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Genesis 9:1
Then God blessed Noah and his sons, saying to them "Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the earth."

With the great flood, the only human life remaining on planet earth was Noah, his wife, their three sons and their wives. The racial makeup of these wives is not known or mentioned in the Bible. If, however, racial characteristics are physical variations God allowed to help different peoples adapt to the habitat in the varied regions of the world, these wives could be the sources of the three races. Some scholars have postulated a racial breakdown of the three sons, with the Semitic peoples (such as the Jews), descending from Shem, the black peoples from Ham and white peoples from Japeth.

Genesis 9:24-25
When Noah awoke from his wine and found out what his youngest son had done to him, he said: "Cursed be Canaan! The lowest of slaves will he be to his brothers."

Because Ham means 'dark' or 'black,' some have incorrectly theorized that Ham was cursed with blackness because of the sin of the 'youngest son.' Since Canaan is specifically named as the guilty party, it is likely that the crime (likely a homosexual act or action) was committed by him personally. The 'youngest son' refers to the grandson, a common literary practice in Biblical writings. This curse definitely does not cover all of the Hamitic peoples, just the Canaanites. Additionally, all Hamitic peoples were not 'black' or negro: the Babylonians were a Hamitic people.

Are black people the result of a curse on Ham?

Discussions found in our other articles, such as "How did different skin colors come about?" show clearly that the blackness of, for example, black Africans, is merely one particular combination of inherited factors. This means that these factors themselves, though not in that combination, were originally present in Adam and Eve. The belief that the skin color of black people is a result of a curse on Ham and his descendants is nowhere taught in the Bible.

Furthermore, it was not Ham who was cursed, but his son, Canaan (Genesis 9:18, 25, 10:6). Furthermore, Canaan's descendants were probably mid-brown skinned (Genesis 10:15-19), not black.

False teaching about Ham has been used to justify slavery and other non-biblical racist practices. It is traditionally believed that the African nations are largely Hamitic, because the Cushites (Cush was a son of Ham: Genesis 10:6) are thought to have lived where Ethiopia is today. Genesis suggests that the dispersion was probably along family lines, and it may be that Ham's descendants were on average darker than, say, Japheth's. However, it could just as easily have been the other way around.

Genesis 9:1 Rahab, mentioned in the genealogy of Jesus in Matthew 1, was a Canaanite. A descendant of Ham, she must have married an Israelite. Since this was a union approved by God, it shows that the particular "race" she came from was not important. It mattered only that she trusted in the true God of Israel. Ruth, a Moabitess, also features in the genealogy of Christ. She expressed faith in the true God before her marriage to Boaz (Ruth 1:16). The only marriages God warns against are God's people marrying unbelievers.1
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The Curse of Ham
Race and Slavery in Early Judaism, Christianity, and Islam
by David M. Goldenberg

How old is prejudice against black people? Were the racist attitudes that fueled the Atlantic slave trade firmly in place 700 years before the European discovery of sub-Saharan Africa? In this book, David Goldenberg seeks to discover how dark-skinned peoples, especially black Africans, were portrayed in the Bible and by those who interpreted the Bible--Jews, Christians, and Muslims. His investigation covers a 1,500-year period, from ancient Israel (around 800 B.C.E.) to the eighth century C.E., after the birth of Islam. By tracing the development of anti-Black sentiment during this time, Goldenberg uncovers views about race, color, and slavery that took shape over the centuries--most centrally, the belief that the biblical Ham and his descendants, the black Africans, had been cursed by God with eternal slavery.

Goldenberg begins by examining a host of references to black Africans in biblical and postbiblical Jewish literature. From there he moves the inquiry from Black as an ethnic group to black as color, and early Jewish attitudes toward dark skin color. He goes on to ask when the black African first became identified as slave in the Near East, and, lastly, discusses the resounding influence of this identification on Jewish, Christian, and Islamic thinking, noting each tradition's exegetical treatment of pertinent biblical passages.

Situated at an illuminating nexus of images, attitudes, and history, The Curse of Ham is sure to have a profound and lasting impact on the perennial debate over the roots of racism and slavery, and on the study of early Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.

"A truly stunning work and a masterpiece of its kind. David Goldenberg goes far beyond anyone else in offering the most comprehensive, convincing, and important analysis I've read on interpretations of the famous Curse and, generally, of blackness and slavery. His research is breathtaking. It yields almost definitive answers to many longstanding debates over early attitudes toward dark skin." -- David Brion Davis, Yale University


Many civilizations, particularly the antebellum American South, have used the Curse of Ham as a justification for the enslavement of Blacks. In the story, Noah chastises his son, Ham, the father of Canaan, by exclaiming, "Cursed be Canaan; a slave of slaves shall he be to his brother." In this extensively and impressively researched new study, Goldenberg examines how this strange passage which makes no reference to skin color became the bedrock for the justification of Black slavery in postbiblical Judeo-Christian and Islamic societies. Sifting through and analyzing biblical sources, Goldenberg argues that there is no explicit mention of Blacks in the Hebrew Bible, negative or otherwise. However, during the early centuries of the Common Era, the influx of Black African slaves into the Near East and Arab lands had a profound effect upon biblical exegesis and the association of Ham with blackness. Goldenberg's careful and compelling readings of a variety of Christian and Islamic exegetical writings on the Curse of Ham reveal the changing attitudes toward Black Africans. Goldenberg's analysis emphasizes how political and social changes, such as Islamic conquests in Africa, shaped exegesis and attitudes toward Blacks and blackness. He describes how Jewish, Christian, and Islamic biblical interpretation began to see Blacks as inextricably linked with slavery and as a distinct ethnic group. In assessing the biblical justifications of slavery, Goldenberg has stepped into a continuing scholarly controversy about the nature and history of racism and emerges with a provocative and illuminating work. Goldenberg's brilliant analysis and momentous effort at collecting a range of biblical and exegetical sources provide an essential look at the development of slavery and racist attitudes in the Judeo-Christian and Islamic worlds.
It is true that the "Curse of Ham" (actual curse of Canaan) had NOTHING to do with skin color. Ham was not made black in this, nor were his descendants (they would have been whatever the genes dictated, independant of this situation). Scripture does not teach anything about skin color in relation to how people are different.

It is especially important to note that Canaan was not the father of all "black" people--he had brothers. Using the "Curse of Ham/Canaan" to justify modern slavery were indeed stretching and using lazy exegesis.

And it really had nothing to do with Blacks being enslaved in its original context and intent.

What it DID have to do with, is that Noah saw an even worse rebelliousness and disrespect brewing inside Ham's son Canaan than in Ham himself (and Ham was doing NOTHING about it). Think about this for a while. Who were Canaan's descendants? They were the Canaanites and included the inhabitants of Sodom and Gommorrah!

Everybody actually has the "same" skin color (melanin)--it's just the amount of the pigment that causes the varying shades.

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