Richard Agee

Genesis 9: God blesses Noach and his sons; Noach curses Canaan

Richard AgeeAt first, it’s puzzling why Noach cursed Cana’an for something his father, Ham, did. Is this a generational curse, with the sins of the father being meted out to future generations? Is something else going on here? The answer seems to be in the meaning of the Hebrew words for curse and Cana’an.

After Noach became merry from the wine he made from the post-Flood world’s first vineyard, he passed out naked then became angry that his son Ham told the other two sons — Shem and Yafet (Japheth) — about it (Gen. 9:20–27). Noach “cursed” Cana’an, Ham’s son, and said Cana’an’s progeny would become servants of Shem’s and Yafet’s descendants.

That seems odd until one looks at the Hebrew words for curse — אָרַר ’arar (Strong’s lexicon No. H779) — and Cana’an — כְּנַעַן kena’an (H3667). Some lexicons trace the meaning to the verb כָּנַע kan’a (H3665). That verb means “to be humble” per Brown Driver Briggs and “to be depressed, modest” according to The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament (HALOT) by Ludwig Koehler and Walter Baumgartner.

The HALOT lexicon also finds links to kena’an from Semitic sister languages Ugaritic and Akkadian to the meaning of “red-purple.” Related words are used in the Bible to mean “tradesman” or “merchant.”

Reader: Jeff. Speaker: Richard Agee.


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