There is perhaps no greater misunderstanding of a text in the Bible than the one pertaining to Noah cursing his son Ham, or rather one of his sons by the name of Canaan. This is the first appearance of the word “slave” or bondservant in Scripture and consequently, the interpretation has lead to justification of a practice of servitude where a person and their family can be bought and sold or traded for, as a piece of property. Unfortunately, people of color and especially Black people whose ancestors were from the Continent of Africa, especially African- Americans in the United States, have been the most significantly affected. The thing is, though, upon closer examination of the passage in Genesis 9 as well as Genesis 10, this “curse” does not fall upon the shoulders of the so-called Negro or Black race, as such.
The sons of Ham usually associated with being Black or African are Cush and Mizraim. However, Cush the son of Ham is the father of Nimrod and Babylon [Iraq], not to mention, Assyria. Mizraim the son of Ham is another name for Egypt and an ancestor of the Philistines who probably lived in Crete (Caphtor) from antiquity. Put is another son of Ham who is the ancestor of the people from Libya and the city of Cyrene. Canaan the son of Ham is more about a territory as well as the people who occupied this area. The land stretched between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River reaching from the brook of Egypt to the area around Ugarit in Syria, or to the Euphrates River. HOLMAN Illustrated Bible Dictionary, Holman Publishers, 2003. Now, let’s reread the Biblical narrative as below:
Genesis 9: 20-27
Noah, a man of the soil, proceeded to plant a vineyard. When he drank some of its wine, he became drunk and lay uncovered inside his tent. Ham, the father of Canaan, saw his father’s nakedness and told his two brothers outside. But Shem and Japheth took a garment and laid it across their shoulders; then they walked in backward and covered their father’s nakedness. When Noah awoke from his wine and found out what his youngest son had done to him, he said, “Cursed be Canaan! The lowest of slaves is he to his brothers.” He also said, “Blessed be the LORD, the God of Shem! May Canaan be his slave. May God extend the territory of Japheth; may Japheth live in the tents of Shem, and may Canaan be his slave.”
Genesis 10: 8
The sons of Ham: Cush, Mzraim, Put and Canaan.
Genesis 10: 15-19
Canaan was the father of Sidon his firstborn, and of the Hittites, Jebusites, Amonites, Girgashites, Hivites, Arkites, Sinites, Arvadites, Zemarites, and Hamathites. Later the Canaanite clans scattered and the borders of Canaan reached from Sidon toward Gerar as far as Gaza, and then toward Sodom, Gomorrah, Admah and Zeboiim, as far as Lasha.
NOTE: The Canaanite descendants who lived in such places as Sodom, Gomorrah, Admah and Zeboiim the LORD completely wiped them out in His fierce wrath (Deuteronomy 29: 23).
Genesis 15: 18-21
At that time the LORD made a promise to Abram. He said, “I will give this land to your descendants. It is the land of Egypt from the river of Egypt [Nile] to the great river, the Euphrates. It is the land of the Kenites, the Kenizzites, the Kadmonites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Rephaim, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Girgashites, and the Jebusites.”
Deuteronomy 7: 1
The LORD your God will bring you to the land you’re about to enter and take possession of. He will force many nations out of your way: the Hittites, Girgashites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites-seven nations larger and more powerful than you.
Joshua 3: 10
Joshua continued, “This is how you will know that the living God is among you and that He will certainly force the Canaanites, Hittites, Hivites, Perizzites, Girgashites, Amorites, and Jebusites out of your way.”
Judges 1: 21
The men of Benjamin did not force out the Jebusites who lived in Jerusalem. The Jebusites still live with the tribe of Benjamin in Jerusalem to this day.
Judges 1: 29
The tribe of Ephraim did not force out those who lived at Kitron or Nahalol. So the Canaanites continued to live with them in Gezer.
CONCLUSION: According to this narrative the tribes consisting of Manasseh, Zebulun, Naphtali, Asher and Dan were not able to drive the people out of their lands and territory. Those indigenous descendants of Ham through his son Canaan, namely the Canaanites and Amorites were forced to be slaves (Judges 1: 27-35) in this instance, fulfilling to an extent the words of Noah in Genesis 9. It is interesting to read in Acts 13: 19 that God destroyed seven nations in Canaan and gave it to the Israelites as an inheritance, when it says in the following Old testament book of Joshua:
Judges 3: 1-3, 5
These are the nations the LORD left behind to test all the Israelites who had not experienced any war in Canaan. The LORD left them to teach Israel’s descendants about war, at least those who had not known anything about it in the past. He left the five rulers of the Philistines (Joshua 13: 3-Gaza, Ashdod, Ashkelon, Gath, Ekron), all the Canaanites, the Sidonians, and the Hivites who lived on Mount Lebanon from Mount Baal Hermon to the border of Hamath. So the people of Israel lived among the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites. The Israelites allowed their sons and daughters to marry these people. Israel also served their gods.
1 Kings 9: 20-22
The Amorites, Hittites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites had been left in the land because the Israelites had not been able to claim them for God by destroying them. They were not Israelites, but they had descendants who were still in the land. Solomon drafted them for slave labor (they are still slaves until this day).
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July 21, 2012