Canaan Cursed? by
(Bob Enyart has
submitted this article for consideration for
publication by various creation periodicals.)
did Noah curse his grandson Canaan?
Genesis Nine records that Ham saw Noah’s
nakedness, and as a result, Noah cursed his grandson
Canaan went on to become the patriarch of Israel’s
longstanding enemies, the Canaanites.
The story seems capricious on the surface, in
contrast to so much reasonable history in Genesis. A common biblical
figure of speech appears in Canaan’s story, and
when Christians reread the story understanding this
figure, the message of this account becomes
Hebrew commonly speaks of a man’s nakedness
to refer to sexual intercourse with the man’s
Moses wrote in Leviticus, “The man who lies with
his father’s wife has uncovered his father’s
lived a cursed life because he was conceived by a
Thus the brief story twice reminds its
ancient readers that Ham (not Noah) is the
father of Canaan.
So Noah cursed Canaan not as an evil spell or
hex, but as a warning to others against following in
Ham’s wicked ways.
And readers of Genesis find a clear and
reasonable origin for the conflict that lasted for
centuries between the Jews and the Canaanites.
did Noah curse his grandson Canaan?
This boy’s father, Ham, saw Noah’s
nakedness, and as a result, Noah cursed Canaan, who
became the patriarch of Israel’s enemies, the
story seems capricious on the surface, in contrast
to so much reasonable history in Genesis. Let’s take another look at what happened.
various tribes of Canaanites are listed in Gen.
10:15‑18, including the Sidonians, Jebusites,
Amorites, Girgashites, and Hivites.
The Canaanites settled in familiar areas
including Sodom and Gomorrah and the cities of Gaza
(Gen. 10:19). The
hostility with their namesakes (and mixed
descendants) continued right up until Christ for
example when He resisted ministering to “a woman
of Canaan” (Mat. 15:22).
But why did Canaan and therefore his
descendants become cursed? Reading the account in Genesis 9, many suppose that after
Noah became drunk, Ham saw his father naked,
and as a result, Noah cursed Ham’s son Canaan.
I submit that is not at all what happened.
For that story, at least on its surface,
would be an especially arbitrary and capricious
origin for Canaan, Israel’s great nemesis.
Here is what actually happened:
story is not so much about Noah, or Ham, but about
Canaan. As shown below, seeing the nakedness of a man is a common
Hebrew expression for having sex with his wife (Lev.
20:11). Canaan lived a cursed life because he was conceived by a
Noah’s kids, Japheth, Shem, and Ham lived
for about a century in the wicked pre-flood world.
The statement that “Ham was the father of
Canaan” (Gen. 9:18) begins this passage, which
then quickly repeats “Ham, the father of Canaan”
(Gen. 9:22), as though the author wants his readers
not to miss the relationship.
The story ends with three mentions of Canaan
including “Cursed be Canaan” (Gen. 9:25).
The first chapters of the Bible quickly cover
1,600 years of sinful human history.
Yet, there is no mention of intoxication
until after the flood, until Noah planted a vineyard
and became drunk.
While Noah was inebriated, one of his sons,
Ham, committed incest with Noah’s wife.
Taking advantage of his father’s
drunkenness, Ham, who had lived before the flood in
a sexually perverse society, had intercourse with
his own mother, impregnating her and thereby
So because Noah’s own wife bore Canaan, the
story twice clarified for its ancient audience that
“Ham was the father of Canaan,” not Noah,
as the earliest Canaanites may have misrepresented
Israel’s nearby enemies, not all were Canaanites.
For example, the Moabites and Ammonites were
the product of other parent/child relations.
Again involving drunkenness, Abraham’s
nephew Lot impregnated his daughters who gave birth
to the Moabites and Ammonites (Gen. 19:36‑38).
Any child conceived in this way, regardless
of mutational considerations, enters life set up to
had his grandmother for a mother, his grandfather
for an uncle, his mother for a great aunt, his
father for a cousin, and, worst of all, his brother
for a father (half-brother, that is).
Early humans reproduced with siblings and
first cousins without harm because genetic
deterioration had not become a significant factor.
But mutation severity likely grew quickly
after the Flood, moving God in the Mosaic Law to
prohibit relations between close relatives (Lev. 18,
even prior to the Flood, a parent/child relation
would have produced a twisted family.
all authors and peoples do, Moses and the Jews used
figures of speech.
Some of the Bible’s figures of speech are
euphemisms that promote modesty.
For example, instead of saying that Adam had
sexual intercourse with Eve, the Bible more politely
says that “Adam knew Eve his wife, and she
conceived” (Gen. 4:1).
And Moses writes, “the man who lies with”
rather than using the modern and more crude phrase,
“has sex with.”
The reader who misses these common figures of
speech will misunderstand the plain meaning of
Moses wrote the first five books of the
God through Moses used the same decency when
describing other physical relations.
For example, when prohibiting incest in the
Mosaic Law, rather than saying, a man shall not have
intercourse with his mother, Moses wrote that he
shall not “uncover his father’s nakedness.”
man who lies with his father’s wife has uncovered
his father’s nakedness…’
Moses also wrote that Ham saw his father’s
nakedness, that was a respectful (and appreciated)
way of saying that he copulated with her.
See how frequently Moses and the Scriptures
use this Hebrew figure of speech:
a man lies with his uncle's wife, he has uncovered
his uncle's nakedness.
a man takes his brother's wife…
He has uncovered his brother's nakedness.’ Lev. 20:20‑21
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
Of course, this can also be described in more
literal terms as uncovering the woman’s
nakedness, but it can also be referred to,
idiomatically, as referring to the husband’s,
father’s, brothers, uncle’s, or son’s
nakedness can equal his nakedness because as Paul
writes, your body is “not your own” (1 Cor.
6:19), and from this perspective, your mother’s
body belongs to your father.
Thus: ‘The nakedness of your father’s
wife you shall not uncover; it is your father’s
nakedness’ (Lev 18:8).
Again, “It is your father’s nakedness!”
used this 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 condemns not the sin of
homosexuality but of getting your neighbor drunk in
order to seduce his wife, when he warns: “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 Lev.
18:10, 14, 17‑18; 1 Sam. 20:30; and Ezek.
Habakkuk warns against looking upon a
neighbor’s nakedness, which is just the slightest
alternate form of uncovering his nakedness.
understanding this common Hebrew figure of speech
enables the reader to comprehend Moses’
3,500-year-old account of why Noah cursed Canaan:
was the father of Canaan…
And Noah began to be a farmer, and he planted
a vineyard. Then
he drank of the wine and was drunk, and became
uncovered in his tent [his own drunkenness left his
wife vulnerable and exposed to Ham’s wickedness].
And Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the
nakedness of his father [that is, he had sex with
Noah’s wife, Ham’s own mother], and told his two
brothers outside [as wicked people often brag of
their sin, and as misery loves company, and perhaps
even inviting them to do likewise].
But Shem and Japheth took a garment, laid it
on both their shoulders, and went backward and
covered the nakedness of their father [refusing to
further abuse her].
Their faces were turned away, and they did
not see their father’s nakedness [i.e., their
mother’s nude body].
So Noah awoke from his wine, and knew what
his younger son had done to him [because he found
out from his wife and his sons].
Then he said [after he learned of the
pregnancy]: “Cursed be Canaan [whose father was
do Christian readers often miss this real story of
undermining of Genesis as literal and rational
history leads believers, even many authorities, to
neglect serious study of Genesis and much of the Old
Testament. Christians read that Ham saw his father’s nakedness and
therefore Noah cursed baby Canaan.
That may seem capricious and arbitrary to
many, but millions of Christians are conditioned to
take the Bible with a grain of salt.
After all, if the masses assume that they
cannot trust the Bible’s six literal days of
Creation, nor its story of Noah’s Ark and a global
flood, then why worry about a silly detail like Noah
blaming his grandchild for his own drunken behavior.
true story shows the tragic reality of a child being
set up to fail by the wickedness of his father.
Thus Noah cursed Canaan as a statement of
that reality, not as a hex or evil spell, but as a
warning to others against following in Ham’s
wicked ways. So
incest set the background for centuries of conflict
between Noah’s Hamitic descendents, especially
those through Canaan, against the descendants of
Shem, the Semites, especially the Jews, to whom God
promised the land of the Canaanites.
the story of Canaan’s curse follows the Creation
and Flood accounts, rightly understood it helps us
to see that all throughout, Genesis is a rational
book of history.
Bob Enyart’s unpublished manuscript, The
Enyart pastors Denver Bible Church.
Bob first had a technical career working: at McDonnell
Douglas Helicopter Company on the Army’s
Apache helicopter; as a systems analyst for “Baby
Bell” U S West; as a program manager for Microsoft;
and as a senior analyst for PC Week.
Bob became a believer in 1973 entered
fulltime Christian work in 1989, and in 1991 began
hosting a daily radio show on AM 670 KLTT.
In 1999, the elders and pastor of Denver’s
Derby Bible Church ordained Bob into the ministry.
In 2000, Derby planted Denver Bible Church
with Bob as pastor.