Robert Odell, Jr. likes to explore and examine the many mysteries of our world and universe.
In Genesis 9:18-27 in the Holy Bible, we find a perplexing situation. Noah, his wife, his three sons, and their wives have just survived a worldwide flood. Noah gets off of the life sparing ark and, sometime later, plants a vineyard. He is so delighted with the wine that comes from the vineyard that he overdoes things and gets drunk in his tent. Ham, Noah's son, enters and sees his father passed out and naked inside the tent. Ham comes out of the tent, and he tells his two brothers, Japeth and Shem, what has just happened. The brothers get a garment, back into the tent, so as not to physically see their father, cover-up Noah's nakedness, and walk out. After Noah comes to, he figures out what Ham has done to him and puts a curse on Ham's fourth son Canaan. Noah says that Canaan will be a servant of servants. He will have to serve the others.
Canaan's curse raises many questions.
Some of those inquiries are:
- What does seeing Noah's nakedness mean?
- What exactly is the sin of Ham?
- Why did Noah curse Canaan, the son of Ham, instead of Ham, who sinned?
There are many explanations for Canaan's curse. Most of the opinions come from four main theories. The theories involve a few abhorrent ideas:
- Ham mocking his naked father
- Paternal Incest
- Maternal Incest
Ham Just Walked In Theory
The most popular theory states that Ham just walked in on Noah and saw him lying naked in his tent. Instead of covering his father and keeping the situation to himself, Ham told his brothers, thereby dishonoring and shaming Noah. This theory seems straightforward and to the point. However, this assessment does not give Noah an adequate reason to curse Ham's son. The question of how God feels about nakedness also arises.
The Castration Theory
Certain Rabbis believe that Ham castrated Noah in his tent while he was asleep. This nefarious view comes with a lot of speculation. It is considered by many to be a form of eisegesis. Eisegesis is reading personal ideas into the interpretation of a text such as the Bible. Ham supposedly wanted to take over the leadership of the clan. In a heinous power play, Ham was trying to prevent Noah from producing any future heirs that could take authority.
The Paternal Incest Theory
Unlike eisegesis, which is coming up with a personal interpretation of a text, the paternal incest theory is relatively close to exegesis. Exegesis is bringing out the meaning of a narrative the way the author indicates. Eisegesis is very opinionated. Personal feelings do not influence exegesis. Fueling the paternal incest theory is the Hebrew idiom that seeing someone's nakedness involves engaging in sexual intercourse with them. Other passages in the Old Testament seem to point to this notion. Leviticus 18:6-17 explicitly forbids uncovering the nakedness of close relatives. The Bible verses clearly show that uncovering someone's nakedness is a euphemism for engaging in sexual intercourse.
The explanation for Canaan's curse comes from four main theories involving the abhorrent notions of:
1. Ham mocking his naked father
3. Paternal Incest
4. Maternal Incest
Uncovering vs. Seeing
Some Bible passages use the phrases "uncovering" someone's nakedness and "seeing" someone's nakedness in the same context. Based on Leviticus 20:17, some scholars believe that the two idioms have the same meaning. "If a man takes his sister, a daughter of his father or a daughter of his mother, and sees her nakedness, and she sees his nakedness, it is a disgrace, and they shall be cut off in the sight of the children of their people. He has uncovered his sister's nakedness, and he shall bear his iniquity" (Lev. 20:17, ESV). The Bible shows that to "see someone's nakedness" is to commit sexual intercourse. With that in mind, some may deduce that Ham committed paternal intercourse with his father. Because he went out and boasted about it to his brothers, Ham may have been trying to humiliate Noah.
The Maternal Incest Theory
The paternal incest theory seems plausible; however, it is missing a crucial point. Leviticus chapter 18 reveals a critical element that further explains the situation of Ham and Noah. A deeper understanding of "seeing your father's nakedness" is uncovered when scrutinizing verses 6-8. The passages reveal that "your father's nakedness" is his wife. Leviticus 18:6-8 gives us a clearer view of what may have happened in Genesis 9. Upon further examination, it seems that Ham did not commit paternal incest. He possibly committed maternal incest.
Implications of the Maternal Incest Theory
The maternal incest theory implies that Ham wanted to engage in a seed war with his father. The idea suggests that Ham wanted to raise offspring, which would compete with Noah's offspring. It appears that Ham was attempting to show dominance and dethrone his father as the leader of the clan. In a despicable power play, Ham was trying to usurp his father's power. The theory supposes that Ham, to achieve his sordid goal and demonstrate preeminence, went into his father's wife, his mother, who was probably inebriated. After doing so, he couldn't wait to give his brothers the news that now he was in charge.
The Bible gives another example of a perverted power attempt. In 2 Samuel, chapter 15, we see how Absalom manages to drive his father David out of Jerusalem, the Israelite Kingdom's capital. After driving out David, Absalom openly has sex with his father's wives and concubines to establish dominance and power.
Implications About Canaan
The maternal incest theory postulates that Ham's nauseating coup attempt resulted in a child. After the child was born and named Canaan, Noah realized the infant was not his. Noah then put a curse on the individual conceived in rebellion, evil defiance, and humiliation. Strong's Exhaustive Concordance reveals that the name Cannan comes from the Hebrew word kana. Humiliated is one of the terms associated with kana. The Bible shows how the Canaanites, Canaan's descendants, became guilty of many strange and perverse sexual sins that God commanded the Israelites not to do. Instead of ruling and lording over his brothers, as Ham had hoped, Canaan would become their servant.
A Chance Not Taken
Ironically, Canaan's descendants ended up settling on some of the best lands on earth. Numbers 13:23 indicates that the land's grapes grew so large that two men had to carry one cluster of them. Other fruits such as pomegranates and figs were also large and plentiful. The Canaanites lived in a land where there was plenty of food, and life was easy. It was a "land of milk and honey." However, instead of thanking and serving the true God, the God of their ancestor Noah, the Canaanites turned to idol worship and evil. As a result, God used the Israelites, the descendants of Shem, to drive the Canaanites out of the land and destroy them. By turning to the Almighty God, the Canaanites had a chance to continue to prosper, live in peace, and even reverse Noah's curse, but it was an opportunity they did not take.
Brace, R. A. (2003). HAM "SAW THE NAKEDNESS OF HIS FATHER." Retrieved from http://www.ukapologetics.net/canaan.html
Bradford, T. (2017, February 2). Ham's Sin Should Terrify Us All [Video file]. Retrieved from https://youtu.be/CIZSceBBdbc
Fellowship, O. (2017, October 23). The sin of Ham. What did Ham actually do? [Video file]. Retrieved from https://youtu.be/VfMOnBAHrcs
GotQuestions.org. (2005, September 04). Home. https://www.gotquestions.org/curse-Ham-Canaan.html
Richoka, Says, R., Ruvimbo, Says, R., Says, W., & Wendell. (2019, July 04). D23-6: The Real Meaning Of The Phrase To 'Uncover One's Nakedness.' Retrieved from https://messianic-revolution.com/d23-6-the-real-meaning-of-the-phrase-to-uncover-ones-nakedness/
Stephens, R. (2017, July 24). Try not to VOMIT when you learn Ham's sin! | Genesis 9:18-28 [Video file]. Retrieved from https://youtu.be/wLaQTfYMZyk
Ture, G. (2017, September 2). What is Noah's Nakedness, Ham's Sin, and the Curse of Canaan? [Video file]. Retrieved from https://youtu.be/ZA1DYNXIn8Q
What does it mean when Ham "saw the nakedness of his father"? (n.d.). Retrieved from Https://www.versebyverseministry.org/bible-answers/what-does-it-mean-when-ham-saw-the-nakedness-of-his-father. (n.d.).
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2020 Robert Odell Jr
Robert Odell Jr (author) from Memphis, Tennessee on September 20, 2020:
These theories tend to create feelings of disgust. It is probably best for them to be inconclusive. Thank you for reading.
Dora Weithers from The Caribbean on September 20, 2020:
Very interesting! I appreciate the research but I'm glad that it is inconclusive. Great article, though!