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Noah's Curse must be recognized as the most innovative and enlightening study

of the Biblical defense of America slavery ever published



Noah's Curse

The Biblical Justification for Slavery in America  

By Stephen Haynes


"A servant of servants shall he be unto his brethren." So reads Noah's curse on his son Ham, and all his descendants, in Genesis 9:25. Over centuries of interpretation, Ham came to be identified as the ancestor of black Africans, and Noah's curse to be seen as biblical justification for American slavery and segregation. While Noah's curse was invoked in western Europe even prior to the modern period to explain the origins of slavery, only in the 15th century, when dark-skinned peoples were enslaved by the Spanish and Portuguese and the figure of the European slavetrader became ironic, was the curse explicitly relied upon to justify the ownership of one human being by another.

American have long relied on their Bible to help them organize their social world and Stephen R. Haynes here returns us to the wellspring of the American South's religious rationale for slavery. Shedding light on the distinctive and creative ways in which the curse was appropriated by pro-slavery and pro-segregationist interpreters, Haynes demonstrates how this ancient biblical tale was compelling for antebellum white Southerners because it resonated with core values and beliefs regarding antiquity, tradition, domesticity, race, and sin. 

Through the writings of, among others, influential Southern Presbyterian clergyman Benjamin M. Palmer, who predicted that, once freed, the black race would experience "rapid extinction before they had time to waste away through listlessness, filth, and vice," Haynes shows how Southerners would cling to these texts as a means of making sense of the South's volcanic history of secession, war, and defeat. Finally, the book presents counter-readings of Genesis 9 by abolitionists, biblical critics and literary artists who have challenged pro-slavery interpretations by articulating redemptive readings of the curse.

Tracing the continuum between racial apartheid and the southern ruling class's exaggerated sense of honor, between the curse of Noah and the Confederate flags that still wave over some state capitols, Stephen R. Haynes here makes the compelling case that the Bible is in fact one of the foundational texts of American slavery.

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Noah's Curse must be recognized as the most innovative and enlightening study of the Biblical defense of America slavery ever published. The dubious legend of Noah, as Stephen R. Haynes points out, is still with us, along with the Confederate symbols flying over public places and fundamentalists denouncing racial mixing. The Southern mind, he brilliantly explains, has woven the conventions of honor, the burdens of shame, the practice of race subordination, and the concept of divine grace into a single cultural fabric. In the field of religious and sectional history, this work will take an honored place next to the studies of Eugene Genovese and Donald Matthews. No one interested in American religious history can ignore this intellectually powerful study.--Bertram Wyatt-Brown,  Southern Honor and The Shaping of Southern Culture.


The ancient rabbis suggested that every biblical text has seventy legitimate meanings (and no doubt an infinite number of illegitimate ones). Stephen Haynes has produced an amazing history of interpretation of the Ham and Nimrod narratives. It becomes clear through his careful research that such texts are supple and vulnerable to misguided theological passion. This book lets us reflect on old mistakes and, by inference, invites us to reflect on our own availability for parallel misreadings. Noah's curse is an exercise in historical disclosure not to be missed by those who care about the crisis of reading in the church and in a Bible-rooted culture.--Walter Brueggemann Spirituality of the Psalms  


Stephen R. Haynes, Ph.D., associate professor, holds a Ph.D. in Religion and Literature from Emory University, the M. Div. from Columbia Theological Seminary, an M. A. from Florida State University, and a B. A. From Vanderbilt University. He is an associate professor and the Albert B. Curry Chair of Religious Studies at Rhodes College in Memphis, Tennessee. 

He is a member of the Tennessee Holocaust Commission and has been a member of the Facing History and Ourselves Memphis Advisory Board since 1993. Haynes is the author of numerous books, including Prospects for Post-Holocaust Theology (Scholars Press, 1991); Reluctant Witnesses: Jews and the Christian Imagination (Macmillan, 1995); Holocaust Education and the Church-Related College: Restoring Ruptured Traditions (Greenwood, 1997); and Noah's Curse: The Biblical Justification for Slavery in America (Oxford University Press, 2002).

Professor Haynes has been at Rhodes since 1989 and offers courses on the Holocaust, religion and racism, and religion and literature. In addition to these subjects, he has research interests in Jewish-Christian relations, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and religion and higher education.

Haynes contends that Americans have long relied on the Bible to help them organize their social world, and his lecture will examine the wellspring of the American South's religious rationale for slavery. Tracing the continuum between racism and the Southern ruling class' exaggerated sense of honor, between the curse of Noah and the Confederate flags that still wave over some buildings in the Southern states, Haynes will make the case that the Bible is one of the foundational texts of American slavery.

Other books by Stephen Haynes

To Each Its Own Meaning: An Introduction to Biblical Criticisms and Their Application  / The Bonhoeffer Phenomenon: Portraits of a Protestant Saint

The Bonhoeffer Legacy: Post-Holocaust Perspectives  / Professing in the Postmodern Academy

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Incognegro: A Memoir of Exile and Apartheid

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Wilderson, a professor, writer and filmmaker from the Midwest, presents a gripping account of his role in the downfall of South African apartheid as one of only two black Americans in the African National Congress (ANC). After marrying a South African law student, Wilderson reluctantly returns with her to South Africa in the early 1990s, where he teaches Johannesburg and Soweto students, and soon joins the military wing of the ANC. Wilderson's stinging portrait of Nelson Mandela as a petulant elder eager to accommodate his white countrymen will jolt readers who've accepted the reverential treatment usually accorded him. After the assassination of Mandela's rival, South African Communist Party leader Chris Hani, Mandela's regime deems Wilderson's public questions a threat to national security; soon, having lost his stomach for the cause, he returns to America. Wilderson has a distinct, powerful voice and a strong story that shuffles between the indignities of Johannesburg life and his early years in Minneapolis, the precocious child of academics who barely tolerate his emerging political consciousness. Wilderson's observations about love within and across the color line and cultural divides are as provocative as his politics; despite some distracting digressions, this is a riveting memoir of apartheid's last days.—Publishers Weekly

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Ancient African Nations

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update 11 April 2012




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