Was it a serious sin for Noah to Curse Canaan?


Noah cursed Cannan, the son of Shem, for Shem’s disrespecting of Noah, but Cannan had done nothing wrong. Is it not an immoral action, a grave sin, even to pronounce a curse on an innocent person who was not to blame for the sin committed against you? It seems that way to me. In any case, God allowed it. Am I missing something?


Canaan was son of Ham, not son of Shem. Noah cursed Canaan because his father Ham had sex with Noah’s wife, his own mother.

And Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father, and told his two brothers outside. (Genesis 9:22)

Seeing your father’s nakedness was a euphamism for having sex with your father’s wife.

The man who lies with his father’s wife has uncovered his father’s nakedness; both of them shall be put to death, their blood is upon them. (Leviticus 20:11)

See also Leviticus 18:6-19. Sins of the father carried over to the sons in the Old Testament.



Yes, you’re right, I meant Ham but seem to always say Shem instead. :blush:
That’s quite interesting. I’ve not heard that as an interpretation before. Nevertheless, it seems that to curse someone who has not done you any harm personally still to be an immoral action.

Scripture states Noah was drunk, which impunes some guilt upon him, so I’m undecided about your interpretation as to the actual events. It’s possible, I suppose. I find ancestral cursing hard to fathom though. Thanks for your reply.


This is not my interpretation. I didn’t make this up. This is a mainstream Christian interpretation based on the actual words of the text. Read Leviticus 18:6-19. This is not something abnormal or in left field but based on how the ancient authors wrote and spoke.


Biblical authors often used evasive synonyms or what is called a circumlocution. They would not say God’s name but instead said, “The name.” They would evade having to say the name of male and female genitals but would say thigh, or leg or belly instead.

So the servant put his hand under the thigh of Abraham his master, and swore to him concerning this matter. (Genesis 24:9)

The servant actually put his hand on Abraham’s testicles. It was a way to swear an oath, basically saying that if you broke the oath your testicles would be cut off. Thigh is an evasive synonym for testicles. “Seeing your father’s nakedness” was an evasive synonym for having sex with his wife. The Bible is full of such sayings.

Noah was going to have sex with his wife but got drunk. Noah’s drunkeness gave his son Ham opportunity to defile Noah’s wife. Actually, I think the woman was Ham’s stepmother. Either way, like it or not, the sins of the father passed to the son.

keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation." (Exodus 34:7)

One of the things we take away from the story is the fact that God sent the flood because the entire world was evil and depraved. Noah and his family were saved through the flood but the whole ordeal really accomplished nothing for mankind. Ham went right back to the sins of his ancestors.

The flood is in many ways a new creation, a third creation story. Like the first and second creation stories, man fell. We couldn’t do it on our own. We need Jesus.



I was merely saying I had not heard that before, but my primary question here was about cursing someone who had done no wrong.

Thanks for answering.

Anyways, perhaps I am missing the point of the story. Maybe it is more just about the fallen state of man on the whole even after the flood.


I believe that Bishop Challoner, in his notes accompanying the Douay Bible, writes that the curses and blessings of the patriarchs were actually prophetic. I too had not heard the explanation that Timothy H gives. I have found Bishop Challoner’s notes very helpful in understanding scripture.


I have heard that. Some use that line of thinking to argue that cursing Canaan was an attempt by the authors to justify the treatment of the Canaanite people by the Hebrews. They claim that other blessings and curses were put in the Bible to justify treatment of various ethnic groups and individuals.

One reasonable explanation is that Ham had previously been blessed by God.

And God blessed Noah and his sons, and said to them, "Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth. (Genesis 9:1)

Can man then curse what God has already blessed? If not then perhaps Noah cursed Ham’s son instead.


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