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?


8 Answers 8


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.

  • 1
    While this answer makes a strong thematic link revolving around the word 'nakedness', it doesn't really address significant points in the narration that at least seem to suggest something happened to Noah, not his wife. Namely: (1) the text specifies that Noah (not his wife) passed out naked, (2) Ham tells his brothers about Noah laying naked, (3) Ham's brothers physically avert their eyes and cover up Noah, (4) Noah knew Ham did something to him (not his wife). I'd like to possibly see this answer expanded to show how these points are addressed in this particular interpretation.
    – user2910
    Commented Jan 18, 2016 at 23:33
  • 2
    @MarkEdward, I think the point is that the "nakedness" of Noah is referring to his wife. Commented Jan 19, 2016 at 16:01
  • I think the link above is dead. This link discusses some of the concepts listed here: ukapologetics.net/canaan.html
    – Adam Heeg
    Commented Apr 4, 2018 at 16:13
  • @AdamHeeg, link repaired. Commented Apr 5, 2018 at 16:02
  • @user2910, sorry for taking so long to address your comment. to align with thesis (1) Noah is passed out and unaware of what is going on with his wife, (2) Ham brags to his brothers about what he did, (3) they are averting their eyes from seeing their naked mother and covering her up, (4) the two are one flesh, what is done to her is done to him Commented Nov 1, 2020 at 18:40

* 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..!"


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.

  • 1
    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.
    – Dan
    Commented Feb 5, 2014 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.
    – Tau
    Commented Feb 6, 2014 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..."
    – Tau
    Commented Feb 6, 2014 at 2:26
  • wow, I never knew that. Thanks for sharing! +1 btw
    – Dan
    Commented Feb 6, 2014 at 4:20
  • 1
    I agree that the paragraph on modern-day Palestinians should be removed as it distracts from the hermeneutical analysis of the the biblical text. The political comments above are also misguided, seeking both to establish Palestinians as inheritors of the ancient biblical 'Curse of Canaan' and simultaneously 'an invented people', a contra-historical, contra-scientific, and highly offensive statement. An answer on BH.SE would best avoid this issue.
    – Schuh
    Commented Feb 28, 2016 at 0:32

Whatever the act perpretated by Ham, whether merely seeing his father naked, or taking advantage of Noah's drunken stupor to homosexually rape him, in Genesis 9:24-25 Noah clearly regards it as worthy of extreme punishment. So the question is not why Noah invoked a curse, but why he invoked it on the as yet unborn Canaan when the blame rests solely with his father:

Genesis 9:24-25: And Noah awoke from his wine, and knew what his younger son had done unto him. And he said, Cursed be Canaan; a servant of servants shall he be unto his brethren.

Genesis gives us no clear clue as to why Noah cursed Canaan and not Ham, or even Canaan's brothers, Cush, Mizraim and Phut. The answer lies outside the Bible itself. The Canaanites, whom the Israelites regarded as the descendants of the biblical Canaan, were the traditional enemies of the Israelites. The greatest harm they could do to the Canaanites was to besmirch their reputation and treat them with contempt as the "servant of servants" of all, especially of the Israelites themselves.

Brian Britt (Religion, Gender, and Culture in the Pre-Modern World, page 37) says that the curse betrays rivalries with a formidable enemy. The curse on an enemy can reflect a position of weakness from which victory seems fanciful or a genuine rivalry in which the curse relates to a struggle for power. Because the differences between Canaanites and Israelites probably concerned religion more than other practices or attributes, the curse on Ham and Canaan may reflect the sense in which moral and religious difference can produce ethnic difference.

  • You are close. Canaan being a son of Hym was neither masculine nor feminine (just hyman). Noahs story is that because of Canaans lack of masculinity he thought Canaan was a female and that Canaan seduced him. If you believe that story then I have a bridge for sale.
    – R. Emery
    Commented Sep 21, 2022 at 21:26

It's an interesting event, particularly being the first recorded event after Noah's family disembarked from the Ark following the Flood. Here humanity has a new beginning, another chance to walk with God and redeem ourselves through Noah and his family.

But again, and almost immediately, the issue of nakedness arises - and note that nakedness is still not condemned by God or referred to as a sin here, same as in the Garden. In fact, God makes no appearance in this event at all, and still has yet to weigh in on the 'nakedness is a sin' debate.

Noah 'learned what Ham, his youngest son, had done. Then he cursed Canaan'. It is commonly assumed that Noah is justified in his decision and his punishment, but there is nothing in the text to indicate that Noah is doing God's will in judging Ham, or that his judgement is correct. He doesn't defer judgement to God, and takes it upon himself to mete out a punishment that not only doesn't fit the crime (if there even was one) but is also inflicted on the blameless.

Was Noah embarrassed at his own drunken behaviour? Did he react in anger when what he really felt was shame? It's the same physiological reaction in the body, after all. It's only our thought process that determines what we name the feeling. In fact it's common human behaviour to lash out in anger instead of acknowledging shame.

How did Noah 'learn' what Ham had done? From his brothers? If so, that tattle certainly worked in their favour didn't it? The sibling rivalry that was evident between Cain and Abel rears its ugly head again, but it is Noah now who does the cursing, and ranks his sons and their descendants forever according to this seemingly insignificant event.

This event and its ramifications remind us once again that the naive and ignorant judgement we took from the Garden, and continue to inflict on ourselves and others, is the true cause of pain, suffering, conflict and oppression in the world.


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

  • 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).
    – Dan
    Commented Feb 5, 2014 at 2:45
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    – user2027
    Commented Feb 14, 2014 at 21:52


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????


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.

  • @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
    Commented Nov 5, 2013 at 7:33
  • @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
    Commented Nov 6, 2013 at 8:39

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