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

“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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6 Responses

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  • Philip says

    Can anyone accept this and move on from the intrigue and obsession with speculation ?
    Noah is not to be put on trial in the global court of opinion. Ham is guilty of something, and perhaps Canaan likewise. However, the details which surround the incident we precisely do not know. We don’t have any! Conjecture, however reasonable or convincing it may be, is not evidence. Idiomatic language just may offer a clue for reasonable conjecture, but it is all we have but it is still conjecture. Everything else is raw speculation. Man has not been given any hard details which serve to be evidence.
    It is God, Himself who is the witness to the crime. Noah the Patriarch, as with Moses, were allowed to dispense judgement accordingly. But in those cases they would have consulted God as demonstrated in scripture and God approved it. Noah was God’s chosen to repopulate a destroyed world where God would not want the sinful influences of that destroyed world to work it’s havoc on mankind again. “The heart of man is exceedingly wicked and deceitful in all its ways as the biblical record records. Mankind has an innate propensity to sin.

    Remember Joshua’s curse on Jericho, a wicked Canaanite community, was devoted to destruction. A curse which still remains to this very day.

    “Then Joshua made them take an oath at that time, saying, “Cursed before the LORD is the man who rises up and builds this city Jericho; with the loss of his firstborn he shall lay its foundation, and with the loss of his youngest son he shall set up its gates.” ~ Joshusua 6:26 ~

    In conclusion:

    “The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things revealed belong
    to us and to our sons forever, that we may observe all the words of this law (Torah).
    ~ Deuteronomy 29:29 ~

  • zoo says

    The truth be told there was never a curse of Ham or Canaan, that lie was told to Justify slavery. the book of Jubilees destroy that lie chapter 7 tell who Noah was drinking with, chapter 8 tells of the Earth being divided up, chapter 9 tells of the oat taken and the curse if you break your word. chapter 10 tell of canaan breaking his word and the curse on him for doing that.

  • Samara says

    Youngest son of Noah, born probably about 96 years before the Flood; and one of eight persons to live through the Flood. He became the progenitor of the dark races; not the Negroes, but the Egyptians, Ethiopians, Libyans and Canaanites.

    Not the negroes… So when it is said that God deemed it so that negros were to be slaves no He did not. Zondervon

  • Crystal says

    In the last days…it has been said that there will be false prophets…so much is said on this blog, yet so much confusion i see…i will continue to pray for wisdom and divine discernment for the truth from the Maker of heaven and earth. Take care, and blessings to all…

  • Angel says

    This do not make sense
    No one has the answer to this claim except he who wrote it. Ham had four son by the time this took place. How old was Canaan when this took place. Ham saw Noah naked, why did Noah jump over five people to curse Ham child out of the clear blue sky. Joshua was to kill all of Canaan’s descendants, with that, how could he be his or anyone servant. If Noah cursed the descendants of Canaan, this would make sense. It must make sense. Ham’s brothers never made reference to this fact. Why not, if they walk backward, not looking at Noah body, then then should have spoken about it in some of their writings, why not.

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