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Posts Tagged ‘Japheth’

Art by Gil Bruvel

Art by Gil Bruvel

I tried to do a cursory read of some of the commentaries on the three sons of Noah (Shem, Ham, & Japheth) and immediately realized I could never cover all of this controversy in a single post. It’s a big deal, the descendants of these three and the curse that Noah placed on Ham’s son Canaan (specifically) due to some kind of drunken episode (verses 20-27). The theories are many, the results undeniable, if genealogy is indeed the culprit, that, and a popular term of today: “generational sin.”

The sons of Noah who came out of the ark were Shem, Ham and Japheth. (Ham was the father of Canaan.) These were the three sons of Noah, and from them came the people who were scattered over the whole earth. (Genesis 9:18-19, NIV)

The oldest is actually Japheth and his name means opened. And a quick look in chapter ten shows that his descendents appear to be the great travelers who spread humanity the furthest. And then, the middle son, is Shem and to him is attributed the line of Abraham, David, and the Christ through Mary (Luke 3). And so, they were known as Semites, which became another way to refer to the Israelites and Jews of later days. And lastly, there is Ham, whose son was Canaan (among others) and who received the curse which many attribute to the seemingly endless animosities between those generations and all other peoples. Is it so? I really don’t know. There are even scholars who have credited the various races and skin color to those three family lines (which seems a little ridiculous to me).

But then, is it really necessary to “explain away” our current world tensions by marching back in time through scripture to put the whole thing down to a younger brother seeing or possibly engaging his naked father in some way? Really? I think generations of transgressions and the human tendency toward self-preservation and righteous indignation have done enough damage along the way, with or without the curse.

Genealogies are good for hindsight I suppose. It’s fun to go back, using a 20-20 lens to see what happened and how each person/choice turned the wheel of time. And one day, I suppose, our own descendants will look back on our now as well. “What were they thinking?” They’ll never understand our choices anymore than we understand the choices of our own ancestors. Lessons could be learned, since it is said, again and again, (thank you George Santayana), “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” But do we?

In reality, we change history all the time. In fact, our individual histories are more fiction than truth. We remember what we want to remember and fill in the rest. “Memory is fiction. We select the brightest and the darkest, ignoring what we are ashamed of, and so embroider the broad tapestry of our lives.” (Isable Allende.) [For more on this topic, read Luc Sante in the New York Times Sunday Book Review, March 12, 2010.]

So many people are on the genealogical bandwagon. Even celebrities have joined in the foray, looking for lines of descent as though this might explain who they have become outside of mere circumstances or serendipity, or simply God’s will and hand moving through Spirit.

We can study and we can ponder what has been or could have been, but the moment of greatest concern should be now, for it is our response to the events and knowledge of today that will turn the world (both the microcosm and the macrocosm).

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This is one of those chapters that lists a bunch of names. In Matthew, it used to be known as the “begats” a King James word for breed, multiply, or father (as a verb). It was a list of descendants, who were in the line of Noah. Whereas Matthew’s genealogy [1:1-16] recites the names from Abraham to Jesus (through Mary), Luke’s genealogy [3:23-38] goes through Joseph.

Genesis 10:32
These are the clans of Noah’s sons, according to their lines of descent, within their nations. From these the nations spread out over the earth after the flood.

It is Matthew’s genealogy that lists not only the men, but five unique and controversial women: Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, Bathsheba, and Mary. They are suspect either by birth or by circumstances, Rahab who seduced her father-in-law; Rahab, a traitor, who helped the Israelites; Ruth, a Moabitess (a heathen religion that practiced human sacrifice); Bathsheba, an adulteress; and finally Mary, though holy to us, from the perspective of those around her, was pregnant out of wedlock. I discovered the richness of these stories many years ago and had a one-woman performance piece called Pente that I toured in Georgia and Mid-Atlantic for many years.

It is often difficult to discover something worthwhile in the seemingly didactic lists.

But in these I found some information through a commentary that I did not know before. Specifically, I didn’t know that the word “sons” as in the “sons of Shem, Ham & Japheth” could also be translated as “nations.” Therefore, the individual names listed could represent people groups. It’s a much bigger story then. This was the distribution of a civilization, a second time around, a re-do. And yet, this version was equally fraught with error through human foibles (the story of Noah being sexually exposed and mocked by his son, Ham). Eventually, it is the descendants of Ham who begat the notorious cities of Sodom and Gomorrah.

One of Newton’s laws of physics was that “every action has an equal and opposite reaction.” Like sowing and reaping, our actions produce reactions. The Bible takes it one step further to state that an action may have more than an equal reaction, but a 30, 60, or even a 100 times the initial action: not equal but multiplied.

My actions create a ripple effect in my children and undoubtedly in my children’s children.

I am living in many ways in response to my parents’ choices, attitudes, and influence. Some good and valuable: some not. I am still eating their fruit on one level or another. I am growing and producing fruit as well. A cycle. A genealogy. A table of nations, just as surely as Noah.

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