to be like an ancient form of disowning or disinheritance.
The second clue we are given is in the very name of Kanaan.
In Hebrew it is כְּנַעַן kenaan, which means “humiliated”. It comes from the primitive root כָּנַע kana, to mean to bend the knee (in humiliation); hence to humiliate, vanquish, or to bring down, under or low, into subjection, to humble someone, to subdue. Most evidently, this name was given to Kanaan by his father Ham at his birth, as a result of the curse for the uncovering the nakedness of his father. This we studied in the aforementioned article.
In contrast, however, at the end of his life Noach blessed his other two sons who showed respect to him as well as to their mother.
Starting from the meaning of the name of Yaphet, Noach sums up his blessing in the word יֶפֶת yephet, which mean “expansion”, from the primitive root פָּתָה phata, to open wide, usually (figuratively) to enlarge. Thus, having been enlarged, Yaphet would dwell in the tents of his brother Shem.
The blessing on the descendants of Yaphet embraced not only a wide extension in territory (his descendants formed the largest human group of people living in the largest land mass: actually in all continents), but also the privilege to dwell together with Shem.
This blessing was meant and uttered by Noach, as his desire, and we should not assume that it came from YHVH, because there is no indication in the text for such an assumption.
Yaphet would partially fulfill this blessing to come and dwell in the tents of Shem, for his partial support for the descendants of Shem (Israel) in the last days, and we may safely assume that the “evangelical Christians” were meant here, and not the whole group of people.
In conclusion of the story, Kanaan was cursed and Yaphet was blessed with enlargement of his posterity.
From the three brothers the renewed mankind was re-born and after the tower of Bavel and the confusion of the languages, their descendants settled in the known world: Eurasia and Africa.
It is believed that the descendants of Yaphet are the so-called “Indo-European race”; those of Shem are the Assyrians, Babylonians, Arabs, Iranians, and Hebrews. And the descendants of Ham: all African people, the Kanaanites included.
It is very wrong to speak of the three major groups of people that descended from the sons of Yaphet, Shem, and Ham, as human races, i.e. people who are believed to belong to the same genetic stock, as a consequence of geographical isolation within that specific group of people.
Hence, the theory of human races formed the three major races according to their descent: “the white race” which originally occupied Eurasia, “the Middle-eastern race”: the eastern Mediterranean region, Arabian peninsula, and south Asia, and “the black race”: the people who occupied the African continent.
But, is it so?
As far as the Creator is concerned, there is only one race: the human race. The modern-day mankind indeed descended from Yaphet, Shem, and Ham, but we forget that they were sons of one man—Noach—who descended also from one man—Adam. Hence, there is only one race that sprang from Adam through Noach.
The three sons could have had different skin colors, but they were still one human race of Noach. From this race all seventy nations descended after the Creator confused the languages at the tower of Bavel. These seventy nations further developed in what now we call “the world”. but the Creator has never divided men according to their color, although some “theologians” twist the Scripture for their own destruction.
One of those twisting is the story of the cursing of Kanaan, the son of Ham, the father of the people who settled in Africa.
An inhuman theory was created to justify the prejudice that members of one human group are intrinsically superior to members of others, or what we know today as “racism”. And if one “race” is superior, then other must be inferior. An offshoot of racism is “Nazism”: one nation or ethnic group is superior to others.
Noach (not the Creator) indeed cursed but more properly rejected or disowned his grandson, because he was a child of incest. Later, the Creator Himself would prohibit under the penalty of death all sexual perversions, in that number incest was included. But, he had never cursed the offspring of incest; what guilt have they committed to be cursed?
On the contrary, YHVH is very explicit that one dies in his own sin (Eze 3:20, Eze 18:20). If the sons do not walk, but have turned away from the wicked path of the fathers, they are not liable to the criminal charges against their fathers.
Sadly, our story of the cursing of one of descendants of Ham has been used to curse all his descendants. The “black race” was cursed and subjugated to slavery, because of the evil intent to justify the racism.
We read from Keil & Delitzsch Commentary on the Old Testament:
“In the sin of Ham there lies the great stain of the whole Hamitic race, whose chief characteristic is sexual sin (Ziegler); and the curse which Noah pronounced upon this sin still rests upon the race.”
“Although this curse was expressly pronounced upon Canaan alone, the fact that Ham had no share in Noah’s blessing, either for himself or his other sons, was a sufficient proof that his whole family was included by implication in the curse, even if it was to fall chiefly upon Canaan. And history confirms the supposition. The Canaanites were partly exterminated, and partly subjected to the lowest form of slavery, … and the remainder of the Hamitic tribes either shared the same fate, or still sigh, like the negroes, for example, and other African tribes, beneath the yoke of the most crushing slavery.”
What the Christian commentary on the Old Testament is saying is that the sin of Ham (according to Keil & Delitzsch Commentary, Ham’s sin was that he saw his father naked) lies on “the whole Hamitic race”, i.e. “the black race” that deserves “the lowest and most crushing form of slavery”.
It is wrong to say that the Christian Europe invented slavery; slavery existed in Africa long before the colonialism. When the Europeans came in the continent, there had already been slavery in Africa: in ancient Egypt, in western and eastern Africa, and the Europeans perfected it. Evil has no color.
But, it is wrong to use the Scripture to justify the slavery.
May we merit seeing the coming of our Mashiach speedily in our days.