Genesis 9:18–27

The sons of Noah who came out of the ark were Shem, Ham, and Japheth. Ham was the father of Canaan. From these three, the whole earth was populated.

Noah was a man of the soil and the first to plant a vineyard. He drank of the wine and became drunk, exposing himself in his tent. Ham, father of Canaan, saw his father’s nakedness, went outside, and told his brothers. Shem and Japheth took a cloak, spread it over their shoulders, and walked backward to cover Noah. With their faces turned backward, they did not see their father’s nakedness.

When Noah woke from the wine, he discovered what his youngest son had done to him. Noah said:

“Cursed be Canaan:
the lowest slave shall he be
to his brothers.”

And he continued:

“Blessed be the LORD,
God of Shem;
Canaan will be their slave.
May God enlarge Japheth,
may he dwell in Shem’s tents,
Canaan will be their slave.”

This passage is cryptic enough to loose much speculation and, for some, justify dominion over a whole line of cousins. In specific, Ham is connected not just with Canaanites, but, later with Africans and their enslavement.

The narrative here is the national history of Israel anticipated (meaning written back into this account) as they will enter Canaan and subjugate that people.

Ham is introduced as Noah’s middle son. What his offense was has been mightily debated to no useful conclusion. Just before Noah’s curse of Canaan (instead of Ham?) and blessing of Shem (and, secondarily, Japheth), Ham is referenced as the youngest son. This confusion about Noah’s reasoning and Ham’s birth order give pause to any over-application of this narrative to living people.

In general terms, Noah’s response is based on saving face. Noah (a “man of the soil”—’adam?) plants a vineyard and gets drunk. To deflect from his self-pollution, Ham becomes the fall-guy—perhaps deservedly; perhaps innocently. The multi-valence of this passage is a Rorschach-like test where readers can have their biases confirmed.

If there is anything in pushing the story backward from Ham to a fault lying with Noah, the Drunk, it may be further pushed to the very earth itself, from which came the fruit of the vine. If so, we return to the strange story of the Nephilim (6:11–12)—”the earth was corrupt” as well as “outraged.” A choice then comes to push “earth” back to the soil East of Eden that is so difficult to till or to 1:9, the appearance of dry land and eventually shaped into ’adam. Fault and dealing with fault is a persistent theme through the bible. Does fault automatically lead to a curse or is there another response available to us (and, in particular, to you, the reader)?

Here is a little ditty from my lectionary reflections in Wrestling Year A: Connecting Sunday Readings with Lived Experience.

Noah co-conspirator
in global destruction
can see the benefit
of everything blotted out
leaving him standing
on a mountain top
surveying all as his

Noah comes forth
savoring being a savior
all creation owing him
a debt of gratitude
wrapping a rainbow
about his shoulders
and gets drunk

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