Second son of Noah (Gen. v. 32); mentioned second in the table of the nations (Gen. x. 6), where his descendants are given. In Gen. ix. 24 he appears as the youngest of Noah's sons, who treated his father with irreverence when the latter was under the influence of drink.
Ham is represented by the Talmudists as one of the three who had intercourse with their wives in the Ark, being punished therefor in that his descendants, the Ethiopians, are black (Sanh. 108b; Gen. R. xxxvi. 11). Some explained the obscure passage Gen. ix. 22-24 as follows: Ham emasculated his father, saying, "My father has three sons already; and now he wishes a fourth son." Therefore Noah cursed Canaan, Ham's fourth son, saying, "Thou hast hindered me from having a fourth son; I will curse thy own fourth son." According to another opinion, Ham defiled his father, and Noah cursed Canaan because Ham, with his father and his two brothers, had been previously blessed by God (Sanh. 70a; Gen. R. xxxvi. 4). Another opinion declares that the mutilation of Noah was committed by Canaan, but was really caused by Ham mentioning his father's nakedness in the presence of Ham's youngest son (Ex. R. xxx. 5). Possibly Ham saw Canaan's deed and did not condemn him for it (Yalḳ., Gen. 61; comp. "Da'at Zeḳenim" ad loc.). Ham was punished by having his descendants led into captivity with their buttocks uncovered (Isa. xx. 4; Gen. R. xxxvi. 8).
The modern critics regard the story narrated in Gen. ix. 24 as having been originally told of Canaan, "Ham father of [Canaan]" being a later insertion. The ethnographic conceptions of the ancient Hebrews first divided the races they knew into those related to them (Shem), those inhabiting the land (Canaan), and those outside (Japheth). Later on this threefold division seems to have been applied to all nations known to the Israelites, and then, it being impossible to regard Canaan as representative of the south, Egypt took that place. "Ham" is, according to this view, equivalent to "Egypt," one of the names of which was "Chemi" (black, referring to the dark color of the soil of the Nile valley). Accordingly, in the table of nations Ham is reported to have four chief branches: Cush = Ethiopia, Mizraim = Egypt, Phut = Libya, and Canaan. These four divisions were then subdivided, among the descendants of Cush being the Babylonians, Accadians, and Assyrians; among those of Mizraim, the Philistines and the Cypriotes (Caphtorim); among the Canaanites, Sidon, Heth, and nine other smaller tribes like the Jebusites, and the Amorites (Gen. x. 6-20). The exact basis of this classification is not clear. It is mainly geographical, all the nations south of Palestine being included in the list of the descendants of Ham; but this scarcely accounts for the presence of Canaan among the sons of Ham, which may have been due to the need of reconciling the legend of Noah's disgrace with the modern cosmogony.