The Non-Alchemist on The Strangeness of Genesis 9

Recently, @AlchemistNon posted a video over at his channel looking at the so-called Curse of Canaan that appears in Genesis 9:20-27. Here’s that video:

He raises a couple of really interesting points. First, there is nothing in the story to suggest that Noah’s curse on his grandson is a bad thing. You read that right – his grandson. The actual perpetrator of the violation (whatever it was) was Ham, Canaan’s father, and not Canaan himself. Yet the curse is upon Canaan and presumably his descendants. (It’s also not entirely clear that Canaan even exited yet!) Second, Noah’s curse is only effectual if God himself perpetuates it since, as @AlchemistNon points out, he is the only one who could do so. And that is, in a word, icky. What kind of god punishes people for someone else’s crime, I mean apart from the god of the Bible?

Obviously this story as well as the entirety of the Noah narrative is fiction. But what is the tale meant to accomplish? Again, @AlchemistNon is spot on: it’s propaganda. In particular, it attempts to justify the mistreatment of so-called Canaanites at the hands of the Israelites. Why do they deserve to have their land and lives taken from them? Because they were cursed for doing something terrible! We call this an etiology and it isn’t the only one you find in the book of Genesis. For example, in Genesis 3 we find an etiology for the origins of clothing and for why snakes slither on their bellies and more. Closer to the story in Genesis 9, ten chapters later we are told that two of Israel’s bitter enemies, the Ammonites and Moabites, came from ancestors who were the product of an incestuous relationship between Lot and his two daughters (Genesis 19:30-38). This is political propaganda, plain and simple.

As troubling as such stories are, they do offer us insight into how ancient minds dealt with their friends and enemies. Creating a mythic past as these authors tended to do was a strategy for accounting for seemingly ancient feuds or to explain existing socio-political realities. And lest we think we are more sophisticated than our ancient counterparts, we do the same thing today. One need only point to things like the QAnon movement to show that we invent stories to justify our political views, especially violent ones.

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