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Genesis 9:23-25 NLT, reads,

Then Shem and Japheth took a robe, held it over their shoulders, and backed into the tent to cover their father. As they did this, they looked the other way so they would not see him naked. When Noah woke up from his stupor, he learned what Ham, his youngest son, had done. Then he cursed Canaan, the son of Ham: “May Canaan be cursed! May he be the lowest of servants to his relatives.”

He couldn't be that bashful. What's going on here?

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Are you asking "why curse" or "why curse Canaan (and not Ham)"? –  Gone Quiet Jan 12 '12 at 15:14

7 Answers 7

up vote 10 down vote accepted

On why Canaan and not Cham, I asked on Mi Yodeya and among the possibilities suggested in this answer is that God had already blessed Noach's sons and you can't counter a blessing with a curse. So even if Noach had intended to curse Cham, he couldn't and went for his son instead.

(There are other opinions there too, but that's the only one so far that comes clearly from a straight reading of the text without extra sources that might not be as accepted on BH.SE.)

On why a curse was called for at all, as Lance's answer points out, references to nakedness in torah often have a sexual aspect. This wasn't about "catching a glimpse" in an innocent setting; something more significant happened. Rashi, citing tractate Sanhedrin (70a) in the talmud, says that Cham either sodomized or castrated Noach. (See also Rashi on Gen 9:25, citing Genesis Rabbah.)


Please note: This answer was written for a neutral, academic audience and is not intended to be interpreted in the context of a religious belief or doctrine.

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Well modesty does mean much more in the Bible than what it means in our modern culture, but the best view I've seen is the maternal incest idea.

  • "Uncover Nakedness" is used in Leviticus to describe heterosexual incest
  • the "nakedness of the father" is identified with the "nakedness of your mother" (Lev 18:7-8)
  • If this is about Ham's incestuous sex with his mother, the emphasis on Canaan comes clear. Canaan would have been the product of the incestuous union. That is why Canaan is cursed, and why the text consistently identifies Ham as the "father of Canaan." It is suggested that the narrative has been compressed, and that the curse was actually pronounced at Canaan's birth rather that immediately after the incest.
  • This view highlights better the connection of Genesis 9 with Genesis 6, 19, Leviticus 18, 20 and Dueteronomy 23:1, 27:30, and the maternal incest of Reuben. It shows that the chief enemies of Israel - Canann, Moab and Ammon - are all of questionable heritage.
  • It preserves the idea that has been brought forth that this was an attempted seizure of Noah's authority, quoting a 1971 article from FW Basset: "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 seen also as an effort to supplant the man himself." Note the connection with Absalom, Reuben, David's taking of Saul's wives, and Adonijah's attempt to have Abishag.
  • It was noted by Bergsma & Hahn that "the tent" in v.21 "appears to have the feminine possessive suffix" though "the MT points the word according to the qere," i.e., as "his tent". "Thus, one might read the text as saying that Noah entered "her tent," the tent of Mrs Noah.

The first link has more explanation, and is where the unattributed quotes are derived.

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This is a very interesting question, because the 'Curse of Canaan' passes all the way from Genesis 9 to Zech. 14:21

,"Yes, every pot shall be holiness unto the Lord of hosts: and all they that sacrifice shall come and take of them, and seethe therein: and in that day there shall be no more the Canaanite in the house of the Lord of hosts."

This clearly goes beyond the Num. 14:18 timeline of

"...no means clearing the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the 3rd and 4th generation."

Ham, in spite of his transgression, was blessed becaused God had blessed him

,"And God blessed Noah and his sons..."(Gen. 9:1)

therefore, Noah could not undo what God had already done. Yet Canaan, though as of this time had committed no transgression, is made to 'pay' for the sin of his father-and it lasts for eternity!

I believe it goes beyond the scope of the text to 'assume sexual immorality', although Canaanites were abounding in this sin-the Ashtorath and Baal worship involved going into the prostitutes to obtain favors: Hos. 4:13-14 spells out this practice.

At the heart of issue was 'seeing his father's nakedness, and told his 2 brothers'(vs 22). The response of the brothers tells us of the severity of Ham's transgression, for even though there was no commandment "Thou shall honor thy father and thy mother", they with their action DID honor their father, and not repeat the sin of Ham.

I do believe we must search other references to Canaan to understand the truth: we find such a reference in the Book of Jubilees. Just as in the Book of Enoch, it is not 'canonical', yet certain passages are taken directly out of it in Scripture.

In Jubilees 10:30 it talks about sedition, in which Canaan is warned by Ham his father, and Mizraim and Cush his brothers

,"Thou hast settled into a land which is not thine, and which did not fall to us by lot: do not do so(take the land by force): for if thou dost do so, thou and thy sons will fall in the land and be accursed through sedition; for by sedition ye have settled, and by sedition ye will fall, and be rooted out forever."

This of course explains why God rightly and properly gave the land of Canaan to Israel-it was never theirs in the 1st place; and also it explains the current struggle with the Palestinians, who through sedition, have attempted to overthrow the the King of Jordan, and were expelled, attempted to overthow Lebanon, until they were expelled in the '80's, attempted to take over Tunisia until 'asked to leave' in the '90's', and of course, no one remembers the Muslim Brotherhood which spawned Hamas, assassinating Sadat, and attempting to overthow the Egyptian government until put down by Mubarak in '81, in which Hamas was exiled from Egypt.

The sin of Canaan was that he dishonored his father, along with grandfather Noah, and took land not belonging to him, creating emnity and conflict which carries through to this very day.

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I'm having trouble understanding the relevance of the Palestinian conflict(s) to this question. I haven't downvoted or anything nor am I implying the presence of this information is bad or anything, I'm just trying to follow the logic as it seems to be an interruption of the flow of the answer rather than part of it. –  maj nem ɪz dæn Feb 5 at 2:57
    
@Daи-The Caananites, the declared 'ancestors' of the Palestinians,"Our forefathers, the Canaanites and Jebusites," declared Yasser Arafat, chairman of the Palestinian Liberation Organization and president of the Palestinian Authority, "built the cities and planted the land; they built the monumental city of Bir Salim [Jerusalem] . . ." His trusted confidant and advisor, Faisal Husseini, agreed. "First of all," he said, "I am a Palestinian. I am a descendant of the Jebusites, the ones who came before King David". Yet the curse of Caanan is illustrated by this 'self-proclaimed' Caananite. –  user2479 Feb 6 at 2:18
    
@Daи(cont.) The history of Fatah, PLO, and Hamas is well documented, and follows the pattern set out in Jubilees 10:30. Interestingly, one presidential candidate, Newt Gingrich, who is also a history professor, commented that "The Palestinians are an Invented People", in a national televised debate which I watched. After their collective jaws closed, the announcers asked the other candidates,"Do you agree with this?" All said they did. Of course, the best argument the media has is, "Even if it is true, it shouldn't stop the peace process..." –  user2479 Feb 6 at 2:26
    
wow, I never knew that. Thanks for sharing! +1 btw –  maj nem ɪz dæn Feb 6 at 4:20

* Their faces were turned the other way so that they would not see their father naked*. Is it not obvious that the Sin here was, looking at Noah's naked body.! Not Sodomy, not castration or any other wicked thought... We all know from experience, or should know, that it is not right to look on ones parents naked bodies..! Some may say 'How can Canaan looking on his father nakedness warrant such a curse'? Remember all the sin, death and suffering in the World and eternal suffering, came from eating a fruit from a tree. What may seem like an inappropriate punishment to many, namely Canaan's curse, is indicative of our seared consciences, not of Gods meet Justice!

It is not wise to judge God by our standards of conscience and it is a hideous injustice to Gods justice, to invent scenarios (castration sexual misconduct etc) that would, in our eyes, justify Gods and Noah's action in cursing Canaan! If seeing ones father naked warrants a curse, then we should look to God for righteousness and not our own perverted imaginations..!

If it was not sin to look at ones naked father, why did they walk backwards so that they "would not see their father naked"! That was the sin.."Ham, the father of Canaan, saw his father naked and told his two brothers outside"

Sometimes truth is very clear, but we invent many imaginations, to satisfy our own sense of justice..."let God be found true and every man a liar..!"

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This answer does not address why the curse was directed at Canaan instead of Ham. (Remember, the proper way to update an answer is with an edit, not comments explaining what you meant.) –  Gone Quiet Dec 3 '13 at 13:40

THE GENESIS CHAPTER NINE NOAH--HAM--CANAAN MYSTERY

I vote for Ham having a child with his mother named Canaan. Canaan would have been the assumed child of Noah and his wife and thus Gen 9 v18 and v22 point out that Ham was the father of Canaan. Gen 9 v25 says Canaan shall be a servant of servants unto his BRETHREN, NAMELY v26 SHEM and v27 JAPHETH. If Canaan was the child of Ham and his wife then Shem and Japheth would be his uncles and not his brothers. But they are all 3 brothers if they all have at least one parent in common and in this case it is Noah’s wife and not Noah. Canaan means humiliated according to Strong’s. Can you see why, now?? Lev 20 v11 and Lev 18 v7,8 help to explain this matter. Lev 20 v11 "And the man that lieth with his father's wife hath uncovered his father's nakedness: both of them shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them." Lev 18 v7,8 "The nakedness of thy father, or the nakedness of thy mother, shalt thou not uncover: she is thy mother; thou shalt not uncover her nakedness." The nakedness of thy father's wife shalt thou not uncover: it is thy father's nakedness." I think that Noah was also nude and his good sons did cover him but the real story here is about Ham and Noah’s wife and their offspring Canaan. Many people seem to be confused about the birth order of Noah's sons. Gen 5 v32 shows Shem is the firstborn (oldest) son , Ham is the younger son, and Japheth is the youngest son. In Gen 9 v24 Noah knew that his younger son (Ham) was the villain in this matter. I know that some other translations use the word youngest but I strongly think they are wrong due to the facts in this matter. How do you think Noah knew what happened? I think his wife told him, and if not, he could later see that she was with child. I think that there is a long time gap in this story between Gen 9 v24 and v25. Gen9 v28 says Noah lived 350 years after the flood and what v25 thru v27 states is in effect Noah's last will and testament. Now prior to this will and to the matter under discussion don't you think Noah had a will leaving everything to his 3 sons. As I have read the oldest son usually got an extra share. But in this will one son is not even mentioned at all! HAM is out of Noah's last will and testament. In Gen 9 v25-v27 Shem as the oldest son is mentioned first, Ham the second son is not mentioned at all and gets NOTHING, and Japheth ( the third son) gets his share and seems to be in a partnership with Shem. Now the big question; why is Canaan mentioned at all???? We have already seen that the Bible states twice that Ham is the father of Canaan. If you think that Canaan was the child of Ham and Ham's wife, you might say he is in the will because Ham is not in the will. That would beg the question; if that is true why were Ham's other sons not mentioned in the will?? Gen 10 v6 shows Ham had 3 other sons and Canaan was the youngest and last son.
Well Canaan is in the will and he gets a job for life as a servant to his half-brothers and food and lodging and an extended family. By the way I do not think Ham and his wife had any input to the naming of Canaan. Would you name your son "HUMILIATED"? That's what "Canaan" means. I would think that Noah and his wife agreed on that name. The only reason Canaan was in the will was that Noah's wife was Canaan's mother and Canaan was just a victim in this sad matter of depravity on Ham's part. Noah was not entirely innocent by getting falling down drunk but if you cannot trust your own sons who can you trust? Noah's wife's part is not discernable as to guilt or innocence due to lack of details of her part. I also note that Ham had no more children after Canaan. I wonder if Noah and or his sons arranged that result????

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Noah cursed Canaan because he was the product of Ham taking Noah's wife while he was passed out. Noah's wife doesn't seem to be the mother of Shem, Ham and Japheth. The names of Lamech's wives are revealed to us, even the name of Tubal-cain's sister, but the name of Noah's wife, our common mother, is not revealed. Moses did not name his own second wife, the Cushite woman, so it follows he wouldn't name Noah's second wife.

They all probably got drunk. Noah, uninhibited by the wine, desiring to fulfill the cultural mandate disrobed his wife and himself but passed out before following through. His new wife, desperate for a child, accepted Ham as a willing substitute.

The tent is already a covering, but Shem and Japheth alert Dad by covering him with Ham's garment (the fig leaf) so they don't have to confront him with the bad news in the morning.

Look, it doesn't take two to cover Dad, they were covering their young step-mother.

Noah, a son of God, took Naamah, a daughter of men, onto the ark which produced, by incest, the Canaanites who manifested gigantism later on the occasion of further incest. Genesis 6 David and Goliath fulfill Genesis 3:15

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Welcome to Biblical Hermeneutics Stack Exchange! Be sure to take our site tour to learn more about us. We're a little different from other sites. I'm having a little trouble following your logic here, please show your work for how you've come to these conclusions. Don't just tell us what you know, tell us how you know it (I'm presuming this is why someone may have downvoted this, but I'm not sure). –  maj nem ɪz dæn Feb 5 at 2:45
    
Welcome to BH-SE! I encourage you to fill out your profile page so folks can get to know you. Your user name automatically posts at the bottom of your questions/answers and links to your profile page. Please also read through the pages of the "help" drop down box on the top right of this page. This will assist you in acclimating to the unique characteristics of the forum. Also, to assist you, there is a "?" icon to the right of answer boxes, a help link at the bottom right of the comment boxes. Finally, on the "Ask a Question" page, there is an help box to the right. Again, welcome! –  Sarah Feb 14 at 21:52

There's no mention of Noah's wife being in the tent, moreover the punishment for the crime is probably an indicator of the nature of the crime, which is Covenant Succession. Noah was God's representative, achieving the role of judge which was intended for Adam. He was given the authority to execute murderers as a Covenant Sanction, and so was also in authority to give Covenant blessings, as we see in the Covenant line from here on. Later in Genesis, Covenant Succession is given by an oath communicated by putting one's hand under the thigh of the one giving the blessing. Many believe this entailed touching the testicles of the executor, identifying with his proven fruitfulness - the father passing his fertility onto the son. The Covenant curses in Genesis 3 concerned barrenness of the Land and the womb. The promises to Abraham concerned a reversal of the barrenness of the Land (Canaan, named after Noah's youngest son) and the womb. Since a euphemism is used for this practice, it is likely that Canaan found his father in a deep sleep (like Adam or Abraham) and attempted to steal the rights of the firstborn by touching his father's genitals. This would correspond to the fruit in the Garden of Eden. Genesis is, after all, a book about seed, flesh and skin.

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Where do you get the idea that this kind of covenant could be made without the active involvement of both parties? I'm not aware of anything that says that just touching someone else's privates does anything; if it did, then how do you explain most of Lev 20? –  Gone Quiet Nov 5 '13 at 3:19
    
@GoneQuiet Thanks M. That's the point. Ham was a thief in the night. And the structure of the narrative must be taken into account, which just about nobody does. :) bit.ly/1gnPTPg –  Mike Bull Nov 5 '13 at 7:33
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Mike, if you have support for what you say, edit it into your answer. But you've missed my point: Cham couldn't steal this from Noach because Noach wasn't a participant; just touching him doesn't do anything. There is no theft, only at best a delusion that this could be stolen. Also note that (a) this gesture is used for non-birthright oaths (Avraham and Eliezer) and is not used when birthright is redirected (e.g. when Yaakov displaces Reuven and elevates Yosef). –  Gone Quiet Nov 5 '13 at 14:13
    
@GoneQuiet That would be the reason Noah didn't say to Japheth, "Sorry son, but I've already given the inheritance to your brother." So yes, it was a delusion, as was Adam's theft of fruitfulness. Again, the passage itself is structured according to all the biblical covenants, indicating Ham was after an unmerited inheritance. –  Mike Bull Nov 6 '13 at 8:39

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