Thursday, October 11, 2007

Noach: Is *Canaan* The Brother of Shem and Yafet?

There is a difference between advancing a theory and noting a possibility. Note that this could well fit within the category of kefira, though some might say it does not. I thought of the following, and after a bit of checking up it seems that I was not the first to think of it, or at least the first part of it.

There are strange things afoot with Canaan. Why is he cursed for his father's actions? His father saw Noach's nakedness, at least according to the plain text of the Torah. And why every time Cham is mentioned is the fact that his is the father of Canaan? And see this curse and blessing:
כה וַיֹּאמֶר, אָרוּר כְּנָעַן: עֶבֶד עֲבָדִים, יִהְיֶה לְאֶחָיו. 25 And he said: Cursed be Canaan; a servant of servants shall he be unto his brethren.
כו וַיֹּאמֶר, בָּרוּךְ יְהוָה אֱלֹהֵי שֵׁם; וִיהִי כְנַעַן, עֶבֶד לָמוֹ. 26 And he said: Blessed be the LORD, the God of Shem; and let Canaan be their servant.
כז יַפְתְּ אֱלֹהִים לְיֶפֶת, וְיִשְׁכֹּן בְּאָהֳלֵי-שֵׁם; וִיהִי כְנַעַן, עֶבֶד לָמוֹ. 27 God enlarge Japheth, and he shall dwell in the tents of Shem; and let Canaan be their servant.
Who are Canaan's brothers? This would seem to be (basde on next perek) Cush, and Mizraim, and Fut. But read on and Canaan is the servant of Shem and Yefet.

We could answer many different answers. We might say that in "his brothers," his refers to Ham. Or that "brothers" has a wider scope that just sons of the same father. For example Lot and Avraham are described as brothers elsewhere. We might say that Canaan did the deed, and thus gets to be singled out, and indeed, the pasuk preceding the curse and blessing is ambiguous in this regard, saying beno hakatan did this, rather than Canaan or Cham-Avi-Kenaan, with the very plausible implication that it was Canaan, the youngest son of Cham who did this.

However, a straightforward reading of just these particular pesukim gives the impression that the three sons of Noach are Shem, Canaan, and Yafet.

This would be at odds with the genealogical section which gives the three brothers as Shem, Cham and Yefet. And at odds with the narrative which has Cham see his father Noach.

Now, the blessing is Biblical poetry, and as such is archaic. We may well say that it pre-existed the writing of the Torah and Matan Torah. And so there is this old tradition.

If so, Moshe Rabbenu was faced with apparently conflicting traditions. The genealogical and narrative tradition clearly have Cham as Noach's son. But the poetic blessing appears to have Canaan as Noach's son.

With this chip on his shoulder, we have see why Moshe Rabbenu as editor made sure it was clear -- בַּאֵר הֵיטֵב -- that Canaan was the son of Cham, rather than the son of Noach.

In perek 9 of Bereishit:
יח וַיִּהְיוּ בְנֵי-נֹחַ, הַיֹּצְאִים מִן-הַתֵּבָה--שֵׁם, וְחָם וָיָפֶת; וְחָם, הוּא אֲבִי כְנָעַן. 18 And the sons of Noah, that went forth from the ark, were Shem, and Ham, and Japheth; and Ham is the father of Canaan.
Echo the genealogical section, and immediately append this identification of Cham and Canaan.

When Cham sees his father's nakedness, again stress that it is he, but he is the father of Canaan:

כב וַיַּרְא, חָם אֲבִי כְנַעַן, אֵת, עֶרְוַת אָבִיו; וַיַּגֵּד לִשְׁנֵי-אֶחָיו, בַּחוּץ. 22 And Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father, and told his two brethren without.
This is always on Moshe Rabbenu's mind (or Hashem's mind, as Moshe writes miPi haGevura).

What can we say to this? One simple answer is that indeed there are two traditions. And rather than an inept editor/redactor who does not recognize conflict, we have an extremely conscientious editor who recognizes conflicts but refuses to emend the text to make things fit, because of a religious or historic obligation. Therefore he leaves it alone and puts in explanatory comments to aid things along.

Or, we can adopt this "editor's" suggestion, which appears to be, on the level of peshat, that Canaan is the stand-in for Cham his father, for whatever reason. Let us run with this idea. Midrashim suggest that actually Canaan did something as well. This would not resolve "his brothers." Another suggests it was midah keneged midah, for Cham deprived his father of having a fourth son by castrating his father, and thus his own fourth son is punished. This still has problems.

Let us look at this for a moment not as a blessing directly out of Noach's mouth, but as extra-Biblical poetry (/prophecy) known far and wide, then attributed to its initial source and so placed into its proper place in the narrative. The poetry would likely be based on exactly the narrative which precedes it, such that it is external evidence to the story.

In poetry especially, we can have synecdoche, which is where the part stands for the whole (e.g. wheels for automobile). We are not talking about individuals in their own lifetimes here, but rather to their nations. Egypt is far off and left-behind, who knows about Fut, and Cush is irrelevant. For the sons of Shem, the Israelites just out of Egypt, Canaan is what is on their minds. They are to take over the land of Canaan. Therefore, Canaan is the relevant portion of it, and indeed the fulfillment of it. Besides, perhaps one could say that we see that the curse only applied to Canaan as servants. We have eved kenaani. But in contrast, Cush actually produced the first Biblical king mentioned (soon after) and Egypt actually enslaved the Israelites, sons of Shem. Thus not only might the part stand for the whole, but it might only stand for the part.

We take this Biblical blessing and curse -- and indeed, prophecy -- and cast it back at its basis, the incident with Shem, Cham and Yafet. Perhaps Noach even said Canaan, choosing to curse only a fraction of Cham, or knowing that the others had other historical roles to fulfill. But since Canaan was representative of his father and the line of Cham, we refer to "his brothers." But such poetic device can be confusing to the uninitiated reader, and so all these steps to attempt to clarify.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

There is a sefer written by a yungerman in Ner Yisroel Baltimore called Mayim Rabim. In there he has one chapter discussing the genealogy of Canaan which includes some of the salient points for your post. One of the most interesting things he mentions is sources that Canaan was Ham's adopted son. Yeshiva University library and JTS have it:

If you can't find it, I can look it up for you and possibly scan the relevant pages.

P.S. I have been working on a Tanach genealogy project for about a year which is how I found this sefer.


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