What Is the Curse of Ham, and Does It Impact Us Today?

Vivian Bricker

Contributing Writer
Published: Jan 24, 2023
What Is the Curse of Ham, and Does It Impact Us Today?

 There are many false beliefs surrounding the curse of Ham, including the subject of the “curse of Ham.” While Ham is the one who disrespected his father, Noah, he did not receive the curse. 

The idea of the curse of Ham has stretched back a long time. There are many false beliefs surrounding the curse of Ham, including the subject of the “curse of Ham.” While Ham is the one who disrespected his father, Noah, he did not receive the curse. Canaan was Ham’s son, and he was the one who received the curse, not Ham. Through this article, we are going to discuss what the curse is and if it impacts us today. 

The Curse

In Genesis, it is documented that Ham “looked upon” his father’s nakedness, and as a result, Noah cursed him. Noah was most likely drunk by the wine, not because he was a drunkard, but due to the fact that after the Flood, fermentation happened a lot more rapidly, and Noah was not aware of this sudden change. One may ask, “what was the big deal?”; however, there is more to the words behind this passage about seeing one’s naked body. One theory is that Ham was making a spectacle out of Noah and gossiping about Noah to his brothers. Ham was disrespecting his father and violating the commandment to honor his parents found in Exodus 20:12. The second view from scholars is that Ham had sexual relations with his mother, which is how some conclude the birth of Canaan, which would also be disrespecting his father. However, this view does not connect directly with the text of the Bible.

In addition to these theories, the final view of the event that occurred in Noah’s tent can be drawn from going back to the Hebrew text, which gives a plausible description of why Ham’s punishment was so severe: “In Leviticus inappropriate sexual conduct is repeatedly described as ‘uncovering nakedness’ (Lev. 18:6-18), and in one passage, seeing nakedness is also linked to illicit, incestuous sex (Lev. 20:17)” [Knust, 2014]. This view would conclude that Ham committed homosexual relations with Noah while his father was drunk. This would explain why the punishment was so severe as Ham had disgraced his father and his family, and he was an abomination in the sight of the Lord. In any case, it is certain that there was some sort of abominable sexual sin that occurred, with this final view being the most plausible explanation as Ham committed rape against his father. 

A description of the Ancient Near Eastern culture can help in a thorough investigation of the event of Genesis 9. One of the Mesopotamian people groups was the Hittites. The Hittite culture had similar aspects of the Israelite culture as far as blessings and curses are concerned. It should be noted that Noah does bless Ham in Genesis 9:1, but he later curses Canaan after the event of Ham looking upon Noah’s naked body in Genesis 9:22-27. This event of blessing and then cursing correlates with the Ancient Near East culture patterns, especially as it relates to the Hittite people. Hittite treaties would contain lengthy blessings and curses depending on if the group or person had been obedient or disobedient. In the Ancient Near Eastern culture, treaties were believed to have invoked special and divine parties or sacred oaths between the two parties. 

The Hittite treaties are important to know, especially when one compares and contrasts them to the Bible. Treaties in the Ancient Near East would normally be between a person and a king or a superior; however, the Bible stands out so much in relation to this as the treaties or covenants are made between man and the only true God. This is relevant to the discussion at hand because one has to understand the reasons and framework of the curses placed upon Canaan and the way they were pronounced. The curses set upon Canaan were demonstrated in a way that is recognizable to the treaties found in the Ancient Near East. Noah is the party that blesses his three sons in Genesis 9:1, and this includes Ham. Noah pronounces curses on Canaan in Genesis 9:24-26, which is shortly after the former event. It should be noted that throughout the Old Testament and in this passage that the blessings come before the curses, which is the same for the Hittite treaties as found in the Ancient Near East. 

A Hittite treaty normally ends with a list of witnesses of the treaty, which includes their “gods” as witnesses. This can be correlated with the account of Noah cursing Canaan by the fact that Noah had the true God as his witness, as well as his two other sons, Shem and Japheth. The naked exposure of Noah seen by Ham was also a terrible event to the Ancient Near East culture to befall on a family as the Assyrian beliefs showed male nakedness to be feminine, disgraceful, and shameful. In other words, Ham’s act of gazing upon Noah’s naked body would have been a sign of objecting to Noah’s authority to demoralize his father as well as it would have been an act of disrespect and disobedience. 

Does It Impact Us Today?

The curse on Canaan was most likely due to some sort of sexual relations invoked by Ham, as previously discussed; however, the curses pronounced by Noah are not on Ham but on Canaan despite the fact that Ham committed this sin. Some scholars believe that Canaan was cursed because he was born due to incest. It is noteworthy to remember that Noah did pronounce a curse on Canaan, as well as he also professed a prophecy by God that foretold the wickedness of the Canaanites. It is a huge misnomer when it is stated that the curse of Canaan is the start of the African race. This is not true as God created all people equally, and He loves each person equally, so to try to isolate the Africans by being the color black by a curse is completely unbiblical and untrue. 

As Ken Ham and Charles Ware state in their book One Race, One Blood, about the curse in Genesis 9:20-27, “this narrative says nothing about skin color or race." As the Scriptures state, the curse pronounced by Noah was that Canaan and his descendants would be the servants of his brothers; however, this is not in any way connected to the beginning of the African race (Gen. 9:25-27). Throughout history, supposed Christians have used this argument to defend the cause of having slavery because of the misinterpretation of this passage, thinking it meant Africans came from Canaan and that it was right to have slaves because Canaan was under a curse. Thus, it can be concluded that African people are not a result of Canaan’s curse. Society has altered the true meaning of the text to justify their racism as this misconception is spread widely even into the present day.

As found by archaeological discoveries, it is recorded that the Canaanites were under more than just a physical labor curse but also under a religious curse of false gods. The Canaanites were not only under physical slavery, but they were under spiritual slavery. The major “god” of the Canaanites was Baal, as they would worship him devoutly on the top of huge open-air shrines. The Canaanites also would participate in a variety of other false-gods worship, most commonly of the type of sexual relations and debauchery, as well as adult and child sacrifices. They also would use idols to worship their gods by animal figures, including the bull in relation to the false gods El and Baal and the lion in relation to the false god Asherah. All in all, the Canaanites were depraved in their thinking and acting because of the great curse set upon them due to Ham’s sin.

Thus, there are many different theories as to what happened in Noah’s tent; however, the most plausible explanation is that there was some sort of sexual sin that Ham committed against Noah. The curses of the Old Testament can be found to be very similar to other Hittite treaties, in which they emphasize long blessings and curses depending on the parties involved. The curse of Canaan was that his descendants would be a slave or a servant to Japheth and Shem’s sons; however, this is not a reference to the slavery of the African race in the past, nor does the curse apply to any people groups today. 

It is most plausible to conclude that the African race did not originate with the cursing of Canaan because all of Noah’s sons were most likely Near Eastern in the complex. The true ramifications of this curse were that the Canaanites would always be under slavery to Ham’s brother's descendants. Therefore, it is important to understand these aspects of Genesis 9 to help in a thorough investigation of the events and their true meaning as found in the Scriptures, scholarly work, and in Ancient Near East culture. While the curse of Canaan occurred a long time ago, there are still many people who hold to racism and connect the curse with a certain people’s skin color. This is unbiblical, as nobody is under this curse today. 

Resource:

Jennifer Knust, “Who’s Afraid of Canaan’s Curse? Genesis 9:18-29 and the Challenge of Reparative Reading.” Biblical Interpretation 22 (2014); 388-413. Galaxie

Photo Credit: ©Unsplash/Kyle Cottrell


Vivian Bricker loves Jesus, studying the Word of God, and helping others in their walk with Christ. She has earned a Bachelor of Arts and Master's degree in Christian Ministry with a deep academic emphasis in theology. Her favorite things to do are spending time with her family and friends, reading, and spending time outside. When she is not writing, she is embarking on other adventures.

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