The Curse of Ham: Race and Slavery in Early Judaism, Christianity, and Islam (Jews, Christians, and Muslims from the Ancient to the Modern World)
David M. Goldenberg
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How old is prejudice against black people? Were the racist attitudes that fueled the Atlantic slave trade firmly in place 700 years before the European discovery of sub-Saharan Africa? In this groundbreaking book, David Goldenberg seeks to discover how dark-skinned peoples, especially black Africans, were portrayed in the Bible and by those who interpreted the Bible--Jews, Christians, and Muslims. Unprecedented in rigor and breadth, his investigation covers a 1,500-year period, from ancient Israel (around 800 B.C.E.) to the eighth century C.E., after the birth of Islam. By tracing the development of anti-Black sentiment during this time, Goldenberg uncovers views about race, color, and slavery that took shape over the centuries--most centrally, the belief that the biblical Ham and his descendants, the black Africans, had been cursed by God with eternal slavery.
Goldenberg begins by examining a host of references to black Africans in biblical and postbiblical Jewish literature. From there he moves the inquiry from Black as an ethnic group to black as color, and early Jewish attitudes toward dark skin color. He goes on to ask when the black African first became identified as slave in the Near East, and, in a powerful culmination, discusses the resounding influence of this identification on Jewish, Christian, and Islamic thinking, noting each tradition's exegetical treatment of pertinent biblical passages.
Authoritative, fluidly written, and situated at a richly illuminating nexus of images, attitudes, and history, The Curse of Ham is sure to have a profound and lasting impact on the perennial debate over the roots of racism and slavery, and on the study of early Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.
and ours, according to them, is one example of the Jewish bequest.27 What does the midrash mean when it says that Cain’s (or David’s) face became black? Does it mean that Cain turned black and became the an- THE CURSE OF CAIN 181 cestor of dark-skinned people, as was later understood in Europe and America? A clue to the meaning of the midrash is found in its language: “his face became like . . . ” and not “his body” or “he” (as in the sex-inthe-ark midrash), for postbiblical Jewish literature
that serves as the basis for other discussions in the literature. . . . [It] shows the compatibility of certain claims and the broader culture.”34 The results of my research claim that there are indeed certain rabbinic conceptions (and lack of conceptions) concerning the black African; that these conceptions and perceptions are in agreement with the antecedent Jewish cultures of the biblical and Hellenistic-Roman periods, as they are with Near Eastern cultures generally. Not until after the
underlies the choice of Kush in Zephaniah’s prophecy against the nations (2:12), thus indicating God’s universal reach to the most remote parts of the world.68 Similarly the names of “Egypt, Kush, and Seba” in Isa 43:3 and 45:14 were “probably chosen because they represent the most remote regions known to Israelites.”69 Apparently the same may be said for Ps 68:32/31, “Kush shall stretch out her hands to God.” By the choice of Kush in this verse, the psalmist indicates that those from the
that the Qurhan and later Islamic stories about biblical personalities and events (isra ¯Hı¯liyya ¯t) reﬂect much of ancient Jewish biblical interpretation. As the ninth-century traditionist, al-Bukha¯rı¯, wrote: “The Jews used to read the Torah in Hebrew and to interpret it to the people of INTRODUCTION 15 5 Islam in Arabic.” The same is true for Christianity in Asia Minor and the lands of the Near East. The Christian Syriac Bible translation, the Peshitta, has been shown to contain many
rabbinic story of sex-in-the-ark is an etiology that is meant to account for the existence of all dark-skinned people, not just the black African. This is true as well for the sex-in-the-dark story, which is also an etiology directed toward Ham, that is, toward darker-skinned people in general, and not restricted to Kush and his descendants, the black Africans.98 Although, to the best of my knowledge, rabbinic literature does not mention the skin color of the Putites and Canaanites, who descended