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Good morning father,

I am trying to read the Bible all the way through, and today in Genesis, chapter.     9: 20-25, I have found this: “Now Noah, a man of the soil, was the first to plant a vineyard. When he drank some of the wine, he became drunk and lay naked inside his tent. Ham, the father of Canaan, saw his father’s nakedness, and he told his two brothers outside about it. Shem and Japheth, however, took a robe, and holding it on their backs, they walked backward and covered their father’s nakedness; since their faces were turned the other way, they did not see their father’s nakedness. When Noah woke up from his drunkenness and learned what his youngest son had done to him, he said: “Cursed be Canaan! The lowest of slaves shall he be to his brothers.”!

The reason that led Noah to curse Canaan is not clear to me, namely:

– why did he curse Canaan and not Ham who actually entered the tent?

– what was wrong with seeing him naked? If anything, it was Noah who was not supposed to get drunk. Maybe he cursed him because he saw his nudity, yet walked away without clothing him?

Thank you for your answer.


The Priest’s answer

Dear Eleonora,

1. Canaan was the son of Ham (Gen 9:22).

Noah therefore did not curse his son, who was the object of divine blessing (Gn 9: 1), but the grandson, the posterity, the people that will later take the name of Canaanites and will live between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River.

2. The Jerusalem Bible, regarding this curse, points out that: “The blessings and curses of the patriarchs are like directives which, addressed to a progenitor, are realized in his descendants” (note to Gen 9:25).

3. Biblist Marco Sales, in his Commentary of the Bible, writes: “The Canaanites fell into so much impiety and perversion that for the rightful punishment of God they were stripped of their territory by the Jews, and were exterminated.

In general, all the Hamitic peoples (Gn 10,6 ff.) used to indulge in the filthiest depravations, and although they quickly advanced in materialistic civilization (Egyptians, Phoenicians, etc.), they later decayed and were dominated by the descendants of Shem and Japhet ”(note to Gn 9,24-25).

4. This curse is bewildering and the same Marco Sales gives us a clue: “Noah, enlightened by the prophetic Spirit, sees in the conduct of his sons the character of the peoples who are going be born from them, and gazing into the future, pronounces the curse on the descendants of Ham , and the blessing on the descendants of Shem and Japhet ”(Ib.).

The Jerusalem Bible notes that “Ham will never be mentioned again” (note to Gen 9: 18-29).

5. Again M. Sales suggests that “Noah’s curse was solely a temporal one, since the descendants of Ham were also redeemed by Jesus Christ and are called to be part of the eternal inheritance” (Ib.).

6. The fact that Noah got drunk is not to be blamed on him.

It is the first time that wine is mentioned in the Holy Scriptures and it is commonly believed that Noah was the inventor. He was not aware yet of its properties and effects, so the intoxication cannot be ascribed to him.

7. Ham’s sin was that he informed his brothers so that they would mock and despise their father because of it.

The other two brothers instead showed great respect and reverence for their father, even in that awkward situation.

8. In his Antiquities of the Jews, the stoic Jew Flavius Josephus, of the first century AD, recounts the people of Israel’s past events like this: “Noah, when, after the deluge, the earth was resettled in its former condition, set about its cultivation; and when he had planted it with vines, and when the fruit was ripe, and he had gathered the grapes in their season, and the wine was ready for use, he offered a sacrifice, and feasted, and, being drunk, he fell asleep, and lay naked in an unseemly manner. When his youngest son saw this, he came laughing, and showed him to his brethren; but they covered their father’s nakedness. And when Noah was made sensible of what had been done, he prayed for prosperity to his other sons; but for Ham, he did not curse him, by reason of his nearness in blood, but cursed his prosperity: and when the rest of them escaped that curse, God inflicted it on the children of Canaan. ”(Antiquities of the Jews, I, 4, 3 – t. by William Whiston).

This text must have served the Jews to instill respect for their parents even if they lose their mind: “My son, take care of your father when he is old; grieve him not as long as he lives. Even if his mind fails, be considerate with him; revile him not in the fullness of your strength.” (Sir 3, 12-13).

I wish you well, I will remember you to the Lord and I bless you.

Fr. Angelo

translated by Riccardo Mugnaini