Ephraimites, A People United: Dispelling the Racial Myth of Noah’s Curse
by Atlas Laster Jr., Ph.D.
In order to better understand the role of Ephraimites as a population of people in the overall history of the Children of Israel, whose complexions vary from light to dark, it will be necessary to first examine Noah, his descendants, and Noah’s “curse.”
More than 4,200 years have passed since Noah and his wife began having children, based on the “Chronology/Time Line” in the Chumash (Scherman 1993, p. 53). Genesis 5:32 states that Noah was five hundred years old when their first of three sons was born, and their names were Shem, Ham, and Japheth. There are differing Rabbinic opinions about the birth order of the sons (Zlotowitz and Scherman 1986), but the important point is that the entire post-Flood earth was populated by the 70 descendants or nations of Shem, Ham, and Japheth, as listed in Genesis 10.
Specified were 26 descendants from Shem, 30 descendants from Ham, and 14 descendants from Japheth. In other words, 37% of the 70 nations descended from Shem, 43% were from Ham, and 20% were from Japheth. Descendants from Shem and Ham combined accounted for 80% of the 70 nations that began to populate the post-Flood world. All of the 70 nations were united, as stated in Gen. 11:1, “The whole earth was of one language and of common purpose.”
Further, there is a widely accepted belief that “Biblical scholars, and at least one prominent anthropologist, consider Ham to be the ancestral father of Negroes, Mongoloids and Indians; Shem is considered to be the ancestral father of Semites (Arabic and Jewish); and Japheth is considered to be the ancestral father of Caucasians” (McKissic 1990, p. 16). Noah could have been the father of children with three different complexions, but either he or his wife necessarily would have been of dark skin color. “Dark-skinned people can and often do produce fair complexioned offspring; however, it is genetically impossible for bright or fair complexioned persons to produce dark-skinned children” (ibid., pp. 16-17). The scenario presented in Noah’s offspring is a world populated initially by a majority of people of color represented in the descendants of Shem and Ham.
History has shown that each of the people groups represented by Shem, Ham, and Japheth have each experienced periods of ascendancy. “History can be divided into three dimensions. Generally speaking, each race has been given 2000 years to reign: the Reign of Ham – 4000 B.C. to 2000 B.C.; the Reign of Shem 2000 B.C. to 300 B.C.; the Reign of Japheth – 300 B.C. to the present. What will happen when Japheth’s reign is over?” (ibid., p. 34). It may well be that following the 6000 years of the reigns of Noah’s three son’s descendants respectively, a remnant from each of those descendants will reign under the rule of King Yahshua HaMoshiach.
A major point of controversy that has arisen when discussing Noah and his three sons is the nature of Ham’s sin (Blackwell 1993), which led to a curse being uttered by Noah onto one of Ham’s sons, Canaan. “Then too, uncertainties about the precise nature of Ham’s error result in a fantastic variety of suggestions, which range from Ham’s having possibly castrated his father, attacked his father homosexually, committed incest with his father’s wife, or having had sexual relations with his own wife while aboard the ark” (Felder 1989, p. 39).
It is believed by many that Noah’s curse included Ham, his four sons, Cush, Mizraim, Put, Canaan, and all Black people throughout the ages (ibid.; Haynes 2002). Felder (op. cit.) calls this process “sacralization,” which is the use of a belief that is made into a religious dogma and serves the interest of a specific group. A prime example of this process is “the so-called curse of Ham (Gen. 9:18-27), which rabbis of the early Talmudic periods and the Church Fathers at times used to denigrate Black people” (ibid., p. 38). Felder added, “Similarly, the Babylonian Talmud (sixth century A.D.) states that ‘the descendants of Ham are cursed by being Black and are sinful with a degenerate progeny” (p. 40). Another example is found in the writings of the esteemed 19th century German rabbi, Samson Raphael Hirsch. In The Hirsch Psalms he wrote the following in the commentary to Ps. 7:1, “The Kushite, the blackfellow, is generally regarded as a designation of the most inferior tribe of the human race” (p. 40). These types of negative views about Black people persist even to this very day. Later it will be shown that such beliefs are gross misinterpretations of the nature and role of people of color throughout history in general, and throughout Scripture in particular. The Hamitic descendants have always played a prominent role.
Returning to Noah’s curse, Scripture clearly shows that Noah’s drunken behavior (Gen. 9:21) was the precipitating factor that led up to the speaking of a curse on his grandson, Canaan. In Gen. 9:1, Elohim had already blessed Noah and his sons, and this blessing would have passed to the progeny in their loins also. Thus, it is believed that Noah’s curse was only of limited effect. Moreover, the curse was spoken when he woke from an unconscious drunken state, and no doubt was still toxic. In other words, he was not in his right mind, in addition to being angry. It is difficult to believe that a man of Noah’s spiritual stature as stated in Gen. 6:9, “Noah was a righteous man, perfect in his generations,” would willingly wish harm for any of his descendants. Using an average father as an example, in Matt. 7:9-10 Yahshua said, “Or what man is there of you, whom if his son ask bread, will he give him a stone? Or if he ask a fish, will he give him a serpent?” Certainly Noah was in a different category than the example used by Yahshua.
Additional clarification will be provided by an examination of the Hebrew meaning of the word “curse.” Harris (1980) explained: “A striking fact is that there is such a proliferation of words in Hebrew which have been generally all translated ‘to curse’. The list includes at least six: ‘arar, qalal, ‘ala, qabab, naqab, za’am. To group all of them together under the one general English equivalent, ‘to curse’, is much too superficial” (p. 168). Botterweck and Ringgren (1974) said that “‘Cursed art thou/are they’, was the immediate reaction of a person to a suspicious misbehavior on the part of someone else, and that the intention of one pronouncing this expression was to vigorously keep himself aloof from that person and his action” (p. 408). “The curse formula was changed to the 3rd person when the person being cursed was not present, or when the person pronouncing the curse had determined that he would never see the one he was cursing again because the behavior of the latter had destroyed their relationship, a situation that may be assumed in Gen. 9:25” (ibid., p. 409).
The Hebrew word for curse in Noah’s case was ‘arar, from the root aleph-resch-resch. Brichto (1963) said that “It is not unlikely that the force ‘banned’ is the basic denotation of ‘arur in the pronouncement of Noah. …Whereas Shem and Japheth will dwell together as freemen and equals, Canaan shall be banned from free association with them…” (pp. 86-87). “The curse against Canaan, therefore, is the second curse against a human being, following the curse upon Cain, but it is the first spoken by a human” (Mathews 1996, p. 423). According to Clark (1999), the root aleph-resch-resch means “weaken internally.” It follows that even before the Children of Israel, under Joshua’s leadership, entered the Land, the Canaanites were living as free people, yet they were enslaved to idolatry, immorality, and murder. Another perspective on Noah’s curse was provided in McKissic (1990): “the curse of the Canaanites was that they would spread out over the Earth and prepare the way for Shem and Japheth” (p. 32).
It would appear though that the more far-reaching, long-lasting, and pernicious “curse” passed down from Noah was the generational iniquity of excesses with wine, or what could be termed alcoholism. The Baal HaTurim Chumash (Gold 1999) indicated that both Judah and Ephraim were exiled, in part, because they “overindulged in wine…” (p. 79). Their sin with excesses of wine is stated in Isa. 28:1, 5-7 and in Amos 6:6-7. Yair Davidi posted the following commentary to Isa. 28:1 on his email@example.com electronic mailing list: “the British drink a lot, Australians drink more than anybody else except Russians, North Americans drink a lot. Jews (from Judah) are not usually great drinkers but alcohol is freely available at Jewish functions and in religious ceremonies etc. Jewish alcoholics exist but on the whole Jews have an exceptional tolerance for alcohol: Everything is relative. WINE can mean any alcoholic beverage. Perhaps by ‘DRUNKARDS’ drug and other addicts are included?” (personal communication, 1 May 2001). Further poignant warning against wine and strong drink is stated in Prov. 20:1 and 31:4-7.
Contrary to what we have been led to believe about the descendants of Ham as being relegated to slavery and a perpetual inferior status, “for almost two thousand years after the flood, the descendants of Ham occupied by far the most conspicuous and commanding position in the earth. For some reason, not very well understood, the earlier developments of civilization and empire were mainly in this branch of the race. The great and splendid empires of antiquity for the most part belonged to it” (Tarbox 1864, pp. 24-25). McKissic (op. cit.) wrote: “Scripture and secular history attest to the fact that dark-skinned people were politically, culturally and numerically dominant in the ancient world and were the fathers of civilized society as we know it today. I mean the period in history from the time of Noah after the flood (4000 B.C.) to the conquest of most of the known world by the Greeks under Alexander the Great (321 B.C.)” (p. 16). McKissic added, “The descendants of Ham led very advanced civilizations that predate Semitic and Japhetic civilizations by at least two thousand years, which may explain the reluctance of some scholars to identify the ancient Egyptians, Canaanites, Libyans and sometimes even the Ethiopians with modern day Negro. Some scholars label these groups as white with dark skin” (ibid., p. 23). The Hamites referred to in the Bible were people who would be classified as Black or Negroid in the Western world today” (ibid., p. 20).
It may well be that a primary reason for the decline of the Hamitic people was their “tendency…to fight against the purpose of [Yahweh]” (Blackwell 1993, p. 93). This tendency was seen in the high place built at Babel in Genesis 11, and in all subsequent high places. It was the building of high places by King Solomon that led to the division of the nation of Israel into two kingdoms, Judah and Israel. Afterward, Yahweh evaluated each new king in Judah and Israel primarily according to what was done with the high places (Butler 1991). The type of internal weakness that was set in motion by Noah’s curse on Canaan still plagues mankind today in his attempts to compensate by building even taller high places like the recently destroyed World Trade Center Towers, other tall buildings around the world, and television towers. NASA has introduced a different type of high place, and the upper limits of which are still expanding as Voyager II continues to travel into outer space. Other high places today are much more subtle because they are “within the psyche of man. Wealth, fame, power, honor, idolization of movie and television personalities, idolization of entertainers and sports figures, worldly systems of thought, and types of emotional and physical trauma may lend to the development of high places within the psyche. These internal high places may be elevated and worshiped more than one worships Yahweh” (Laster 2002, p. 123).
It was from the idolatrous culture at Babel that Yahweh called out—raptured, if you will—Abraham, and promised greatness, blessings, and a new land to his descendants. The new land was the domain of the Canaanites, descendants of Ham’s “cursed” son, Canaan. Abraham’s father, Terah, had planned to settle in the land of Canaan, but was not called by Yahweh to do so, and settled near the border in Haran and later died there, as written in Gen. 11:31-32. Furthermore, McCray (1990) suggested that Abraham was essentially Black: “The evidence that Abraham, the father of the Biblical Hebrew people, though listed genealogically in the Table of Nations as a descendant of Shem, was Black may be demonstrated from a discussion about his place of origin, Ur of the Chaldees. ‘Chaldea’ was located in South Babylonia…and was ‘a land occupied by Cushites’” (pp. 122-23). McCray indicates additional evidence of “Blackness” in Shem’s descendants: “For example, one might refer to ‘Elam’ who appears in the line of Shem (Genesis 10:21, 22). The Elamites, a people associated with the ancient Persians, are regarded by many scholars as a Black or Negroid people. Thus, Blackness has surfaced (explicitly) in the line of Shem – a line which implicitly may contain a greater degree of Blackness than we are able to explicitly ascertain” (pp. 86-87).
Even though, as a Shemite, Abraham’s place of origin in Hamitic/Cushite land does not indicate that he became Hamitic/Cushite—although there was likely considerable cultural confluence as a result of his birthplace in a land inhabited primarily by Black people. Tarbox (op. cit.) said, “Even the children of our missionaries, in different parts of the world, come back to us, bearing often the most unmistakable traces of the lands in which they have been born. And if this takes place in a few years, and in one generation, what may have taken place in the long ages of the past?” (p. 62). The psychologist Carl Jung made a very similar observation in a volume of his Collected Works entitled Civilization in Transition. In a commentary to Ps. 87:5, Feuer (1977) recorded the following points:
The Maggid of Dubno points out that every country has certain special conditions which benefit its inhabitants. However, a country is usually beneficial only for natives who are accustomed to its climate and atmosphere. Therefore, the nations praise their notables saying, this one was born here. The land of Israel, however, has a beneficial effect on all those who enter its borders, even if they are not natives.
The special benefits of other countries are physical properties which aid only those men whose bodies were fashioned on the soil of that particular land. But the unique benefits of the Holy Land are universal spiritual gifts (Kol Yaakov).
Two types of people can be called children of Zion, both the person who was actually born there and the non-native who always yearned to live there (pp. 1086-7).
Clearly, the place of one’s birth does have a special influence in shaping the physical makeup, but it does not take precedence over inherited genetic determinants. Thus, Abraham was born a descendant of Shem in Hamitic/Cushite land. It may be noted here that Isaac’s wife, Rebecca, was born in Hamitic/Cushite land; Jacob’s two wives, Leah and Rachel, were born in Hamitic/Cushite land; all of Jacob’s children, with the exception of Benjamin, were born in Hamitic/Cushite land. Likewise, all of the House of Judah and of the House of Israel who are not indigenous to Eretz Israel, will take on some of the cultural characteristics of the land in which they are born, and live in a type of cultural aberration, so to say. Yet, there will be a natural, genetic predilection, leaning, or inclination for Eretz Israel; however, others will opt out of a desire for the Land and instead remain in cultural or physical Babylon.
It has been shown that there was a strong Hamitic/Cushite influence in the midst of the Children of Israel beginning with Abraham, and there was also the Canaanite influence by virtue of living in the land of Canaan. In addition, the Egyptian influence also became a part of Abraham’s life early on by virtue of Hagar. The Egyptians descended from Ham also, by way his son Mizraim (Tarbox, op. cit., p. 29). Abraham did not want a wife for Isaac from among the Canaanite women. Apparently that sentiment was passed along to Isaac and Rebecca for their sons, Esau and Jacob. Esau did not honor the plan because he took wives from among the Canaanite women, a choice that was detested by Rebecca in her words to Isaac in Gen. 27:46. Isaac personally instructed Jacob in Gen. 28:1-2, to not take a wife from the Canaanites, but to find one from among Rebecca’s relatives—thus, Leah and Rachel.
There appears to have been little Canaanite or Egyptian intermarriage for Jacob’s children until the time spent in Egypt. By the way, according to Yair Davidi (2001), “The original Canaanites were of mixed physical type. Some were white and fair while others were quite dark and some were Mongoloid. Some authorities emphasize the darker coloring of many of the Canaanite Phoenicians” (p. 160). Egyptians may have been predominantly of dark complexion, because the “Egyptian Pharaohs were for the most part Black people” (Felder 1989, p. 10). “Whether we call these Pharaohs Black, Afroasiatic, or Negroid does not matter. The substantive point is that they were not Caucasians” (ibid., p. 11). McCray (op. cit.) stressed the point that while in Egypt, Joseph married an Egyptian woman, and his two sons were of Egyptian heritage:
Then, we could speak of the descendants of Jacob, Israelites, who dwelt in the land of Goshen, Egypt. Joseph had become the forerunner for the family, and he had married the Egyptian Asenath, the daughter of Potiphera, priest of the city of On or Heliopolis. From this union two children were born, Ephraim and Manasseh (cf. Genesis 41:45, 50-52). These sons of Joseph became ancestors of the tribes of Israel bearing their names–two explicitly Black tribes.
The sojourn of the Israelites in Egypt saw them intermarrying with the native Egyptians. This accounts for the nation’s tremendous growth during their 400+ year Egyptian stay. If there were 140 persons who made the trek with Jacob from Canaan into Egypt (including one wife for each male), their numbers grew to over 2 ½ million at the time of the Exodus; plus they became integrated with the “mixed-multitude” who left the Egyptian bondage with the children of Israel under the leadership of Moses (cf. Exodus 12:37-38). Subsequently, the mixed-multitude and the descendants of Jacob became one amalgamated people all bearing the name, “the children of Israel” (pp. 123-24).
Joseph had received the birthright (Davidi op. cit.). “All of the Blessings and all of the Prophecies given unto Israel should therefore be doubly apparent amongst the descendants of Joseph: And, indeed they are” (ibid., p. 51). Further, “Joseph had two sons, Ephraim and Menasseh. Both Ephraim and Manesseh received the status of full Tribes in their own right. …Jacob blessed Ephraim and Menasseh” (ibid., p. 52), and Yahweh said “Ephraim is my firstborn” (ibid., p. 11). It was mentioned earlier that the kingdom of Israel was split. Jeroboam, from the Tribe of Ephraim, became ruler of the northern kingdom. Thus, “two of the most important tribes were Judah and Ephraim. The Tribe of Ephraim believed it should be the head tribe (Judges ch. 8) and there was sometimes tension between Ephraim and the other tribes on this issue” (ibid., p. 1). “The Israelites in the northern kingdom continued to degenerate and eventually became almost complete pagans” (ibid., p. 6), which led to their eventual exile that continues to this day.
Returning to the situation of intermarriages in Egypt, eventually the Children of Israel were enslaved as a result of their large population, which threatened the Pharaoh. As slaves, the spiritual climate degenerated for the Children of Israel, and Moses was chosen by Yahweh to lead them out of Egypt and back to the land of Canaan. The story is very familiar.
It must be remembered that Moses married a Cushite wife, and Miriam was punished with tzaraat, which is commonly thought of as leprosy, for speaking against Moses’ wife. “The affliction of tzaraa[t] is a punishment for slander, gossip, and other forms of selfish and anti-social behavior. The result of Miriam’s unfair criticism of Moses (Numbers 12:10), which resulted in her body becoming covered with tzaraa[t], showed how seriously [Yahweh] regards such evil speech…” (Scherman 1993, p. 1060). The point is that Ephraimites and those of Judah must be very circumspect in their thoughts and speech about others of different complexions.
Two other figures to be mentioned in light of the discussion about the Hamitic influences within the Children of Israel are Joshua and Caleb. Joshua descended from Ephraim (Scherman; McKissic, op. cit.), thus had Hamitic heritage. Caleb was a member of the tribe of Judah (Num. 13:6), and his father was a Kenizzite (Num. 32:12). Kenaz descended from Esau through his marriage to Adah, a Hittite (Canaanite) woman (Gen. 36:2, 9-11). McKissic said, “Canaan’s second son was Heth, the father of the Hittites. Heth’s children were landowners who sold land to Abraham to bury Sarah (Genesis 23:3-20)” (p, 29). Thus, though a member of the tribe of Judah, Caleb’s heritage had indirect links to both Esau and Canaan. Some of the righteousness of Abraham did pass through Isaac and Esau to Caleb, and some of the righteousness that was in Noah did pass through Ham and Canaan to Caleb.
There are many other examples in Scripture of the Hamitic lineage playing a significant role in the history of the Children of Israel. Some include Tamar, Zephaniah, Hezekiah, Rahab, Ruth, Bathsheba, Obed-edom, Zephaniah, Hezekiah and others in the New Testament. It is beyond the scope of this paper to discuss all of their places within the Children of Israel. However, there is one instance of mistaken identity that must be mentioned. Blackwell (op. cit.) pointed out that in Acts 21:38, Rav Sha’ul was identified as an Egyptian: “Did you notice that the Roman commander thought Paul was an Egyptian revolutionary? Egyptians are black-skinned descendants of Ham” (p. 131). Blackwell clarified by saying he was not suggesting that Rav Sha’ul was a “Black man.”
Hopefully, by now, it may be seen that “the distinction the Old Testament makes is not racial. Rather, the Hebrew Scripture distinguished groups on the basis of national identity and ethnic tribes. …By no means are Black people excluded from Israel’s story, as long as they claim it (however secondarily) and not proclaim their own story apart” (Felder 1989, p. 43) from the larger picture of Yahweh’s purpose for all the descendants of Noah. It is the focus on Noah’s curse interpreted as a justification for slavery of Blacks and racist attitudes toward Black people that led to the development of Black Liberation Theology (Felder) as a counter theological posture.
From day one in the United States, Ephraimites were subjected to the worst imaginable treatment at the hands of religious people who used Noah’s curse as both justification and rationalization for so doing. In all fairness, there were also religious people who were instrumental in ending the institution of physical slavery, which culminated with the Civil War. Johnson (1995) wrote, “To judge by the hundreds of sermons and specially-composed church prayers which have survived on both sides, ministers were among the most fanatical of the combatants from beginning to end. The churches played a major role in dividing the nation, and it is probably true that it was the splits in the churches which made a final split in the nation inevitable” (p. 32).
President Lincoln credited Harriet Beecher Stowe, the daughter of a pastor, as being the catalyst for the Civil war with her book, Uncle Tom’s Cabin. “Lincoln was not being altogether facetious when he greeted Stowe in 1863 as ‘the little lady who made this big war’” (Stowe 1986, p. 19). Uncle Tom, the central character who was a rather large man, “has since become a byword of racist complicity” (ibid., p. 11). His house on the plantation, Uncle Tom’s cabin, was where the slaves held church meetings (Stowe). Wellington Boone (1996) provided a novel interpretation of the Uncle Tom character:
If a student is applying himself in his studies and getting ahead, he is called an Uncle Tom. If a worker puts in some extra hours without pay out of a sense of doing a job well, he is called an Uncle Tom. Only Satan could instigate such twisted thinking. Those who should be held up as examples to follow are ridiculed as if they are the cause of the problems facing the black community.
The time has come to remove the mantle of political correctness from the persona of Uncle Tom and see him in the context of one of God’s shining kingdom treasures. There are two standard definitions of Uncle Tom: the elderly black slave who is the main character in the pre-Civil War, antislavery novel, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, published in 1852, and a black person whose behavior toward whites is regarded as fawning, submissive, or servile.
Many blacks have been taught to hate Uncle Tom and use his name as a symbol of detested compromise with the white man. I, for one, completely disagree. The true attributes of this fictional character as precisely what both blacks and whites need to spark a great awakening. It is time to move Uncle Tom from epithet to example (p. 64).
Near the end of the book, Uncle Tom knew the location of two runaway female slaves, but would not tell the slave owner. However, other slaves snitched on him, which resulted in Uncle Tom being mercilessly beaten to the point of death by the slave owner, Simon Legree. During the beating, his posture was to have a heart of sympathy for Simon, because Uncle Tom knew that he would face judgment from Yahweh, and so told him. In addition, Uncle Tom expressed the feeling that death would only bring him into the presence of Yahweh sooner than expected. It is not suggested that Ephraimites imitate or model Uncle Tom, since the circumstances of his life, though based on fact, were in fact fictional. Our model should always be Yahshua.
Much has changed for Ephraimites since the Emancipation Proclamation, and so much more has not changed—maybe even regressed. Segregation has not been the answer. Integration has not been the answer. The federal government’s latest answer was the diversity movement of the late 1980s and early 1990s. Most recently we have seen the racial reconciliation approach that began within Christian groups. It is suggested that some processes and forces are beyond any solution from man, and will be solved only with the return of Yahshua. Our task is to discern the difference between things we may impact and things that are beyond our ability. Daniel learned about this when he received the report from the angel about the delay in delivering the response from Yahweh.
Ephraimites must first become reconciled to Yahweh through Yahshua, and then reconciliation between brethren, including the House of Judah will be accomplished. Noah’s curse was only temporal, while Yahweh’s eternal blessings will always nullify any actions by man. Yahweh has promised the return of Ephraim and we are witnessing it. Yahweh did not create a monochromatic, or, one color, group of chosen people. Ultimately and in the final analysis, there are only two types of people, am—the covenant people of Yahweh, and goy—everyone else. Praise Yahweh who has redeemed to Himself, through the blood of the Lamb, His people Israel, from every “kindred, and tongue and people and nation” (Rev. 5:9).
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