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The Bible builds its literary foundations upon the themes of Knowledge and Sin, two topoi that are reflected again and again in various parables, allegories, and tales found within this sacred text. Genesis 9:20-27 exemplifies the synthesis of these ideas, the relatively short tale of Noah¹s drunkenness revealing a profound exploration of the underpinning Biblical themes. And yet while being a perfectly self-contained passage, the story of Noah incorporates other parts of Genesis within its ideological framework, creating a multi-leveled structure that is both autonomous of and indebted to its greater context.
Both the structure of the passage and its concepts explore the Biblical theme of knowledge, making Noah¹s story a literal meditation on the idea, within a humanistic setting. The distinction of Noah being a ³man of the soil² is important within this context, because Adam and Eve dealt with the theme of Knowledge as well, but within a more supernatural, Godly environment (9:20). Thus the story of Noah is meant not as an etiological tale, but more as a morally-based allegory meant to render the concept of Knowledge more intimately understandable to the average person of faith. Noah¹s drunkenness from his wine leads to him laying ³uncovered in his tent,² a state of being that recalls Edenic associations with nakedness and Knowledge, reaffirming the connection between this passage and its place in Genesis (9:22). The climax of the scene comes when Ham ³[sees] the nakedness of his father, and [tells] his two brothers outside² (9:23). This moment, the second that Ham gains the knowledge of his father¹s naked figure, is pivotal in understanding the meaning of this passage. It illustrates not only the greater concept of Knowledge, but also outlines societal rules and norms regarding the interaction between father and son. The word ³saw² in the passage alone carries many levels of meaning, its usage an intrinsic allusion to when Adam and Eve ate from the tree of Knowledge and saw each other¹s nakedness for the first time. Thus this word, and its application, reveal to us that nakedness is a shameful thing, and thus Ham¹s knowledge of his father¹s nakedness is, in fact, a horrible thing, for the relationship between father and son should be one of respect, not of shame.
The actions of Shem and Japheth also tells us that this event is shameful?to dress their father, they ³[take] a garment, la[y] it on both their shoulders, and [walk] backward and [cover] the nakedness of their father; their faces [are] turned away, and they [do] not see their father¹s nakedness² (9:23). This blatant avoidance of the knowledge of nakedness illustrates to the reader how one should act in such a situation, for Noah¹s ultimate reaction to his sons reveals the merit of Shem and Japheth¹s actions?Noah blesses them with good fortune, while Canaan, the son of Ham, is cursed to slavery. This punishment of the son reflects the generational tendencies of The Bible, and reveals once again the relation to Adam and Eve, and the cursed nature of their offspring, namely humanity.
Sin is also a hugely important aspect of this passage, incorporated into the theme of Knowledge yet independent from it, in that sin is a later addition to Genesis in terms of thematic vocabulary. The idea of sin is a Christian element of the Bible, yet one cannot read it as a piece of literature without understanding the echoes of its fundamental effect upon its literary interpretation. Such word usage as ³cursed,² enforces the mental association with sin, as our cultural lexicon has created an undeniable like between those two ideas (9:25). The passage as a whole illustrates in a relatively simple way the sin of indulgence, as Noah¹s drunkenness creates terrible consequences, and Ham¹s knowledge forever wrecks his offspring. This allegorical passage is meant to both instruct and warn the reader, as many levels of sin are exposed. The selection works around the juxtapositions of images and words, as the voyeurism of Ham is offset by the exaggerated unseeing actions of Shem and Japheth, and the curse laid on Canaan is juxtaposed by the blessings given to his uncles. These independent sections of the passage work together to create a powerful tale of human behavior, one that is linked together with the Creation story, but provides more moralization than explanation.
Thus both knowledge and sin are invoked as thematic directives behind this seemingly simple passage of Genesis, resulting in a deeply probing allegory of human society and family. The tale of Adam and Eve is referenced many times within the selection, from the description of Noah as ³a man of the soil,² to the more obvious allusions with the issue of nakedness (9:20). Thus this small passage is extremely significant to the Bible as a whole, tackling social custom and repeating biblical motifs to reveal a depth of meaning that parallels that of any other ³known² passage of the Bible.
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