Racism and the “Curse of Ham”

It has been called “America’s original sin.”

Racism is not only sinful, it is stupid. It really isn’t a matter of color as much as it is Melanin level. Melanin is a natural sunblocking agent that helped our ancestors adapt to the climates they lived in. The closer you lived to the equator the higher your Melanin level and consequently, the darker your skin tone. Nonetheless, there than a 0.2% genetic difference. That’s it. So to hold to racism shows a severe ignorance of basic biology.

Nonetheless, even more tragic is the fact that people have often used the Bible to attempt to justify racism. While the “Curse of Ham” teaching is not as common as it once was, it remains a damnable false doctrine that must be denounced in the strongest terms possible.
Genesis 9 is a very loaded chapter dealing with Noah and his family getting resituated after the flood. It starts with God pronouncing a blessing on Noah and his three sons, Shem, Ham and Japeth. The three of them eventually migrated to different parts of the world and the various ethnicities emerging from their descendents . Shem (which is where the term “Semitic” comes from) was the father of the Jews and Arabs. Japeth was the father of the European people and Ham became the father of the Africans by way of his sons Cush, who settled in Ethiopia, Mizraim who settled in Egypt and Put, who settled Libya. You can read the genealogy in Genesis 10, which is known as the “Table of Nations.” However, one of Ham’s sons, Canaan did not migrate to Africa. We’ll talk more about that in a moment.

Later, Noah plants a vineyard, overindulges in some of the wine and passes out drunk and naked. Ham sees him, tells his brothers and they cover him up. When Noah sobers up, he is very angry and says “Cursed be Canaan, a servant of servants shall he be to his brothers.” The details of this incident are not clear. The Talmud suggests that Ham either tried to castrate or sodomize his father but that can only be speculated.

So why did Noah curse Canaan and not Ham? For one thing, God had already blessed Ham, so he could not have been cursed (Numbers 23:8). But it would appear that, whatever Ham did, Canaan was complicit in some way. Still don’t try to read things into the incident that are not there. Noah only curses Canaan, not his descendants. Also, nothing is said about skin color. Again, Canaan did not migrate to Africa like his brothers did, therefore he and his descendants were not black. The land of Canaan was what is now known as the Levant region which consists of Israel, Lebanon and parts of Jordan and Syria . The point is that their skin tone was likely somewhere between white and olive.

Most of the Canaanites were killed when Israel invaded the land. Even then, the reason God gives is for their sin, not any kind of curse. Archeological discoveries show how wicked these people were. Clay jars have been dug up which contained skeletal remains of infants that had been sacrificed in their rituals. So we can see why God would bring His judgement on them especially after He had given them 400 years to repent of their sins.

I want to give you a brief overview of how God demonstrates His love for and desire to include people of all ethnicities in His redemptive plan and how African people in particular have always been a part of that plan:

When God begins to reveal His redemptive plan to Abraham, He emphasizes the fact that all the nations of the earth would be included in that plan. We can see numerous examples of how African people fit into that.

  • In Numbers 12 we see Moses was married to an Ethiopian woman and how his sister came under God’s judgement for making an issue of it.
  • Nobles shall come from Egypt; Cush shall hasten to stretch out her hands to God. Psalm 68:31 ESV
  • The prophet Zephania was from the Tribe of Cush which had settled in Africa.

Moving into the New Testament:

  • Simon of Cyrene, who helped Jesus carry His Cross, was a black man (Cyrene was in North Africa ).
  • The church was born in an international assembly on the Day of Pentecost. This was no accident. The Holy Spirit was poured out on a group of people with very diverse ethnicities and backgrounds, including people from “,,, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene.” In other words, Africans.
  • As the Gospel begins to spread into Samaria we see an Ethiopian Eunuch (Acts 8:27) who was led to Christ by Phillip.
  • In addition,we see in Acts 13 leaders in the early church included men such as Simeon called Niger (which means black) and Lucius, who was also from Cyrene (Acts 13:1-3).
  • Finally, in chapter 7, verses 9-10 of the magnificent Book of Revelation, we see people from every tribe, tongue and nation worshipping God together for all eternity!

So to those who use an imaginary “curse” as an excuse for racism, Martin Luther King rightly called it a “blasphemy” that “is against everything that the Christian religion stands for.”

Keep It Real,

James

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