Religion & Beliefs

The Curse of Ham

I don't know about you, but I'm a big big fan of the "This Week in God" segments on the Daily Show.  They aren't nearly as good as they used to be (because Samantha Bee just isn't funny, and Steve … Read More

By / May 15, 2007
Jewcy loves trees! Please don't print!

I don't know about you, but I'm a big big fan of the "This Week in God" segments on the Daily Show.  They aren't nearly as good as they used to be (because Samantha Bee just isn't funny, and Steve Colbert is an absolute genius) but I still look for them  every night at 11.

Well last night, the God Machine picked on the Mormons.  Which is fine, but then Bee got to talking about the fact that Mormons have something of a racist past (they refused to ordain African Americans until 1978?), which I know little about. But according to the book of Mormon, a descendent of Cain married a son of Ham, and made a whole nasty dark race: 

And I beheld, after they had dwindled in unbelief they became a dark and loathsome and a filthy people, full of idleness and all manner of abominations

Ummm.  Yeah. That sucks.

We can blame this particular nastiness on the Mormons of course, since the rest of us don't recognize a prophet named Nephi… but here's the trick… Bee mentioned that this particular flavor of racism is rooted in the whole "Curse of Ham" thing.  And that got me up and hunting for dirt. Because I don't think Mormons invented that.

The curse of Ham?

I've always known, vaguely, about the sons of Noah–Shem, Ham, and Japheth.  I've always thought that "Shem" was supposed to be the root for "Semite". But I did NOT know that Ham was cursed, or that he was a black man.  What's up with that?

Well, it would seem that the early Jewish interpretations of a passage in Genesis weren't much better, though we can breathe a sigh of relief that we do NOT have any overt racist dogma in the Torah:

The actual writings of Moses assign no racial characteristics or rankings to Ham, nor do they pronounce a curse on Ham, or blacks. Indeed Moses married a Cushite, one of the reputed descendants of Ham, according to the Biblical narrative (Book of Numbers, Chapter 12). Despite this, a number of early Jewish writers have interpreted the Biblical narrative of Ham in what is deemed to be a racial way. Early Jewish scholars used the Genesis passage, and the idea that the Hamitic people were to be a "servant of servants", to rationalize the Israelite subjugation of Cush's younger brother, Canaan. These scholars, working around the 6th century AD, introduced the idea that Ham was marked by dark skin. From the Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 108b: "Our Rabbis taught: Three copulated in the ark, and they were all punished — the dog, the raven, and Ham. The dog was doomed to be tied, the raven expectorates [his seed into his mate's mouth]. and Ham was smitten in his skin."{Talmud Bavli, Sanhedrin 108b}

So that's cool. No explicit racism in Genesis.  Something of  a relief. 

Now only if we could clear up the whole "women and gays" thing.