In Genesis 9:22-25, Ham's son Canaan was cursed because Ham saw his father (Noah) naked. The punishment seems excessive indicating there is more to the passage than meets the eye.

What did Ham do to cause Noah to curse his son, Canaan?


In the Old Testament, "uncovering the nakedness of your father" was a euphemism that was used for having relations with his wife.

The likely explanation for this passage, based on my own study and consulting numerous commentaries of Bible scholars, is that, while Noah was drunk and unaware of what was going on around him, Ham entered his father's tent and had relations with his mother. Canaan was likely the result of that union, which explains why he was the target of the curse.

This explanation is not definitive, but it is the one that makes the most sense based on my study of the passage and the cultural underpinnings of the Old Testament.


There are homosexual tones to this passage, especially in verse 24, suggesting that there was more involved than just seeing a man naked:

24 And Noah awoke from his wine, and knew what his younger son had done unto him.

But the interesting thing is it is not Ham who is cursed, but one of his sons, Canaan:

Genesis 9:25-27: And he said, Cursed be Canaan; a servant of servants shall he be unto his brethren. And he said, Blessed be the LORD God of Shem; and Canaan shall be his servant. God shall enlarge Japheth, and he shall dwell in the tents of Shem; and Canaan shall be his servant.

The fact that Ham was the father of Canaan is especially highlighted in verses 9:18,22, in the leadup to this episode, and before Canaan even enters the story in his own right. When this story was being told, the Canaanites were the detested rivals of the Hebrew people, so the audience no doubt revelled in hearing of the putative forefather of the Canaanites being relegated to the status of slave. The biblical sons of Ham were Cush, Mizraim, Phut and Canaan (Genesis 10:6), but only Canaan was to be cursed in this story of Noah.

If, along with geologists, historians and most critical scholars, we accept that there was no worldwide Flood, then the story of Ham is really a legend that arose for the enlightenment or entertainment of the Hebrews.

  • I have also heard that the expression used to say Ham "saw his Father's nakedness' is actually an ancient expression for a man trying to sleep with his father's wife. I cannot recall exactly where the source was, it may have been a commentary by Scott Hahn or Fr. Mitch Pacwa, SJ. May 21 '15 at 14:24

I'm not a theologian, but I believe that Ham most likely made fun of Noah when he told his brothers about him being naked in the tent. I have also heard that what it really means is that Ham did something inappropriate to Noah, but this is one of those translation issues where we don't have English words that directly correlate to the wording in the scripts. Hope that helps.

  • I agree. Noah likely got upset because Ham told his brothers that Noah was drunk and naked, dishonouring him. Ham should have just covered his father and pretend nothing happened (as the others did)
    – algiogia
    Aug 13 '15 at 12:36

In that day modesty was huge. Looking at the Strong's meanings it appears that Noah's sons took a robe and walked backwards to drop it on Noah's nakedness without looking. Ham stared at him which angered Noah. The meaning of the curse on Canaan is much more vague. It most likely a reference to Israel taking Canaanite land for themselves. Cursing Ham's descendants would have been a prophetic pronouncement before Israel even had a country as in Leviticus 18:22.

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