Obama on slavery. The real source of “The Curse of Ham”

Obama Says Slavery’s Past Should Be Taught in the United States. He said this during his visit to Ghana July 10-11 2009, a former slave trading center.

Religion is not permitted to be taught in public schools, but religion plays a vital part in both the establishment and abolishment of slavery. There can be no teaching of slavery’s past without mentioning the role of religion.

A long time ago I heard the justification for black slaves was “The curse of Ham”. So, the Bible, being one of the oldest books in the world is the place to look first. The first mention of slavery occurs in Genesis. This book is common to Jews, Christians and Muslims, covering the time of the beginning until Joseph.

Here it goes: Noah stepped out of the ark, planted a vineyard, got drunk and exposed his nakedness. Ham saw it and told his brothers, Shem and Japheth. Shem and Japheth took a blanket and went backwards up to Noah and covered him without seeing his nakedness. When Noah sobered up and found out what had happened he declared: 

Genesis 9:25-27 (New American Standard Bible)  25So he said, “Cursed be Canaan; A servant of servants He shall be to his brothers.” 26He also said, “Blessed be the LORD, The God of Shem; And let Canaan be his servant. 27 May God enlarge Japheth, And let him dwell in the tents of Shem; And let Canaan be his servant.”

 The word servant is “ehbed” which means bond-servant, somebody in bondage. This can be for a time, for life, or for taxes. The real interesting thing is that the curse is on Canaan, not Ham. Canaan is the fourth and youngest son of Ham! Let’s look at the four sons of Ham: 

Genesis 10:6-20 (New American Standard Bible) 6The sons of Ham were Cush and Mizraim and Put and Canaan. 7The sons of Cush were Seba and Havilah and Sabtah and Raamah and Sabteca; and the sons of Raamah were Sheba and Dedan. 8Now Cush became the father of Nimrod; he became a mighty one on the earth. 9He was a mighty hunter before the LORD; therefore it is said, “Like Nimrod a mighty hunter before the LORD.” 10The beginning of his kingdom was Babel and Erech and Accad and Calneh, in the land of Shinar. 11From that land he went forth into Assyria, and built Nineveh and Rehoboth-Ir and Calah, 12and Resen between Nineveh and Calah; that is the great city. 13Mizraim became the father of Ludim and Anamim and Lehabim and Naphtuhim 14and Pathrusim and Casluhim (from which came the Philistines) and Caphtorim. 15Canaan became the father of Sidon, his firstborn, and Heth 16and the Jebusite and the Amorite and the Girgashite 17and the Hivite and the Arkite and the Sinite 18and the Arvadite and the Zemarite and the Hamathite; and afterward the families of the Canaanite were spread abroad. 19 The territory of the Canaanite extended from Sidon as you go toward Gerar, as far as Gaza; as you go toward Sodom and Gomorrah and Admah and Zeboiim, as far as Lasha. 20These are the sons of Ham, according to their families, according to their languages, by their lands, by their nations.

 Whew! That was a lot of territory to cover! All we need to remember from this is that Ham is the father of Mizraim, who is the father of the Philistines, and also father of all black people. And there was no curse laid on them! Many of the modern Middle East people are also descendants of Ham. About Put we do know very little A good guess is they are north African Arabs (Libyans). Which leaves us the Canaanites. Their territory covered what is called “the promised land” with a few exclusions and additions. The territory just north of Gaza was supposed to be taken by Dan, but we can see what happened instead: 

Joshua 19:40-47 (New International Version)  40 The seventh lot came out for the tribe of Dan, clan by clan. 41 The territory of their inheritance included: Zorah, Eshtaol, Ir Shemesh, 42 Shaalabbin, Aijalon, Ithlah, 43 Elon, Timnah, Ekron, 44 Eltekeh, Gibbethon, Baalath, 45 Jehud, Bene Berak, Gath Rimmon, 46 Me Jarkon and Rakkon, with the area facing Joppa. 47 (But the Danites had difficulty taking possession of their territory, so they went up and attacked Leshem, took it, put it to the sword and occupied it. They settled in Leshem and named it Dan after their forefather.)

The territory between Gaza and Joppa was never taken by Dan, so instead the Philistines took it over. While this was part of “the promised land”, it was never conquered and so it is even today. Dan instead took the northernmost city in Israel, which was not part of “the promised land”. You may have heard of the expression “from Dan to Beersheba” which is the length of the territory of “the promised land”. Other areas of the Canaanites never taken by the Israelites were the towns of Tyre and Sidon, with their corresponding agricultural support land. The two things we take away from this study is: It has nothing to do with black people, and really nothing about slavery either. It is instead a prophesy defining “the promised land” and its future destiny.

 Now take a look at Nimrod, a grandson of Ham. His territory included Babel, (somewhere in Southern Iraq) from which we get the first hints of the need for slavery. They were building a tower in Babel, so they needed a lot of revenue in the form of material, manpower, food and drink. They had a temple dedicated to the Goddess Ishtar. The temple prostitutes were always willing to help for a fee. It is in Babel we have the first known use of money, to facilitate the use of “the oldest profession”. So sex slaves are the first known cases of real slavery. This among other things financed the grandiose plans of the ruling élite. Meanwhile in Cush and later in Egypt they were building pyramids. It took a lot of manpower to get all those stones from point A to point B and up to point C. The highly skilled stone cutters were probably not slaves, but the logistics people most certainly were slaves of one type or another, caught in involuntary servitude. So how did they obtain all those slaves? They did it by raiding nearby villages, towns and countries. You did protect your own people  for a fee, paid mostly as forced labor for a time, or substituting with somebody else that will actually do the work – the beginning of the slave trade. To avoid forced labor you could also make payment in kind by giving one of your daughters to the ruling élite.

Now we fast forward to the Roman Empire. It was actually an improvement over the previous mafia type arrangements that had been the norm until then. They instituted a rule of law, and to make sure it was adhered to they invented Crucifixion, the most tortuous form of public execution they could think of. To do all the work that needed to be done they had to have lots of slaves. It is estimated that half the population were slaves. In addition there were people who worked off their taxes as laborers or servants for a time. During the conquering years slaves were obtained as they conquered new territories. Later taxation became the major source of forced labor. But safe travel was made possible since their naval ships (galley slaves needed) provided protection from piracy. On land the road system was excellent. You just paid your fee for protection, and safe travel was almost guaranteed. Of course neighboring countries were raided for additional slaves. It is against this backdrop we read the story of the Canaanite woman. 

Matthew 15:21-28 (New International Version)  21Leaving that place, Jesus withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon. 22A Canaanite woman from that vicinity came to him, crying out, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is suffering terribly from demon-possession.” 23Jesus did not answer a word. So his disciples came to him and urged him, “Send her away, for she keeps crying out after us.” 24He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.” 25The woman came and knelt before him. “Lord, help me!” she said. 26He replied, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to their dogs.” 27″Yes, Lord,” she said, “but even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” 28Then Jesus answered, “Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.” And her daughter was healed from that very hour.

After seeing the woman’s faith Jesus grants her wish. She is now one of his. Faith trumps pedigree. This is the Christian message.  But what about slavery? We find one more clue in the story of the Ethiopian eunuch: 

Acts 8:26-39 (New International Version)  26Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Go south to the road—the desert road—that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” 27So he started out, and on his way he met an Ethiopian eunuch, an important official in charge of all the treasury of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians. This man had gone to Jerusalem to worship, 28and on his way home was sitting in his chariot reading the book of Isaiah the prophet. 29The Spirit told Philip, “Go to that chariot and stay near it.” 30Then Philip ran up to the chariot and heard the man reading Isaiah the prophet. “Do you understand what you are reading?” Philip asked. 31″How can I,” he said, “unless someone explains it to me?” So he invited Philip to come up and sit with him. 32The eunuch was reading this passage of Scripture: “He was led like a sheep to the slaughter, and as a lamb before the shearer is silent, so he did not open his mouth. 33In his humiliation he was deprived of justice. Who can speak of his descendants? For his life was taken from the earth.” 34The eunuch asked Philip, “Tell me, please, who is the prophet talking about, himself or someone else?” 35Then Philip began with that very passage of Scripture and told him the good news about Jesus. 36As they traveled along the road, they came to some water and the eunuch said, “Look, here is water. Why shouldn’t I be baptized?” 38And he gave orders to stop the chariot. Then both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water and Philip baptized him. 39When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord suddenly took Philip away, and the eunuch did not see him again, but went on his way rejoicing.

The point to take home here is that the Ethiopian eunuch was really a black slave. Yes, he was an important official, but a slave nevertheless. You only castrate slaves, so they will not get any ideas. Since they do not have an offspring, there is zero risk of palace coups. Thus made safe for their masters the salves could rise to become ambassadors, and be completely trusted. And Philip baptized him, signifying equality in Christ. The New Testament also tells us about slave trading:

1 Timothy 1:9-11 (New International Version)  9We also know that law is made not for the righteous but for lawbreakers and rebels, the ungodly and sinful, the unholy and irreligious; for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers, 10for adulterers and perverts, for slave traders and liars and perjurers—and for whatever else is contrary to the sound doctrine 11that conforms to the glorious gospel of the blessed God, which he entrusted to me.

 So, Slave trading is out for Christians. If you had slaves, you could keep them, but you could not buy more, and you could not sell them. You could release them though, and that was encouraged. We have the example of the slave Onesimus:

 Philemon 15-16 (New International Version)  15Perhaps the reason he was separated from you for a little while was that you might have him back for good— 16no longer as a slave, but better than a slave, as a dear brother. He is very dear to me but even dearer to you, both as a man and as a brother in the Lord.

Now back to slavery through the ages: The Roman Empire was in decline, and Christianity increased in spite of heavy persecution. In 313 the Emperor Constantine I issued the “Edict in Milan” that Christianity should be tolerated, and in 325 he summoned the First Council of Nicaea. Slavery became discouraged due to the teachings of the Church, but then as now people are not always listening. The relationship slave-master became more like sharecropper – landowner without any possibility of getting out. After the fall of the Roman Empire there was a vacuum of leadership and the Church became part of the established powers.

Down in Arabia lived a man named Mohammed. He died in 632, and his followers started a Jihad (commonly translated “Holy war”) of never before seen magnitude. In 732 they had conquered all the former Roman Empire outside of Europe, and Spain in Europe. The followers were promised immediate passage to heaven if they died a martyr’s death in the cause of Jihad. Not only that, they were promised attention of black-eyed beauties when they got there. The Quran does not mention how many, but tradition tells there are either 70 or 72 virgins that cannot wait to satisfy their every need should they be lucky enough to die a martyr’s death. And they took slaves, lots of them, especially young, attractive women. They commanded the best prices on the slave markets.

The Jihad forces went over the Pyrenees, and France was next on the agenda. Then the most important battle in world history took place: The battle of Tours in 732. The Muslim forces  under Abd-Er-Rahmanhad a supremely trained and equipped cavalry army, and the opposing side a bunch of ragtag foot-soldiers. Having successfully learnt how to fight the Vikings, they used the advantages of geography and the fact that they too were not afraid of dying to defend their women. After many days of battle and heavy losses on both sides the leader of the Muslim forces was killed. The invaders withdrew, never again to cross the Pyrenees, and Europe was saved.

Further north were the Vikings, known for their ferocious fightings. They were trading people traveling long distances to Iceland and America (Västerled) and on the Russian and east European rivers (Österled) all the way down to Miklagård (now Istanbul) where they traded freshly obtained slaves for merchandise. It is from this trade the east European people are called Slavs.

Around 853 A.D. St Ansgar became the catalyst to Christianize Denmark and Sweden. One of the main results was that slavery and slave trading was abolished by the Scandinavians, and all of Northern and Central Europe was freed of slaves. Meanwhile after 100 years of conquests there were plenty of slaves in the Muslim empire (Caliphate). As opposed to Jesus, who was never married and had few earthly possessions and certainly no slaves, Mohammed owned, bought, sold, married one slave and freed slaves. In the Quran there is plenty of law how to deal with slaves, and how to calculate their worth as opposed to free persons. Just as a man is twice as trustworthy as a woman when it comes to testimony slaves are usually half a person or less in penalty cases. But there is no mention of the curse of Ham in the Quran. Where did the Curse of Ham come from?

The earliest mention of the Curse of Ham and the cause of black skin comes from Rabbinic writings during the time of captivity in Babylon. The Talmudic writings were not widely distributed, and only Talmudic scholars knew the content.  There is no evidence that these writings “got feet” until the Muslim takeover of Arabia.

Ka’b al –Ahbar (ca 652 A.D) wrote that Ham lay with his wife and gave birth to a black boy and girl. He claimed they were not his. They are, his wife responded “for the curse of your father is upon us.” The story goes on, and all blacks come out from four black children of Ham. Wahb ibn  Munabbih (ca 730 A.D.) wrote that Ham was a fine white man, but because of his Father’s curse God Almighty changed his skin color to black. He then became the father of all the black people. In the story collection “One Thousand and One Nights” it is also found: Noah blessed Shem and Cursed Ham. (Source: The curse of Ham. By David M. Goldenberg)

So it is from the Muslim literature and oral tradition we find “The curse of Ham”. It is not found in the Bible (or the Torah), nor is it found in the Quran.

After the defeat in France, the Muslim invaders slowed down. They had conquered much of the civilized world. They turned their eyes towards India, but the going was much slower since there was no power vacuum there, just proud, ancient civilizations. In the Mediterranean both Muslims and Christians returned to the piracy trade that had been prevalent before the Roman Empire controlled the seas. Part of the yield from piracy was slaves. But the Muslims needed more slaves. The Quran is quite clear: You cannot take slaves from your own people, and Christians and Jews are also protected as long as they pay the special tax – the Dhimmi tax.

Not so for the heathen. They were free for the taking. Because of the “curse of Ham” they made no effort to convert the blacks, just use them as a source for slaves. In East Africa the slave trade was heavy, with Muslim slave traders as the buyers and raiders and also African warring tribes as sellers. The males were castrated, and the slaves went north on a long forced march. The losses mounted. Many slaves died en route due to polluted water and disease. Incompatible immune systems led to losses that could be as high as 85%. About 10 million slaves made it up to the Muslim countries between 700 and 1500 A.D. The men were laborers and sometimes sex-objects, the women were mostly servants, but their owners could also use them as sex-objects.

When the Muslims came into contact with Christians their use of black slaves were explained as “The Curse of Ham”. Since the Muslims made no effort to convert the blacks at that time, it was explained that they were sub-human, and because of the curse, it served them right.

On the Iberian Peninsula wars between Christians and Muslims continued, and both sides took slaves. Times changed again and the Muslims were driven out of Spain and Portugal. The Spanish and Portuguese fleet ruled the waves, and piracy stopped on the Mediterranean. The Catholic Church, having been a staunch anti- slavery proponent went into a low period in the form of Pope Innocentius VIII. In 1488 he accepted 100 Moorish slaves from King Ferdinand of Aragon, and divvied most of them up between some of his Cardinals. Except for this low-point the Church issued Bull after Bull condemning slavery. An excellent article on the catholic church and slavery can be found in


In 1492 Christopher Columbus discovered the Caribbean. His desire was to spread the Gospel to India, or at least that was how he sold it to Queen Isabella of Spain. The real reason was probably to find a new spice route to India. Constantinople had fallen to the Ottoman Turks in 1453, and the Muslims had taken over the spice trade. The story of Columbus makes fascinating reading for everybody. Christopher Columbus had  Norwegian ancestors in his lineage, and he knew about old tales how the Vikings went in Västerled (the western route) to Iceland, to Greenland and all the way to Vinland. Around the Millennium mark Europe and Greenland had a warming trend, substantially warmer than it is even today, and Greenland was named Greenland because of all the green grass that grew there. But around 1250 A.D. it got substantially colder, the Greenland settlements were abandoned, and the trade route to Vinland largely forgotten. Christopher Columbus had this crackpot idea: Maybe the earth isn’t flat after all, as he has been told by many. Maybe it is a sphere. He had heard rumors about it. Being a very religious man he checked with the Jews and found out in the Bible

Isaiah 40:22 (NIV) He sits enthroned above the circle of the earth, and its people are like grasshoppers. He stretches out the heavens like a canopy, and spreads them out like a tent to live in. The Hebrew for the word circle means circle in 2-dimensional geometry, but sphere in 3-dimensional geometry. So it was well known in learned circles that the earth is a sphere.

After Columbus had discovered the Caribbean the race was on. There was gold and riches for the taking. So they did. The natives had no immunity to many of the diseases the Europeans brought in, so they kept dying in large numbers, sometimes in excess of 80%. Not to worry. There was a steady supply of slaves from the Muslim slave traders. So the slave trade blossomed. And the Spaniards and Portuguese paid better for non-castrated male black slaves. So the trade was: slaves to America, looted gold back to Europe.

In 1588 the British defeated the Spanish Armada and – you guessed it, the British took over the slave trade. They also eventually cut out the middleman, the Muslim slave trader. You already know all about the next phase of the slave trade, so fhere is no need to repeat it here. The loss of Spanish hegemony over the Mediterranean started the piracy all over again: And I quote: The untold story of the million whites enslaved by non-whites is covered in a new book by Robert Davis. Most previously estimated slave counts have tended to be in the thousands, or at most in the tens of thousands. Davis, by contrast, has calculated that between 1 million and 1.25 million European Christians were captured and forced to work in North Africa from the 16th to 18th centuries. Davis’s new estimates appear in the book Christian Slaves, Muslim Masters: White Slavery in the Mediterranean, the Barbary Coast, and Italy, 1500-1800 (Palgrave Macmillan). Not always mentioned is the efforts of William Wilberforce to abolish slavery after his conversion to “serious Christianity”. This too makes fascinating reading.

Today piracy has started again, this time in Somalia, The US merchant ship Maersk Alabama was seized, and finally released through the assistance of the USS Bainbridge, named after William Bainbridge, who was instrumental in forming the US Marines and putting an end to the Barbary Piracy and slave trade. This is why the Mariners’ hymn contains the words “To the shores of Tripoli”. Saudi Arabia did away with slavery in the 50’s, Mauritania in 2007 and in southern Sudan it is still going on; where Muslim soldiers raid Christian villages, kill the men, kidnap the young women, and take them to their villages. The girls then have a choice. They can convert to Islam and marry a Muslim as a second, third, or even a fourth wife. Is she refuses to become a Muslim she will be sold as a sex slave. It is estimated that in Sudan alone over two million Christians have been enslaved or killed. In Darfur it is a similar situation. The issue is Arab Muslim against Black Muslim.

But Obama did mention that on the top of the hill overlooking the fort where slaves were traded was a church.

The argument is that the Church was complicit in the slave trade by not speaking up forcefully. I will take the example of the Roman Catholic Church since I am not a Roman Catholic, just a follower of Jesus Christ, the Lord. Except for a very brief period during the time of Pope Innocentius VIII they have sent out Bull after Bull about the evils of slavery. The fact that nobody is listening does not make them complicit. Today a similar situation exists with abortion. The Roman Catholic Church is very clear in its condemning of abortions. And nobody is listening. Like the infamous 1857 Dred Scott decision, which stipulated blacks were chattel not worthy of citizenship, Roe v. Wade has encoded the pernicious principle that an entire class of people — unborn babies — are subhuman and not entitled to basic rights. The argument then: It is my property. I have the right to do with my property as I see fit. The argument now: It is my body. I have the right to do with my body as I see fit. Lost in both cases is that we are dealing with a human life, deserving equal protection under the law.

But Obama did mention that on the top of the hill overlooking the fort where slaves were traded was a church.

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Retired engineer, graduated from Chalmers Technical University a long time ago with a degree in Technical Physics. Career in Aerospace, Analytical Chemistry, computer chip manufacturing and finally adjunct faculty at Pennsylvania State University, taught just one course in Computer Engineering, the Capstone Course.

One thought on “Obama on slavery. The real source of “The Curse of Ham””

  1. Fairness compelled me to read your post, and since you chose to disagree with mine, I could do no less to yours.
    Simply put, you bolster your arguments with quotations from the Judeo-Christian Bible.
    So what does that do to your commentary?
    Either you accept the Bible to be literal truth, or you consider it to be metaphorical, an illustration for an unsophisticated people to educate them in the way the writer intended. Divinely inspired? Questionable. Too many differences between accounts and interpretations. Hence, it’s an opinion, not fact.
    It cannot be both. If it’s literal, I don’t recall seeing evidence of such things as dinosaurs and mammoths. But the petrified bones of the former and the frozen corpses of the latter exist, and they are on display at museums around the world. If it’s metaphorical, then it can mean anything you say it means, you can pick-and-choose any argument to bolster your comments. But you can’t then claim they ‘prove’ your contention in some way. You’ve brought in an opinion to bolster an opinion, and both are yours.
    IF it’s literal truth, then you’re lumbered with all the things a primitive desert tribe codified; that the universe was created in a day( never mind that ‘day’ refers to one rotation around an axis that didn’t exist), that humans are the image of the deity with all their failings as well as their triumphs, with free will that they’re forbidden to use. Or is ‘image of God’ supposed only to mean a head with sensory organs, two arms and two legs? And presumably without hair, such as apes have with their other God-like image.
    Perhaps they were only practice efforts.
    Your essay is nonsense.

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