The Nakedness of Noah

So, why do we call this passage “the sin of Ham” when it seems to be, based on frequency of word usage, all about the nakedness of Noah? That seems rather puzzling to me. Well, the short answer is that Ham’s son, Canaan, is cursed so severely that we put all of our attention on what Ham did rather than on Noah and how he got drunk, passed out, and wasn’t aware that he was exposed in his tent as he passed out. The text is in Genesis chapter 9, right after the big flood had settled down and the Lord promised never to judge the earth with a world-wide flood.

 

Apparently, the narrative is just too abbreviated. When dealing with Noah’s nakedness, the author wanted to move quickly from Ham’s treatment of his father – he was highly dishonoring of his father by leaving him uncovered and sharing his amusement at this fact with his brothers – to the sudden cursing of Ham’s progeny, the Canaanites.

 

Now, the proposals as to what the “sin of Ham” really was range from the perverted to the, well…even more perverted. Was Ham looking at and enjoying sexually his father’s nudity – the voyeuristic option. Or, perhaps due to repressed anger, did he commit a sexually violent act and castrate his father? Or did he rape his father while the latter was passed out. That’s door #3, better known as the “paternal incest” theory. Finally, a new interpretive door being opened, did Ham rape his mother, what is called the “maternal incest” theory?

 

Well, either Freud has tremendous explanatory power over this text or our culture has become so imbued with Freudianism that we are willing to read the text just about however we can to make it fit. I’m not going to cite all of the sources who maintain this sort of exegetical response as reasonable. Trust me, they are out there. It’s sad and strange, but through much of church history it would seem that commentators are so focused on the “sin of Ham” that they nearly forget about the “nakedness of Noah” and how he reacted harshly against the shame of his nakedness. Hey, a patriarch having to admit that he depended on his sons to prop him up after a bit too much drinking the night before was a big deal in that culture. Even today in our “enlightened” culture, I can easily see a father overreacting to try to protect his pride around his boys.

 

I certainly do not want to give the impression that figurative and symbolic meanings cannot legitimately be drawn from this text. They can. But isn’t deriving the idea that Ham was becoming sexually gratified by viewing his father’s nakedness a bit more than this text would support?

 

As to the ultimate spiritual meaning of this text, we may be only able to venture educated or plausible guesses. Which is fine. I’m cool with that. But let’s focus on what the text indicates – that Noah’s nakedness was dealt with dishonorably by one son and honorably by two sons – rather than putting so much emphasis upon what the text does not indicate – what sort of sexual fetish Ham might have had in order to provoke the cursing of so many generations. When it comes right down to it, Noah may have made a rash move by cursing Ham’s progeny, just as Saul had made a rash vow that nearly cost him his own son (I Sam. 14:24-46).

 

Here’s the full text of this narrative in the English Standard Version:

Noah began to be a man of the soil, and he planted a vineyard. He drank of the wine and became drunk and lay uncovered in his tent. And Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father and told his two brothers outside. Then Shem and Japheth took a garment, laid it on both their shoulders, and walked backward and covered the nakedness of their father. Their faces were turned backward, and they did not see their father’s nakedness. When Noah awoke from his wine and knew what his youngest son had done to him, he said:

     Cursed be Canaan;

        A servant of servants shall he be to his brothers. (Gen. 9:20-25; ESV).
ego

Audiobook Nook

Have you ever wondered how you can safely browse on the Internet without any outsiders spying on your Internet or web browser data? Is there a simple and cost-effective way to protecting your online privacy? How about “ethical hacking,” is that a contradiction in terms or an oxymoron? Recently released on audio, Hacking: The Ultimate Beginner’s Guide to the World ofHacking explores these concepts and offers some “how-to” advice for “noobs.”

Scottish philosopher and empiricist, David Hume, really opened the proverbial “can of worms” with his insightful reflections on inductive reasoning and how it often leads us astray, particularly in false believing that future events will resemble past events. Is there a solid justification for this intuitive belief or must it remain a passionate but unreliable guide for our future observations? JM Kuczynski explores one possible response to the “riddle of induction” with his release of The Problem of Induction (audible link here). In related news, a forthcoming release of this author’s book, Quine on the Analytic-Synthetic Distinction, on audio book is imminent.

How many names and titles does Yahweh assign to Himself in the Christian Bible? Find out more in the Names of God written by Chris Adkins.

 

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8 thoughts on “The Nakedness of Noah

  1. I was talking with a Christian a long time ago and he said that, according to Hebrew tradition, a man’s nakedness was a man’s wife. Ham raped Noah’s wife—that is why the sin was so grievous that Noah cursed Ham and his descendants.

    It is also written in Scripture:

    Leviticus 18: 7-8: “You shall not uncover the nakedness of your father, which is the nakedness of your mother; she is your mother, you shall not uncover her nakedness. You shall not uncover the nakedness of your father’s wife; it is your father’s nakedness.”

    Leviticus 20: 11: “If a man lies with his father’s wife, he has uncovered his father’s nakedness; both of them shall surely be put to death; their blood is upon them.”

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    • Ah, you are opting for door #4. Well, that option has become more popular of late, but it does have some difficulties as well as the other “sexual”-type theories. As pointed out, this whole line of inquiry shifts the focus from the “nakedness of Noah” to some sin (as yet unspecified by the text) of Ham. While that is well-suited for Freudian “eisegesis,” it’s not so great for actual textual exegesis.

      One of the key problems with trying to cite those verses from Leviticus is that it is a completely different genre than that of the narrative genre employed in Genesis. Once you dig into a concordance and look at the conjunction of Hebrew terms, you’ll see that a very particular conjoining of two terms, including the one for shameful nakedness, עֶר׳וָה, is featured in instances where “sexual sin” rather than “shameful nakedness” is instantiated.

      Thank you for your comment, though.

      [This is another WP account that I use in addition to contributing to our “zensfamily” blog account.]

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    • As I wrote in a recent Hebrew assignment: “A key reason for ruling out a sexual connotation of this term is that its usage is split about 50/50 between overt sexual relations and nakedness as indicative of disgrace or dishonor and it is always clear in the distinction since in the former case, the verb, גּלה, to expose or to uncover or to reveal, accompanies the noun, עֶר׳וָה. Neither that verb nor any of its forms are present in Gen. 9:22-23. Yet the litany of forbidden sexual relations in Leviticus chapter 18 and following features a repeating pattern of גּלה which is presented most forcefully in the capstone verse Lev. 18, “ל׳גַלּוֹת עֶרְוָה אְַנִוָה“ leaving no room for ambiguity about the controlling paradigm in which the predominant verb semantically interacts with noun. Yahweh is the I am and certain types of sexual interactions are forbidden.”

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  6. Many thanks for your fine work on my audio books, especially Quine on the Analytic-Synthetic Distinction. –J.-M. Kuczynski

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