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Why Was Canaan Cursed?

Why did Noah curse his grandson Canaan? This boy’s father, Ham, saw Noah’s nakedness, and as a result, Noah cursed Canaan, who became the patriarch of Israel’s enemies, the Canaanites. The story seems capricious on the surface, in contrast to so much reasonable history in Genesis. Let’s take another look at what happened.

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The Canaan Effect: Scientific predictions about the human X and Y chromosome distribution worldwide are an outgrowth of the Bible study below. Relevant information also comes also from mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) which is not part of any of our 46 chromosomes but resides outside of the nucleus. Actual measured mutation rates as reported by Ann Gibbons in Science magazine indicate that, if these rates have been constant, “mitochondrial Eve… would be a mere 6000 years old.” From an anthropology professor’s popular article, “Analyses of the mitochondrial DNA of living humans from around the globe have shown that all are ultimately descended (if we trace exclusively through female links) from a common ancestress…” The same result would occur if in fact we have all descended from an original, created biblical Eve. However scientists quickly point out that their analysis doesn’t require a biblical Eve. For example, you and all your full siblings have your maternal grandmother’s mtDNA and yet you are all also descended from another woman from her generation, your paternal grandmother. Yet this finding does falsify two evolutionary expectations, the first from an old minority view held by evolutionists like the discoverer of “Peking Man,” that humans evolved from parallel hominid groups. Secondarily, just as the discovery of soft-tissue from a T-rex falsified the evolutionary expectation that we would never find original biological material from dinosaur fossils, the recent age of mitochondrial Eve falsifies the mainstream Darwinist expectation that she would have been much older. That expectation is falsified whether we use the 6,000 year date which is based on exclusively human DNA and documented mutation rates, or even when evolutionists stretch that date by one or two orders of magnitude as they do by including chimp DNA in their data set. Either way, this finding falsifies the evolutionary expectation that such an Eve would have lived much earlier. Likewise, scientists have discovered a recent Y-chromosomal Adam. As Dr. Walt Brown summarizes all this, “How likely is it that other men lived a few thousand years ago but left no continuous male descendants, and other women lived 6,000 years ago but left no continuous female descendants, and we end up today with a world population of almost 7 billion people?” Extraordinarily unlikely. So just as most astronomers came to admit, uneasily, that the universe had a beginning (but still they reject Genesis by holding to an increasingly untenable Big Bang theory), so too evolutionists are acknowledging much of what the biblical creation model predicts about the human genome, while not realizing that the historic events recorded in Genesis help wonderfully to account for their data. For the Bible says that God recently created Adam and his wife, and that “Eve… was the mother of all.”

What genetic predictions arise then from the biblical account of the global flood? Moses wrote that Noah was “perfect in his generations” (Gen. 6:9), taken by many to refer to the integrity of his genes, and also that he was “a just man… who walked with God,” the factors which led the Lord to save him and his immediate family from global judgment. Regarding the X and Y sex chromosomes, the human race has much diversity within the X chromosome, which molecular biologists have grouped worldwide into three families, except for Africa, where there is tremendous additional diversity. Meanwhile, unexpected by evolutionists but expected by biblical creationists, the human Y chromosome shows extraordinary consistency everywhere on earth. (Yet genetists were shocked by the 30% difference when compared to humans, of the chimp’s Y chromosome.) How many different X and Y chromosomes were on the Ark? And according to the Bible’s historical account, which of those had descendants? We all have descended not only from Adam, but also, through Noah and his three sons. Because the Y chromosome is passed only from father to son, there was only one Y chromosome on the Ark. Most creationists, understandably, mistakenly assume that there were only three reproducing X chromosomes on the Ark. Biologist Dr. Rob Carter with Creation Ministries International produced an extraordinary DVD, Mitochondrial Eve and the 3 ‘Daughters’ of Noah which everyone should watch (especially microbiologists and all who want a better understanding of God and of human history). There were four women on the Ark. Bible students often assume that the Scripture relates descendants from only Noah’s three daughters-in-law. In truth, as Moses wrote, “The man who lies with his father’s wife has uncovered his father’s nakedness”(Lev. 20:11). Thus in Genesis 9 Moses recorded, using the above figure of speech in a manner as dignified toward Noah’s wife as possible, that Ham committed incest by forcing himself on his own mother, shortly after they disembarked. Therefore she bore Canaan. (The Bible study that follows fully establishes this observation.) If this is true, the worldwide distribution of X and Y chromosomes should reveal the Ark’s genetic bottleneck of one Y and four X chromosomes, with the fourth being the product of mother-son incest. Many Bibles published by Thomas Nelson contain a map (similar to many others) showing the worldwide distribution of Noah’s sons’ descendants after Babel. These maps show the story of three of Ham’s sons whose descendants would have almost exclusively intermarried for many centuries because of the earth’s natural geographic boundaries. By settling in Africa, the descendants of Ham’s sons Mizraim and Put mostly isolated themselves from intermarrying with the rest of humanity, except for the descendants of Canaan who settled in Palestine. In the explosive early growth of mankind’s repopulating the earth, Africa was historically separated from the genetic diversity elsewhere. (Before anyone accuses Scripture or this analysis of racism, remember:
a) that the Bible teaches we are all one human race from Adam,
b) that God “has made from one blood every nation” Acts 17:26,
c) that Jesus died for all “the world” John 3:14-16, 2 Pet. 2:1, etc.,
d) that as Dr. Carter said, those of us descended from some European countries could as easily be described as inbred as Africans are described as possessing extreme X chromosomal variation, and
e) that evolution and Charles Darwin’s own racist views provided tragic support for racism, and that
f) genetic scientists have discovered Africa’s extreme X chromosome variation.)

Sexual reproduction can provide genetic robustness through the merging of chromosomes from far-distant relatives, thus as the effects of the fall increased degenerative disease, in due time God prohibited reproduction between siblings and even between other close relatives. However incest between mother and son, or father and daughter, would always have been emotionally and genetically injurious and was unacceptable even prior to God’s Levitical prohibitions [Gen. 19:32]. Parent and child incest would introduce a greater genetic challenge even than that between siblings. In the baby Canaan, humanity met such a challenge affecting genetic processes. As the human race multiplied over the next millennia, the three X chromosomes of Noah’s daughters-in-law mingled across the face of the Earth where today even atheistic geneticists readily map three families of X chromosomes worldwide, except in Africa. As noted, Africa possesses extreme X-chromosomal diversity. There, the Canaanite descendants who intermarried with their neighboring sibling descendants in Africa spread Canaan’s genes to a continentally-captive audience where, barring any unknown environmental causes, it expresses itself today in that extreme X diversity. Ham’s descendants who migrated away from Africa, such as the Hittites (forerunners of Anatolian Turkey), had access to a wider gene pool and so the “Canaan Effect,” a term coined here, is seen in Africa.

Geographic separation of Africa... Africa had it’s natural geographic boundary amplified by a reinforced genetic wall fortified by multiple factors. First, Canaan was the primary physical and genetic barrier between Africa and the world. Secondly, a further challenge and genetic barrier arose from the reproduction of Lot with his daughters which incest produced the neighboring nations of the Moabites and Ammonites who lived just east of the Canaanites, east of the Dead Sea, the Jordan River and the Sea of Galilee, which thickened the wall by introducing other related genetic challenges. And thirdly, the effect of this reproductive partitioning was further magnified because Israel possessed the other dominant gene pool that stood between Africa and the rest of the world, and God had prohibited the Jews from intermarrying with any Gentiles. So, for genetic purposes, Africa was walled in, being populated only by Ham’s sons as isolated from the rest of the world by Canaan.

Creationists have expected that the worldwide mapping and analysis of mitochondrial DNA and of X and Y chromosomes would fulfill predictions of the biblical model of recent creation, the bottleneck of the global flood, and the distribution from Babel in Mesopotamia. However, this author is unaware of any creationists who expected the X diversity in Africa. However, the following Bible study has been included in recorded Bible studies since the 1990s when a summary was also published. That study of Canaan, especially the identification of Canaan’s parents being Noah’s wife and her son Ham, adds to the creationist’s understanding of the human genome a fourth original X chromosome and it’s genetic challenge of arising from a mother-son relationship. So the human race is descended from Noah’s wife’s four sons.

October 8, 2009 Predictions

Scientific Prediction 1: The extreme X-chromosomal diversity in Africa will be found to be attributable to near-exclusive reproduction of the descendants from three brothers (Canaan, Mizraim, Put) that magnified the genetic challenge of an initial mother-son relationship (which produced Canaan).

Scientific Prediction 2: Genetic research will show that the entire human race has descended from four men.

ScientificPrediction 3: Beyond a recent Mitochondrial Eve, a genetic bottleneck of four X Chromosomes (four women) will also be found as Africa’s diversity is further analyzed.

Published by the CSF or International Creation Conference: A summary of the following Bible study was published either in a Creation Science Fellowship newsletter or in the proceedings of one of the International Creation Conferences after being written and submitted by James Hilston. (I’ve lost track of where this was published but it was sometime since the mid 1990s. If you know, please contact me at or at 1-800-8Enyart. Thank you!)



Why did Noah curse his grandson Canaan? Genesis 9 records that Ham saw Noah’s nakedness, and as a result, Noah cursed his grandson Canaan. Then Canaan went on to become the patriarch of Israel’s longstanding enemies, the Canaanites. The story seems capricious on the surface, in contrast to so much reasonable history in Genesis. A common biblical figure of speech appears in Canaan’s story, and when Christians reread the story understanding this figure, the message of this account becomes compelling. Ancient Hebrew commonly speaks of a man’s nakedness to refer to sexual intercourse with the man’s wife. As Moses wrote in Leviticus, “The man who lies with his father’s wife has uncovered his father’s nakedness.” Canaan lived a cursed life because he was conceived by a perverse union. Thus the brief story twice reminds its ancient readers that Ham (not Noah) is the father of Canaan. So Noah cursed Canaan not as an evil spell or hex, but as recognition of cause and effect, reaping what is sown, and his tragic circumstance, and as a warning to others against following in Ham’s wicked way. And readers of Genesis find a clear and reasonable origin for the conflict that lasted for centuries between the Jews and the Canaanites.

by Pastor Bob Enyart
Denver Bible Church


Why did Noah curse his grandson Canaan? This boy’s father, Ham, saw Noah’s nakedness, and as a result, Noah cursed Canaan, who became the patriarch of Israel’s enemies, the Canaanites. The story seems capricious on the surface, in contrast to so much reasonable history in Genesis. Let’s take another look at what happened.

The various tribes of Canaanites are listed in Gen. 10:15-18, including the Sidonians, Jebusites, Amorites, Girgashites, and Hivites. The Canaanites settled in familiar areas including Sodom and Gomorrah and the cities of Gaza (Gen. 10:19). The hostility with their namesakes (and mixed descendants) continued right up until Christ for example when He resisted ministering to “a woman of Canaan” (Mat. 15:22). But why did Canaan and therefore his descendants become cursed? Reading the account in Genesis 9, many suppose that after Noah became drunk, Ham saw his father naked, and as a result, Noah cursed Ham’s son Canaan. I submit that is not at all what happened. For that story, at least on its surface, would be an especially arbitrary and capricious origin for Canaan, Israel’s great nemesis. Here is what actually happened:

The story is not so much about Noah, or Ham, but about Canaan. As shown below, seeing the nakedness of a man is a common Hebrew expression for having sex with his wife (Lev. 20:11). Canaan lived a cursed life because he was conceived by a perverse union. Noah’s kids, Japheth, Shem, and Ham lived for about a century in the wicked pre-flood world. The statement that “Ham was the father of Canaan” (Gen. 9:18) begins this passage, which then quickly repeats “Ham, the father of Canaan” (Gen. 9:22), as though the author wants his readers not to miss the relationship. The story ends with three mentions of Canaan including “Cursed be Canaan” (Gen. 9:25). The first chapters of the Bible quickly cover 1,600 years of sinful human history. Yet, there is no mention of intoxication until after the flood, until Noah planted a vineyard and became drunk. While Noah was inebriated, one of his sons, Ham, committed incest with Noah’s wife. Taking advantage of his father’s drunkenness, Ham, who had lived before the flood in a sexually perverse society, had intercourse with his own mother, impregnating her and thereby fathering Canaan. So because Noah’s own wife bore Canaan, the story twice clarified for its ancient audience that “Ham was the father of Canaan,” not Noah, as the earliest Canaanites may have misrepresented their heritage!

Of Israel’s nearby enemies, not all were Canaanites. For example, the Moabites and Ammonites were the product of other parent/child relations. Again involving drunkenness, Abraham’s nephew Lot impregnated his daughters who gave birth to the Moabites and Ammonites (Gen. 19:36-38). Any child conceived in this way, regardless of mutational considerations, enters life set up to fail. Canaan had his grandmother for a mother, his grandfather for an uncle, his mother for a great aunt, his father for a cousin, and, worst of all, his brother for a father (half-brother, that is). Early humans reproduced with siblings and first cousins without harm because genetic deterioration had not become a significant factor. But mutation severity likely grew quickly after the Flood, moving God in the Mosaic Law to prohibit relations between close relatives (Lev. 18, 20). But even prior to the Flood, a parent/child relation would have produced a twisted family.

As all authors and peoples do, Moses and the Jews used figures of speech. Some of the Bible’s figures of speech are euphemisms that promote modesty. For example, instead of saying that Adam had sexual intercourse with Eve, the Bible more politely says that “Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived” (Gen. 4:1). And Moses writes, “the man who lies with” rather than using the modern and more crude phrase, “has sex with.” The reader who misses these common figures of speech will misunderstand the plain meaning of various passages. Moses wrote the first five books of the Bible. And God through Moses used the same decency when describing other physical relations. For example, when prohibiting incest in the Mosaic Law, rather than saying, a man shall not have intercourse with his mother, Moses wrote that he shall not “uncover his father’s nakedness.”

‘The man who lies with his father’s wife has uncovered his father’s nakedness…’ Lev. 20:11

When Moses also wrote that Ham saw his father’s nakedness, that was a respectful (and appreciated) way of reporting that he copulated with his mother. See how frequently Moses and the Scriptures use this Hebrew figure of speech:

‘If a man lies with his uncle’s wife, he has uncovered his uncle’s nakedness. … ‘If a man takes his brother’s wife… He has uncovered his brother’s nakedness.’ Lev. 20:20-21

Committing incest with any female “near of kin” can be described as “uncovering his nakedness” (Lev. 18:6), referring to the appropriate male relative, including the nakedness of your father (with your mother, Lev. 18:7), or your sister, granddaughter, stepsister, aunt, daughter-in-law and sister-in-law (Lev. 18:9-15). Of course, this can also be described in more literal terms as uncovering the woman’s nakedness, but it can also be referred to, idiomatically, as referring to the husband’s, father’s, brother’s, uncle’s, or son’s nakedness. Her nakedness can equal his nakedness because as Paul writes, your body is “not your own” (1 Cor. 6:19), and from this perspective, your mother’s body belongs to your father. Thus:

‘The nakedness of your father’s wife you shall not uncover; it is your father’s nakedness’ Lev. 18:8

Again, “It is your father’s nakedness!”

Ezekiel used this figure of speech in this Hebrew parallelism:

“In you [O Israel] men uncover their fathers’ nakedness; in you they violate women…” Ezek. 22:10

And Habakkuk condemns not the sin of homosexuality but of getting your neighbor drunk in order to seduce his wife, when he warns:

“Woe to him who gives drink to his neighbor, pressing him to your bottle, even to make him drunk, that you may look on his nakedness!” Hab. 2:15;

Habakkuk warns against looking upon a neighbor’s nakedness, which is just the slightest alternate form of uncovering his nakedness. (See also Leviticus 18:10, 14, 17-18; First Samuel 20:30 and Ezekiel 22:10-11.)

So, understanding this common Hebrew figure of speech enables the reader to comprehend Moses’ 3,500-year-old account of why Noah cursed Canaan:

…Ham was the father of Canaan [which is the actual topic of this story]… And Noah began to be a farmer, and he planted a vineyard. Then he drank of the wine and was drunk, and became uncovered in his tent [his own drunkenness left his wife vulnerable and exposed to Ham’s wickedness]. And Ham, the father of Canaan [repeated to emphasize the point of the story, and to correct any possible ancient misconception about the real identify of Canaan’s father], saw the nakedness of his father [that is, he had sex with Noah’s wife, Ham’s own mother], and told his two brothers outside [as wicked people often brag of their sin, and as misery loves company, perhaps even inviting them to do likewise]. But Shem and Japheth took a garment, laid it on both their shoulders, and went backward and covered the nakedness of their father [refusing to take part in what was apparently a rape, and literally giving her a covering, probably with an animal skin, and in hopes of beginning the healing process for her and their family]. Their faces were turned away, and they did not see their father’s nakedness [i.e., their mother’s nude body]. So Noah awoke from his wine, and knew what his younger son had done to him [Ham had violated Noah’s wife, which he found out from her and his other sons]. Then he said [after he learned of the pregnancy]: “Cursed be Canaan [whose father was Ham]…” Gen. 9:18, 20-25

Why do Christian readers often miss this real story of Canaan? The undermining of Genesis as literal and rational history leads believers, even many authorities, to neglect serious study of Genesis and much of the Old Testament. Christians read that Ham saw his father’s nakedness and therefore Noah cursed baby Canaan. Many agree that this seems capricious and arbitrary, but many Christians seem comfortable with that misunderstanding, and this acceptance arises undoubtedly because of various doctrinal implications and also because many have been conditioned to take the Bible with a grain of salt. After all, if the masses assume that they cannot trust the Bible’s six literal days of Creation, nor its story of Noah’s Ark and a global flood, then why worry about a silly detail like Noah blaming his grandchild for his own drunken behavior?

Canaan’s true story shows the tragic reality of a child being set up to fail by the wickedness of his father. Thus Noah cursed Canaan as a statement of that reality, not as a hex or evil spell, but as a warning to others against following in Ham’s wicked ways. This account, at the very beginning of the repopulation of the Earth, also helps to explain the world’s ubiquitous taboo of incest between parent and child, found by antropologists to exist in virtually every known age and in virtually every known culture. The lesson was a harsh one to learn. Canaan was cursed inherently by being conceived through incest. The law of reaping and sowing inexorably applies to the children of fallen men. A father’s alcoholism punishes his child, not by fiat from God (nor Noah) but by the cause and effect that children suffer under bad parenting, an unavoidable part of man’s fallen existence until God ends this phase of human history. So incest set the background for centuries of conflict between Noah’s Hamitic descendents, especially those through Canaan, against the descendants of Shem, the Semites, especially the Jews, to whom God promised the land of the Canaanites.

While the story of Canaan’s curse follows the Creation and Flood accounts, rightly understood it helps us to see that all throughout, Genesis is a rational book of history.

From Bob Enyart’s unpublished manuscript, The Plot.

Bob Enyart pastors Denver Bible Church. Bob first had a technical career working at McDonnell Douglas Helicopter Company on the Army’s Apache helicopter; as a systems analyst for “Baby Bell” U S West; as a program manager for Microsoft in Redmond, Washington; and as a senior analyst for PC Week. Bob became a believer in 1973, entered full-time Christian work in 1989, and in 1991 began hosting a daily radio show on AM 670 KLTT. In 2000, Colorado’s Derby Bible Church planted Denver Bible Church with Bob as pastor.

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