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

Bible and archaeology news

An image from The Leon Levy Dead Sea Scrolls Digital Library homepage. See the scrolls yourself at

“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.

Interested in the history and meaning of the Dead Sea Scrolls? In this free eBook, learn what the Dead Sea Scrolls are and why are they important. Find out what they tell us about the Bible, Christianity and Judaism when you download our FREE Dead Sea Scrolls eBook.

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.

Visit the Dead Sea Scrolls study page in Bible History Daily for more on this priceless collection of ancient manuscripts.



* 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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  • Mi66gt says

    Why do you say “curse of Ham” it’s Canaan who was cursed.

  • Ray says

    Yep, hold your breath for that one mate.

  • Sam says

    its not over yet; Israel is promised to be restored and Jerusalem made the center in almost every book of the Prophets.

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