Saturday, November 01, 2003

NOAH'S CURSE OF HAM and how it has been used to justify enslavement of Africans is the subject of an article in the New York Times. It surveys the findings of a number of scholars.

From Noah's Curse to Slavery's Rationale

Published: November 1, 2003

As stories go, this one has all the elements of good soap opera: nudity, sex and dysfunctional families.

For many scholars, though, the enigmatic tale in Genesis 9 describing how Noah cursed the descendants of his son Ham with servitude remains a way to explore the complex origins of the concept of race: how and why did people begin to see themselves as racially divided?

In the biblical account, Noah and his family are not described in racial terms. But as the story echoed through the centuries and around the world, variously interpreted by Islamic, Christian and Jewish scholars, Ham came to be widely portrayed as black; blackness, servitude and the idea of racial hierarchy became inextricably linked.

By the 19th century, many historians agree, the belief that African-Americans were descendants of Ham was a primary justification for slavery among Southern Christians.

The debate about just what the story of Ham and Noah means has marched on into the 21st century. Today scholars are increasingly reading documents in the authors' original languages and going further back in time and to more places, as well as calling on disciplines like sociology and classics. Their ambitions are also bigger than just parsing Ham.


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