There seems to be confusion among many regarding Noah and the incident that occurred while he was sleeping in a drunken state, as recorded in Genesis 9:20-27.
It is generally assumed that the “YOUNGER SON” referred to in Gen. 9:24 is Ham, the son of Noah.
And Noah awoke from his wine, and knew what his YOUNGER SON had done unto him. (Gen. 9:24)
Therefore, it follows that Ham was directly or indirectly involved in a severe transgression against Noah, his father.
This study will address the fact that Ham was not the younger son referred to but was, in fact, the oldest son of Noah. We shall also prove that the “YOUNGER SON” was actually Ham’s son Canaan.
Accordingly, we shall substantiate that Ham’s “YOUNGER SON” Canaan had perpetrated an evil act upon Noah while he was asleep in a drunken state.
Our first task is to furnish evidence establishing that Ham was Noah’s firstborn son and, therefore, the older son, not the younger.
According to Scriptures, Noah began having children at the age of 500.
KJV – Gen. 5:32 And Noah was five hundred years old: and Noah begat Shem, Ham, and Japheth.
The birth order in the KJV has Shem as the oldest, with Ham next and Japheth last. This order cannot be correct, as we shall prove, but there is a logical and relevant explanation for this aberration which we will address later in our study.
Noah was 600 years old when the Great Flood came upon the earth.
KJV – Gen. 7:6 And Noah was six hundred years old when the flood of waters was upon the earth.
Important for our investigation is a critical clue revealed in the chronological events given by Genesis 11:10.
KJV – Gen. 11:10 These are the generations of Shem: Shem was an hundred years old, and begat Arphaxad two years after the flood.
What many have failed to notice is that Scriptures explicitly state that two years after the flood, Shem was 100 years old. This means that Shem was born when Noah was 502 years of age!
Gen. 5:32 specifically states that Noah began having children at the age of 500. This fact eliminates Shem from being the firstborn and oldest son.
Only Two Possibilities
We are now left with only two possibilities. The older son born when Noah was 500 years old is either Ham or Japheth. What do Scriptures say about the matter? Our answer is found in Genesis 10:21.
KJV – Gen. 10:21 Unto Shem also, the father of all the children of Eber, the brother of Japheth the elder, even to him were children born.
With this verse from the KJV, Japheth would be the older brother of Shem. This means that Japheth becomes the firstborn, followed by Shem and Ham.
Unfortunately, the KJV translation presents us with a glaring contradiction. In Gen. 5:32, the birth order is given as Shem, Ham, and Japheth. Japheth, in this instance, would be the younger brother of Shem!
Solving the Dilemma
To help us solve this dilemma, we will consult other English translations of Genesis 10:21, which provide a a more accurate rendition.
American Standard Version:
And unto Shem, the father of all the children of Eber, the elder brother of Japheth, to him also were children born.
New Revised Standard:
To Shem also, the father of all the children of Eber, the elder brother of Japheth, children were born.
Holman Christian Bible:
And Shem, Japheth’s older brother, also had children. Shem was the father of all the children of Eber.
Bible in Basic English:
And Shem, the older brother of Japheth, the father of the children of Eber, had other sons in addition.
Many more correct English translations can be added which are not listed.
We also have the translation from Targum Neofiti:
And to Shem also (he is the father of all the sons of the Hebrews, the older brother of Japheth) children were born.
Amazingly, what the evidence reveals is that Ham is the son who was born in the 500th year of Noah, followed by Shem in the 502nd year and then Japheth following. Indeed, Ham is the firstborn and eldest son of Noah!
Birthright given to Shem
A question is prompted. Why is Shem listed as the firstborn in Gen. 5:32? The answer comes with the fact that the KJV translators recognized that Ham, the actual firstborn, had forfeited his firstborn status and birthright and was replaced by Shem, the second born.
The birthright was given to Shem by Noah because of Ham’s involvement with the evil act perpetrated upon Noah by Canaan. Therefore, the KJV reflects this dynamic.
With this information in hand, one can begin to decipher what actually happened to Noah.
We will now revisit the narrative of the incident beginning with Genesis 9:20.
Genesis Chapter 9
20. And Noah began to be an husbandman, and he planted a vineyard:
21. And he drank of the wine, and was drunken; and he was uncovered within his tent.
(In Noah’s drunken state he became naked with his private parts exposed. This will become evident as we proceed.)
22. And Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father, and told his two brethren without.
(Ham, Noah’s firstborn son and the father of his youngest son Canaan, saw the state of his father being naked and completely exposed. So instead of covering his father, Ham shared Noah’s humiliating circumstance involving Canaan with his younger brothers.)
23. And Shem and Japheth took a garment, and laid it upon both their shoulders, and went backward, and covered the nakedness of their father; and their faces were backward, and they saw not their father’s nakedness.
(Because Ham had notified his brothers concerning the state of Noah, Shem and Japheth took great care not to look upon their father’s genitals as they covered Noah with a garment.)
24. And Noah awoke from his wine, and knew what his younger son had done unto him.
(At some point after Noah woke up, he was informed what Canaan, the younger son of Ham, had done to him and then proceeded to curse him.)
25. And he said, Cursed be Canaan; a servant of servants shall he be unto his brethren.
26. And he said, Blessed be Yahweh eloahi of Shem; and Canaan shall be his servant.
(Here we have the forfeiture of Ham’s birthright of the firstborn son and it being given to Shem, the second born. Shem has displaced Ham and now has firstborn status with all its inheritance rights.)
27. Eloahim shall enlarge Japheth, and he shall dwell in the tents of Shem; and Canaan shall be his servant.
(Japheth, the youngest son, is given a blessing after Shem. Canaan is placed under Shem and Japheth. Ham is not mentioned at all.)
The sequence of events amply demonstrates in more detail what had occurred.
1. Noah became intoxicated and fell asleep while in his drunken state and was naked.
2. Ham, Noah’s firstborn son, entered Noah’s tent and saw his father naked but did nothing to cover him. Instead, he went to his brothers and told them of their father’s condition. This presents a problem. Ham, the eldest son, should have covered his father but did not. Therefore, it would seem he knew what had happened to his father and treated the incident as insignificant, showing a total lack of honor and respect. With this attitude, Ham went to his younger brothers so they could also look upon their father to show them what Canaan had done causing great humiliation upon Noah. It would seem that Ham would also have felt superior and immune from any opposition and harm because of his firstborn status over his brothers.
3. Shem and Japheth immediately went to Noah’s tent, taking great care not to look upon Noah’s genitals, and covered him with a garment. (Shem and Japheth knew about Noah’s state of nakedness from their older brother Ham. Naturally, they would have made preparations to avoid seeing their father’s private parts.)
4. At some point, after Noah had awakened, he came to the knowledge that his grandson Canaan had committed an evil act upon him. It would also seem evident that he knew that Ham was aware of what had happened, and Ham had taken no action against Canaan. Also, Noah recognized that he was disgraced and humiliated by Ham.
5. Because of Ham’s transgression, Noah removes his firstborn status and birthright and gives it to Shem. As a result, Shem is now entitled to all of the inheritance rights of the firstborn, as indicated in Gen. 9:26.
The extra-biblical book of Jubilees confirms that Ham condoned the heinous deed that Canaan did to Noah:
And Ham knew that his father had cursed HIS YOUNGER SON, AND HE WAS DISPLEASED THAT HE HAD CURSED HIS SON. And he parted from his father, he and his sons with him, Cush and Mizraim and Put and Canaan. (Jub. 7:13)
What Did Canaan Do?
Another question is then prompted, What did Canaan do to his grandfather Noah?
To help us with the answer, we have a comment from the distinguished biblical scholar Nahum M. Sarna:
The text is silent as to why Canaan, not Ham, is cursed. Saadia and Ibn Janah construe it to mean “Cursed be [the father of] Canaan,” a phrase that has already appeared twice in this brief narrative. A reasonable assumption would be that in the fuller story Canaan, son of Ham, was a participant in the offense against Noah, a detail omitted here on grounds of delicacy and on the assumption that the original story was well known to the reader. (The JPS Commentary. Vol. 1, Genesis. Nahum M. Sarna. p. 66)
We also have several excerpts from the work titled What Did Ham Do to Noah? by David M. Goldenberg. In reality, the title should read, What Did Canaan Do to Noah? Nevertheless, when correctly applied to Canaan, the information becomes more pertinent.
[Note that the individual named Samuel mentioned in the citations is a 3rd century C.E. sage found in the Babylonian Talmud (San. 70a). The title was published in “The Words of a Wise Man’s Mouth are Gracious” (Qoh 10,12), Festschrift Gunter Stemberger, ed. Mauro Perani (Walter de Gruyter: Berlin, 2005), pp. 257-265.]
The excerpts are:
. . . surely the scene of Noah lying naked in his tent would suggest a sexual crime, and the Hebrew expression raʾah ʿerwah would indeed make one think of a sexual act (cf. Lev 20:17).
Samuel’s interpretive fulcrum is the biblical phrase ašer ʿaśah lo beno ha-qaṭan, ‘that which his younger son had done to him.’
Samuel may have understood the act to have been the verb ʿaśah itself, interpreting the text as “he ʿasahed Noah.” Now, ʿśh, ‘to press’ occurs in Hebrew and cognate languages with a specific sexual connotation.
Similarly, in Ugaritic ʿšy is used to mean ‘sexually molest’ (grš.d.ʿšy.lnh, ‘who may drive away any who would molest his guest’), and in Arabic ġšw (ġšy), the root meaning of which is ‘to cover, conceal,’ can mean ‘to compress,’ metonymically used for the sexual act where the object of the act can be man or woman: ‘he compressed her,’ ‘he did to him a forbidden action’ (ġašiya ilayhi maḥkirān).
Thus, Samuel midrashically read ʿśh in the verse (whether as a piʿel or not) to mean ‘HE SODOMIZED HIM.’ (emphasis ours)
When all of the facts are assembled, the evidence suggests that Canaan, the younger son of Ham, committed an act of sodomy on his grandfather Noah. Unfortunately, Ham, Noah’s firstborn son, knew what his younger son Canaan had done to his father and disregarded the seriousness of the matter.
Instead of protecting the dignity and honor of his father, Ham went to his younger brothers to share what he had seen and most likely what his younger son Canaan had done to Noah, thus bringing shame and humiliation to their father.
Also, it is evident that Ham condoned the evil act Canaan had done to Noah by not condemning or punishing Canaan.
It would be worth noting that Ham was the father of Cush, the father of Nimrod, making Nimrod the great-grandson of Noah.
Also, it should be mentioned that Nimrod was the founder of the city of Babylon and the builder of the tower of Babel. It is Nimrod who openly revolted against father Yahweh. In doing so, he gained the reputation of being a rebel leader of the first great revolt against Yahweh after Noah’s Flood.