Nothing Worse Than Seeing Your Parents Naked

There's a very strange story in Genesis 9:18-29. Folks have asked me about it a lot lately, so I thought it might be worth a closer look. The story takes place shortly after Noah and his family have survived the flood and God has made a covenant with them and with their descendants, promising to never again let the flood waters destroy all people.

Genesis 9:20 tells us that Noah was a man of the soil and planted a vineyard. It's good that he was a man of the soil, because I feel like white collar job opportunities would've been hard to come by so soon after the flood. The consumer base was awfully small at that time. What else was there besides the soil? Retail? Dot coms? No, you were pretty much stuck with farming. In time, Noah chose to imbibe from the fruit of his labor and he became drunk, eventually passing out naked in his tent.

One of Noah's sons, Ham (identified as the father of Canaan), saw his father naked. That's how the NIV translates it. In Hebrew, it's literally "saw the nakedness of his father." That's important. We'll come back to that. Ham immediately told his two brothers. His brothers, Shem and Japheth, grabbed a garment, threw it over their shoulders, walked into the tent backwards, and tried to save a little of their dad's dignity by covering him up. Genesis 9:23 emphasizes, "their faces were turned away, and they did not see the nakedness of their father." When Noah woke up from his bender, the Bible says he knew what Ham had done to him, and he issued a curse against Ham's son Canaan, saying "Cursed be Canaan, he will be the lowest of slaves to his brothers!"

I have some questions.

He knew what Ham had done to him? What does that mean? What did Ham do?

I thought he just happened to see his dad naked. Maybe if his dad hadn't drank so much wine it never would've happened!

Did something else happen?

And why did he curse Ham's son and not Ham? How is that right? Who wants to be punished for something their dad did wrong?

Maybe he ran out to his brothers and had a good laugh about his old man, drunk and naked in the tent. Maybe something more happened while Ham was in the tent. All we know is Noah didn't appreciate his son's behavior, so much so that Noah decided to curse his own grandson.

Well, that's all we know when we read it in English. But the Bible wasn't written in English.

In the book of Leviticus (see Lev 18:7; 18:8, and 20:11, for example), the phrase "uncovering the nakedness of your/his father" is a euphemism. A euphemism is simply a mild way of saying something more harsh. In this case, this phrase is a mild way of saying someone had sex with their mother. See? That's a harsh way to say it. And icky. So they used a euphemism. Some folks have suggested that in Genesis 9, Ham had sex with his mother.

You might respond, "But he didn't uncover any nakedness, he just saw nakedness!" I would point you to Leviticus 20:17, which connects seeing nakedness and uncovering nakedness. This time, with one's sister. Ewww.

If this is how we should understand this phrase, it would explain a couple of things. First, we would know what is meant by Noah waking up and knowing what was done to "him": his wife had been assaulted by his own son. Second, it might offer insight into why Ham's son is cursed rather than Ham. Perhaps Canaan is the product of Ham and his mother's union. Yikes.

Marty McFly. A better man than Ham.

You can find all sorts of YouTube videos discussing this interpretation, and frankly, many of them are made by folks with some wacky understandings of the Bible otherwise. Even so, I think there is something to this interpretation of a difficult passage. I'd offer links to some of these videos, but they don't need more views. They're weird. I really should think about a YouTube channel just to counter these crazies.


  1. So is there any inside information on how Adam and Eves children had children? I wrote a long reply but it didn't post so this makes me think of that


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