The Latest on the Curse of Ham

The Bloggernacle has featured no shortage of posts on the Curse of Ham. At the risk of leaving some out, I’ll mention these two posts by David G. of JI with a link to this post by Stirling of BCC, all of which take note of important non-Mormon scholarship. As may be recalled from these posts, book-length studies of the reception history of the curse are Haynes (2002), Goldenberg (2003), and Davis (2008).

Now there is another to add to the list:

David M. Whitford. The Curse of Ham in the Early Modern Era: The Bible and the Justifications for Slavery. Ashgate, 2009.   

Whitford is professor of the History of Christianity, and Christian materials are mainly what he covers. The book “seeks to fill an important gap” left by Haynes and Goldenberg, namely “how [Christian] people in the late medieval and early modern eras understood and explained Genesis 9” (p.16). Whitford does not mention Davis (which I have not read), so there could be some overlap there.

Instead of trying to summarize the book, I’m simply going to point to the figure I think is most interesting. In chapter three, “Gods, Giants, and Kings,” Whitford discusses the Italian Johannes Annius (Giovanni Nanni), who wrote among other things a history of Viterbo, the town of his birth circa 1432. Whitford situates Annius within the Egytpo- and Etruscomania of fifteenth century Italy, witnessed for instance by Ficino’s edition of the Corpus Hermeticum in 1463. According to Annius’ history, his hometown was founded by Osiris/Aegyptus, in company with Libyus/Hercules and Italus/Atlas.

Later, Annius claimed to have found ancient tablets written in Etruscan which confirmed such an honorable foundation of the city. Only this time, the founder was Noah/Janus, together with his son Cameses and grandson Libyus/Hercules. Needless to say, Annius never had any tablets of the sort and he could not read Etruscan.  

Because of his scholarly reputation and patriotism, Pope Alexander VI had Annius supervise the painting of a fresco depicting the mythology of Osiris in the papal palace. In order to support his patron’s claims to Egyptian heritage, Annius went so far as to produce a 400 page work, in Latin, the Commentaria Fratri Joannis Annii super Opera Diversorum Auctorum de Antiquitatibus Loquentium (1498), allegedly based on papyrus fragments of lost ancient texts chronicling post-flood history. Again, the papyri were imaginary. But Annius threw in enough legitimate sources to make the forgery credible.

As Whitford explains, in his Commentaria Annius “mixed Hebrew scripture with Egyptian and Greek mythology” (p.47), while his glosses on the text refer to “authorities such as Josephus, the Talmud, Eusebius, Strabo, Homer, Plato, Peter Comestor, Aristotle, and many others” (p.49). Whitford schematizes the genealogy of Ham in the Commentaria as follows:

Noa (Noah, Uranus, Janus, Sky) = Tytea (Earth)

Chem Aegyptus (Cham, Camesus, Zoroaster, Saturn) = Rea

Osiris (Mizraim, Jupiter) = Isis

Libyus                   Aegytpus             Herculus

Ham is still a bad guy: he perpetuates the evils of magic and castrates his father. But in the Commentaria Ham’s son Osiris, the first pharaoh, is a good guy. As Whitford writes, he “devoted himself to teaching ‘justice’ and eradicating ‘impiety’” (p.64).

Though popular, it doesn’t look like the Commentaria were ever translated into English. But Whitford goes on to trace the influence of Annius’ work, such as on Gyles Godet’s Brief Abstract of the Genealogie of the Kyngs of England (1560), which Whitford cites thus: “As Cham the son of Noe exceded in maliciousness and evell, so contrary wyse, his sonne Mesraim otherwise called Osyris, dyd abound in all virtue and goodnesse” (p.69).

Annius’ good Osiris got me thinking about our own just Pharaoh in the Book of Abraham (1:26). So I did a google books search to see whether anything published closer to the nineteenth century might turn up. And I found this in William Russell’s The History of Ancient Europe, with a View of the Revolutions in Asia and Africa (1801): “Egyptus, renowned for his justice and beneficence, had the honour of giving the venerable country over which he ruled, the appellation of Egypt, by which it is still known” (vol.1 p.44).  So it would appear that Annius’ influence persisted over three centuries.

7 Replies to “The Latest on the Curse of Ham”

  1. Thanks for the post, g. wesley. I came across this book’s webpage last year, but haven’t had a chance to look over it and compare it to Davis. I suspect that he’s got a number of interesting things to add.

  2. The Cain relationship and “Egyptus” being the descendant of Cain, (hence no priesthood!) is still alive in modern church literature. See “The Pearl of Great Price Made Easier” p. 126. and “The Old Testament Made Easier” (TT needs to read this) p.126! The author apparently wants to say that “Cain = Canaan” and that this is helpful to us because it “informs us that this practice (restriction of priesthood) did not originate in the early days of the restored gospel in this dispensation.” I’m not sure what to make of this, but I have an idea.

  3. wvs,

    i don’t have access to those books but that sounds concerning. yes, tt should review all db products.

    david g.,

    not that i recall but i tend to forget what i’ve read the moment i put a book down. i don’t have whitford with me but will check later.

  4. WVS,
    great work! As for the recommendation, I don’t have access to the text. Why do you suggest I read it? What does it say?

  5. Well, I was joking a bit. The two texts are on Google books, virtually in full I think although they are very recent publications. I think they are rather popular db selections (I mean they are popular at the bookstores, I have no idea whether they are db products). They popped up when I searched on “Egyptus.”

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