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- Saw the nakedness of his father. Some scholars think that Ham is punished (verses 24-25) for some unchaste act that is described euphemistically as "saw the nakedness of his father" (see related links below). Others argue that the text should be read more literally: Ham not averting his eyes to his father's nakedness like his brothers did (v. 23) shows disrespect for his father and for God's law of chastity (cf. Lev 20:17 and Hab 2:15); see Cassuto reference below).
Verse 25: Why is Canaan cursed?
Verses 9:22-24 describe actions by Ham that may be deserving of a curse, but the curse is directed toward Canaan not Ham. There are at least four different ways this verse can be been interpreted:
(1) Posterity bears consequences. One view is that Ham's posterity will bear the consequences of Ham's act, either because the blessing in verse 1 cannot be reversed for some reason, or because the punishment for Ham should fit the crime: if Ham caused Noah not to have a fourth son, then Ham's fourth son Canaan is appropriately cursed.
(2) Canaan really means Ham. Another view is that although the name of Canaan is mentioned, the reference is really to Ham, Canaan's father. One conjecture is that the text was changed historically "to conform to the fact that the Canaanites were subjugated by the Israelites."
(3) Canaan was the transgressor. Another view is that Canaan was the transgressor, or at least involved in the iniquity against Noah. This view can be found in traditional Jewish literature more modern scholars (see the Cassuto reference below for details).
(4) People of Canaan cursed. Cassuto argues that Ham represents the Canaanite people who were guilty of sexual immorality. Thus "[t]he Canaanites were to suffer the curse and the bondage not because of the sins of Ham, but because they themselves acted like Ham, because of their own transgressions, which resembled those attributed to Ham in this allegory."
(The Cassuto reference below gives more details on each of these interpretations, arguing that the fourth makes the most sense.)
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Verse 22: What did Ham do to Noah?
- Maternal incest? The following article discusses three main theories that have been proposed for why Noah cursed Ham, (1) voyeurism, (2) castration, or (3) paternal incest, then proposes and argues for a fourth alternative, viz. maternal incest. John Bergsma and Scott Hahn, "Noah's Nakedness and the Curse on Canaan", Journal of Biblical Literature, v. 124(1), pp. 25-40.
- More literal reading: See Cassuto, p. 150.
- Stealing Noah's garment. Hugh Nibley in Temple and Cosmos pp. 128-130 discusses some history of a sacred garment and how Book of Jasher 7:27 relates that Ham stole the garment from Noah.
- Castration. According to one version of Jewish legend, Noah went to the tent of his wife in a drunken state and Ham disrespectfully related to his borther's his father's attempt to have a fourth son (Noah already had one more son than Adam had, according to legend). Ham also attempted "to perform an operation upon his father designed to prevent procreation" (see Legends of the Bible by Louis Ginzberg (1909), p. 80). See also the Zohar 73b (available online here as v. 2 Noach 38:31); the Pritsker edition (ISBN 0804747474) notes, "According to Rav (BT Sanhedrin 70a), Ham castrated his father, thereby eliminating the covenantal sign of circumcision" (pp. 434-5).
Verse 25: Why is Canaan cursed?
- Cassuto. See From Noah to Abraham: A Commentary on the Book of Genesis Vi-XI by Umberto Cassuto, pp. 153-155.
- Jewish legend. According to one version of Jewish legend, Noah could not curse Ham for his disrespectful acts toward him because Ham was included in the blessing God conferred after the flood. So Noah cursed Ham's last-born son because Ham had prevented Noah from begetting a younger son than the three he already had. See Legends of the Bible by Louis Ginzberg (1909), p. 80.
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