Why Was Canaan Cursed?

Nathon Detroit

New member
Why Was Canaan Cursed?
- by Bob Enyart

ABSTRACT

Why did Noah curse his grandson Canaan? Genesis Nine records that Ham saw Noah’s nakedness, and as a result, Noah cursed his grandson Canaan. Then Canaan went on to become the patriarch of Israel’s longstanding enemies, the Canaanites. The story seems capricious on the surface, in contrast to so much reasonable history in Genesis. A common biblical figure of speech appears in Canaan’s story, and when Christians reread the story understanding this figure, the message of this account becomes compelling. Ancient Hebrew commonly speaks of a man’s nakedness to refer to sexual intercourse with the man’s wife. As Moses wrote in Leviticus, “The man who lies with his father’s wife has uncovered his father’s nakedness.” Canaan lived a cursed life because he was conceived by a perverse union. Thus the brief story twice reminds its ancient readers that Ham (not Noah) is the father of Canaan. So Noah cursed Canaan not as an evil spell or hex, but as a warning to others against following in Ham’s wicked ways. And readers of Genesis find a clear and reasonable origin for the conflict that lasted for centuries between the Jews and the Canaanites.

TEXT

Why did Noah curse his grandson Canaan? This boy’s father, Ham, saw Noah’s nakedness, and as a result, Noah cursed Canaan, who became the patriarch of Israel’s enemies, the Canaanites. The story seems capricious on the surface, in contrast to so much reasonable history in Genesis. Let’s take another look at what happened.

The various tribes of Canaanites are listed in Gen. 10:15‑18, including the Sidonians, Jebusites, Amorites, Girgashites, and Hivites. The Canaanites settled in familiar areas including Sodom and Gomorrah and the cities of Gaza (Gen. 10:19). The hostility with their namesakes (and mixed descendants) continued right up until Christ for example when He resisted ministering to “a woman of Canaan” (Mat. 15:22). But why did Canaan and therefore his descendants become cursed? Reading the account in Genesis 9, many suppose that after Noah became drunk, Ham saw his father naked, and as a result, Noah cursed Ham’s son Canaan. I submit that is not at all what happened. For that story, at least on its surface, would be an especially arbitrary and capricious origin for Canaan, Israel’s great nemesis. Here is what actually happened:

The story is not so much about Noah, or Ham, but about Canaan. As shown below, seeing the nakedness of a man is a common Hebrew expression for having sex with his wife (Lev. 20:11). Canaan lived a cursed life because he was conceived by a perverse union. Noah’s kids, Japheth, Shem, and Ham lived for about a century in the wicked pre-flood world. The statement that “Ham was the father of Canaan” (Gen. 9:18) begins this passage, which then quickly repeats “Ham, the father of Canaan” (Gen. 9:22), as though the author wants his readers not to miss the relationship. The story ends with three mentions of Canaan including “Cursed be Canaan” (Gen. 9:25). The first chapters of the Bible quickly cover 1,600 years of sinful human history. Yet, there is no mention of intoxication until after the flood, until Noah planted a vineyard and became drunk. While Noah was inebriated, one of his sons, Ham, committed incest with Noah’s wife. Taking advantage of his father’s drunkenness, Ham, who had lived before the flood in a sexually perverse society, had intercourse with his own mother, impregnating her and thereby fathering Canaan. So because Noah’s own wife bore Canaan, the story twice clarified for its ancient audience that “Ham was the father of Canaan,” not Noah, as the earliest Canaanites may have misrepresented their heritage!

Of Israel’s nearby enemies, not all were Canaanites. For example, the Moabites and Ammonites were the product of other parent/child relations. Again involving drunkenness, Abraham’s nephew Lot impregnated his daughters who gave birth to the Moabites and Ammonites (Gen. 19:36‑38). Any child conceived in this way, regardless of mutational considerations, enters life set up to fail. Canaan had his grandmother for a mother, his grandfather for an uncle, his mother for a great aunt, his father for a cousin, and, worst of all, his brother for a father (half-brother, that is). Early humans reproduced with siblings and first cousins without harm because genetic deterioration had not become a significant factor. But mutation severity likely grew quickly after the Flood, moving God in the Mosaic Law to prohibit relations between close relatives (Lev. 18, 20). But even prior to the Flood, a parent/child relation would have produced a twisted family.

As all authors and peoples do, Moses and the Jews used figures of speech. Some of the Bible’s figures of speech are euphemisms that promote modesty. For example, instead of saying that Adam had sexual intercourse with Eve, the Bible more politely says that “Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived” (Gen. 4:1). And Moses writes, “the man who lies with” rather than using the modern and more crude phrase, “has sex with.” The reader who misses these common figures of speech will misunderstand the plain meaning of various passages. Moses wrote the first five books of the Bible. And God through Moses used the same decency when describing other physical relations. For example, when prohibiting incest in the Mosaic Law, rather than saying, a man shall not have intercourse with his mother, Moses wrote that he shall not “uncover his father’s nakedness.”

‘The man who lies with his father’s wife has uncovered his father’s nakedness…’ Lev. 20:11

When Moses also wrote that Ham saw his father’s nakedness, that was a respectful (and appreciated) way of saying that he copulated with her. See how frequently Moses and the Scriptures use this Hebrew figure of speech:

‘If a man lies with his uncle's wife, he has uncovered his uncle's nakedness. … ‘If a man takes his brother's wife… He has uncovered his brother's nakedness.’ Lev. 20:20‑21

Committing incest with any female “near of kin” can be described as “uncovering his nakedness” (Lev. 18:6), referring to the appropriate male relative, including the nakedness of your father (with your mother, Lev. 18:7), or your sister, granddaughter, stepsister, aunt, daughter-in-law and sister-in-law (Lev. 18:9‑15). Of course, this can also be described in more literal terms as uncovering the woman’s nakedness, but it can also be referred to, idiomatically, as referring to the husband’s, father’s, brothers, uncle’s, or son’s nakedness. Her nakedness can equal his nakedness because as Paul writes, your body is “not your own” (1 Cor. 6:19), and from this perspective, your mother’s body belongs to your father. Thus: ‘The nakedness of your father’s wife you shall not uncover; it is your father’s nakedness’ (Lev 18:8). Again, “It is your father’s nakedness!”

Ezekiel used this figure of speech in this Hebrew parallelism: “In you [O Israel] men uncover their fathers’ nakedness; in you they violate women…” (Ezek. 22:10). And Habakkuk condemns not the sin of homosexuality but of getting your neighbor drunk in order to seduce his wife, when he warns: “Woe to him who gives drink to his neighbor, pressing him to your bottle, even to make him drunk, that you may look on his nakedness!” (Hab. 2:15; See also Lev. 18:10, 14, 17‑18; 1 Sam. 20:30; and Ezek. 22:10‑11.) Habakkuk warns against looking upon a neighbor’s nakedness, which is just the slightest alternate form of uncovering his nakedness.

So, understanding this common Hebrew figure of speech enables the reader to comprehend Moses’ 3,500-year-old account of why Noah cursed Canaan:

…Ham was the father of Canaan… And Noah began to be a farmer, and he planted a vineyard. Then he drank of the wine and was drunk, and became uncovered in his tent [his own drunkenness left his wife vulnerable and exposed to Ham’s wickedness]. And Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father [that is, he had sex with Noah’s wife, Ham’s own mother], and told his two brothers outside [as wicked people often brag of their sin, and as misery loves company, and perhaps even inviting them to do likewise]. But Shem and Japheth took a garment, laid it on both their shoulders, and went backward and covered the nakedness of their father [refusing to further abuse her]. Their faces were turned away, and they did not see their father’s nakedness [i.e., their mother’s nude body]. So Noah awoke from his wine, and knew what his younger son had done to him [because he found out from his wife and his sons]. Then he said [after he learned of the pregnancy]: “Cursed be Canaan [whose father was Ham]…" Gen. 9:18, 20‑25

Why do Christian readers often miss this real story of Canaan? The undermining of Genesis as literal and rational history leads believers, even many authorities, to neglect serious study of Genesis and much of the Old Testament. Christians read that Ham saw his father’s nakedness and therefore Noah cursed baby Canaan. That may seem capricious and arbitrary to many, but millions of Christians are conditioned to take the Bible with a grain of salt. After all, if the masses assume that they cannot trust the Bible’s six literal days of Creation, nor its story of Noah’s Ark and a global flood, then why worry about a silly detail like Noah blaming his grandchild for his own drunken behavior.

Canaan’s true story shows the tragic reality of a child being set up to fail by the wickedness of his father. Thus Noah cursed Canaan as a statement of that reality, not as a hex or evil spell, but as a warning to others against following in Ham’s wicked ways. So incest set the background for centuries of conflict between Noah’s Hamitic descendents, especially those through Canaan, against the descendants of Shem, the Semites, especially the Jews, to whom God promised the land of the Canaanites.

While the story of Canaan’s curse follows the Creation and Flood accounts, rightly understood it helps us to see that all throughout, Genesis is a rational book of history.

From Bob Enyart’s unpublished manuscript, the Plot
 

philosophizer

New member
Boy, I don't know. That could certainly be true, but it seems like an awful lot of reading into it. It seems like that would be one of those important details that would have been explicitly mentioned, as it is when Lot's daughters slept with him.

Bob might be right, but it's not really one of the important issues, is it?
 

Clete

Truth Smacker
Silver Subscriber
Originally posted by philosophizer
Bob might be right, but it's not really one of the important issues, is it?

No, of course not! Incestuous adultery isn't really very important at all! And establishing Genesis as a reliable historical account; that sort of isn’t very important either is it?

:rolleyes: :rolleyes: :rolleyes:


Forgive my sarcasm, but come on now, do you seriously not see the importance of the points Bob makes here?

Resting in Him,
Clete
 

Lucky

New member
Hall of Fame
…Ham was the father of Canaan… And Noah began to be a farmer, and he planted a vineyard. Then he drank of the wine and was drunk, and became uncovered in his tent [his own drunkenness left his wife vulnerable and exposed to Ham’s wickedness]. And Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father [that is, he had sex with Noah’s wife, Ham’s own mother], and told his two brothers outside [as wicked people often brag of their sin, and as misery loves company, and perhaps even inviting them to do likewise]. But Shem and Japheth took a garment, laid it on both their shoulders, and went backward and covered the nakedness of their father [refusing to further abuse her]. Their faces were turned away, and they did not see their father’s nakedness [i.e., their mother’s nude body]. So Noah awoke from his wine, and knew what his younger son had done to him [because he found out from his wife and his sons]. Then he said [after he learned of the pregnancy]: “Cursed be Canaan [whose father was Ham]…" Gen. 9:18, 20‑25
<br>
<table>
<td width="50%" bgcolor="#FFFFCC">
<b>The Bible's Version</b>
<p>[Noah] drank of the wine and was drunk, and became uncovered in his tent</p>
</td>
<td width="50%" bgcolor="#CCFFCC">
<b>The Re-written Version</b>
<p>[Noah's] drunkenness left his wife vulnerable and exposed to Ham’s wickedness</p>
</td>
</table>
<table>
<td width="50%" bgcolor="#FFFFCC">
<b>The Bible's Version</b>
<p>And Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father</p>
</td>
<td width="50%" bgcolor="#CCFFCC">
<b>The Re-written Version</b>
<p>[Ham] had sex with Noah’s wife, [his] own mother</p>
</td>
</table>
<table>
<td width="50%" bgcolor="#FFFFCC">
<b>The Bible's Version</b>
<p>But Shem and Japheth took a garment, laid it on both their shoulders, and went backward and covered the nakedness of their father</p>
</td>
<td width="50%" bgcolor="#CCFFCC">
<b>The Re-written Version</b>
<p>[But Shem and Japheth] refus[ed] to further abuse her</p>
</td>
</table>
<table>
<td width="50%" bgcolor="#FFFFCC">
<b>The Bible's Version</b>
<p>Their faces were turned away, and they did not see their father’s nakedness</p>
</td>
<td width="50%" bgcolor="#CCFFCC">
<b>The Re-written Version</b>
<p>[They did not see] their mother’s nude body</p>
</td>
</table>

:shut:
 

philosophizer

New member
Originally posted by Clete Pfeiffer

No, of course not! Incestuous adultery isn't really very important at all! And establishing Genesis as a reliable historical account; that sort of isn’t very important either is it?

:rolleyes: :rolleyes: :rolleyes:


Forgive my sarcasm, but come on now, do you seriously not see the importance of the points Bob makes here?

Resting in Him,
Clete


Sorry if I wasn't clear. Incestuous adultry is very perverse and it is important to understand that. I agree. And I think it's great that Bob is trying to establish Genesis as a reliable historical account.

I agree with all the points that Bob makes: incest bad, adultry bad, Genesis history good, sins of the father carry over, etc. But I don't think any of his arguments necessarily conclude that Ham had sex with his mother. It is certainly possible, and I won't say that it definitely didn't happen. But it seems unlikely to me.

Look at the story of Lot and his daughters

Genesis 19:31-32 -- One day the older daughter said to the younger, "Our father is old, and there is no man around here to lie with us, as is the custom all over the earth. Let's get our father to drink wine and then lie with him and preserve our family line through our father."

A similar situation, yet it explains pretty plainly what happened. Why would Ham's story be different?
 

Zakath

Resident Atheist
Thank you for publishing this little tidbit, Knight.

You have unwittingly proided a marvelous illustration of how some people twist and even re-write the allegedly immutable scriptures to suit their own needs.

If I had a nickel for every preacher I've read or heard with their own "correct interpretation" of some bible story, I'd be retired now.

:chuckle:
 

Lucky

New member
Hall of Fame
Originally posted by philosophizer

Sorry if I wasn't clear. Incestuous adultry is very perverse and it is important to understand that. I agree. And I think it's great that Bob is trying to establish Genesis as a reliable historical account.

I agree with all the points that Bob makes: incest bad, adultry bad, Genesis history good, sins of the father carry over, etc. But I don't think any of his arguments necessarily conclude that Ham had sex with his mother. It is certainly possible, and I won't say that it definitely didn't happen. But it seems unlikely to me.

Look at the story of Lot and his daughters

Genesis 19:31-32 -- One day the older daughter said to the younger, "Our father is old, and there is no man around here to lie with us, as is the custom all over the earth. Let's get our father to drink wine and then lie with him and preserve our family line through our father."

A similar situation, yet it explains pretty plainly what happened. Why would Ham's story be different?
I agree with Philo on this. It's possible, but it seems far-fetched. For instance, reading this...
But Shem and Japheth took a garment, laid it on both their shoulders, and went backward and covered the nakedness of their father.
...it just seems like way too many specific details on what happened for it to be symbolic of incest. Nevertheless, it is an interesting theory.
 

Prisca

Pain Killer
Super Moderator
"And Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father" Genesis 9:22

‘The man who lies with his father’s wife has uncovered his father’s nakedness…’ Lev. 20:11

Makes sense to me!
 

Lion

King of the jungle
Super Moderator
Right again, Becky.

As for the details, like lying the blanket over their father, that’s not what it says. It says they covered their father’s nakedness, meaning they covered their mother with the blanket.

Besides, it is most likely that this was a rape by Ham, making it even more clear as to why they covered her, and showing even better why the offspring of such a union would be cursed. Not because God or even Noah curses the baby, but rather because the natural consequences of the shameful manner of his conception will bring shame on him from others.
 

dotcom

New member
Originally posted by Zakath

Thank you for publishing this little tidbit, Knight.

You have unwittingly proided a marvelous illustration of how some people twist and even re-write the allegedly immutable scriptures to suit their own needs.

If I had a nickel for every preacher I've read or heard with their own "correct interpretation" of some bible story, I'd be retired now.

:chuckle:

I was marveled at how people can go to such lengths to uncover the truth. I went to each and every Bible version and perused the writings "as is". All versions say Ham SAW his father's nakedness. And it is true all versions say " if a man lies with his mother, he has UNCOVERED his fathers nakedness."

The author wants readers to believe " seeing" is the same as " uncovering" which is unbelievable to me! Why would anybody do something like that? No wonder most people are shifting away from God!

Till somebody comes up with a scriptural explanation that " seeing" is the same as " uncovering" the whole plot remains a concoction to me.

It also remains intriguing why Noah cursed Canaan and not Ham himself. But to misinterpret scriptural text to find the answer is just absurd.
 

Clete

Truth Smacker
Silver Subscriber
Lucky and Philo,

I think Becky makes a good point!

If this isn't an idiomatic expression meaning what Bod says then what else could it mean that would makes sense given the rest of the story?
 

philosophizer

New member
Originally posted by Clete Pfeiffer

Lucky and Philo,

I think Becky makes a good point!

If this isn't an idiomatic expression meaning what Bod says then what else could it mean that would makes sense given the rest of the story?

I think that if we assume it to mean what Bob says, that it doesn't make sense given the lack of story.

But I don't think there's any necessary reason to assume that everytime the word "nakedness" appears in the bible, it is talking about sex with a man's wife.

What about when it is used in this passage:

Exodus 20:25-26 -- If you make an altar of stones for me, do not build it with dressed stones, for you will defile it if you use a tool on it. And do not go up to my altar on steps, lest your nakedness be exposed on it.'

Clearly, that verse is not talking about having sex on alter steps.



**edited to fix scripture reference.
 
Last edited:

Clete

Truth Smacker
Silver Subscriber
Originally posted by philosophizer

I think that if we assume it to mean what Bob says, that it doesn't make sense given the lack of story.

But I don't think there's any necessary reason to assume that everytime the word "nakedness" appears in the bible, it is talking about sex with a man's wife.

What about when it is used in this passage:

Genesis 20:25-26 -- If you make an altar of stones for me, do not build it with dressed stones, for you will defile it if you use a tool on it. And do not go up to my altar on steps, lest your nakedness be exposed on it.'

Clearly, that verse is not talking about having sex on alter steps.

No one is suggesting that everytime the word "nakedness" appears in the bible, it is talking about sex with a man's wife.

Besides that's not what I asked.

If it doesn't mean what Bob suggests, then what does it mean?
 

Lucky

New member
Hall of Fame
Originally posted by Clete Pfeiffer

If it doesn't mean what Bob suggests, then what does it mean?
Quite possibly, it means what it says! I'm really suprised in Bob's interpretation of this. I was starting to think that Enyart took Scripture fairly literally. But not so in this case, IMHO. In fact, I nearly fell out of my seat laughing when I read this:
The undermining of Genesis as literal and rational history leads believers, even many authorities, to neglect serious study of Genesis and much of the Old Testament.
Did he just say that right after tossing out the literal meaning and replace it with symbolism? Hellooo! :darwinsm:
 

Clete

Truth Smacker
Silver Subscriber
Originally posted by Clete Pfeiffer

If it doesn't mean what Bob suggests, then what does it mean?


Originally posted by Lucky

Quite possibly, it means what it says! I'm really surprised in Bob's interpretation of this.
Could you explain how seeing your father naked is so bad that God would curse your progeny for generations to come?
 

dotcom

New member
Originally posted by philosophizer

I think that if we assume it to mean what Bob says, that it doesn't make sense given the lack of story.

But I don't think there's any necessary reason to assume that everytime the word "nakedness" appears in the bible, it is talking about sex with a man's wife.

What about when it is used in this passage:

Genesis 20:25-26 -- If you make an altar of stones for me, do not build it with dressed stones, for you will defile it if you use a tool on it. And do not go up to my altar on steps, lest your nakedness be exposed on it.'

Clearly, that verse is not talking about having sex on alter steps.

Philosophizer,

Genesis 20 ends at verse 18.
 
Top