Neil J. Smith

The Mark of Ham: Why Christians Justified Slavery

Christianity is the most prevalent religion in the United States of America. However, that percentage has changed somewhat. In 2022, at least 2/3rd of the population will identify themselves as Christians. This result opposes the 90 percent of believers in the early ’90s.

Nevertheless, its influence remains prevalent today. In my book, “On the Ropes: A Tale of the ’60s,” a German co-worker insists that the curse of Ham is the prime reason the black American must suffer.

“You should read the bible more, Percival, and read less of those rebels who get your people in trouble and try to turn the world over to the communist.”

Percival suppressed his rage and scornfully asked, “What do you know about my people?”

“That they wear the mark of Ham!”—page 158, On the Ropes

 

The Curse of Ham: A Background

 

The story goes like this:

 

Sometime after the great flood, Noah planted a vineyard that makes fine wine. One night after drinking, Noah passed out naked. Ham, his second son, discovered his father’s nakedness and invited his brothers, Shem and Japheth, to observe. The two refused and covered their father’s nakedness in response.

 

After waking up from his wine, Noah knew what Ham had done and cursed his son, Canaan.

 

“Cursed be Canaan; a servant of servants shall he be to his brothers.” (Gen. 9:24–25)

 

In this story, Ham sinned against his father and, consequently, brought a curse to his son and descendants by destining them to servitude.

 

So, why Black People?

 

The Hebrew meaning of Ham’s name was “dark” or “black.” He was also the ancestor of the Africans and had four children. Only Canaan bore the curse, while Cush, Egypt, and Put did not.

 

Yet despite the story not indicating skin color or race, many scholars have interpreted it as a sign that Ham’s dark-skinned descendants were cursed and “destined” for enslavement. In an attempt to continue “God’s will,” they believe they must continue trapping his descendants into perpetual servitude.

 

Some Points of Argument:

 

As you can see, this harmful interpretation, filled with baseless assumptions, has caused numerous crimes against black people. Despite zero mentions of race and skin color in the Bible, many white Christians believe in this harmful rhetoric.

 

These believers also failed to realize that it was not “God’s will” that cursed Canaan but Noah himself. Hence, when they quote the “Curse of Ham,” they fail to understand that they are continuing a man’s wish, not a divine will.

 

Nevertheless, there is no justification for slavery. While many idealists believe it to be “over,” a modern version of the system still plays a part in the country’s zeitgeist and other parts of the world.

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