Why did Noah curse Canaan?

+61 votes
asked Jun 3, 2015 in Culture & Society by KeenanCarlto (360 points)
If I understand correctly, Ham saw his father’s nakedness and did wicked, and Noah cursed Ham’s son, Canaan, but only Canaan. Surely he would curse Ham, or all of Ham’s sons. Why did Noah only curse Canaan?

2 Answers

+13 votes
answered Aug 16, 2015 by SVDNicolas5 (400 points)

Why did Noah curse Canaan? In order to explain it, I need to reiterate the story itself.

In Genesis 9, it says that Ham, Canaan’s father saw Noah’s nudity, and Noah cursed Canaan as a consequence. Then Canaan proceeded to lead the Canaanites, Israel’s enduring adversaries.

On the surface, the story seems whimsical, unlike the more believable history in the book of Genesis. So let’s take a closer look. An often-used biblical rhetorical expression is used throughout Canaan’s tale, and the significance of the story becomes compelling when reread by Christians with a clear understanding of this phrase and its meaning.

Ancient Hebrew uses the phrase “a man’s nakedness” to infer sexual intercourse with his wife. As Moses stated in Leviticus 20:11,

“And the man that lieth with his father's wife—he hath uncovered his father's nakedness—both of them shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them.”

Canaan was cursed because he was created in an act of incest. The story reminds its readers that Canaan’s father is Ham, not Noah. Noah’s curse on Canaan was not anger or an evil spell, but rather acknowledgment of cause and effect. Canaan’s unfortunate circumstances act as a cautionary tale to warn others against repeating Ham’s mistake of “seeing his father’s nakedness”, which is to say, conceiving a child in incest. Then Genesis proceeds to present the foundation of the conflict concerning the Canaanites and the Jews.



+4 votes
answered Jul 7, 2015 by KarolinMckni (360 points)

Modesty is much more meaningful in the Bible than in our modern culture, but the best interpretation I’ve seen is that Canaan was conceived in maternal incest.

  • To “uncover nakedness” is a euphemism in Leviticus for heterosexual incest.
  • The “nakedness of the father” is related to the “nakedness of the mother” (Lev 18:7-8)
  • If the question is in reference to Ham’s incestuous sex with his mother, the importance of Canaan in the story is more obvious. Canaan was the product of an incestuous union. This is why the text repeatedly refers to Ham as the “father of Canaan”, and why Canaan is cursed. It has been suggested that the narrative was compressed over time, and the curse was actually manifested on the day of Canaan’s birth rather than directly after conception.
  • This interpretation better emphasizes the connection of Genesis 9 and Genesis 6, 19, Leviticus, 18, 20, and Deuteronomy 23:1, 27:30, and the Reuben’s maternal incest. It indicates that the chief rivals of Israel – Canaan, Ammon, and Moab – are all of problematic heritage.
  • This interpretation also preserves the idea that this was an attempt to seize Noah’s authority. According to a FW Basset article from 1971: “A son who has sexual relations with his mother or step-mother commits a rebellious act against his father, since the possession of a man’s wife is also seen as an effort to supplant the man himself.” It’s notable that this also connects to Absalom, Reuben, Adonijah’s effort to have Abishag, and David’s taking of Saul’s wives.
  • Bergsma & Hahn noted that “the tent” in v.21 seems to “have the feminine possessive suffix” although “the MT points to the word according to the genre,” i.e., as “his tent”. Therefore, one could interpret the text as stating that Noah entered “her tent”, referring to the tent of Mrs. Noah.
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