Table of Contents
Part I: The Part Played by Shem, Ham,
and Japheth in Subsequent World History
HISTORY IN CAMEO
And Noah woke from his wine,
and learned 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.
statement is the climax of an incident which really begins in
verse 20. Noah cultivated grapes for the first time and drank
himself into a drunken stupor. In this condition he exposed his
nakedness as he slept and was seen by Ham as he lay uncovered.
The young man for some reason omitted to cover his father's nakedness
as he should have done, but went and reported it to his two brothers,
Shem and Japheth. The latter discreetly averting their gaze,
respectfully covered the old man's nakedness. When Noah awoke,
he soon found out what had taken place, and undoubtedly under
inspiration � yet inspiration which did not ignore Noah's
own mental attitudes � pronounced judgment upon the offender
and blessing upon the others.
1 of 4
It has always been a matter of
controversy as to why Canaan rather than Ham shoud have been
cursed. Canaan was Ham's son, and was therefore grandson to Noah.
Some people have supposed that the narme Canaan was substituted
for Ham by Jewish scribes who had particularly strong feelings
against this branch of Ham's farmily. Evidence for this is believed
to be provided by some manuscripts of the Septuagint version
and the Arabic versions, which have the words "Ham, the
father of Canaan" instead of the word "Canaan"
is another explanation which seems to me more probable, and which
if it is true, means that Noah really was cursing Ham. It is
a common social custom among many primitive people to attribute
the greatness of a son to the father, who then receives the honour
for having raised such a worthy child. This is clearly reflected
in Scripture where Saul seeks to honour David after the slaying
of Goliath. He asks his general whose son the lad is (1 Samuel
17:55). This has always seemed to mean that he did not recognize
David, which would seem very strange in view of David's close
associations with him. Undoubtedly Saul knew David well enough,
but evidently he did not know who his father was. It was his
father he was seeking to honour according to social custom. Also,
a woman could not bless a worthy son's father, but she could
bless his mother thereby giving personal witness to his worthiness.
This seems to be the background of the woman's observation in
A man in blessing his own son was
in fact blessing himself. This was true when Noah blessed Shem
and Japheth. By the same token, however, if he had cursed Ham,
the real offender, he would at the same time have been cursing
himself. Quite logically, he could only pass judgment upon Ham
by cursing Ham's own son, which is what he therefore did.
Nevertheless, the curse which he
pronounced for what seems really so mild an offense, was not
perhaps as severe as we have made it out to be. It may be less
honourable to be a servant than to be a master, though the Lord
Jesus suggested that the opposite may really be the case. Yet
it is true that the servant is not above his master, and in this
sense may find himself in a less desirable position. In the case
of Ham and his descendants history shows that they have rendered
an extraordinary service to mankind from the point of view of
the physical developments of civilization. All the earliest civilizations
of note were founded and carried to their highest technical proficiency
by Hamitic people. There is scarcely a basic technological
invention which must not be attributed to them. As we shall show
later, neither Shem nor Japheth made any significant contribution
to the fundamental technology of civilization, in spite of all
appearances to the contrary. This is a bold statement but it
is not made in ignorance of the facts.
The phrase "servant of servants"
does not normally (if ever) mean basest of servants but servant
par excellence. The form of the phrase is common in Hebrew
literature and always means that
which is highest: Lord
of Lords, Song of Songs, Holy of Holies, and so forth. I think
the judgment was not so much that they were to render such outstanding
service to their brethren, but rather that they were to profit
so little by it themselves. Japheth has been enlarged and most
of this enlargement has been not only at the expense of Ham but
because of a technical superiority which has resulted directly
from building upon the basic foundation provided by the latter.
There is historically little or no indication that Japheth would
have achieved the technical superiority which he has if he had
been left to his own devices.
The blessing of Shem was
tied in a peculiar way to a covenant relationship with God, as
indicated by the use of the extended term "Lord God",
which is a covenant title. However, by inspiration Noah was able
to foretell that this covenant relationship would in some way
be interrupted � so that Japheth would one day assume the
responsibility which had been divinely appointed to Shem, adding
this responsibility to one already apportioned.
Thus it has come about that the pioneering task of opening up
the world, subduing it, and rendering it habitable, was first
undertaken by the descendants of Ham. This seems to have been
done under divine pressure,(15) for in a remarkably short time the children of Ham
had established beachheads of settlement in every part of the
Centuries later, spreading at a
rnore leisurely rate, Japheth settled slowly into the areas already
opened up by Ham, in almost every case adopting the solutions,
suited to local survival, which the predecessors had already
worked out. Yet in all cases Japheth took with him a certain
philosophizing tendency which acted to modify the somewhat materialistic
culture which he was inheriting. In a few cases, as in the Indus
Valley, Japheth alrnost obliterated the high civilization which
Ham had established.
In the providence of God the Semitic
people, represented in Israel, remained at the centre until their
16. The Hebrew of Genesis 11:9 is very forceful.
The word "scattered" has almost the meaning of "splattered".
It implies violence. Hebrew tradition has it that it was only
the family of Ham which was involved in the tower incident and
the judgment which followed. This concords well with history,
for neither Shem nor Japheth were scattered at this time, nor
did either of them even have a word for "city" of their
own. They were not disposed to city-building. On this point see
Robert Eisler, "Loan Words in Semitic Languages Meaning
'Town'," Antiquity, Dec., 1939, No.52, p.449. In
spite of the title of his paper, he is concerned with the Indo-Europeans
spiritual education had
reached a certain point. They were then scattered among the nations
and carried with them their pure monotheistic faith. But when
they should have received their King, they failed to recognize
Him, and their particular Kingdom was taken from them and the
responsibility of its administration given to Japheth instead.
The enlargement of Japheth has
continued to this day, an enlargement greatly accelerated geographically
in the last few centuries �- frequently at the expense of
the Hamites who first possessed the land. To a great extent this
power of expansion at the expense of others has resulted frorn
a far superior technology. However, this was not the consequence
of any superior inventive genius on Japheth's part. It is rather
that Japhethites have looked upon man's relationship to Nature
as a "Me-it" relationship rather than an "I-Thou"
relationship. This has permitted � indeed encouraged �
experiment and exploitation in a way that never seems to have
occurrecd to the Hamites. It has brought an unbelievable enlargement
of man's power and control over the forces of Nature.
This "enlargement" has also brought its own undesirable
consequences. Perhaps this is because the spiritual responsibility
taken over from Shem has never been completely undertaken by
Japheth who received the commission. If Shem should be restored
once more to the spiritual leadership of the nations, it may
be that the service rendered by the family of Ham and its extension
by Japheth will usher in a golden age of unbelievable promise.
This is all
gross over-simplification. But it presents the picture in readily
conceivable form. It remains to fill in sufficient detail to
demonstrate that this view of history does have some concordance
with the facts.
Copyright © 1988 Evelyn White. All rights
Previous Chapter Next