The Curse of Ham: Race and Slavery in Early Judaism, Christianity, and Islam

How has the story of Noah and his three sons, Shem, Ham and Japheth, which contains no explicit reference to black people, become linked to the institution of slavery? David Goldenberg, a scholar of Jewish history and past associate director of the Annenberg Research Institute for Near Eastern and Judaic Studies at the University of Pennsylvania, explores this question. He asks how Jews of the ancient world perceived dark-skinned peoples, especially black Africans. Goldenberg’s impressive investigation of Jewish “perceptions,” which covers a 1,500-year period from ancient Israel (around 800 BCE) to the eighth century CE after the birth of Islam, is a comprehensive account of source material. However, the methodological lens Goldberg uses to analyze the data is beset by limitations.


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