HAM (Heb. hām, perhaps hot)

The youngest son of Noah, born probably about ninety-six years before the Flood, and one of the eight persons to live through the Flood. He became the progenitor of the dark races—not the Blacks, but the Egyptians, Ethiopians, Libyans, and Canaanites (Gen.10.6-Gen.10.20). His indecency when his father lay drunk brought a curse on Canaan (Gen.9.20-Gen.9.27).The descendants of Ham (Ps.78.51; Ps.105.23; Ps.106.22). In these passages “Ham” is used as another name for Egypt as representing Ham’s principal descendants.A city of the Zuzites, east of the Jordan (Gen.14.5).

After the flood Noah became intoxicated, and he lay in a drunken stupor in his tent. Ham entered the tent and then told his brothers what he had seen. Shem and Japheth took a robe and walking backward into the tent, so as not to look upon their father’s nakedness, let it fall across their father to cover him. When Noah awoke from his stupor and learned what had happened to him and what his son Ham had done, he cursed Ham’s son Canaan and said that his descendants would be the slaves of the descendants of Shem and Japheth. The story does not make clear why Noah should curse Canaan. Various explanations have been given, one of the most likely being that Canaan had done something not mentioned in the story which deserved cursing.

The word Hamitic is used to designate a group of languages in N Africa related to the Semitic languages. There is no Hamitic race.

2. Ham is also the patronymic of his descendants (1 Chron 4:40; Pss 78:51; 105:23, 27; 106:22).

3. The name of a city whose inhabitants, the Zuzim, Chedorlaomar and the kings who were with him smote in the time of Abraham (Gen 14:5). The site is not known.

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)

(cham; Cham):

1. The Youngest Son of Noah:

The youngest son of Noah, from whom sprang the western and southwestern nations known to the Hebrews. His name first occurs in Ge 5:32, where, as in 6:10 and elsewhere, it occupies the second place. In Ge 9:18 Ham is described as "the father of Canaan," to prepare the reader for 9:25-27, where Noah, cursing Ham for having told Shem and Japheth of his nakedness, refers to him as Canaan. On account of this, it has been suggested that "Canaan" stood originally in all the passages where the three brothers are spoken of, and that this was later changed to "Ham," except in the verses containing the curse. It seems more likely, however, that the name "Canaan" is inserted prophetically, as Noah would not desire to curse his son, but only one branch of that son’s descendants, who were later the principal adversaries of the Hebrews.

2. Ham as a Nationality:

The name given, in Ps 105:23,17; 106:22 (compare 78:51), to Egypt as a descendant of Ham, son of Noah. As Shem means "dusky," or the like, and Japheth "fair," it has been supposed that Ham meant, as is not improbable, "black." This is supported by the evidence of Hebrew and Arabic, in which the word chamam means "to be hot" and "to be black," the latter signification being derived from the former.

3. Meaning of the Word:

That Ham is connected with the native name of Egypt, Kem, or, in full pa ta’ en Kem, "the land of Egypt," in Bashmurian Coptic Kheme, is unlikely, as this form is probably of a much later date than the composition of Gen, and, moreover, as the Arabic shows, the guttural is not a true kh, but the hard breathing h, which are both represented by the Hebrew cheth.

4. The Nations Descending from Ham:

Of the nationalities regarded as descending from Ham, none can be described as really black. First on the list, as being the darkest, is Cush or Ethiopia (Ge 10:6), after which comes Mitsrayim, or Egypt, then PuT or Libyia, and Canaan last. The sons or descendants of each of these are then taken in turn, and it is noteworthy that some of them, like the Ethiopians and the Canaanites, spoke Semitic, and not Hamitic, languages--Seba (if connected with the Sabeans), Havilah (Yemen), and Sheba, whose queen visited Solomon. Professor Sayce, moreover, has pointed out that Caphtor is the original home of the Phoenicians, who spoke a Semitic language. The explanation of this probably is that other tongues were forced upon these nationalities in consequence of their migrations, or because they fell under the dominion of nationalities alien to them. The non-Sem Babylonians, described as descendants of Nimrod (Merodach), as is welI known, spoke Sumerian, and adopted Semitic Babylonian only on account of mingling with the Semites whom they found there. Another explanation is that the nationalities described as Hamitic--a parallel to those of the Semitic section--were so called because they fell under Egyptian dominion. This would make the original Hamitic race to have been Egyptian and account for Ham as a (poetical) designation of that nationality. Professor F. L. Griffith has pointed out that the Egyptian Priapic god of Panopolis (Akhmim), sometimes called Menu, but also apparently known as Khem, may have been identified with the ancestor of the Hamitic race--he was worshipped from the coast of the Red Sea to Coptos, and must have been well known to Egypt’s eastern neighbors. He regards the characteristics of Menu as being in accord with the shamelessness of Ham as recorded in Ge 9:20 ff.

See Japheth; Shem; TABLE OF NATIONS.


(1) A place East of the Jordan named between Ashteroth-karnaim and Shaveh-kiriathaim, in which Chedorlaomer smote the Zu-zim (Ge 14:5). No name resembling this has been recovered. Septuagint reads bahem "with them," instead of beham, "in Ham." Some have thought that "Ham" may be a corruption from "Ammon"; or that it may be the ancient name of Rabbath-ammon itself.

(2) A poetical appellation of Egypt: "the land of Ham" (Ps 105:23, etc.) is the land of Jacob’s sojourning, i.e. Egypt; "the tents of Ham" (Ps 78:51) are the dwellings of the Egyptians. It may be derived from the native name of Egypt, Kemi, or Khemi.

See Mizraim; nodetitle.