Reply to "The Curse of Ham"

antabanta posted:
seignet posted:

The Bible DOES not say that Blacks were to be enslaved because of color. Slavery is not new to this planet. Pre-Columbus, the natives did exactly what Africans did. And in the rest of the old world, slavery existed.

Black slavery looks like racism. The white races would treat any other race inhumanely, given the opportunity.


The issue is that the Curse of Ham

The explanation that black Africans, as the "sons of Ham", were cursed, possibly "blackened" by their sins, was advanced only sporadically during the Middle Ages, but it became increasingly common during the slave trade of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The justification of slavery itself through the sins of Ham was well suited to the ideological interests of the elite; with the emergence of the slave trade, its racialized version justified the exploitation of African labour.

In the parts of Africa where Christianity flourished in the early days, while it was still illegal in Rome, this idea never took hold, and its interpretation of scripture was never adopted by the African Coptic Churches. A modern Amharic commentary on Genesis notes the nineteenth century and earlier European theory that blacks were subject to whites as a result of the "curse of Ham", but calls this a false teaching unsupported by the text of the Bible, emphatically pointing out that Noah's curse fell not upon all descendants of Ham, but only on the descendants of Canaan, and asserting that it was fulfilled when Canaan was occupied by both Semites (Israel) and Japhetites. The commentary further notes that Canaanites ceased to exist politically after the Third Punic War (149 BC), and that their current descendants are thus unknown and scattered among all peoples.
Robert Boyle, a seventeenth-century scientist who also was a theologian and a devout Christian refuted the idea that blackness was a Curse of Ham, in his book Experiments and Considerations Touching Colours (1664). There, Boyle explains that the Curse of Ham used as an explanation of the complexion of coloured people was but a misinterpretation embraced by "vulgar writers", travelers, critics, and also "men of note" of his time. In his work, he challenges that vision, explaining:
    "And not only we do not find expressed in the Scripture, that the Curse meant by Noah to Cham, was the Blackness of his Posterity, but we do find plainly enough there that the Curse was quite another thing, namely that he should be a Servant of Servants, that is by an Ebraism, a very Abject Servant to his Brethren, which accordingly did in part come to pass, when the Israelites of the posterity of Sem, subdued the Canaanites, that descended from Cham, and kept them in great Subjection. Nor is it evident that Blackness is a Curse, for Navigators tell us of Black Nations, who think so much otherwise of their own condition, that they paint the Devil White. Nor is Blackness inconsistent with Beauty, which even to our European Eyes consists not so much in Colour, as an Advantageous Stature, a Comely Symmetry of the parts of the Body, and Good Features in the Face. So that I see not why Blackness should be thought such a Curse to the Negroes", Bob Boyle

A number of other scholars also support the claim that the racialized version of the Curse of Ham was devised at that time because it suited ideological and economical interests of the European elite and slave traders who wanted to justify exploitation of African labour. While Tim Robinson, no not the actor the writer, claims that such version was non-existent before, historian David Brion Davis argues, as well, that contrary to the claims of many reputable historians, neither the Talmud nor any early post-biblical Jewish writing relates blackness of the skin to a curse whatsoever.

  • Tim Robinson (2007), "Racism: a History", (BBC Documentary)
  • David Brion Davis Sterling Professor of History Yale University
  • Robert Boyle (1664), "Experiments and Considerations Touching Colours