January 30, 2015

The Circumlocution of Seeing Your Father's Nakedness

What does it mean when Scripture says that Ham saw his father Noah's nakedness?
And Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father, and told his two brothers outside. (Genesis 9:22)
In a word, incest.
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)
Biblical authors often used evasive synonyms. The author evaded having to write God's name by writing "The Name" instead. The author would not write the actual words for male and female genitalia but would substitute another body part such as thigh, leg or belly. The technical term for using an evasive synonym is circumlocution.
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 - another way of 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 curcumlocutions.

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 (Ham's stepmother). Noah could not curse his son Ham because Noah and his three sons had already been blessed by God - you cannot curse what God has already blessed. Noah instead cursed Ham's son Canaan. 

God had sent the flood because the entire world was corrupt. One thing we take away from the story is that 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 events immediately after the flood are in many ways a new creation story, a third creation story after the first two creation stories in Genesis 1 and Genesis 2-3. Like the first and second creation stories, man fell. Man couldn't do it alone. Israel couldn't do it alone. We couldn't do it on our own. We all need Jesus.



Tim H. said...


Anonymous said...

Is this above the standard explanation of this passage about Noah?

I would think that passage is about making up for another's sins, and protecting others from the consequences of their sins, especially as a filial obligation - the way the other two sons covered their drunk father with a coat.

Similar as Galatians 6 advises to bear eachother's burdens.

Tim said...

I'm not sure that there is a "standard" explanation of this passage and to be honest, some are very vocal in their objection to this interpretation.

What can't be denied is the idea of circumlocution. Evasive synonyms are throughout the Bible.

Leviticus 20:11 is also quite clear.

One thing I've learned Sophia, is not to be so sure of myself and so I am always open to correction, even if it means being humbled a little.