The Curse of Ham—A New Reading in the Dead Sea Scrolls

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An image from The Leon Levy Dead Sea Scrolls Digital Library homepage. See the scrolls yourself at http://www.deadseascrolls.org.il/

“Cursed be Canaan;
lowest of slaves shall he be to his brothers.”
He [Noah] also said,
“Blessed by the LORD my God be Shem;
and let Canaan be his slave.
May God make space for Japheth,
and let him live in the tents of Shem;
and let Canaan be his slave.”
– Genesis 9:25-27

The harshness of the curse of Ham, his son Canaan and their descendants has been a source of scholarly debate for millennia. A new reading of the Dead Sea Scroll 4Q180-4Q181* provides a fresh perspective on Canaan’s transgression.
 


 
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In December 2012, the Israel Antiquities Authority, in collaboration with Google, launched The Leon Levy Dead Sea Scrolls Digital Library, a new website that allows visitors to view and search high-resolution images of the complete Dead Sea Scrolls archive online. Using the high-resolution digital images of the Dead Sea Scrolls, researchers Elisha Qimron, Hanan Ariel and Alexey Yudisky recognized that a unique usage of the word for God in a Genesis scroll, in conjunction with the word for tent, may be interpreted to mean the “land of Shem,” rather than the “tent of Shem,” according to a recent article published in Haaretz. This reading, which parallels the Apocryphal Book of Jubilees,** suggests that Canaan defied Noah’s division of the land. According to this alternate Biblical tradition, the exile known as the curse of Ham would be punishment for more than Ham’s seeing “the nakedness of his father” (Genesis 9:22).

Read more in Haaretz.

View the Leon Levy Dead Sea Scrolls Digital Library.

Notes
* Biblical scholar Jim Davila confirmed that the text came from scroll 4Q180-181 on his PaleoJudaica blog. Read more here.

** BAS Library Members: Read James C. VanderKam’s “Jubilees” as it appeared in Bible Review, Dec 1992.

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  1. Paul says

    So instead of living in the tents of Shem, Japheth lives in the land of Shem, the Semitic people. Abram originated from Ur of Kasdim (Genesis 11:31), northwest of Haran. Abram is descended from Arpachasad (Genesis 10:22, 11:10-1). Arpachasad is believed (by some) to be the Kassites who migrated into “the land of Shem” from the north, Japheth’s land. In the J.P.S. Commentary on Genesis, the name of Arapachasad seems to be of Hurrian origin; “The first element of the name – Arpa – might be Arip, which is frequently found in Hurrian proper names.” Ur of Kasdim is interpreted as “Light of the Magicians”, according to the kabbalistic code expounded by Carlos Suares in his commentary on the Book of Genesis.

  2. Paul says

    Unfornate that “The Kabala Trilogy” by Carlos Suares is out of print. He interpreted the “Curse of Canaan” as an allusion to Biblical Canon, and how not to gaze on its nakedness with its inconsistancies and not having faith, viewing it merely as a tool of oppression.
    “Ham, identified by a play on words in Psalms CV. 23 and CVI. 22 with Kemi, ‘black’, a name given to Egypt, was according to Genesis X. 6, the father not only of Mizraim (Egypt) but of Put (Punt), the Negroes of the Somalia Coast; and of Cush, the Negros of Ethiopia, imported to Palestine as slaves. That Negroes are doomed to serve men of lighter colour was a view gratefully borrowed by Christians in the Middle Ages: a severe shortage of cheap manual labor, caused by the plague, made the re-institution of slavery attractive.”
    Hebrew Myths, by Robert Graves and Raphael Patai, p.122

  3. Paul says

    “Black is one of the names of Egypt because of its black soil (black is called km and the Black kmt or Kemit).
    Sacred Science, by R.A. Schaller De Lubics, p.202
    “The Greeks, therefore, in their contact with a declining Egypt, were prompted to speak of science in general as belonging to Thoth, or Hermes. The meaning of ‘sacred science’ was thus vulgarized under the term ‘Hermetism.’”
    “What is the general attitude in our day toward this Hermetic science usually refered to as alchemy? The word is of Islamic origin and signifies ‘the science of al-Kemit’ encountered by the Arab invaders of Egypt, that ancient Kemit which gave so much light to an Islam setting out to conquer the world. For nearly everyone, alchemy is the science of ‘making gold’ and nothing more. For some, it is a fantasy; for others, a mysterious science of fascinating discovery There are also the ‘spiritually minded’ who consider alchemy to be a psychospiritual science of transforming consciousness, and the acqisition of psychic if not spiritual powers.” (pp.7,8)

    “Ever since the end of the Middle Ages, when the European world became acquainted with Jewish mysticism and theosophy, the Kabbalah has been thought of as a complex intertwining of a multiple of concepts.”
    “It is important to separate those elements that historically belong or relate to the Kabbalah from those that have become confused with it by developments that run their course outside Judaism. To this latter group belongs the relation between alchemy and Kabbalah. For more than four hundred years, the terms alchemy and Kabbalah have been synonymous among the Christian theosophists and alchemists of Europe, so much that one might suspect that there are strong internal connections.”
    Alchemy and Kabbalah, by Gershom Scolem, pp.10,11

  4. Robin says

    I would say, from what I have read so far, that we are dealing with some new “suggestions” and not solid assertions. The word, in the Ha’aretz article, was read by various individuals who all came to different conclusions and then, as a group, compromised on this new possibility. The article above uses the word “may.”

    Any potentially new reading should be held at arm’s length while the debates go back and forth. The commentaries that I have note that we probably, or most certainly, do not have all the information on what went on between Shem, Ham, and Japheth with regard to their drunken father and his situation. “The use of the plural ‘tents of Shem; suggests that a group of people is dwelling among Shem, not a singular God”, per the Word Biblical Commentary analysis which goes on to note that “Even the most righteous and their offspring may fall from grace in an unguarded moment. And such falls do have long-term consequences…..” including “the curse on Ham’s descendants, the Canaanites….”

    This interpretation is good enough for me for the time being. But the article in Haaretz and this website are both interesting.

  5. Bob says

    If you Google: why was canaan cursed, not to be immodest, but my article often ranks #1 because we list the passages that show that the text is saying, explicitly via the common idiom, that Ham fathered Canaan by incest with his mother. These relevant passages are Lev. 20:11, 20-21; 18:6-8, 9-15; 1 Cor. 6:19; Ezek. 22:10; Hab. 2:15.

  6. GEORGE says

    It seems to me that popular dismissal of prophetic scripture as ancient superstition requires an unscientific alteration of evidential rules. Like the medieval desire to justify the enslavement of black skinned people based upon the “Hamitic” curse, today’s desire to avoid “racism” strongly motivates our consideration of these scriptures. The history of the Jewish people (Israel) with regard to biblical prophecy, the re-emergence of their nation and Hebrew language provide an excellent example of this phenomena. Similarly, literary and historic attestations to the resurrection of Jesus are ignored or dismissed out of hand to support disbelief by many who will give it no serious consideration yet readily consider any contrary “evidence” regardless how silly it may be. Mankind seems to have a great capacity to create theologies, independent of evidence, to support what he wants.

  7. Paul says

    Thank you, Robin, for that quote in which “a group of people is dwelling among Shem.” That would include the Hurrians, the female term that the Egyptians applied to the land of Canaan. According to Forrest Reinhold in his booklet “Hurrian Hebrews”; “Beginning with the Egyptian New Kingdom ca. 1550 B.C., Hurru became their name for Palestine, and at times it even signified all Syria” (p.2). The Egyptian New Kingdom is likely the same as “A new king arose over Egypt who did not know Joseph” (Exodus 1:8).
    In the Ugaritic myths of northern Canaan there is “The Legend of King Keret” (ANET p.142), whose throne was being undermined by the death of his household, and with the intention of getting a wife, raises an army and marches several days and attacks Udum (possibly Edom). Udum’s King Pabel sends messengers offering tribute;
    “‘Take it, Keret,
    In peace, in peace.
    And flee, O king, from my house;
    Withdraw, O Keret, from my court.
    Vex not Udum the Great,
    Even Udum the Grand.
    Udum is a gift of El,
    Even a present of the Father of Man.’
    Then send he two messengers back to him:-
    ‘What need have I of silver and yellow-glittering gold;
    Friendship by covenant and vassalage
    for ever;
    One-third of the chariot steeds
    In the stables of a handmaid’s son?
    Nay, what’s not in my house shalt thou give!
    Give me Lady Hurriya (hry),
    The fair, thy first begotten.’”

  8. Paul says

    “In the OT is a word horim, ‘nobles,’ virtually the same as hori, ‘Horites.’ They are a part of Hebrew society” (Hurrian Hebrews p.19). In 1 Kings 21:8, Jezebel “wrote letters in Ahab’s name and, having sealed them with his seal, sent them to the elders and to the nobles (horim)…”
    In the Papyrus Anastasi I there is a satirical letter where one Egyptian scribe ridicules another scribe for his lack of knowledge of the land of Canaan, and he describes the perils of benig a “mahir” (Hurrian chariot warrior);
    “You art come into Joppa, and thou findest the meadow blossoming in its season. Thou breakest in to the inside and findest the fair maiden who is watching over the gardens. She takes thee to herself as a companion and gives thee the color of her lap. (But) thou art perceived and makest a confession. Judgement is passed on a mahir: thou must sell thy shirt of good Upper Egyptian linen. Tell (me) how thou sleepest every evening with a piece of wood over thee.”

  9. Eyal says

    Check out this link about the dead sea scrolls cover up. I though it was very interesting to see. http://www.simchajtv.com/the-dead-sea-scroll-cover-up-continues-to-unfold/

  10. Paul says

    Perhaps we can see the Dead Sea Scrolls as the vine brought from the land of Canaan by the spies;
    “They reached the wadi Eshcol, and there they cut down a branch with a single cluster of grapes – it had to be born on a carrying frame by two of them – and some pomegranates and figs” (Numbers 13:23).
    Perhaps the tablet written with what may be a Dead Sea Scroll scribe, “Gabriel’s Revelation”, is among the grapevine like a fig.
    There is an anti-Roman sentiment in this corpus of writings, and that’s probably the issue of Canaan being a “servant of servants” (Genesis 9:25). In the Amarna Tablets the Egyptian puppet-ruler of Jerusalem was Abdu Hepa (Servant of Hepa).
    “In the Amarna texts Abdu -Hepa was a ruler of Jerusalem. Since b, p and w can represent the same Hurrian phoneme, I should point out that Heba/Hiba/Hepa/Hipa has been compared to Eve, lit. Hawwah/Havah, “the mother of all living” (Gen. 3:20), and since Hepa was the Hurrian mother goddess, Hivite would be a worshipper of Hepa. This would explain the confusion between Horite and Hivite” (Hurrian Hebrews p.19).
    If you can look past the blinding light of the solar god incarnate in the Pharaoh, you can see ancient beliefs from the east transmitted to the Hebrews from the Hurrians.
    I remember another thing from Carlos Suares’ “Sepher Genesis”, about Joseph, and how it is the hand that is wounded that heals.
    And by the way it is “The Cabala Trilogy”, with a ‘C’. and ‘C’ stands for “Cleopatra”, and “cookie”, as the procession of ancient Egyptians playing musical instruments sang when performing for Oscar the Grouch back in the late 1990s, so that the children who are now eligable to vote can be triggered by a code-word like something out of “The Manchurian Candidate.”

  11. JAllan says

    2: seems to be a pun on Canaan/Canon, which is irrelevant because “canon” is a Greek word that would have been unknown to ancient Hebrews; besides, the Hebrew pronunciation is closer to “Kah-ah-NAN” while the Greek word is pronounced almost like English, “KAH-nohn.”

    I am wondering why would someone be cursed for ACCIDENTALLY barging in on his DRUNKEN father (especially if he was the first person to discover alcohol) naked? Noah might WANT to curse his son out of embarrassment for his OWN behavior, but neither Jewish nor Christian theology describes a God who would AGREE with such a curse pronounced in pique by an old man with a hangover, then ENFORCE it in subsequent history. The only exception would be if Ham HIMSELF believed the curse and passed it on to his descendants, who continued to believe it, thus bringing it on themselves.

    One must be cautious in seeing puns and homonyms across unrelated languages. At one time it occurred to me, for example, that the presumed pronunciation of the name of the Hebrew God, “Yah-weh,” is quite similar to the vocative, or direct address form, of the Latin name of the Roman god Jupiter: Yoh-weh (spelled JOVE). Do I take this to mean that the Romans originally worshiped the Hebrew god, or vice versa? Of course not, but it makes a good joke!

    Similarly, I once noticed that the usual transliteration of the Hebrew word for “king,” MLK, is coincidentally the same as the initials of Martin Luther KING, Jr. The only way that could have been planned is for his GRANDfather to have known enough Hebrew to name MLK, Sr. so as to make his initials spell their last name in Hebrew, but that seems extremely farfetched. Although this also makes an interesting trivia question.

    As a non-literalist student of the Bible, it seems more likely that oral traditions developed to use the Noah story as a way to explain their contemporary difficulties with other tribes around them. There are some moral points involved, however: if you abuse alcohol, you may embarrass yourself in front of your family and end up cursing an innocent person. And if you receive such a curse and BELIEVE in its power, that belief will GIVE it power over you until you stop believing it (something like the illusory bullets in the alien-imposed recreation of the OK Corral gunfight in one episode of Star Trek).

  12. Paul says

    Thank you JAllen, and yes I was a bit carried away taking poetic license with a play on the words Canaan/Canon.There is historic proof that the “first to plant a vineyard” (Genesis 9:20) was in modern Armenia near the border of Iran around 4100 B.C.E., with what was “the oldest complete wine production facility ever found.”

    http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/01/110111133236.htm

    The first written documentation of Canaanite society comes from the Execration Texts of Egypt’s twelth dynasty. The names of Canaanite rulers were inscribed on clay figurines, then smashed, thus invoking a permanent curse on that ruler (Cursed be Canaan).
    Since the 1980s there was a curse on Libyan dictator Muammar el-Qaddafi, whom Ronald Reagan refered to as the “Mad Dog of the Middle East.” Just prior to the military intervention in Libya by NATO forces in March 2011, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton seemingly invoked that curse again, refering to Qaddafi as a type of “creature”. Warning that Qaddfi was a threat to his own people as well as his neighbors, Clinton said, “It’s just in his nature. There are some creatures that are like that.”
    In the Amarna Tablets (ANET pp.483-490) we see letters written by Canaan’s rulers adressed to Pharaoh Akhenaton requesting military support. The ruler of Jerusalem, Abdu Hepa, complains that the mercenaries used to augment Egyptian forces had burglarized his palace, nearly killing him;
    “With reference to the Nubians, let my king ask the commissioners whether my house is (not) very strong! Yet they attempted a very great crime; they took their implements and breached … of the roof. [If] they send into the land [of Jerusalem] troops, let them come up with [an (Egyptian) officer for] (regular) service.”

  13. D says

    In Latin, Jupiter is pronounced “YU-piter” and “Jovis” as “YO-wis”. Its origin is a common Indo-European root “deus pater,” “father god.” There’s no connection to YHVH, which is a form of the Hebrew verb “to be.” Also, there’s no “Jove” in Latin. That’s a modern Anglicized form.

    In later Jewish tradition, the curse of Noah upon Ham is sometimes, but not consistently, taken to apply to Ham’s son Cana’an. Nothing to do with Ethiopians, Cushite, Nubians, and so on, who are never depicted in this light in the Hebrew Bible. I suspect it was a medieval invention started by the earliest modern slave traders, who were Arab/Muslim, in the 800s, arising from the institution of jihad slavery, as parts of east Africa were conquered. Christians in Portugal and Spain picked up the slave trade from the Arabs quite a bit later, in the 1400s.

  14. Gene R. says

    Since the record mentions only that “Ham the father of Canaan saw his father’s nakedness and went telling it to his two brothers outside,” the question arises as to why Canaan rather then Ham became the object of the curse. Commenting on Genesis 9:24, which states that when Noah awoke from his wine he “got to know what his YOUNGEST SON had done to him,” a footnote in Rotherham’s translation says, “Undoubtedly Canaan, and not Ham: Shem and Japheth, for their piety are blessed; Canaan for some unnamed baseness is cursed; Ham for his neglect, is neglected.” Also in a similar vein, a Jewish publication, THE PENTATEUCH AND THE HAFTORAHS, suggests that the brief narrative “refers to some abominable deed in which Canaan seems to be implicated.”(Edited by J. H. Hertz, London, 1972, p. 34) And after noting that the Hebrew word translated “son” in verse 24 may mean “grandson,” this source states : “The reference is evidently to Canaan.” THE SONCINO CHUMASH also points out that some believe Canaan “indulged a perverted lust upon [Noah],” and that the expression “youngest son” refers to to Canaan, the youngest son of Ham.–Edited by A. Cohen, London, 1956, p. 47.
    These views are of necessity, conjectural, since the Biblical account does not give details . Some implication seems definitely intended by the fact that, just before relating the case of Noah’s drunkenness, Canaan is abruptly introduced into the account(Genesis 9:18) and, in describing Ham’s actions, the record refers to him as “Ham the father of Canaan.” (Gen.9:22)

  15. Gene R. says

    Neglected to mention the source for this material above is” INSIGHT ON THE SCRIPTURES” VOL. I, 1988

  16. Bob says

    Might Canaan’s curse use a very common Hebrew metaphor? ‘The man who lies with his father’s wife has uncovered his father’s nakedness…’ Lev. 20:11 ‘If a man lies with his uncle’s wife, he has uncovered his uncle’s nakedness. … ‘If a man takes his brother’s wife… He has uncovered his brother’s nakedness.’ Lev. 20:20-21 Committing incest with any female “near of kin” can be described as “uncovering his nakedness” (Lev. 18:6), referring to the appropriate male relative, including the nakedness of your father (with your mother, Lev. 18:7), or your sister, granddaughter, stepsister, aunt, daughter-in-law and sister-in-law (Lev. 18:9-15).

    ‘The nakedness of your father’s wife you shall not uncover; it is your father’s nakedness’ Lev. 18:8
    And again, “It is your father’s nakedness!” Moses wrote these passages, so if he was being consistent with this phrase, what would it mean that Ham uncovered his father’s nakedness?

    Ezekiel used this same figure of speech in this Hebrew parallelism: “In you [O Israel] men uncover their fathers’ nakedness; in you they violate women…” Ezek. 22:10 And Habakkuk is not warning about homosexuality, but rather, he’s condemning the sin of getting your neighbor drunk in order to seduce his wife, when he wrote: ‘Woe to him who gives drink to his neighbor, pressing him to your bottle, even to make him drunk, that you may look on his nakedness!’ Hab. 2:15; See also Leviticus 18:10, 14, 17-18; First Samuel 20:30 and Ezekiel 22:10-11.

    I subscribe to your print publication, and it’s always interesting. Thanks.

  17. Bob says

    Like Gene R., I neglected to mention the source for my info, although it’s a shameless plug, it’s at http://realscienceradio.com/canaan :)

  18. Julius says

    Ham was punished because he committed adultery and incest by having carnal knowledge to his own mother–Noah’s wife. So, Canaan was the son of Ham and Noah’s wife. That’s what “uncovering nakedness of another” means. Read about the laws handed by Moses so you will know what that actual idiomatic phrase meant. As this event happened when there were only eight individuals saved, we can surmise that Ham commit adultery (and incest) against Noah and not adultery against his brothers. So, Canaan was a child of Noah’s wife and inherited the traits of his wayward parents.

  19. Varghese says

    Gen 10:15-18 mentions Canaan fathered a tribe called “Sinites” among several other families and that these Canaanite families were widely scattered later most of those whom remained in Canaan would have been either assimilated (e.g. Bathsheba’s husband Uriah was a Hittite who descended from Canaan) or otherwise were killed in the wars. This Canaanite family of “Sinites” are the original inhabitants of China (In Semitic languages like Arabic Sine => Chinese). These original inhabitants got pushed to Japan later by the Scythian / Mongolians. Anyway, it was a good decision to the “Sinites” for them to have moved to China following God’s will the result of which they did not perish in the Israelite conquest and today is quickly positioning itself as a world power.

  20. Allan says

    THE GENESIS CHAPTER NINE NOAH–HAM–CANAAN MYSTERY

    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????

  21. James says

    Ham did not have a baby with his mother. Noah announced that something was done unto him not her. See The Complete Works of Blacks in the Bible.

Continuing the Discussion

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