In a previous post I left readers with a challenge to explore Noah’s curse so I thought I would follow-up on that-- especially since the Noah movie has been a splash hit.
Here’s the text (Genesis 9:21-25; NASB ):
21 He drank of the wine and became drunk, and uncovered himself inside his tent. 22 Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father, and told his two brothers outside. 23 But Shem and Japheth took a garment and laid it upon both their shoulders and walked backward and covered the nakedness of their father; and their faces were turned away, so that they did not see their father’s nakedness. 24 When Noah awoke from his wine, he knew what his youngest son had done to him. 25 So he said,“Cursed be Canaan;A servant of servants. He shall be to his brothers.”
Now why would Noah curse his grandson because his dad, Ham, just saw his father naked? Who would do such a thing? Well we probably don’t know the answer. But that does not stop people from creating meaning from these words. And those meanings have had powerful repercussions throughout human history.
Cursed as slaves
The most damaging idea was a belief that a race of humans descended from Canaan were to be slaves forever. And the crazy idea that the curse was evident by skin color. And many American Christians believed African Americans were cursed to be slaves. This is not just an ancient tale in some history book! I haven’t heard people say this for a long time. But my parents and I heard this after coming to the USA. Of course it makes no sense. But folk beliefs and prejudices often make no sense. But they can cause harm. See more from N Y Times.
Naked and ashamed …or was it more than that?
So what’s so bad about Ham seeing his father naked? God only knows. In the previous post I cited Teresa Hornsby. She reminds us that the Leviticus law commanding people not to “expose the nakedness of your father” made use of a euphemism. Exposing nakedness refers to sexual intercourse.
Notice the first rule about incest in Leviticus 18: 7. It prohibits a child from having sex with his father or mother. As Carmichael notes, the usual problem in society is a problem of a parent sexually abusing his child rather than a child sexually abusing his father or mother. Carmichael suggests the order of the rules has to do with how the laws came into existence—rules that addressed the significant problems in Israel’s history.
“You shall not uncover the nakedness of your father, which is the nakedness of your mother; she is your mother, you shall not uncover her nakedness.”
Scholars wonder if the sin was one of incest. It may not have been a sexual assault involving Noah but a relationship between Ham and Noah’s wife. Again, this is speculation.
Ancient texts like the Bible are difficult to translate.
The Bible stories are thousands of years old and written in an ancient language for an ancient culture.
Stories about sexuality pose a special problem of meaning.
People who search for life applications from Bible stories can be dangerous if they believe God is justifying genocide, slavery, or any other destructive or oppressive act.
Surely humility is important when making life and death decisions based on the Noah story.
WHY I DO NOT LIKE NOAH (by Howard N. Kenyon)
Carmichael, Calum (1995) Incest in the Bible. Chicago-Kent Law Review, 71, (1) Article 6. Retrieved from http://scholarship.kentlaw.iit.edu/cklawreview/vol71/iss1/6