Ham’s Transgression: Using AI (Embeddings) to Study the Bible

John Bowling
2 min readFeb 22, 2024

This is a bit of a weird one, but in my daily Bible reading I’m going through Genesis and just out of curiosity thought I would see what popped up. In Genesis 9:20–24 we have the following narrative:

Noah, as a man of the soil, began by planting a vineyard. He drank some of the wine, became drunk, and uncovered himself inside his tent. Ham, the father of Canaan, saw his father naked and told his two brothers outside. Then Shem and Japheth took a cloak and placed it over both their shoulders, and walking backward, they covered their father’s nakedness. Their faces were turned away, and they did not see their father naked. When Noah awoke from his drinking and learned what his youngest son had done to him, he said: Canaan is cursed. He will be the lowest of slaves to his brothers.

Richard Davidson discusses whether a homosexual act is implied by a connection in the language here with Leviticus 20:17. He concludes that there are “crucial grammatical-syntactical-lexical differences”, such that

the expression “see the nakedness of” in Genesis 9:21–22 does not mean “have sexual intercourse with” as in Leviticus 20:17. […] Although there was no homosexual act involved in Genesis 9, the use of the same expression, rāʾâ ʿerwat, in both Genesis 9 and Leviticus 20 is probably not to be taken as accidental. It seems that the narrator wishes the reader to understand that Ham’s action did in fact have illicit sexual overtones. The use of rāʾâ with an accusative of person, as in Genesis 9:21, often carries the nuance of “to look at (searchingly).” H. C. Leupold has captured this nuance and its implication: Ham’s “seeing” “is not a mere harmless and accidental[…]

— Homosexuality, Marriage, and the Church. p 8, 10

Looking at the cosine similarity of the phrase “Ham, the father of Canaan, saw his father naked”, the pericope in which Lot is raped has the second highest score among all other pericopes (0.49). (The highest is, unsurprisingly, the immediately following pericope in which the phrase occurs, the The Table of Nations pericope. Here we find phrases like “Ham’s sons: Cush, Mizraim, Put, and Canaan”, which will of course score very close to “Ham, the father of Canaan”.)

--

--

John Bowling

Throwing half-baked ideas against the wall and seeing what sticks.