What Did Ham Do to His Father?
When the waters of the Flood subsided and Noah and his sons finally stepped off the ark, Noah plants a vineyard. (He is the first to do so: he is the first vintner according to the book of Genesis.) Noah drinks, and his son Ham sees his drunken father naked and tells his brothers, Shem and Japhet. Concerned for their father’s honor, Shem and Japhet cover him, taking care not to look. When Noah awakens from his stupor, he curses Canaan, Ham’s son, and blesses Shem and Japhet (Genesis 9:20–27).
While the particular sin of Ham is not stated explicitly, it is clear that it was sexual. Evidently, the Flood was inadequate to effect real change: the Flood came after the sons of god had relations with the daughters of men (Genesis 6:1–4; see chapter 2), intimate relations incongruous with the laws of Creation, and then, immediately following the Flood, we find another sexual sin, in this case involving a son and his father. We see here a pessimistic view of human nature: left to their own devices, humankind quickly returns to its sinful ways.
But what was Ham’s sin? The drunken Noah lies in his tent, and his nakedness is seen by his son. On the surface of it, Ham’s involvement would appear to be limited to the act of seeing: “Ham the father of Canaan saw his father’s nakedness” (Genesis 9:22). It expresses more than a simple lack of respect for his father, though, since Ham doesn’t hurry to cover his father’s nakedness but rushes, instead, to share his impressions with his brothers: “And [he] told his two brothers outside.” Strengthening the impression that we deal only with Ham’s disrespect toward his father, his witnessing something and no more, is