One of the blogs I have begun following, entitled “hessianwithteeth” (HWT), has posted a series of articles entitled “Why I Can’t Agree with the Bible“. These articles basically list questions that the author has as she reads through the Bible, starting with Genesis. I will now attempt to answer some of the questions she has from the book of Genesis, using the criteria set forth in my introductory article.
Previous articles in this series:
We go back to the nakedness being evil thing again when Ham, Noah’s son, sees Noah naked. So Noah curses Ham’s son Canaan (oh look, the Hebrew Canaanites) for Ham seeing him naked, and he praises his son Shem for covering him (though both of Ham’s brothers apparently covered him, so why did only one get praised?). How does Noah know what has happened to him since he seemed to immediately wake up and curse Canaan? Why is Ham seeing him naked (by accident) so bad that Noah curses his own grandson as punishment? Why does he curse Canaan instead of Ham?
Unfortunately I do not have a whole lot of light to shed on this particular subject. However, I find myself in good company, as the research I’ve done and the questions I’ve asked have borne little fruit. I will tackle these questions one by one and answer them as best I can.
HWT: “[Shem and Japheth] apparently covered him, so why did only one get praised?”
Actually, they were both praised (or, more accurately, blessed).
And he said, Blessed be the LORD God of Shem; and Canaan shall be his servant. God shall enlarge Japheth, and he shall dwell in the tents of Shem; and Canaan shall be his servant. (Gen 9:26-27)
HWT: “How does Noah know what has happened to him since he seemed to immediately wake up and curse Canaan?”
This is a good question, and the text does not reveal the answer overtly. It could be that by “awakened” the author is saying he sobered up from being drunk, and remembered what happened while he was drunk. Or, alternatively, his wife or other children may have informed him of what happened. These seem to be the simplest and most parsimonious answers.
HWT: “Why is Ham seeing him naked (by accident) so bad that Noah curses his own grandson as punishment?”
Here, you have made an assumption that is not contained within the text, i.e. “by accident.”
And Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father, and told his two brethren without. (Gen 9:22)
Now granted, it doesn’t say it was on purpose either. However, because of the severity of the punishment, I am inclined to think it was more than an accidental peek. However, exactly what happened is definitely the $64 question. There are many hypotheses ranging from Ham castrating Noah to Ham sleeping with Noah’s wife (Ham’s mother). While I would call the castration hypothesis hogwash, at least the infidelity with Noah’s wife has some merit based on a phrase used later in the giving of the law.
Lev 18:8 The nakedness of thy father’s wife shalt thou not uncover: it is thy father’s nakedness.
Lev 20:11 And the man that lieth with his father’s wife hath uncovered his father’s nakedness…
In the light of these verses it is plausible that Ham at least purposely saw his mother in a compromising position and that possibly more occurred than just his viewing of her. It would also explain why Shem and Japheth backed into the tent to cover up their mother, when that measure seemingly wouldn’t be absolutely necessary were it just their father who was in need of covering. At any rate, it would seem from the result (Noah’s cursing of Canaan) that the cause was more than an innocent viewing of Noah in a compromising position.
HWT: “Why does he curse Canaan instead of Ham?”
This is another mystery. Some have posited that Canaan was involved in the transgression in some way, but the text simply doesn’t give any indication to that effect. At this juncture, speculation could indeed run rampant, but given the lack of evidence in this account and the lack of further details later in the revelation, I think it is quite appropriate to say “I don’t know.”
I do have a counter question for you, however. When I initially asked you to narrow down the focus of your questions, and you said “These are the questions that I am most interested in having answered”, why did you choose these, in particular?
This passage and those like it are examples of the brutal honesty of the Bible. Noah was as much a hero as any man could ever hope to be. I mean heck, he literally SAVED HUMANITY from extinction. Yet, the last picture we see of this hero is an old man naked and drunk, and cursing his grandchild. Not a pretty picture, but the Bible tells it, warts and all. There is no attempt to cover up this dark period of Noah’s life, nor the problems of many other Biblical heroes such as Abraham and David, and even Peter and Thomas and other Apostles in the New Testament had their moments. Their flaws are not covered or glossed over, but are told about and dealt with honestly, for our benefit.
I’d love to discuss these things with you. Any questions and comments that are in line with this page’s Commenting Policy will be published and responded to (to the best of my ability).
For more information on how I keep my worldview informed please go to Cross Roads Church.