How can I understand the meaning of the word "saw" in Gen 6:2, Gen 9:22, and "flesh" in Gen 6:12? Apparently these words are more than they seem.

I am hesitant to indicate research because a former question was closed as "off topic" for mentioning the gospel of Philip and before bible sumerian texts.

The question is because other sources explain that "saw" meant SEX (Ham and Noah's wife etc) and that the "sons of God" defiled even the creatures causing "all flesh" to be defiled, hence the flood.

I should like to know whether I should discard all these "research" interpretations and take the words at their face value.

  • regarding your previous question, please try to work on the title question. It wasn't closed as off topic but because a moderator felt it wasn't clear enough. Also see if you can make the body-text of the question clearer as well, but perhaps the moderator will reopen it if you just fix the title. Dec 30, 2023 at 3:08

2 Answers 2


Definitions first

  • "saw" in Gen 6:2 - This means what it says, although "perceived" is probably a better way to think of it. God has no eyes after all, but God does perceive.

  • "saw" in Gen 9:22 - Same as above. "Saw" does not mean sex. In the case of Noah, Ham saw his father's nakedness. Some commentators do think this was a euphemism for a sex-related act but this is not clear from the text. (see below)

  • "flesh" in Gen 6:12 - "all flesh" here means humanity generally. Some commentators also include animals because they too were destroyed in the flood. This seems unjust, but perhaps not so, since animals were under the dominion of Adam and Eve, and they may have been affected by the Fall. (This is the implication for those who take Isaiah 11:6 - about the lion lying down with the lamb - literally. In this view, the animals of Eden did not engage in predation and will eventually be restored to the Edenic state.)

Parental warning: the following section is R-rated

To uncover a person's nakedness is indeed a euphemism for some form of sexual relations. This is especially evident in the laws about incest. Regarding Noah's family, the "seeing" may be accidental. But there is a Talmudic tradition that Ham did something unmentionable to Noah. (Noah's wife is not involved in that passage BTW.)

Having cited the passage discussing Noah, the Gemara enters into a discussion about what was actually done to him by his younger son, Ham. {Rabbi} Rav and {Rabbi} Shmuel disagreed: One says that Ham castrated Noah and one says that Ham sodomized him.

  • Where in the Bible does it say that God "has no eyes after all"? I don't read that anywhere. And if God has no eyes, where did He come up with creating eyes in the first place?
    – moron
    Jan 1 at 11:02

The two words identified by the OP are, in these cases, uncomplicated. More specifically:

  1. רָאָה (ra'ah) = "to see"

This verb is extremely common in the OT occurring more than 1300 times. Its meanings can be divided into two broad categories:

  • to look or see with one's eyes, eg, Gen 1;4, 9, 10, 12, 18, 21, etc. This is the simple meaning in Gen 6:2, 12, 9:2. Men looked at something and God looked at something.
  • to observe or, better, understand, ie, mental observation and cognitive recognition, eg, Gen 27:27, 31:50, Jer 2:31, etc.
  1. בָּשָׂר (basar) = "flesh"

Again, the meaning for this word can be divided into three broad areas:

  • the literal flesh of a single human or animal, eg, Gen 9:440:19 & Ex 21:28, etc
  • all humans or all animals or all living creatures; that is, the word can be a collective noun for a large number or the totality of living things that have flesh; eg, Gen 6:12, 13, 7:15, 16, 21, 8:17, 9:11, etc.
  • to emphasize that a creature is mortal (subject to death), eg, Gen 6:3, etc.

Thus, there is nothing salacious about the meaning of these words in the OP texts. So, let me quote each to see what they are saying.

Gen 6:2 - that the sons of God saw that the daughters of mankind were beautiful; and they took wives for themselves, whomever they chose.

In some circles, there is debate about the identity of "sons of God" - two options exist:

  • the sons of God were celestial/heavenly being such as angels or similar (eg, Job 1:6, 2:1, 38:7)
  • the sons of God were those descended from Seth as distinct from Cain (Deut 32:8, 43, Ps 29:1)

In Gen 6 I am inclined to the latter option, but that is my opinion.

In Gen 9:22 we have this:

And Ham, the father of Canaan, saw his father’s nakedness and told his two brothers outside.

This is quite uncomplicated - Ham sees his father naked - an act forbidden under OT conditions and was punished for it. No sex is implied. Both meanings exist in the both the OT and the NT - the latter is much more common

  • Some traditions have it that Ham's sin was in line with Lev 20:11, 17. The product of that "saw" was Canaan, who received the curse instead of Ham!
    – Omowright
    Dec 30, 2023 at 10:37
  • Also, Gen 6:12 ends "because ALL flesh had ruined its way" on the earth. Whereas the sons of Seth may not produce Nephilim, both sons of God likely defiled flesh as per the later laws of Lev 20:15, 16.
    – Omowright
    Dec 30, 2023 at 11:09
  • @Omowright - in what sense is Canaan the "product" of what Ham supposedly did? In my answer I cited the talmudic tradition that Ham either castrated or sodomized Noah. You seem to suggest incest between Ham and Mrs. Noah... can you cite the tradition you refer to? Dec 30, 2023 at 16:27
  • @DanFefferman - Noah's Nakedness and the Curse of Canaan. By John S. Bergsma and Scot W. Hahn (2005) pp38,39. This is scholarly research into traditions and translations of certain texts - e.g. Gen 9:21 should have read "her tent" instead of "his tent".
    – Omowright
    Dec 30, 2023 at 21:35
  • @Dottard - I use, primarily the NWT. I have just checked and found that the NIV, ESV and NASB versions do have "tent" in their translations of Gen 9:21.
    – Omowright
    Dec 30, 2023 at 22:02

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