Biblical Characters in Masonry: Ham

Graig Huber

The following is an excerpt from “Biblical Characters in Masonry” by John H. Van Gorden. In the Royal Arch degree, Ham is referenced along with his two brothers. Mr. Van Gordon says of Ham:

“Most people want respect, whether they deserve it or not. Almost everyone resents the withholding of respect. Therefore those who deserve it should receive it. Courtesy and the smooth functioning of society require that it should be withheld only for good reason. The antithesis of respect, disrespect, should be applied only for even more compelling reasons.

The withholding of respect and the displaying of disrespect are, of course, quite different matters. The former is passive, the latter is active. The withholding of respect is frequently a matter of conscience; while the showing of disrespect rarely is, although it frequently masquerades itself as such. It is the difference between passive silence and a sneer, the difference between a passive statement of principle and a counterattack from a position that is itself vulnerable.

Ham incurred his father’s curse by either withholding respect or actively showing disrespect, with the latter the more probable. Ham, whose name means “black,” was one of Noah’s three sons, probably the second in age, younger than Shem, but older than Japheth. God spared Ham, along with the rest of Noah’s family, during the flood. Ham undoubtedly aided his father and bothers in the building of the Ark. Like Shem and Japheth, he had married before the flood, but was still childless. With his brothers and their wives, Ham and his wife survived in the Ark. The sparing of Ham, his brothers and their wives, and God’s intention to repopulate the world with their descendants, probably resulted from Noah’s righteousness, rather than their own; but Noah’s influence and example may have made his sons more righteous than other men. If so, Ham must have been the least righteous of the survivors.

Ham displayed a lack of respect, probably even scorn, toward his father, when, after the flood, Noah drank wine and became drunk. Ham entered his father’s tent, found Noah drunk and naked, and told his two brothers. Shem and Japheth covered their father with a garment, but kept their eyes turned from him out of respect. When Noah awoke, he realized what had happened, and cursed Ham for his disrespectfulness toward his father, condemning him and his descendants to be a “servant of servants” to his brothers. The Bible does not indicate the degree of disrespectfulness that Ham displayed toward his father, except that he looked upon him when he was drunk and naked, and then told his brothers. But it seems improbable that he merely expressed concern for his father and asked Shem and Japheth to help him in dealing with the situation. It appears far more likely that he displayed scorn, sneered, and indicated his contempt for his father. This would be more consistent with the curse and its severity.

In some places, such as at the time of Noah’s curse, the Bible refers to Ham as Canaan, which was also the name of Ham’s youngest son. This has caused speculation as to whether the curse was directed at Ham or his son. But the context clearly shows Ham to have been the one meant by Noah. Either Ham was also known as Canaan, or the compiler of Genesis wanted to clearly link the Israelite conquest of the land of Canaan with Noah’s curse on Ham, as a means of justifying that conquest.

In the Masonic degrees, Ham receives respect, along with Noah, Shem and Japheth, as a builder of the Ark of Safety, which spared him and the rest of Noah’s family in the flood and prevented the extinction of the human race. That Ark represented labor expended as an act of faith. The lesson teaches the dignity of labor and the truth that idleness, not labor, is disgraceful. Whatever Ham did later, he earned a measure of respect for the labor he put forth and this act of faith and worship. The lesson also teaches, significantly, the superficial nature of prejudice, ignorance and superstition, and the goal of Freemasonry in eliminating these vices and bringing the light of truth and reason to bear upon the human mind.”


Receive Masonic education, event notifications, and more by signing up for our weekly emails at