Now for something light. It comes from a book by two professors at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Avigdor Shinan and Yair Zakovitch, titled From Gods to God: How the Hebrew Bible Debunked, Suppressed, or Changed Ancient Myths & Legends, published 2004 by the Jewish Publication Society. Chapter 14 explores the curious episode that led a hungover Noah to curse Canaan, the fourth son of Ham.
We know the story in all its vagueness. After the flood Noah became the first in the new world order to plant a vineyard, to make wine, and to get blind drunk. We read that while drunk the good saint
was uncovered in his tent. And Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness 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. (Gen. 9:22-23)
So we are being told that there is something so terrible about seeing one’s father naked that it needs to be recorded in the Bible for all posterity to read.
But look at the punishment that follows:
And Noah awoke from his wine, and knew what his younger son had done unto him.
And he said, Cursed be Ham Canaan; a servant of servants shall he be unto his brethren. . . . (9:24-25)
I added and crossed out Ham there to draw attention to the bizarre detail that it was not Ham, Noah’s younger son who saw him naked, who is cursed, but Ham’s son. And not just any son, but his fourth son:
And the sons of Ham: Cush, and Mizraim, and Phut, and Canaan. (Gen. 10:6)
The mystery thickens.
Now many of us savvy sophisticates know that when the Bible speaks of “seeing the nakedness” of someone it is euphemism for having sex. Leviticus 20:17 leaves no doubt:
If a man takes his sister, his father’s daughter or his mother’s daughter, and sees her nakedness and she sees his nakedness, it is a wicked thing. And they shall be cut off in the sight of their people. He has uncovered his sister’s nakedness. He shall bear his guilt.
So this makes a bit more sense than Ham merely peeping at his naked father. Noah did, after all, know what Ham had “done unto him”. That’s a bit stronger than having a peek.
But that still doesn’t explain everything. Why did Noah curse Canaan, Ham’s fourth son?