Saturday, May 15, 2004

Review of Goldberg, The Curse of Ham

This week's Church Times has the following review:

David M. Goldberg, The Curse of Ham: Race and slavery in early Judaism, Christianity and Islam [sic; it's actually Goldenberg]
Review by Revd Dr Pridmore
The premiss of the view that the infamous curse of Ham is a curse on all black people is the claim that Ham himself was black. The name "Ham", it is argued, means both "black" and "hot"; so the curse applies to black people from hot places like Africa. But this etymological connection cannot be sustained, and the claim is wholly spurious.

To appreciate the full weight of Goldenberg’s argument at this point requires a familiarity with Proto-Semitic linguistics — and, in particular, with the distinction between velar fricatives and pharyngeal fricatives — which this reviewer admits he lacks. One must defer to the specialists, but such is the clarity and cogency of the mainstream of Goldenberg’s discussion that there is every reason to trust his treatment of technicalities.

In fact, for so massively erudite a work this book is remarkable accessible. Goldenberg is sufficiently persuaded of the importance of the case he is making — that the Bible does not measure people’s worth by the colour of their skin — not to encumber the main body of his book with the kind of extended academic argument in whose thickets most readers would soon be lost.

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