May 29, 2009

Genesis 9.18->end of 10

The sons of Noah who went out of the ark were Shem, Ham, and Japheth. Ham was the father of Canaan. These three were the sons of Noah, and from these the whole Earth was peopled.

Noah, a man of the soil, was the first to plant a vineyard. He drank some of the wine and became drunk, and he 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 away; 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 by Canaan; lowest of slaves shall he be to his brothers."

He also said, "Blessed by the Lord my God be Shem; and let Canaan be his slave.

"May God make space for Japheth
and let him live in the tents of Shem;
and let Canaan be his slave."

After the flood Noah lived three hundred fifty years. All the days of Noah were 950 years, and he died.

[begats, begats, begats]... These are the families of Noah's sons, according to their genealogies, in their nations; and from these the nations spread abroad on the Earth after the Flood.

4 Comments:

At 1:35 PM, Blogger forrest said...

This strikes me as exceedingly odd.

The Israelites, whoever they were (aside from living in the hills, in places we can't much tell from normal Canaanite dwellings except for the utter lack of pork remains) took one of their names for God, 'El', directly from the chief Canaanite deity.

So here is this group who (at least eventually) claim that God has freed them from slavery to Egyptian overlords, coming out with a story that seems to say that slavery is just fine, applied to "Canaanites." Obviously these "Canaanites" are not African, but the tellers of this story may have been applying the same sort of reasoning as later Southern White USian readers: "We've got these people as slaves, and we like it that way just fine, so it must be fine with God, too!"

Logic has its limitations, but sometimes human reasoning goes a little too far beyond them!

And what is going on with the story itself? Does this make sense to anyone?

 
At 7:00 PM, Blogger Diane said...

As I look it symbolically (I wrote or edited an article once on Noah, but I hardly remember): we all descend from Noah, after the flood (a new cycle), so his sons and their descendants represent the various breakout groups.

But Noah and his three sons can be compared to Adam and his three sons, one of which wasn't all that well thought of (Cain = possession). I just checked the origin of the names of Noah's sons and the oldest "Shem" means Name, then Japheth means Enlarged, and Ham means Hot or Warm.
I had to search around for Canaan, which was given the meaning merchant, trader that that humbles or subdues.

If I apply what we may want to subdue, in service or slavery to another aspect of ourself, it would be the grosser-animal self to the "higher" spiritual self. Perhaps the sons/descendents represent aspects of our Self/self (like Arjuna's family in the Gita do). And Canaan/son of Ham represents some lower-self part.

I can't speak for the accuracy of the online origin descriptions, but you can see where I'm taking this to try to make sense of it.

 
At 11:20 AM, Blogger Hystery said...

The deal with the Canaanites is that they are agriculturalists and not nomadic herdsmen as were the Ipiru/Israelites. According to Bernhard Anderson (Understanding the Old Testament), the emphasis is not on the dark skin of the children of Ham but on their agricultural lifestyle and their sexual practices. Ham stands in for the Canaanite people whose great God is El and whose Goddess is Asherah. Canaanite religion linked agricultural and human fertility and their religious symbols marked that emphasis with widespread use of the asherim as representative of El's/Yahweh's consort(which takes us right back to the John I discussion* in which the early female presence (Asherah, Isis, Shekinah, Sophia) is made masculine in Christ/Logos. (Fiorenza 1994)


This passage is attributed to the J author (The Yahwist) during the period of the United Monarchy so we're looking at an oral tradition from around 950 B.C.E. (Anderson, 22) and this puts us in the beginning of the Iron Age, a period in which archaeologists find widespread Israelite use of both household and temple asherim. (Scham, "The Lost Goddess of Israel, 2005). Asherah is a figure more closely associated with the cult of El/Ba'al (especially those aspects related to sacred prostitution) so I wonder if we're seeing the Yahwistic author's condemnation of the El cult in favor of his own? Given the popularity of the fertility-related asherim present in his time in both homes and in the temple/palace, it is not too surprising that he comes down so hard on Canaanites. (Ellis, The Yahwist, 1968)

This pericope bums me out not merely because it makes me sad for the poor Canaanites but also because the Israel/Canaanite dichotomy is used as a model for Puritan/Native American relations. Those Puritans, steeped as they were in the biblical tradition, saw themselves as the new Israel and the Native Americans they displaced as the new Canaan. And that's before the racists get hold of this passage to justify race slavery. :(

 
At 4:54 PM, Blogger forrest said...

Alan Lew says that the whole Flood story is likely an insertion into earlier legend, which would make sense in terms of the exiled elite from Judah getting the story direct from the Babylonians.

But then I don't see how account for this part, which is obviously a rationale for trying to conquer & dispossess the Canaanites population (which I understand archeologists can't readily distinguish from the early Hebrew population aside from that pork bone absence...) The midrash that says Ham tried to castrate Noah, so that his sons could split the Earth three ways instead of (potentially) four or more... would make even less sense without some sort of depopulating disaster!

Sometimes this bit gets compared to the story of Lot's daughters, who somehow imagine that they are the only survivors of humanity, reduced to seducing their old man if they want to have children. Trying to get pregnant is not an option for Ham, so if he has tried to seduce Noah (the other common guess as to what's happened) we don't know why.

Okay, both of these are disaster stories; and both seem to associate homosexuality, settled life, violence and oppression (see midrash on Sodom & all that.) Whatever the truth of that Exodus story, we've got this way old tradition that the Israelites are people freed from someplace hierarchical and oppressive. They continue to revere nomadic customs, even after they settle down, & make the agriculturists the bad guys in various stories (for example Cain vs Abel) Later on, in Kings, we see a pagan ruler associated with a land grab against an Israelite who insists on his customary right, according to the Yahweh cult, to keep his ancestral property. Now those customs of land use, Jubilee etc, are supposed to be borrowings from large city-states to the East, where periodic debt-release & land-reform were necessary if a ruler expected to keep a peasant army in the field. (These were traditionally associated with the king in his capacity of being sacred to the Sun God.) They aren't the sort of customs you find associated with "Egypt" as a place where the king, following Joseph's advice, was said to have acquired all the inhabitants' land.

I'm going to wing it a bit here, and speculate that the Canaanites were a relatively commercialised society that could rely on professional armies. Their behavior was all wrong from the standpoint of a nomadic culture with strict laws of hospitality & patriarchal lines of authority plus the sexual taboos you'd expect to go with that! The story of Sodom (although there does not seem to have actually been any settlement there) shows what sort of behavior the Israelites associated with their pagan rivals, ie the midrash story that the "cry" which aroused God's interest in the place was that of a young woman being tortured to death for having given food to a beggar-- which ultimately leads to the place's destruction, so thoroughly so that as I've said, Lot's daughters assume they are the last survivors of humanity!)

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