Christianity Knowledge Base

Ham was the son of Noah and the brother of Shem and Japeth. He was the father of Cush, Mizraim, Phut and Canaan. These were the ancestors of the Sudan, Egypt, Libya, and the Canaanites, respectively.

Curse of Ham[]

After the Great Flood, Noah planted a vineyard, became drunk and lie naked in his tent. Ham witnessed his father's nakedness, and fetched his brothers Shem and Japeth. Shem and Japeth entered Noah's tent backwards, averting their eyes from Noah's naked body, and covered their father with a garment. Noah awoke, blessed Shem and Japeth, and cursed Canaan (Ham's son) to be the "servant of servants" to his brothers. (Genesis 9:18-29)

There are several interpetations of Ham's sin. A literal reading is that Noah stripped and passed out as a result of intoxication, and that Ham's sin was his failure to take action, as Shem and Japeth did. Others interpret this passage wirh reference to Leviticus 20:11: "The man who lies with his father’s wife has uncovered his father’s nakedness: both of them shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them." Thus, some believe that Ham's sin was actually sexual in nature. Another interpretation is that Ham castrated Noah, thus depriving him of a fourth son, and that this is why Noah cursed Ham's fourth son, Canaan, rather than cursing Ham directly.

The traditional interpretation is that this curse was fulfilled when Joshua led the Israelites to conquer the land of Canaan. However, since Ham was also the ancestor of several African nations, the curse was also used to justify the African slave trade. The Biblical passage makes no reference to race, but around the 6th century, the idea arose among some Jewish rabbis that Africans were darkened by Ham's sins (cf. Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 108b). European Christians (decendants of Japeth) and some Muslim scholars adopted this idea during the Middle ages. Although it was Canaan, and not any of the African nations, that Noah cursed, this racist misinterpeetation has led to much hardship for the African people.