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SBL e-journal

Tzemah Yoreh

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2014

)

.

Noah's Four Sons

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TheTorah.com

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https://thetorah.com/article/noahs-four-sons

APA e-journal

Tzemah Yoreh

,

,

,

"

Noah's Four Sons

"

TheTorah.com

(

2014

)

.

https://thetorah.com/article/noahs-four-sons

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Series

Symposium

Noah's Four Sons

Does the Supplementary Hypothesis explain the existence of a fourth son that found his way back into Pirkei de-Rabbi Eliezer and the Quran?

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Noah's Four Sons

Noah cursing Caanan. "Die Bibel in Bildern" by Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld 1860

The Problem

The vineyard episode in Genesis 9 is fundamentally difficult. It introduces the protagonists, Noah and his three sons, but then adds a parenthetical comment that Ham was the father of Canaan (9:18); since Canaan is otherwise absent from this tale, this aside is troublesome.

A similar parenthetical remark is made when Ham commits his sin,[1] and instead of simply referring to Ham, calls him “Ham, the father of Canaan (9:22).” When Noah wakes up from his drunken stupor he realizes what his son has done to him, but instead of cursing Ham, Noah curses Ham’s son, who did nothing wrong. Though the nation of Canaan is deemed as culpable of many sins in later narratives, the man Canaan is guilty of nothing. Why then does Noah curse him?[2]

A Supplementary-Hypothesis Solution

Viewed through the conceptual tool-kit of the supplementary paradigm of biblical criticism, one form of source criticism, it is likely that in an earlier version of the story (the J source), Noah had four sons, not three: Shem, Ham, Japheth, and Canaan. The later Priestly source had a different tradition, however, that Noah had only three sons (5:31, 6:10, 7:13, 9:19, 10:1, all P texts).

P was by nature a conservative supplementer/editor – he finds a way to assert his view that does minimal violence to the biblical text. (According to the supplementary paradigm of biblical criticism, erasure or deletion was rarely if ever employed.)  Accordingly, I would argue that P was not comfortable erasing Canaan entirely from the text in favor of his own view – and adds the clause “and Ham was the father of” to verse 18 to make it seem as though Canaan were Noah’s grandson rather than his son. P adds these same words again in verse 22, thereby making Ham the assailant instead of Canaan. Finally, he adds 9:19 to re-emphasize his view that Noah had only three sons. By doing so he brings J’s text in line with his own tradition of three sons, but at the expense of the coherence of the story.

The Text

Here is the original text: [Note: // represents where the seams are.]

The J Text

יח וַיִּהְיוּ בְנֵי נֹחַ הַיֹּצְאִים מִן הַתֵּבָה שֵׁם וְחָם וָיָפֶת //וּכְנָעַן. // כ וַיָּחֶל נֹחַ אִישׁ הָאֲדָמָה וַיִּטַּע כָּרֶם. כא וַיֵּשְׁתְּ מִן הַיַּיִן וַיִּשְׁכָּר, וַיִּתְגַּל בְּתוֹךְ אָהֳלֹה. כב וַיַּרְא // כְנַעַן אֵת עֶרְוַת אָבִיו וַיַּגֵּד לִשְׁנֵי אֶחָיו בַּחוּץ. כג וַיִּקַּח שֵׁם וָיֶפֶת אֶת הַשִּׂמְלָה, וַיָּשִׂימוּ עַל שְׁכֶם שְׁנֵיהֶם וַיֵּלְכוּ אֲחֹרַנִּית, וַיְכַסּוּ אֵת עֶרְוַת אֲבִיהֶם וּפְנֵיהֶם אֲחֹרַנִּית וְעֶרְוַת אֲבִיהֶם לֹא רָאוּ. כד וַיִּיקֶץ נֹחַ מִיֵּינוֹ וַיֵּדַע אֵת אֲשֶׁר עָשָׂה לוֹ בְּנוֹ הַקָּטָן. כה וַיֹּאמֶר: אָרוּר כְּנָעַן עֶבֶד עֲבָדִים יִהְיֶה לְאֶחָיו. כו וַיֹּאמֶר: בָּרוּךְ יְ-הוָה אֱ-לֹהֵי שֵׁם וִיהִי כְנַעַן עֶבֶד לָמוֹ. כז יַפְתְּ אֱ-לֹהִים לְיֶפֶת וְיִשְׁכֹּן בְּאָהֳלֵי שֵׁם, וִיהִי כְנַעַן עֶבֶד לָמוֹ.
9:18 The sons of Noah who went out from the ship were Shem, Ham, and Japheth, and // Canaan. // 9:20 Noah started out as a farmer, and planted a vineyard. 9:21 He drank of the wine and got drunk. He lay naked within his tent. 9:22 // Canaan saw the nakedness of his father, and told two of his brothers outside.[3] 9:23 Shem and Japheth took a garment, and laid it upon both their shoulders, walked backwards, and covered the nakedness of their father. Their faces were averted, and they didn’t see their father’s nakedness. 9:24 Noah awoke from his wine (-induced stupor), and knew what his youngest son had done to him. 9:25 He said, “Canaan is cursed. He will be a servant of servants (serving) his brothers.” 9:26 He said,“Blessed be YHWH, the God of Shem. Let Canaan be his servant. 9:27 May God make Japheth mighty. Let him dwell in the tents of Shem. Let Canaan be his servant.”


Here a color-coded version of the original J text with the P supplements:

J + P (Canon)

יח וַיִּהְיוּ בְנֵי נֹחַ הַיֹּצְאִים מִן הַתֵּבָה שֵׁם וְחָם וָיָפֶת; וְחָם הוּא אֲבִי כְנָעַן. יט שְׁלֹשָׁה אֵלֶּה בְּנֵי נֹחַ, וּמֵאֵלֶּה נָפְצָה כָל-הָאָרֶץ. כ וַיָּחֶל נֹחַ אִישׁ הָאֲדָמָה וַיִּטַּע כָּרֶם. כא וַיֵּשְׁתְּ מִן הַיַּיִן וַיִּשְׁכָּר, וַיִּתְגַּל בְּתוֹךְ אָהֳלֹה. כב וַיַּרְא חָם אֲבִי כְנַעַן אֵת עֶרְוַת אָבִיו וַיַּגֵּד לִשְׁנֵי אֶחָיו בַּחוּץ. כג וַיִּקַּח שֵׁם וָיֶפֶת אֶת הַשִּׂמְלָה, וַיָּשִׂימוּ עַל שְׁכֶם שְׁנֵיהֶם וַיֵּלְכוּ אֲחֹרַנִּית, וַיְכַסּוּ אֵת עֶרְוַת אֲבִיהֶם וּפְנֵיהֶם אֲחֹרַנִּית וְעֶרְוַת אֲבִיהֶם לֹא רָאוּ. כד וַיִּיקֶץ נֹחַ מִיֵּינוֹ וַיֵּדַע אֵת אֲשֶׁר עָשָׂה לוֹ בְּנוֹ הַקָּטָן. כה וַיֹּאמֶר: אָרוּר כְּנָעַן עֶבֶד עֲבָדִים יִהְיֶה לְאֶחָיו. כו וַיֹּאמֶר: בָּרוּךְ יְ-הוָה אֱ-לֹהֵי שֵׁם וִיהִי כְנַעַן עֶבֶד לָמוֹ. כז יַפְתְּ אֱ-לֹהִים לְיֶפֶת וְיִשְׁכֹּן בְּאָהֳלֵי שֵׁם, וִיהִי כְנַעַן עֶבֶד לָמוֹ.[4]
9:18 The sons of Noah who went out from the ship were Shem, Ham, and Japheth, and Ham was the father of Canaan. 9:19 These three were the sons of Noah, and from these, the whole earth was populated. 9:20 Noah started out as a farmer, and planted a vineyard. 9:21 He drank of the wine and got drunk. He lay naked within his tent. 9:22 Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father, and told his two brothers outside. 9:23 Shem and Japheth took a garment, and laid it upon both their shoulders, walked backwards, and covered the nakedness of their father. Their faces were averted, and they didn’t see their father’s nakedness. 9:24 Noah awoke from his wine (-induced stupor), and knew what his youngest son had done to him. 9:25 He said, “Canaan is cursed. He will be a servant of servants (serving) his brothers.”9:26 He said, “Blessed be Yahweh, the God of Shem. Let Canaan be his servant.9:27 May God make Japheth mighty. Let him dwell in the tents of Shem. Let Canaan be his servant.”


An Unexpected Corroboration?

Some intriguing corroboration to this enumeration is found in the midrash (late first millennium C.E.) – Pirkei de-Rabbi Eliezer, 23, which also saw Canaan as one of Noah’s sons and solves the text-critical problem similarly. It goes without saying that Pirkei de-Rabbi Eliezer had no knowledge of J’s base text, though his harmonistic reading may be suggestive of a similar thought pattern:

מצא נח גפן שגורשה ויצאה מגן עדן ואשכולותיה עמה נטל מפרותיה ואכל וחמד אותם בלבו ונטע ממנה כרם בארץ בו ביום נשתגשגו פירותיה דכתיב ביום נטעך תשגשגי’. שתה ממנה יין ונתגל בתוך האהל ונכנס כנען וראה את ערות אביו וקשר חוט בבריתו וסרסו ויצא להגיד לאחיו נכנס חם ומצא לערות אביו ולא שם על לבו מצו’ כבוד אב יצא והגיד לשני אחיו בשוק כמשחק באביו גערו בו אחיו ולקחו כסות עמהם והלכו להם אחורנית וכסו את ערות אביהן שנאמר ויקח שם ויפת את השמלה וגו’ ויקץ נח מיינו וידע את אשר עשה לו בנו הקטן ואררו שנאמר ארור כנען.
Noah found a vine… the vine still had grapes upon it…he planted a vineyard from this vine…and on that very day fruit grew…he drank wine from it [the vine] and he revealed himself in his tent. Canaan came in, saw his father’s nakedness, tied a string to his penis and castrated him, then he went out to tell his brothers…Ham came in, saw his father’s nakedness and neglecting the commandment to honor one’s father, reported it to his two brothers as though he were in the market and laughing at his father. His brothers rebuked him, they took a cover, and walking backwards covered their father’s nakedness…Noah arose from his stupor, discovered what his youngest son had done to him, and cursed him, as it says, “Cursed is Canaan”.

The author of Pirkei de-Rabbi Eliezer not only solves the problem of Canaan, but that of Ham as well. In J, it is unclear where Ham appears in the story; he plays no part and goes unmentioned. In Pirkei de-Rabbi Eliezer, Canaan is the son who castrates his father, thereby receiving a curse, and Ham laughs at his father instead of helping him, thus he does not get the blessing his brothers, Shem and Japhet receive, nor the curses Canaan receives. It is unclear how the author of this midrash understood the biblical text that says that Canaan was Noah’s grandson and not his son.

Similarly, and perhaps even stranger, the Quran notes that Noah had four sons (Sura 11,Hud v. 42–43). This unnamed fourth son refuses to come aboard the Ark, and instead climbs a mountain and is drowned. Some later Islamic commentators give his name as either Yam or Kan’an, the latter the Arabic version of Canaan. It is difficult to determine the relationship between Pirkei de-Rabbi Eliezer and the Quran, though they may have shared the same source. In any case, it is striking that an ancient tradition that was erased by P hundreds of years before the first millennium C.E. found its way back into texts over a thousand years later in such disparate sources as Pirkei de-Rabbi Eliezer and the Quran.

Published

November 22, 2014

|

Last Updated

October 22, 2019

Footnotes

View Footnotes

Dr. Rabbi Tzemah Yoreh has a Ph.D. in Bible from Hebrew University. He has written many books focusing on his reconstruction of the redaction history of Genesis through Kings. He is the author of The First Book of God, and the multi-volume Kernel to Canon series, with books like Jacob’s Journey and Moses’s Mission. Yoreh has taught at Ben Gurion University and American Jewish University. He is currently working towards ordination at the International Institute for Secular and Humanistic Judaism.