NUDE AND LEWD
We continue with K.J.Aaron's book
It was not uncommon for unfaithful wives to be stripped of
all clothing and publicly exposed. Hosea threatened to strip his
wife in this manner - as naked as when she was born and "discover
[expose, reveal] her lewdness in the sight of her lovers" (Hosea
2:3,10) - the word "lewdness" here meaning pudenda (Strong's
Jeremiah described this custom in these words: "For the
greatness of thine iniquity are thy skins discovered [stripped
off] ... therefore will I discover [strip off] thy skirts upon
thy face [not just the back of the woman, but her front], that
thy shame may appear" (Jeremiah 13:22,26). Ezekiel phrased it
this way: "I will even gather them around about ... and will
discover [expose, reveal] thy nakedness unto them, that they may
see all thy nakedness" (Ezekiel 16:37). Quite a strip show - not
just topless or bottomless - but all nakedness would be exposed!
In the book of Revelation, those lovers of "the great whore
... shall hate the whore, and shall make her desolate and naked,
and shall eat her flesh, and burn her with fire" (Revelation
17:16). To what extent the expression "eat her flesh" may have
represented some actual custom is difficult to say. One thing is
certain: those who ate her flesh must have been fed up with her!
According to the prophecy, her purple and scarlet garments were
to be ripped from her body and her nakedness exposed.
Nahum, likening Nineveh to a "well-favored harlot" - one
with an impressive shape - represents Gad (Yahweh) as publicly
stripping her naked so all could see her: "1 will discover
[expose] thy skirts upon thy face, and I will show the nations
thy nakedness, and the kingdoms thy shame. And I will cast
abominable filth upon thee, and make thee vile, and will sit thee
as a gazing-stock" (Nahum 3:4-6).
In his commentary, Adam Clarke explains: It was an ancient,
though not a laudable custom, to strip prostitutes naked or throw
their clothes over their heads, and expose them to public view
.... This verse alludes to such a custom. Children and others
threw mud, dirt, and filth of all kinds at them." Urine and
excrement, from humans and animals, were no doubt included in the
"abominable filth" mentioned. Imagine the utter degradation of
the scene - a woman publicly exposed naked, put in stocks, and
covered with all kinds of filth!
Among the ancient Germans, relates Tacitus, the disgruntled
husband would shave off the woman's hair, strip her naked in the
presence of her relatives, and drive her from his house. In some
countries, both the man and woman that committed adultery were
paraded stark naked through the city, the woman leading the man
with a cord, the end of which was attached to his penis.
It may be that the woman accused of adultery and brought
before Jesus (John 8:3), had been stripped of her clothing. In
this case, certain witnesses said they caught her in the very
act. But in cases when there were no witnesses - only suspicion
of adultery - Mosaic law provided a trial by ordeal:
If any man's wife go aside, and commit a trespass against
him, and the man lie with her carnally, and it be hid from
the eyes of her husband ... and there is no witness against
her, neither she be taken with the manner [no pregnancy
occurs]...and he be jealous of his wife .... Then shall the
man bring his wife unto the priest, and he shall bring her
offering for her, the tenth part of an ephah [about one
gallon] of barley meal; he shall pour no oil upon it
Pouring oil upon an object was an established fertility
rite, as when Jacob poured oil upon the top of a pillar (Genesis
28:22). But here was the reverse - no oil was poured out. Since
adultery was in question, the symbolism of outpoured oil was
probably considered inappropriate.
With the accused woman now before the priest, he uncovers
her head and places the barley offering in her hands. He makes
her drink the bitter water mixed with dust from the floor of the
tabernacle. If she is guilty, as charged, this will cause her
bowels, belly, and "thigh" to rot. He then takes the offering
from her hand, waves it before Yahweh, and offers it upon the
altar. It is all spelled out in Numbers 5.
Such laws, many feel, were one-sided. A man could accuse his
wife of adultery and force her to undergo this humiliating
"test," but there was no test for the man! The woman brought
to Jesus was threatened with stoning, but the man with whom she
committed adultery was not even mentioned (John 8:5). A man could
claim his wife was not a virgin on their wedding night and have
her killed (Deuteronomy 22:21), but there was no such requirement
for the man.
(But let's remember, though such a law was on "the books" so
to speak, in Israel, it didn't mean it HAD to be applied. The
woman caught in adultery and brought before Jesus, had MERCY
applied. The religious leader told Jesus that the law of Moses
said she should be stoned to death for adultery. Jesus applied
mercy. There were "judges" in Israel, and they had the right to
determine the particulars of every situation. This is often
forgotten when looking at all the laws that were "on the books"
in the society of ancient Israel - Keith Hunt).
The exact procedure for the trial by ordeal varied in
different centuries. At one time, a woman claiming innocence was
brought to the eastern gate of the temple and dressed in black.
While one priest prepared the bitter water, another tore her
clothes as low as her bosom and fastened her torn clothes below
her breasts. In some cases she was stripped naked.
(Again - the basic law was applied WHEN and HOW the judges
determined in any particular situation, mercy being applied at
any point of the law. Jesus applied mercy (the woman caught in
adultery and brought to him) all the way - Keith Hunt).
People who were condemned to death, whether by hanging,
stoning, or crucifixion, were commonly stripped of all clothing
and publicly exposed. There can be little doubt that Jesus was
crucified nude. His clothes had been removed and soldiers cast
lots for them (John 19:23,24; Mark 15:24). According to the noted
commentator Barnes, it was customary to crucify a person naked.
Billy Graham, pointing out the "shame" of the cross, has
repeatedly mentioned this in his crusades over the years. The
Catholic Encyclopedia makes the same point.
When Jesus was crucified, "many women were there beholding
afar off" (Matthew 27:55). Why did they stand afar off? Clarke
explains: "As all malefactors were crucified naked, perhaps this
may account for the distance at which these modest women stood."
On the night Jesus was arrested, Mark mentions a young man,
dressed only with a linen cloth "about his naked body," who
continued to follow Jesus even when the disciples fled. Finally
the mob grabbed him also, but he escaped - "left the linen cloth,
and fled from them naked" (Mark 14:51,52).
The first Christian martyr, Stephen, was probably stripped
of his clothing when unbelieving Jews "cast him out of the city,
and stoned him" (Acts 7:57,58). According to Lightfoot, there was
a place for stoning outside the city of Jerusalem to which the
accused was brought. When he was ten cubits away, he was exhorted
to confess; when four cubits away, his clothes were stripped from
Before Paul and Silas were jailed at Philippi, they were
publicly humiliated by being stripped and beaten. This is plainly
stated: "They caught Paul and Silas, and drew them into the
market place ... and the multitude rose up together against them:
and the magistrates rent off their clothes and commanded to beat
them" (Acts 16:19,22). They were given no courtesy. No one read
them any rights. The whole scene was belittling and crude. As
strange as it may seem, when Paul and Silas later called out to
the desperate jailer those words, "Believe on the Lord Jesus
Christ and thou shalt be saved" (Acts 16:31), both preachers may
have been standing there nude!
It was an ancient custom when taking war captives, to strip
them naked. The very word translated "captive" means to denude
(Strong's Concordance, 1540) - 2 Kings 15:29; 16:9; 17:6; 24:14,
etc. On one occasion, 200,000 women, boys, and girls were
stripped "naked" clear down to their shoes (2 Chronicles
28:8-19). Assyro-Babylonian bas-reliefs have not failed to record
this custom, some vividly showing the naked Israelites as war
captives. We know, also, that after the fall of Jerusalem in 70
A.D., enslaved Jews were mocked as they were paraded nude through
the streets of Rome.
Clarke's Commentary says: "It was the barbarous custom of
the conquerors of those times to strip their captives naked, and
to make them travel in that condition, exposed to the weather ...
and the heat of the sun. To the women this was the height of
When Isaiah sought to make a point - that the Egyptians and
Ethiopians would be taken captive - he stripped off all his
clothing, including that which covered his "loins," and walked
about "naked and barefoot" for three years. "And the Lord said,
Like as my servant Isaiah hath walked naked and barefoot three
years for a sign and wonder ... so shall the king of Assyria lead
away the Egyptians prisoners, and the Ethiopians captives, young
and old, naked and barefoot even with their buttocks uncovered,
to the shame of Egypt" (Isaiah 20:1-4).
Some who are shocked to think that Isaiah actually went
naked have suggested it was only partial nakedness. But this
hardly seems to be the case. The word translated "nakedness" here
is the same Hebrew word used of the nakedness of Adam and Eve.
The word translated "shame" in this passage means, as the margin
has it, nakedness. It was clearly nakedness like that which would
befall captives - stripped of clothing so that even their butts,
would be exposed.
But Isaiah was not the only prophet who went about naked -
there were others, as seen in the following incident: Saul went
to Naioth and "stripped off his clothes also, and prophesied
before Samuel in like manner, and lay down NAKED all that day and
all that night. Wherefore they say, Is Saul also among the
prophets?" (1 Samuel 19:24).
Micah, who was contemporary with Isaiah (Isaiah 1:1; Micah
1:1), also took some drastic actions: "Therefore I will wail and
howl, I will go stripped and naked; I will make a wailing like
the dragons, and mourning as the owls"! (Micah 1:8). This was far
more exuberant than those actions of a revivalist preacher who
merely throws off his coat when he really "gets to preaching"!
During the sixteenth century, in Amsterdam, a religious
group known as the Adamites went without clothes. On one occasion
they ran through the streets crying, "Woe! Woe! Woe! The wrath of
God! The wrath of God!" When brought before the magistrates they
refused to dress, claiming they were "the naked truth." In more
recent times, in Canada, the Doukhobors have repeatedly protested
government actions by stripping off their clothes in court rooms
In another set of circumstances, we have the case of Lady
Godiva, who went nude to make a point. Her husband, the ruler of
Coventry, had imposed a heavy tax on his subjects. Lady Godiva
sided with the people. He insisted there would be no tax relief
unless she rode through the city on a white horse - totally nude.
When she called his bluff, and went in the buff - riding bareback
(her front was bare also!) - her husband decreed that everyone
had to stay indoors and keep their shutters firmly closed. In the
legend, however, a man named Tom "peeped" through a window. It is
from this incident we get the expression "peeping Tom."
In the Bible there is a reverse of the Lady Godiva story - a
king who wanted people to see his wife naked! During a large
celebration, king Ahasuerus ordered his servants "to bring Vashti
the queen before the king with the crown royal, to show the
people and the princes her beauty: for she was fair to look on"
(Esther 1:11). This means she was to make a public appearance
with the royal crown on - AND NOTHING ELSE! As the Targum says,
she was to appear naked. The same point is made by Josephus and a
Midrashic passage (Megillah 12b). But Vashti refused and,
consequently, was replaced - by Esther.
What Ahasuerus sought to force on Vashti would be repulsive
to any modest woman. But nude is not always LEWD. The right or
wrong of nudity - like a sexual relationship that can be a token
of love or RAPE - depends on the CIRCUMSTANCES. Within the
intimate and loving setting of the Song of Solomon, nudity is
praised as BEAUTIFUL. In one portion, using the Eastern erotic
style, the man describes the woman's body in detail (Song of
Thou hast doves' EYES within thy locks,
Thy HAIR is as a flock of goats,
Thy TEETH are like a flock of sheep that are even shorn ...
Thy LIPS are like a thread of scarlet,
Thy TEMPLES are like a piece of a pomegranate. T
Thy NECK is like the tower of David,
Thy two BREASTS are like two young roes that are twins....
In the next scene, the woman poetically describes the man's
body - uncovered by clothing - beginning with his head (Song of
His HEAD is as the most fine gold,
His LOCKS are bushy, and black as a raven.
His EYES are as the eyes of doves by the rivers of waters...
His cheeks are as a bed of spices,
His LIPS like lilies, dropping sweet smelling myrrh.
His HANDS are as gold rings set with the beryl:
His BELLY is as bright ivory overlaid with sapphires.
His LEGS are as pillars of marble.
In this head to foot description, the man's "belly" is com-
pared to ivory. The word that is so translated here can mean,
euphemistically, the seat of generation (strong;s Concordance,
4578). One translator expresses it: "His 'rod' is arrogant
ivory." This may be more specific than the original would
warrant, but considering the overall erotic nature of the book,
it is not impossible. In another scene (Song of solomon 7:1-6), a
Shulamite girl is wearing shoes, but this is apparently all she
is wearing. As the description of her body moves for her feet
upward, between her thighs and belly, the "navel" is mentioned.
THE INTERPRETER'S BIBLE suggests her VULVA is meant, the original
being similar to an arabic word meaning "secret" or "pudenda."
How beautiful are thy FEET with shoes...
The joints [curves] of thy THIGHS are like jewels...
Thy NAVEL is like a round goblet, which wanteth not liquor:
Thy BELLY is like an heap of wheat set about with lilies.
Thy two BREASTS are like two young roes that are twins.
Thy NECK is as a tower of ivory;
Thine EYES like the fishpools in Heshbon...
Thy NOSE is as the tower of Lebanon...
Thine HEAD upon thee is like Camel ...
The HAIR of thine head like purple...
How fair and how pleasant art thou, O love, for delights.
The Shulamite girl described here is performing a dance.
The people cry out for her to turn that they may look upon her.
The bridegroom is pleased with the favorable reception and, in
Eastern fashion, asks why they gaze upon the girl who dances with
a sword in her hand. The King James margin here (Song of Solomon
6:13) has the word "Mahanaim," which was possibly the name of
this particular dance or one in which the inhabitants of Mahanaim
excelled. Goodspeed translates it: "the Mahanaim dance," Moffatt
uses the term "sword-dance," and Rotherham: "the dance of a
Though we may not know the exact significance of this dance,
as THE INTERPRETER'S BIBLE commentary says: "It was some special
dance, apparently performed in the nude." THE PULPIT COMMENTARY
says the dancing girl may have worn clothing of a light texture
through which the outline of her body and breasts were seen,
according to the mode of dancing in the East. Such garments were
mentioned by Isaiah as "veils" (Isaiah 3:23), meaning, according
to Clarke, "transparent garments." whether the dancing girl was
nude or wearing see-through clothing, her breasts were visible
and described as "two young roes that are twins." One breast was
not larger than the other - they were identical. As she danced,
they bounced exotically up and down, like two young roes skipping
and jumping across vale and hill.
Apparently the writer of the Song of Solomon liked a woman
with a big bust, a zaftig. Notice how his girlfriend described
her shape and the response it brought from him: "I am a wall, and
my breasts like towers: THEN was I in his eyes as one that found
favor" (Song of Solomon 8:10). It was when he saw she had breasts
like towers that she obtained his favor!
I am not aware that any modern poets compare women's breasts
to towers, but in Utah there are mountain formations known by
such names as Fern's Nipple and Mollie's Nipple. In Mexico two
adjoining mountains are called "The Two Tits of Miss JoAnne."
Mountain peaks east of Yosemite Park are called "Two Tits,"
though commonly softened up on maps as "Two Teats." The name of
the famous mountains south of Yellowstone Park, The Grand Tetons,
translates roughly as "Big Tits."
The biggest bosom in the Bible is not that of a woman,
however, but a man: "Abraham's bosom," mentioned in the parable
of Lazarus and the rich man (Luke 16:23).
The writer of the Song of Solomon expressed concern about
the bust size of his undeveloped sister: "We have a little
sister, and she hath no breasts: what shall we do for our sister
in the day when she shall be spoken for?" (Song of Solomon 8:8).
Plastic surgery was not available then, and "falsies" were simply
not the real thing.
This ancient concern finds modern expression in numerous ads
in women's magazines that offer methods of breast enlargement. Of
questionable or limited benefit are gadgets employing suction
cups or spring devices to press between the palms to build up
chest muscles. A preacher once told me about a young lady in his
church who sent five dollars for a bust developer. After waiting
several weeks, her order finally arrived. She was quite
disappointed when she opened the package to find only a photo of
a man's hands!
Using padding to enlarge the appearance of hips or breasts
was bitterly opposed by St.Clement. Occasionally, even today,
some have opposed shoulder or bust pads, quoting Ezekiel
13:18-21: "Woe to the women that sew pillows to all arm holes,
and make kerchiefs upon the head of every stature to hunt souls!"
But the commentators argue, and with good reasons, that this
passage refers to a now-obscure form of superstitious worship.
Over the centuries, clothing designers have sought to
emphasize certain parts of the body at times, and minimize them
at others. Sometimes this led to practices that actually deformed
the body. In order to make a woman's feet tiny (which was
considered erotically stimulating), the Chinese practiced
footbinding which deformed and crippled.
At one period American women, seeking a narrow female waist,
wore corsets so tight that some suffered internal deformity. The
bustle, which was fashionable for twenty years, exaggerated the
female posterior. A woman's journal of the 1870s spoke
enthusiastically of "that contour which is universally considered
a great beauty in the female form."
I recall hearing a preacher once argue against the "literal"
method of interpreting the book of Revelation. "If the woman
of Revelation 17 who sits on seven mountains is a literal woman,"
he exclaimed, "she must have a bigger rump than any woman I have
It sounds almost unbelievable, but in 1750, in Paris, it was
considered good style to appear with a large belly! "Paddies" for
this purpose were manufactured and sold briskly for a period.
But probably the best example of style changes involved
women's breasts. "Through the centuries, a woman's breasts really
never rested," says Brasch. "Something was being done to them all
the time: to disguise, hide, display, contain, minimize or expand
them." A bra manufacturer once advertised the three types of bras
his company offered in these terms: "The Dictator" (who
suppresses the masses), "The Salvation Army" (who lifts them up),
and "The Yellow Press" (who makes mountains out of molehills).
More recently, a sign in the window of a store featuring a line
of bras read: "This is the real decoy." Another sign read: "We
Some form of bra has been worn for thousands of years, one
form even being mentioned in the Bible. The word translated
"tablets," used only in two references (Exodus 35:22; Numbers
31:50), is, according to Clarke, "supposed to be a girdle to
support the breasts." But it was not until this century that
anyone took out a patent for a bra: Mary Phelps Jacob, a
descendant of steamboat inventor Robert Fulton. Her patent for a
bra - actually called a brassiere at the time - was sold to a
corset company for $15,000. The word bra, from a French word
meaning "bracer," has been in use since 1937.
There is a book titled "Bust Up: The Uplifting Talke of Otto
Titzling and the Development of the Bra" which caused the
People's Almanac to credit Titzling with the invention of the
bra. But the book was apparently written as a hoax!
Ancient people often carried money in the chest area -
called in the Bible the "bosom" (Luke 6:38; Isaiah 65:6). Today
some women carry money in their bras. In a revival meeting a
preacher was taking up an offering. It was one of those meetings
in which people are asked how many will give this amount, how
many that. The preacher pointed to one woman and said the Lord
wanted her to give a twenty dollar bill. She said she didn't have
it to give. He told her she did and he knew where she had it!
With this, she reached into her bra and pulled out the bill. How
did he know this?
Bras come in various cup sizes. Comedienne Joan Rivers says
her cup does not run over, it runneth under! The largest bras -
actually made for cows - run up to size 108. Perhaps the most
expensive bra sells for $4,000 at Tiffany's - an 18-karat gold
mesh bra worn over bare breasts, complemented with a shirt open
to the waist. In 1964 the "Monokini" was marketed - a topless
bikini. The manufacturer's slogan was: "Less for your money."
Women who despised booby traps and liked to get things off their
chests - wore these to some beaches, featuring for onlookers a
Of course almost all churches, understandably reject such
exposure as inappropriate, if not indecent. But a few churches go
further, making ideas about clothing major doctrines. They seek
to build their little kingdoms around such things as bow long a
woman's skirt must be, why her knees must not be seen, why she
must wear only long sleeves so that elbows are always covered. It
matters not how hot the weather may be, they must honor their
distinctive set of traditions. Yet even the PRIESTS were not
required to wear so much clothing it would make them sweat!
Some religions require face coverings. If holiness is really
measured by how much of the body is covered, then religions that
force women to cover their faces would be more holy and have
The strictest portion of the Bible--the law of Moses - was
written while the Israelites had just come from Egypt and were
living in the desert. They probably wore very little clothing.
According to Wall: "In ancient Egypt men of poorer classes wore a
kilt and girdle only, or went naked when at manual labor; the
[Hebrews] were slaves in Egypt, and therefore poor, and they
probably followed the example of the Egyptians as to dress. This
made it easy, and almost natural, for a woman coming to the
rescue of her husband in a brawl ... to seize a man by his most
sensitive and vulnerable parts"---the latter statement referring
to Deuteronomy 25:11.
I knew a preacher who held revival meetings some years ago
in a mid-western town. One day he went to a river to swim with
some of the men in the church. When they changed into their
bathing suits, all of them had tops to wear except him. They were
horrified to think he would go swimming topless and it almost
closed down his revival!
When John baptized people in the Jordan river, the amount of
clothing worn was probably minimal. I don't think they waded out
into Jordan in business suits! As the Christian church developed,
in some places even nude baptism was practiced. Durant wrote:
"Total nude immersion was required lest a devil should hide in
some clothing or ornament." Rushdoony sums up the custom in these
... an interesting custom which survived for some centuries
as basic to baptism, namely, baptism, usually by immersion,
in the nude .... Men were born naked: hence, they were
reborn naked in baptism .... There were two baptistries thus
in churches for some generations, since men and women were
baptized separately ..... this practice of naked baptism
indicates how seriously the Biblical symbolism was taken by
the early church .... St.Chrysostom, speaking of baptism,
says ... Adam was naked because he had sinned, but in
baptism, a man was naked that he might be freed from sin....
St. Ambrose says, Men came as naked to the font, as they
came into the world .... Cyril of Jerusalem takes notice of
the circumstance ... as soon as ye come into the inner pan
of the baptistry, ye put off your clothes, which is an
emblem of putting off the old man with his deeds; and being
thus divested, ye stood naked, imitating Christ, that was
naked upon the cross" (The Institutes of Biblical Law,
Some religions, instead of thinking of nudity as immoral,
actually require it upon entering a temple. Socrates preferred to
lecture in the nude. Swedenborg taught that in heaven all will be
gloriously naked since clothing was introduced through sin.
Interestingly, the founder of the modern-day nudist movement,
Hasley Boone, was at one time a Baptist preacher.
Among the Greeks, races and other athletic contests were
performed in the nude. Because of his custom, various Greek
cities had a "gymnasium," meaning: a place of naked exercise. The
word is commonly used today, though many are not aware of its
origin. When the writer of the book of Hebrews said all things
are "naked" unto the eyes of God, he used the word "gymnos"
(Hebrews 4:13). When he spoke of "exercise" (Hebrews 5:14), he
used "gymnazo" from "gymos, naked. And when he wrote about the
Christian race, the same basic idea carried through. As Moffatt
translates it: "We must strip off every handicap, strip off sin
with its clinging folds, to run..." (Hebrews 12:1). It is not
that the writer of Hebrews recommended nudity - as the Greeks who
ran in races - but in a spiritual sense, any clinging fold, must
be stripped off so that the believer may run unhampered, "looking
unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith" (verse 2).
There are Christian people with the highest ethical
standards - many who would abhor any public display of nudity -
who are "backyard nudists." In a secluded place, they may swim or
sun bathe nude. There are Christian women who do their housework
nude or just relax in this manner within their own homes. They
experience a feeling of freedom when the fetish of layers of
clothing is broken down and they move out into the sun, air, or
water. The Bible even records an incident about Peter fishing in
the nude. "Now when Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he
girt his fisher's coat unto him, (for he was naked)," and hurried
to the shore to meet Jesus (John 21:7). Because the sea of
Galilee is below sea level, and this was the spring of the year,
the weather was probably very warm.
Though the overall teaching of the Bible does not advocate
nudity, neither does it support the HORROR regarding the physical
body that existed for centuries. Physicians, being male, were not
allowed to deliver babies lest they see a woman's "nakedness."
Even in the seventeenth century, when this attitude was beginning
to change, prudery forced physicians to work blindly beneath a
sheet, as the 1681 drawing included here shows.
Probably the biggest Biblical negative regarding nudity
appears in the story of Noah, but the real issue may not have
been nudity at all:
Noah ... was drunken and was uncovered within his tent. And
Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father,
and told his two brethren without. And Shem and Japheth took
a garment, and laid it upon both their shoulders, and went
backward, and they saw not their father's nakedness. And
Noah awoke from his wine, and knew what his younger son had
done unto him. And he said, Cursed be Canaan; a servant of
servants shall he be unto his brethren (Genesis 9:20.27).
Are we to assume from this that it is a sin for a son to see
his father without clothes? Could this incident be properly used
to condemn all nudity in all situations? This hardly seems to be
the intended meaning. Josephus implies it was more than mere
nudity - that the drunken Noah "lay naked in an unseemly manner."
Because we read that Noah awoke and knew what his son "had
done unto him," some believe an act was committed by Ham. If a
son had incestuous intercourse with his father's wife, this was
called "uncovering his father's nakedness" (Leviticus 18:8), but
this does not seem to fit the context here. Others suppose Ham
committed a homosexual act. The Jewish commentator Rashi taught
that Ham castrated his father. The severity of Noah's curse tends
to justify the belief that Ham did something besides merely
making a joke about his father's nakedness.
Oddly, Noah did not pronounce the curse upon his son Ham,
but upon his grandson Cancan. Considering that Noah was drunk, it
would appear he was at fault as much as anyone. And even though
the Bible records the words of his curse, there is no real reason
to believe these words actually doomed an entire race to slavery.
It is true, however, that many of the ancients believed the
heads of families had special powers to confer blessings or
curses upon their descendants. What seems especially strange is
that once these pronouncements were made, they were irreversible
- even when obtained by fraud! The classic example is found
within the story of the twins - womb mates - Jacob and Esau.
Jacob, it will be remembered, pretended to be Esau, put on hairy
garments, and deceived his blind father to obtain the blessing.
Later, the father, Isaac, apologized to Esau, but it was too
late: "Thy brother came with subtilty, and hath taken away thy
blessing" (Genesis 27:35).
Patriarchal pronouncements were considered especially
powerful when they were given as part of a near death situation.
Such was the feeling of Jacob's sons when be called them together
for his final words. To his son Reuben he said: "Unstable as
water, thou shalt not excel; because thou wentest up to thy
father's bed; then defiled thou it: he went up to my couch"
If anyone feels this statement is disjointed, he is not
wrong. In the Hebrew text, there are two unfinished sentences
here. A copyist may have dropped some words that he considered
vulgar. The word the translators have given as "unstable" means
"pouring out," a word linked with lust (Strong's Concordance,
6349). The incident referred to was when "Reuben went and lay
with Bilhah his father's concubine" (Genesis 35:22). In the dying
moments of his old age, Jacob had not forgotten this!
In his pronouncement, Jacob referred to another one of his
sons, Issachar, as "a strong ass" (Genesis 49:14). A similar
expression was made about Abraham's son, Ishmael, who was "a wild
man," meaning (as The Pulpit Commentary says), "a wild ass [of a]
man" (Genesis 16:12). At that time, to call a man an ass probably
meant he was tough. To call a person an "ass" today has a
degraded meaning, as in the following story:
Three young seminary students thought an elderly professor
was long overdue for retirement. As the first student met him on
the sidewalk, he said: "Good morning, Father Abraham."
The next came along and greeted him: "Good morning, Father
Isaac." The third said: "Good morning, Father Jacob."
The old man looked upon them with scorn and replied: "I am
neither Abraham, Isaac, or Jacob. I am Saul the son of Kish sent
to look for my father's asses; and, behold, I have found three of
them!" (cf. 1 Samuel 9:3).
Entered on this website June 2007
To be continued with "The Sin of Onan"