Table of Contents
Vol.1: Noah's Three Sons: Human History
in Three Dimensions
WHY NOAH CURSED CANAAN INSTEAD
A NEW APPROACH TO AN OLD PROBLEM
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Chapter 1. Why Noah Cursed
Chapter 2. Was Canaan a True Black?
1 of 11
1957 Doorway paper No. 55, published
privately by Arthur C. Custance
1975 Part III in Noah's Three Sons: Human History in
Three Dimensions, vol.1 in The Doorway Papers Series,
1997 Arthur Custance Online Library (html)
2001 2nd Online Edition (corrections, design revisions)
A NOTE TO THE READER
THIS next paper is
very short. Yet there are some points of importance to consider
in the light of it.
It shows how
necessary it sometimes is to be able to escape one's own culture
and enter into the spirit of another culture that is structured
differently, in order to see the real motives which lie behind
even our own judgments at times.
It also shows
that the great figures of old, heroic though they may seem to
have been, were very ordinary mortals really! This assumes, of
course, that our interpretation is correct.
is that each correction of some fundamental untruth is itself
in time distorted until it too becomes untrue.
it demonstrates how wonderfully Scripture holds together with
an inner concordance that still renders it its own best interpreter.
Why Noah Cursed Canaan
And Noah began to be an husbandman,
planted a vineyard:
And he drank of the wine, and was drunken;
was uncovered within his tent.
And Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the
of his father, and told his two brethren without.
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.
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 Shern; 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.
THE STORY appears
in Genesis 9:20-27. Noah, apparently, cultivated a vineyard and
whether intentionally or accidentally ended up with an intoxicating
drink. Like many others in this condition, he had removed his
clothes because of the sensation of overheating which results
from the dilation of the veins at the surface of the skin. Drunkenness
and nakedness have been closely associated throughout history.
In a drunken stupor the old man lay indecently exposed and his
son Ham "saw his nakedness" (verse 22) .
Some people believe that this phrase
means more than appears on the surface and that on the basis
of Leviticus chapters 18 and 19, the implication is that homosexuality
was involved. On the other hand, Ham's immediate behaviour seems
to tell against this, for he would hardly proceed to tell his
brothers outside (verse
22) if he had committed such a terrible offense against his father.
Moreover, the behaviour of Shem and Japhetd in taking a garment
and carefully covering the nakedness of their father with their
faces averted so that "they saw not their father's nakedness''
(verse 23 suggests that in both instances the words mean simply
what they say.
Later on, Noah awoke and somehow
found out what his younger son had done. Like many others who
have lost their own self-esteem and are angry at themselves,
Noah became enraged against his son. But he did not curse him;
he cursed his grandson according to verse 25. And herein seems
to, lie the injustice, and the widespread conviction that the
text is in error. Shem and Japheth are blessed, Ham is ignored
and a grandson, Canaan, who can surely have had no responsible
part in Ham's misbehaviour, suffers the full brunt of his grandfather's
Several explanations have been
offered as to why, when Noah had thus been wronged by Ham, he
pronounced a curse upon Canaan instead. I should like to suggest
a reason which seems to have been overlooked.
In Exodus 20:5, God declared that
He would "visit the iniquities of the fathers upon the children
unto the third and fourth generations. . . ." There is nothing
arbitrary, barbaric, or even surprising about this. The sins
of the fathers are reflected in the behaviour of their children,
and these children in their turn pay the penalty. What is surprising,
however, is that men will distort the truth and make it a falsehood
of the most malicious kind. It soon comes to mean that a child
is not to be blamed for his sins - his environment and his heredity
being held chiefly responsible.We say easily enough, "It
is our fathers who are to be blamed, the generation which educated
us. We are simply the children of our own age." Thus, even
today a more sympathetic view is being taken of Adolf Hitler
and some would even try to picture him as a child who was wronged
and might otherwise have been a hero. And in any case he is not
to be blamed for what he did.
Curiously enough, this inverted
process of reasoning is exactly what the Israelites applied to
Exodus 20:5. By the time of Jeremiah they were saying, "The
fathers have eaten sour
1. Paul Hershon, in his Rabbinical Commentary
on Genesis (Hodder and Stoughton, 1885, p.54) quotes a passage
in which the child Canaan is said to have first seen Noah uncovered,
and then to have told his father Ham about it.
grapes and the children's
teeth are set on edge" (Jeremiah 31: 29) . In other words,
it was not the children's misdoings which had brought all these
misfortunes upon them. It was all their fathers' fault! But the
Lord said in effect to Jeremiah, "You must correct this;
it is quite wrong. Tell them that 'every one shall die for his
own sin; every man that eateth sour grapes, his own teeth
shall be set on edge'" (Jeremiah 31:30).
It might be thought that this would
have settled the matter and straightened things out once for
all. But in the course of time, the truth was again distorted
in another way and people came to interpret this to mean that
any misfortune which overtook a man was due to his own sinfulness.
Not unnaturally, this had the effect of destroying all sympathy,
for a man who was in trouble or sickness was simply receiving
his just deserts. It served him right.
This is what created the peculiar
problem for the disciples when they were brought face to face
with a man born blind in John 9:1ff. It seems doubtful if it
was sympathy that made them question the Lord about his case,
but rather a kind of theological curiosity. Here was a man who
had suffered a great misfortune. He had been born blind. But
since he was born blind, it seemed impossible to attribute
the fault to the man himself. On the other hand, Jeremiah had
made it clear that Exodus 20:5 did not mean that it was his parents'
fault. So they asked, "Who did sin, this man or his parents?"
Their question reflected their attitude towards suffering. The
Lord, however, while not denying the truth of the implications
in their question, nevertheless pointed out that in this instance
the blind man was a privileged person who providentially was
permitted to show forth the glory of God. There are at least
three reasons why people suffer: because of the wickedness of
their parents, because of their own sinfulness, or simply for
the glory of God.
Now, in other cultures than our
own, and for reasons which are not always clear, it is customary
to attach the blame for a man's failings upon his parents. But
by the same token, it is also customary to give them the credit
for his successes. This principle is recognized by most of us,
in fact, but mostly without explicit formulation. In these other
cultures, both ancient and modern, the principle has been publicly
It is an attitude which is quite
remarkably reflected in Scripture. Perhaps the clearest illustration
is to be found in the story of Saul and David, I Samuel 17: 50-58.
In this instance,
David had performed a
deed of great national importance by destroying Goliath. David
himself was no stranger to Saul for he had on many occasions
played his harp to quiet the king's distracted spirit. Yet we
find that when Saul saw David go forth against Goliath (verse
55) he said to Abner, the captain of his hosts, "Abner,
whose son is this youth?" And although Abner must certainly
have known David by name, he replied, "As thy soul liveth,
O King, I cannot tell."
This has always seemed a strange
remark both for the king and his commanding officer to have made.
But the explanation lies in a proper understanding of the social
significance of verse 58. "And Saul said unto him, Whose
son art thou, young man? And David answered, I am the son of
thy servant Jesse, the Bethlehemite." This is simply an
occasion upon which, following the social custom of his own day,
Saul sought to give credit where credit was due, namely, to the
father. Because David was Jesse's son, Jesse was to receive recognition.
Another illustration will be found
in I Kings 11:9-12:
And the Lord was angry with
Solomon, because his heart was turned from the Lord God of Israel
which had appeared unto him twice, and had commanded him concerning
this thing, that he should not go after other gods: but he kept
not that which the Lord commanded.
Wherefore the Lord said unto Solomon,
Forasmuch as this is done of thee and thou hast not kept my covenant
and my statutes, which I have commanded thee, I will surely rend
the kingdom from thee and will give it to thy servant.
Notwithstanding in thy days I will
not do it for David thy father's sake: but I will rend it out
of the hand of thy son.
This is a beautiful
example, because it is so specific in statement. Solomon was
to be punished: but he could not be punished personally without
bringing discredit on David his father, and this the Lord was
not willing to do. The only way in which Solomon could be punished
appropriately without injuring David's name was therefore to
punish Solomon's son.
In the New Testament we find another
instance. It is quite obvious that while a man can publicly seek
to give credit to the father of a worthy son, a woman could not
discreetly make reference to the father in complimentary terms
for fear of being misunderstood. She therefore refers instead
to the son's mother who rightly shares in the worthiness of her
children. This fact is reflected clearly in Luke 11:27, where
we read of a woman who suddenly perceiving the true greatness
of the Lord Jesus
Christ, cried out in spontaneous
admiration, "Blessed is the womb that bare Thee and the
breasts which Thou hast sucked."
When we apply this principle to
the story given in Genesis 9:20-97, the significance of the cursing
of Canaan rather than Ham at once becomes clear. But because
the principle has not been applied by commentators, the apparent
injustice of Noah has puzzled people at least since the beginning
of the Christian era when the commentators began to take notice
of it. It appears that Jewish rabbis had access to a copy of
the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Old Testament, made
in the third century B.C. by the Jews in Alexandria and which
appears to form the basis of a number of quotations in the New
Testament from the Old Testament) in which the name "Canaan"
was replaced by the name "Ham.'' It is proposed by some
authorities that this was the original reading and that the text
was tampered with by Hebrew scribes who wished to add to the
degradation of the Canaanites by showing that they were the subjects
of a divine curse.
However, it is quite possible to
explain the text exactly as it is, as a reflection of the social
custom which we have been considering above. To begin with, there
may have been a reason for Ham's behaviour, other than mere disrespectfulness.
Without becoming involved in the
technicalities of genetics, it is possible that Ham may himself
have been a mulatto. in fact, his name means "dark"
and perhaps refers to the colour of his skin. This condition
may have been derived through his mother, Noah's wife, and if
we suppose that Ham had himself married a mulatto woman, it is
possible to account for the preservation of the negroid stock
over the disaster of the Flood. (2) It seems most likely that Ham had seen the darkness
of his mother's body, for example when being nursed. But he may
never have seen the whiteness of his father's body.
When Charles Darwin visited the
Tierra del Fuegans during the Voyage of the Beagle, he remarks
how interested the natives were in the colour of his skin. Naturally
his face and his hands were bronzed by exposure to the weather
after the long voyage, but when he rolled up a sleeve and bared
his arm, to use his own words, "they expressed the liveliest
surprise and admiration at its whiteness."
2. See Chapter 2.
3. The Darwin Reader, Scribners, New York, 1956, extract
dated as of Dec. 17, 1832, paragraph 10.
same may have been true in the case of Ham and his father. His
own body and that of Noah's wife being quite dark, he may have
gone away reflecting upon the difference and forgetting his filial
duty. In fact, this could conceivably be the reason he went to
tell his brothers, for he may have supposed that they would be
as surprised at this discovery as he was himself.
If this was the case, it may be
argued that this was a small offense to receive such a pronounced
judgment. But it is not at all certain that the form of the curse
was as severe as it appears to be. That his posterity were to
be servants, yes -- but the Hebrew can just as readily be translated
"servants par excellence." This actually is more likely,
for we have in Hebrew plenty of instances of the superlatively
excellent expressed in this manner, involving the reduplication
of the key word as "Holy of holies," "Lord of
Lords," etc. But where we find in Hebrew a comparable phrase
in which the author is referring to that which is superlatively
base (as in Daniel 4:17), the Hebrew uses an entirely different
form of construction. In other words, wherever Hebrew employs
a reduplication of a word, the concept intended is one of "excellence,"
much as in English we may say "very, very good." But
while we may also say "very, very bad," the Hebrew
evidently does not adopt this, but depends upon another form
of construction. In short, what we are saying is that the phrase
''servant of servants" may have meant that his descendants
would perform a great service to their brethren. The judgment,
in so far as it was a judgment, lies in the fact that they rendered
this service to others and bcnefitted little themselves.
However, the point is not essential
to this essay, and in any case, it is the subject of two extended
studies appearing as other Doorway Papers. (5) What is important to note is that Noah could not
pronounce judgment of any kind upon his own son, Ham, the actual
offender, without passing judgment upon himself, for society
held him, the father, responsible for his son's behaviour.
4. Compare: God of Gods (Daniel 2:47); Holy
of Holies (Hebrews 9:3); King of Kings (Revelation 19:16); Heaven
of Heavens (Nehemiah 9:6); Hebrew of Hebrews (Philippians 3:5);
Lord of Lords (Revelation 19:16); Song of Songs (Song of Solomon
1:1); Age of Ages (Ephesians 3:21). Note: the references in the
New Testament are either quotations from the Old Testament, or
are Hebrew thoughts expressed in Greek. In any case, it is clear
that the highest, not the lowest, is intended by the writer.
5. Custance, Arthur, Part
I, "The Part Played by Shem, Ham and Japheth in Subsequent
World History" and Part
IV, "The Technology of the Hamitic People", both
in Noah's Three Sons: History in Three Dimensions, vol.1
in The Doorway Papers Series.
To punish Ham, then, he
must of necessity pronounce a curse upon Canaan, Ham's son.
On the other hand, when it came
to blessing, the situation was very different. In pronouncing
a benediction upon Shem and Japheth, he was, in fact, doing himself
an honour! Such is human nature - and such is probably the explanation
of this otherwise puzzling incident.
Was Cannan a True Black ?
LIKE SOME other
parts of this Paper, this appendix is also speculative. As long
as this is clearly understood, no harm will be done, provided
the speculation is not divorced entirely from the evidence. The
general title of these Doorway Papers was intended to suggest
that they could provide room for new approaches to old problems.
No one has ever suggested, to my
knowledge, that the Sumerians were negroid -- nor do any of the
reconstructed "Sumerian Life and Times" series such
as have appeared in the National Geographical Magazine,
or Life, ever so portray them. Yet there is some evidence
to suggest that they may have been black skinned.
According to Samuel Kramer (From
the Tablets of Sumer, Falcon's Wing Press, 1956, p.60), they
refer to themselves as "the blackheaded people." Actually
the Sumerian original reads "head-of-black people,"
the symbol for head (SAG) being a cone shaped hat hiding all
but the neck of the wearer, thus:
which turned through
A-NA SALMAT GAGGADIM
Hammurabi in his famous Code of Laws, also refers to the
natives of Mesopotamia (Deimel's transcription, 1930, R. 94,
line 11) as:
i.e., "blackheaded ones."
phrases are, I think usually taken to mean
But it seems likely that 95% or more of all the people who made
up the early Middle East cultures were black-haired, whether
Semitic or Sumerian, and the feature was hardly a distinguishing
one. lndo-Europeans (from Japheth, whose name possibly means
"fair") played little part in it till much later. But
the Semitic population according to A. H. Sayce (Fresh Light
from the Ancient Monuments, London, 1893, p.26) distinguished
themselves with racial pride from other peoples by their own
light coloured skin, and claimed that Adam too was a white man.
They were his racial descendants. Yet they had black hair like
the Sumerians and would not be different in this feature, and
might therefore just as well have been termed ''blackheaded people."
But they apparently never were.
GIM-RI SAL-MAT KAKKAD-DIJ-U
Evidently, then, it would
be no mark of distinction to refer to the hair colour, but it
would definitely be such to refer to skin colour. And the Sumerians
were apparently proud of their black skin. In his Sumerian
Reader, Gadd says they came to equate the term "blackheaded
people" with the idea of "men" as real people
by contrast with other human beings who are not really men at
It is further to be noted that
the founders of the wonderful Indus Valley cultures were black
skinned, and not merely black haired. The Rig Veda makes frequent
reference to the fact that the conquering Aryans triumphed over
these black and noseless (!) enemies (S. Pigott, Prehistoric
India, Pelican, l950, p.261, and Lord Arundell of Wardour,
Tradition: Mythology, and the Law of Nations, 1872, p.84).
But there was some real connection if not racial identity, between
the Sumerians and these Indus Valley people. It may well be therefore
that the phrase does really refer to skin colour.
Now in the famous six sided prism
of Sennacherib, the king refers to the conquered Canaanites as
"blackness of head people."
In this case
it seems that Canaan could have been a black child, the homozygous
offspring of his mulatto parents, Ham and his wife. The black
people have a quite remarkable series of high cultures to their
credit, and are almost born metallurgists. So were these ancient
Copyright © 1988 Evelyn White. All rights
End of Part III * Next Chapter (Part IV)