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When Noah said in Gen 9:25:

"A curse on the Canaanites, a servant of servants shall he be to his brethren"

The first servant in the statement is clearly Canaan. Who are the other servants?

Is it exegetically sound to identify the other servants as the remaining Hamites Namely:

  • Cush (Black skinned people)

  • Mizraim (Egyptians and related brown skinned peoples in India, South asia and the Americas)

  • Phut (Berbers and other North African races).

In the words of Alfred Edersheim in his book Bible history, Old testament:

....But, in the words of the patriarch, the curse lights specially upon Canaan, the son of Ham, not to the exclusion of his other sons

So that is my question. Who are the other servants being referred to in Gen 9:25?

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  • I've always taken it to mean he will serve everybody. He will be the servant of servants and never rise again to be among people of consequence.
    – Nigel J
    Nov 18 '17 at 0:59
  • It's indeed a complicated prophecy. The people of Tyre were consequential despite the curse because they built the first temple in Jerusalem!! Tyre was very rich despite the curse and the subjugation of their canaanite brethren in Palestine.
    – user20490
    Nov 18 '17 at 1:01
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    Is it exegetically sound to identify the other servants - No. It isn't. Servant of servants, like song of songs, etc. is a superlative. Egyptians in particular have never been enslaved by anyone prior to being conquered by Rome a few decades before the Christian era. Until this day, the Copts are free in their own country. Canaan is the biblical ancestor of the Canaanites, which dwelt in the land of Canaan, conquered by the Israelites (hence the relevance of this episode to the subsequent story, narrated in the other books of the Pentateuch).
    – Lucian
    Nov 18 '17 at 1:46
  • You need to indicate what translation you are citing for Genesis 9:15. This translation is in error. The verse does not say "Canaanites". It says "Canaan".
    – user17080
    Dec 30 '17 at 22:40
  • You should put the "Hebrew" tag back. This question is in fact about a form of Hebrew expression that has been over-literally translated, such that the English reader mistakenly thinks that the verse refers to other servants.
    – user17080
    Dec 30 '17 at 22:44
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There are no other servants in Genesis 9:25.

The phrase "servant of servants" is an example of one of several forms of emphasis in OT Hebrew. This type of emphatic form is constructed by doubling a noun or verb root. The intent in Genesis 9:25 is to say, the lowliest of servants, the ultimate OT Hebrew pejorative.

Other verses using this emphatic form, with the MT Hebrew, are:

  1. "Ecclesiastes 1:2, NIV: "Meaningless! Meaningless!" says the Teacher. "Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless.", חבל חבלים
  2. Isaiah 34:10, NIV: "It will not be quenched night or day; its smoke will rise forever. From generation to generation it will lie desolate; no one will ever pass through it again", נצח נצחים
  3. Psalms 43:4, NIV:"Then I will go to the altar of God, to God, my joy and my delight. I will praise you with the lyre, O God, my God", אלהים אלהי
  4. Song of Songs 1:1, NIV: "Solomon's Song of Songs", שיר השירים
  5. Genesis 2:17, "but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.", מות תמות
  6. Genesis 37:33 NIV, He recognized it and said, "It is my son's robe! Some ferocious animal has devoured him. Joseph has surely been torn to pieces.", טרף טרף
  7. Exodus 30:10, NIV: "Once a year Aaron shall make atonement on its horns. This annual atonement must be made with the blood of the atoning sin offering for the generations to come. It is most holy to the LORD.", קודש קודשים
  8. Leviticus 25:4, NIV: "But in the seventh year the land is to have a year of sabbath rest, a sabbath to the LORD. Do not sow your fields or prune your vineyards.", שבת שבתון

Note that in some instances the translators choose to translate the Hebrew expression word-for-word, as in "Song of Songs" or "servant of servants", but in most instances most translators use what they believe to be the closest English expression, in which case you might not be aware of the underlying doubled-root form of the expression.

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עֶ֥בֶד עֲבָדִ֖ים abad abadim

"A servant of servants."

Meaning: an extremely lowly or humbled person.


This is a Biblical Hebrew equivalent to a superlative (which they don't technically have, but create using this construct—e.g. 'Song of Songs': meaning, essentially, 'the most [sublime] of Songs' or 'A Song par Excellence').

As such "servants" has no referents—the plural "servants" is part of a linguistic construct to create a superlative, or something similar.


A related form of superlative you may also recognize from Luke chapter 1: εὐλογημένη σὺ ἐν γυναιξίν (blessed [are] you among women).

We are so used to hearing these kinds of Hebraisms from the Bible (even this Greek is a Grecanized version of the original Hebrew) that we don't realize that even though we detect it is meant to be superlative, in English, it only denotes being one of many blessed women, not 'the most blessed of all women'—the meaning of this superlative.


Analogically, we might relate to this better if we think of English phrases like 'the Bible is the book of [all] books.' Because we deem it the most important, for example.

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