Ham

Ham is the youngest son of Noah; his descendants populated Africa and part of the Middle East. There's quite a bit of confusion and misinformation about Ham in the world, particularly when if comes to the so-called Curse of Ham—that doesn't exist, it was his son Canaan that was cursed.

Introduction

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Ham is the youngest son of Noah. He witnesses his father's drunkenness and nakedness, then proceeds to gossip about it to his brothers. For this reason his son Canaan is cursed. Ham's descendants create the nations in Africa.
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The Curse of Canaan

The curse of Canaan may be the most misunderstood/misinterpreted curse of all time. Until recently, most white Christians claimed this curse was on Ham, that it made his descendants black, and therefore black people were inferior and destined to serve others. This interpretation was used to justify slavery. While people may not openly discuss this interpretation in today's society, many still associate the curse with all of Ham's descendants as well as assume that all of Ham's descendants were black. The curse was not placed on Ham, however, but on Ham's son Canaan.

And he said, Cursed be Canaan; a servant of servants shall he be unto his brethren.Genesis 9:25

It is important to further point out that Ham's son Canaan does not create the African nations. Canaan's descendants become Canaanites. Canaan's descendants are explicitly said to have established Sodom and Gomorrah (which we know was destroyed). The Canaanites lost their land to the Israelites when they returned from Egypt. After World War II, these same people lost their land when the U.N. recognized Israel at a country. Meanwhile, Ham's sons that were not cursed were the ones establishing nations in Africa.
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Controversial Interpretation

There is also a question of what Ham's sin against is father actually was. Some believe it was the act of gazing upon his father's naked body, others believe it was incest and homosexuality, while others think it was incest with Noah's wife that resulted in birth of Canaan[4]. Reasoning for the last two thoughts are that the phrase "uncover thy nakedness" is viewed as a euphemism for sex in Leviticus.

7The nakedness of thy father, or the nakedness of thy mother, shalt thou not uncover: she is thy mother; thou shalt not uncover her nakedness. 8The nakedness of thy father's wife shalt thou not uncover: it is thy father's nakedness.Leviticus 18:7-8 KJV

In Leviticus 18, we are that uncovering the nakedness of a father, mother, or step-mother, is not appropriate. In Leviticus 18:8, we are told that the nakedness of the your father's wife is the same as your father's nakedness. Perhaps that is where the theory that Ham actually slept with his mother originates.

Let's look at the narrative, shall we?

21And he drank of the wine, and was drunken; and he was uncovered within his tent. 22And Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father, and told his two brethren without. 23And Shem and Japheth took a garment, and laid it upon both their shoulders, and went backward, and covered the nakedness of their father; and their faces were backward, and they saw not their father's nakedness.Genesis 9:21-23 KJV

The above verses tell us that Noah was drunk and uncovered in his tent. Ham, saw his nakedness and told his brothers (Shem and Japheth) of this. Shem and Japheth covered Noah's nakedness, but they did not see it. Notice that while the word "uncover" is used in verse 22 and "nakedness" is used in verse 23, the phrase "uncover his nakedness" is not present. By this narrative Noah's nakedness was already uncovered why Ham arrived. We see that Ham tells Shem and Japheth. The phrase "told his two brethren without" is interesting. Without what? Pause? Detail? I'm not sure, but I'm certain no one would tell their brothers they slept with their father or their mother. Another hole in the theory is that Shem and Japheth covered Noah's nakedness. To cover is the opposite of uncover; so if uncovering is to have sex with what is covering? We assume that they literally covered Noah as we are told they used a garment to do so. Why would the uncovering be any different? Notice that Shem and Japheth's faces were backward so they didn't see Noah's nakedness. Again, this points to a literal interpretation of simply looking at the naked body. Otherwise they could simply drop the blanket on Noah and leave without going through the trouble of walking backwards and such.

The added complexity of the crime being committed against his mother also has holes. We are told that Noah was uncovered in his tent, nothing is said about Noah's wife. Furthermore, as soon as Noah realizes what Ham has done, he curses Canaan. If Canaan was already born, how was he the offspring of Noah's wife and Ham?

24And Noah awoke from his wine, and knew what his younger son had done unto him. 25And he said, Cursed be Canaan; a servant of servants shall he be unto his brethren.Genesis 9:24-25 KJV

The fact that Noah was drunk does not mean he didn't have some consciousness. Likely what happened is that Ham entered the tent and looked at his father naked. Noah probably saw Ham doing this but in his drunken stupor didn't care or was too disoriented to say anything. When Shem and Japheth returned to cover him, it possible that Noah also saw them backing, or that he overheard them discussing how to cover him with out looking at him. When he woke in the morning, the pieces of the puzzle fit together, identifying Ham as the onlooker who must have gossiped to his brothers for them to intervene. The speculation others give regarding incest is merely their mind trying to justify why Canaan was cursed instead of Ham. There are plenty of logical reasons to speculate why Noah cursed Canaan, though we will never know the real reason. Ham was already grown and married with children, what good would it do to curse him? Canaan may have been Ham's youngest son just as Ham was Noah's youngest son (tit for tat), or he could have been the eldest who was to inherit everything. Canaan could have been Ham's favorite son, and thus the hardest hit to Ham would be to punish Canaan (imagine, if you were a mother/father would it hurt you more for someone to punish you or your child for your mistake?).
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Bible Verses

In the selfsame day entered Noah, and Shem, and Ham, and Japheth, the sons of Noah, and Noah's wife, and the three wives of his sons with them, into the ark;Genesis 7:13
These are the generations of Shem: Shem was an hundred years old, and begat Arphaxad two years after the flood:Genesis 11:10 KJV

Other Verses on Ham

  • Genesis 5:32; 6:10; 9:18,22-24; 10:1,6,18,20; 11:11

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Character

Ham's character is characterized by his treatment of the situation upon seeing his father naked and drunk. It is possibly (and most likely) that Ham did not seek out seeing his father in such a state but stumbled upon it instead. The disgrace Ham brought upon Noah (making him guilty of dishonoring his father) is that he gossips about Noah's predicament to his brothers. From this many would imagine Ham as immature and gossipy, however this is all we are told of Ham. Presumably Ham believed God warned Noah of a coming flood and helped his father build the Ark, therefore he must have had some faith.
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Descendants

Illustration created using Bitstrips
Ham has 4 sons: Cush, Canaan, Phut, and Mizraim. Through Cush comes Seba, Havilah, Sabtah, Raamah, Sabtechah, and Nimrod. Of Cush's sons, Nimrod is most highlighted, described as a mighty hunter before the Lord. Nimrod is also the king of Babel (presumably at the time of the Tower of Babel) and even today there stands a city called Nimrud in Iran that is considered to be the city founded by Nimrod[1][2].
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Nations

Ham's sons create the Canaanite nations (through Canaan), Egypt (through Mizraim, which is the Hebrew name for Egypt—also note that the Arabic word for Eygpt is "Muzr"), and Africa (through Phut—northern Africa—and Cush—Eastern and Sub-Saharan Africa). Hamites are also thought to be the first to settle in New World (both America and Australia)[3].
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References

  1. "Nimrud". Bible Encyclopedia. ChristianAnswers.net. 2015
  2. Evans, Dominic and Hameed, Saif. "ISIS Militants Bulldoze Biblical City of Nimrud". Reuters. March 2015
  3. "The Table of Nations". SoundChristian. 2015
  4. Fischer, Brian. "What did Ham do when he "saw the nakedness of his father?"". The Stand. American Family Association. August 2014

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Author Image Author Image I love reading the Word of God. With prayer God's Word reveals so much: from comfort to temperance, from perspective to affirmation. Digging into the depths of the Word, cross-referencing history, language and time differences, is a passion of mine. In March of 2015 I decided to go back through the Bible doing an in depth study on each section I read. Eventually I decided to share my journal of notes as I partake in this journey. I hope you are blessed by God and inspired to pursue a deeper relationship with Him. I love reading and learning about God, nature, and science. I am interested in how it all connects. The Creator's fingerprints are all over his creation. We can learn so much about Him and how we came to be by exploring the world around us. Join me as I explore the world and draw closer to the One who created it all.
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