Of all the stories in Genesis, chapter nine is one of the most controversial amongst christians and non-christians alike. Some of the earliest seeds of racial segregation have their roots in these pages. Regardless of intention, the curse of Ham was used to justify countless crimes against the people of Africa. It’s paramount that we familiarise ourselves with these passages and view them under a harsh light.
God’s Covenant with Noah
And God blessed Noah and his sons, and said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth.
And the fear of you and the dread of you shall be upon every beast of the earth, and upon every fowl of the air, upon all that moveth upon the earth, and upon all the fishes of the sea; into your hand are they delivered.
Every moving thing that liveth shall be meat for you; even as the green herb have I given you all things.Genesis 9:1, 9:2, 9:3
God’s command of Noah is fairly similar to the ones he makes of Adam and Eve; he gives him the task and responsibility of repopulating the earth. His relationship with Earth is an abusive one. Within the added context that we have, living thousands of years after this supposed event, we can speculate that the Bible supports the destruction of Earth for the good of humanity.
It’s hard to look around at the world today, the product of an entitled species’ need to expand and consume exponentially, and say that this passage had nothing to do with it. It’s likely that God’s words here to Noah , or at least the mentality behind it, played a role in chipping away at Earth and it’s ecosystems.
Made in God’s Own Bloody Image
But flesh with the life thereof, which is the blood thereof, shall ye not eat.
And surely your blood of your lives will I require; at the hand of every beast will I require it, and at the hand of man; at the hand of every man’s brother will I require the life of man.
Whoso sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed: for in the image of God made he man.
And you, be ye fruitful, and multiply; bring forth abundantly in the earth, and multiply therein.Genesis 9:4, 9:5, 9:6, 9:7
Jaweh puts great significance into the concept of blood – drawing a direct connection between a creature’s life and it’s blood. It’s easy to read these verses as a metaphor, but “blood” here is meant to be taken litterally. To the church, blood is sacred. To God, Noah eating bloody meat would be a move against his creator.
The Bible also establishes capital punishment as justice, an arguable topic in itself. In the most simplistic, overbearing way possible – Anyone who murders another human will be murdered. What goes around, comes around.
Note that animals who kill humans are also said to be sentenced to death, but not humans that kill animals. This conflicts directly with the image of God that we’re familiar with today. God is said to be all-loving, and to care for each living soul equally, not to be prejudiced towards humanity.
Where does this prejudice come from, you ask? It’s from our ability to worship him. As humans, our brains are the only thing about us that truly set us apart from other animals. And with that, our ability to worship God rather than simply exist in his world gives us a special place in his “heart”.
“Whoops, My Bad”
God spake unto Noah, and to his sons with him, saying,
I, behold, I establish my covenant with you, and with your seed after you;
And with every living creature that is with you, of the fowl, of the cattle, and of every beast of the earth with you; from all that go out of the ark, to every beast of the earth.
And I will establish my covenant with you, neither shall all flesh be cut off any more by the waters of a flood; neither shall there any more be a flood to destroy the earth.Genesis 9:8, 9:9, 9:10, 9:11
God’s behaviour throughout Genesis up until now is so vile and terrible that his promise never to wipe out all of humanity in one fell swoop again almost seems like mercy. In truth, though, a loving God would never have done it in the first place.
Why has God had a change of heart? How is this even meant to be possible? Was God more ignorant at the end of Chapter 5 than he is now, or he did he know even then that he would come to regret his actions? If so, why did he carry on? As always, there are no answers.
The Covenant of the Rainbow
God said, This is the token of the covenant which I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for perpetual generations:
I do set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be for a token of a covenant between me and the earth.
And it shall come to pass, when I bring a cloud over the earth, that the bow shall be seen in the cloud:
And I will remember my covenant, which is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh; and the waters shall no more become a flood to destroy all flesh.
And the bow shall be in the cloud; and I will look upon it, that I may remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is upon the earth.
And God said unto Noah, This is the token of the covenant, which I have established between me and all flesh that is upon the earth.Genesis 9:12, 9:13, 9:14, 9:15, 9:16, 9:17
The Rainbow is a symbol in christianity of the covenant between God and Earth, and his vow never again to wipe it clean of life. However, reading this passage, I can’t help but see it differently.
You see, if a human had the power to wipe out almost all life on earth with a flood, and witnessed it all as it happened, I would hope they have some deep regret looking back. Perhaps the feeling deep within themselves that they could never again even consider causing so much pain and destruction.
But that isn’t what God does here. Instead, God creates the rainbow, as a “reminder” for himself; implying that he will be tempted, inclined even to do it again, but then able to talk himself out of it through aknowledging the rainbow. Talk himself out of it. A God. It hardly makes sense.
Naked & Ashamed
And the sons of Noah, that went forth of the ark, were Shem, and Ham, and Japheth: and Ham is the father of Canaan.Genesis 9:18, 9:19, 9:20, 9:21, 9:22
These are the three sons of Noah: and of them was the whole earth overspread.
And Noah began to be an husbandman, and he planted a vineyard:
And he drank of the wine, and was drunken; and he was uncovered within his tent.
And Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father, and told his two brethren without.
Things take a strange and sudden turn towards the end of this chapter. The Bible describes Ham accidentally seeing his drunken father naked in his tent. This is a wholy innocent act in itself, but as the following verses will confirm, Noah would be furious.
Some religious scholars claim that Ham defiled his father in the tent, although this opinion is highly controversial. But however it came to be, Noah’s modesty was exposed; and as a loyal servant to Jaweh, he takes great offense to what he sees as a form of betrayal.
The Curse of Ham (a.k.a Curse of Canaan)
And Shem and Japheth took a garment, and laid it upon both their shoulders, and went backward, and covered the nakedness of their father; and their faces were backward, and they saw not their father’s nakedness.Genesis 9:23, 9:24, 9:25, 9:26, 9:27, 9:28, 9:29
And Noah awoke from his wine, and knew what his younger son had done unto him.
And he said, Cursed be Canaan; a servant of servants shall he be unto his brethren.
And he said, Blessed be the Lord God of Shem; and Canaan shall be his servant.
God shall enlarge Japheth, and he shall dwell in the tents of Shem; and Canaan shall be his servant.
And Noah lived after the flood three hundred and fifty years.
And all the days of Noah were nine hundred and fifty years: and he died.
No matter how much I search for answers in religious sources, they all seem to agree to disagree on this one. What was Ham’s sin exactly? It’s often speculated that he mocked Noah when he told his siblings that he had seen their father naked. Either way, they don’t question it. They don’t care. Noah is a devout servant of God, and so they do not ask themselves if it is righteous.
This is the inescapable danger of faith in our daily lives. When we give in to faith, we begin to act on some divine commandment, not with our own built-in supercomputer. We find ways to justify God’s actions rather than consider their fairness. Even here, where God isn’t even the one cursing Canaan, but Noah.
And if you were feeling sympathy for Noah up untill now, we finally have the necessary proof that Noah is immoral, not just carrying out the orders from an immoral deity. The curse of Canaan is given by Noah, not God – and to Canaan and his descendants, not Ham.
As it would seem, Noah learned his ways from God himself; to curse children for the offenses of their parents, and to treat people – in fact, his own spawn, as if they were animals on a farm.
Justifying the African Slave Trade through Faith
Despite some problems with this story – What was so terrible about seeing Noah drunk? Why curse Canaan for the sins of Ham? Surely Ham would have had the same skin color as his brothers? – it eventually became the foundational text for those who wanted to justify slavery using the Bible. In its boiled-down, popular version, known as “The Curse of Ham,” Canaan was dropped from the story, Ham was made black, and his descendants were made Africans.
It was only so that the church was able to come to terms with their own dissonance, as they ripped africans from their homes and worked them to death in their home countries. And although this story has a very different meaning to christians today, the dramatic ripple effect it caused cannot be overlooked.