Table of ContentsForeword, Preface, and Introduction
The biblical answer to racism
Are black people the result of a curse on Ham?
It has been clearly shown that the blackness of, for example, ‘black’ Africans is merely one particular combination of inherited factors (see Chapter 4). This means that these factors themselves, though not in that combination, were originally present in Adam and Eve. The belief that the skin color of black people is a result of a curse on Ham and his descendants is taught nowhere in the Bible. Furthermore, it was not Ham who was cursed; it was his son, Canaan (Gen. 9:18, 25; 10:6), and Canaan’s descendants were probably brown-skinned (Gen. 10:15–19).
The following two quotes illustrate how people have been falsely misled concerning Ham and Canaan.
In 1958, from the writings of the Mormon church:
We know the circumstances under which the posterity of Cain (and later of Ham) were cursed with what we call Negroid racial characteristics.1
In 1929, a Jehovah’s Witnesses publication stated:
The curse which Noah pronounced upon Canaan was the origin of the black race.2
False teaching about Ham has been used to justify slavery and other nonbiblical, racist attitudes. It is traditionally believed that the African nations are largely Hamitic, because the Cushites (Cush was a son of Ham—Gen. 10:6) are thought to have lived where Ethiopia is today. Genesis suggests that the dispersion was probably along family lines, and it may be that Ham’s descendants were on average darker than, say, Japheth’s. However, it could just as easily have been the other way around.
Let’s consider some of the details surrounding the curse on Canaan. In Genesis 9:18–27 we read:
And the sons of Noah that went out of the ark were Shem, Ham, and Japheth. And Ham is the father of Canaan. These are the three sons of Noah, and the whole earth was overspread from them. And Noah began to be a husbandman. And he planted a vineyard. And he drank of the wine and was drunk. And he was uncovered inside his tent. And Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father, and told his two brothers outside. And Shem and Japheth took a garment and laid it upon both their shoulders. And they went backwards and covered the nakedness of their father. And their faces were backwards, and they did not see their father’s nakedness. And Noah awoke from his wine, and came to know what his younger son had done to him. And he said, Cursed be Canaan. He shall be a servant of servants to his brothers. 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 their servant.
Notice that when the sons of Noah are listed, Ham is described as being ‘the father of Canaan.’ The names of the other two sons are mentioned, but Ham is particularly singled out as being the father of Canaan. Why is this so?
Now Ham had four sons, Cush, Mizraim, Phut, and Canaan. However, consider the descendants of Canaan.
The descendants of Canaan were some of the most wicked people to ever live on the earth—the people of Sodom and Gomorrah for instance. What is interesting to note is that the Bible seems to indicate, in Genesis 9:22, that when Ham was disrespectful to his father Noah, this involved some sort of sexual connotation.
It is indeed possible that Noah saw in Canaan the same sin problem that his father Ham had. It is a sad fact of history (there are a number of recorded instances in the Bible) that when the father sins, the next generation learn from the father and are often more wicked than their father.
Therefore, it seems that Noah understood that Canaan’s descendants would also reflect this rebellious nature. Remember, the people of Sodom and Gomorrah were judged for their sexual perversion.
The curse of Canaan has nothing whatsoever to do with skin color, but is in fact an example warning fathers to train their children in godly principles. If this is not done in one generation, then generations to come will express their rebellious nature as seen in the wickedness of Canaan’s descendants.
- Bruce McConkie, Apostle of the Mormon Council of 12, Mormon Doctrine, p. 554, 1958.
- The Golden Age, The Watchtower (now is called Awake!), p. 702, 24 July 1929.
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