Curse of Ham
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The Curse of Ham (also known as Noah's Curse or the Noachid Curse) refers to an incident in the Bible, in the book of Genesis, regarding Noah (after the Great Flood) and his sons, Shem, Japheth and Ham.
Quoting the good book
Here is the text from Genesis, chapter 9:
- 20 Noah, a man of the soil, proceeded to plant a vineyard.
- 21 When he drank some of its wine, he became drunk and lay uncovered inside his tent.
- 22 Ham, the father of Canaan, saw his father's nakedness and told his two brothers outside.
- 23 But Shem and Japheth took a garment and laid it across their shoulders; then they walked in backward and covered their father's nakedness. Their faces were turned the other way so that they would not see their father's nakedness.
- 24 When Noah awoke from his wine and found out what his youngest son had done to him,
- 25 he said,"Cursed be Canaan! The lowest of slaves will he be to his brothers."
- 26 He also said, "Blessed be the LORD, the God of Shem! May Canaan be the slave of Shem.
- 27 May God extend the territory of Japheth; may Japheth live in the tents of Shem, and may Canaan be his slave."
Some Biblical scholars believe this anecdote was added to the scriptures as a rationalisation justifying the Israelite conquest and enslavement of the Canaanites later in the Old Testament.
The Canaanites, descended from Ham via his son Canaan, have historically been regarded as the ethnic ancestors of the black peoples of Africa. Although Genesis does not identify Ham's skin colour, some ancient Jewish writings, including part of the Talmud, state that either Ham or Canaan had his faced "blackened" by God as part of curse, in punishment for Ham seeing Noah's nakedness and not covering him, or, in some variations, for copulating while aboard the Ark.
This idea became more widespread in Europe during Colonialism, as an argument for the inferiority of the black race, whose dark skin was believed to be an outward sign of the curse, and to sanction some instances of slavery. The belief was at its most popular during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, to justify the Atlantic slave trade and plantation slavery in the British sugar islands and American South. Noah's decree that Canaan should be the slave of Shem was seen as God's command that Africans should be the slaves to white Christians.
Although overwhelmingly discredited and largely forgotten, racial arguments based on the Curse of Ham are still clung to by some white supremacists, including blogger Alan O'Reilly and some members of Stormfront. During 2008, various ultra-conservative and racist blogs and websites invoked the Curse of Ham as an argument against Barack Obama's campaign for the United States Presidency. Apparently white supremacists can't think any better than the Bronze Age herders who wrote that part of the Bible; nor do they see the irony in using a Jewish text to justify their racism. Because of the lack of mentioning of the skin color, one of their Afrocentric counterparts, the practitioners Nuwaubianism believe so-called white people to be the descendants of Ham and the curse consist of leperosy and albinism.
The fully functioning rational mind raises a few questions about the Curse:
- Why weren't any of Ham's other sons (Cush, Mizraim or Phut) cursed as well as Canaan?
- Why was Canaan being punished for Ham's misdeeds, when Deuteronomy and Ezekiel clearly state that children should not be punished for parents' misdeeds?
- Shem and Japheth acted as equal partners in covering their father, but Japheth's reward is far greater.
- The whole idea that every black person in the world is permanently cursed because some far-distant and almost certainly mythical ancestor saw his father drunk and naked, aside from being appallingly racist, just doesn't make a whole lot of sense at all.
- Why punish Ham and Canaan at all for Ham accidentally getting an eyeful of wrinkly old man parts? It can be fairly sure that getting a gander at his father's rattle-and-flute was the furthest thing from his mind that day.
- And despite all this the Bible says Noah was a virtuous man (Genesis 6:9, 7:1)!
- Genesis 9:20-27, translation is the New International Version.
- Robin Blackburn. 2010. The Making of New World Slavery: From the Baroque to the Modern, 1482-1800. New York& London: Verso. ISBN 9781844676316. Pp. 210, 247, 259, 312, 329, 585.
- Genesis 10:6.
- Deuteronomy 24:16, Ezekiel 18:20. Note that these counter Deuteronomy 5:9 and some other Old Testament extracts which stipulate that God punishes "children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generations". Some have interpreted this as indicating God's hatred of entire families or races descended from sinners
- It has been suggested that the Bible relates a bowdlerized version of a story in which Ham impregnates Noah's wife and the offspring of this union was Canaan.
- Or not. God is above the rules. See 2 Samuel 12:10-18 and 1 Kings 14:10-18