That's when they started to feel shame. The answers below are specifically related to this question about the cultural issues surrounding nakedness and sexuality. If you are interested in the way Genesis 9 has been used to justify racism and slavery, you can find those responses under a related question here. Want to learn more?
Appreciate these answers? Well, this is a complex narrative about which many articles and books have been written. To try to summarize these findings would be impossible here so a short answer is in order. First, beware of the legendary- ideological nature of the narrative.
This foundational tale would then explain to the readers the reason why the Canaanites had to be subjugated: it was because Noah had already cursed them through their ancestor Ham, whom the narrative describes twice as the father of Canaan. It is a map, a blueprint to humanity as these ancient writers understood it.
Second, beware of the cultural-symbolic nature of the narrative. All of these things may be implicit in the narrative, though the text is not clear about any of them. Still, the text mentions that Ham had done something to Noah and here is where the reader can find room for speculation alongside some of the ideas proposed above.
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In the first place, let us say that modesty, even prudery, and shame at nakedness were very much part of ancient Israelite morality. No doubt this was partly to distinguish ancient Israel sharply from the surrounding peoples and their pagan idolatrous religions, which probably involved a good deal of nakedness and sexual licence, at least in the eyes of the Israelites.
Noah - Wikipedia
But that prudery applied, not to pre-pubescent children, but especially to adults of a certain social standing, for whom any kind of public nudity gravely compromised their dignity and honor. This can be seen in Exodus , where the priest must not climb up on the stone altar, lest his nakedness be exposed in so doing. It can also be seen by the many rules and concerns about nakedness in Leviticus 18 and 20, Ezekiel 16 and , etc.
In the second place, many Old Testament stories are told in large part to explain why we do and feel certain things today. They are called "aetiological" stories. To take just one of many examples, a child might ask, "Why do we wear clothes? Finally, how does all this apply to Noah and his sons? And so he took his anger out on the son who had actually seen him naked. So to explain why both the Hamite Egyptians and the Canaanites were accursed as they obviously were, being Israel's sometime enemies , and how the Canaanites were allowed to survive but only as the slaves of the Israelites "hewers of wood and drawers of water" [Joshua , 23, 27] , the ancient author had to tell how the patriarch Noah had cursed both Canaan directly and his father Ham indirectly.
Thus we see how, in very many of these stories, it is not very useful to insist too much on the question of whether or not they are literally true. Rather, we must make allowances for the storyteller's art. For without the great poetic art of those who shaped and re-shaped, told and re-told these stories, generation after generation, these stories would not have survived to our day, no matter how literally true they might have been. Instead, he tells his brothers thereby shaming him.
Likely the story was told in two versions, one where Canaan is the one who sees his grandfather naked or does something to him and one where Ham sees his father naked. The reason for the story, however, is to state that the Canaanites are a cursed people because their eponymous ancestor, Canaan, was cursed. He is taking out his anger at himself on someone else.
Genesis 10 - Noah's Line
This is a psychological explanation, not a theological one. But it reflects how a lot of us react.
Associating nakedness with shame is not universal. Notions of what is shameful is culturally determined; it is not inborn. Some traditional people living in hot humid climates were mostly and sometimes completely naked and felt no shame until other people imposed their cultural notions upon them. The story reflects the cultures of the ancient Near East that frowned upon nakedness. There are many places in the Bible where nakedness whether of people or the land are viewed negatively.
There are a few places in the Bible where one would expect a statement of shame in connection to nakedness where none is found. When David sees Bathsheba bathing, there is nothing in the story that suggests that is shameful. When the prophet confronts David, it is because David took someone who belonged to someone else Bathsheba but there is no statement connecting his sin with nakedness or seeing nakedness.
The Song of Songs describes naked human bodies without a sense of shame. The Adam and Eve story is humorous. They are naked but they do not know it. When their eyes are opened, they see that they are naked and they are ashamed. Why should they care? They are husband and wife and no one else is around. They expect to be exposed to something extraordinary when they eat the fruit but the only thing that they discover is that they are naked.
They are ashamed because their nakedness is a visual symbol of their disobedience. Covering up their nakedness does not cover their disobedience. Japhet lives in the tents of Shem. Japhet is not cursed. There is room in the land for Japhet, but Shem is the superior son because Shem is the ancestor of Abraham who is the ancestor of the Israelites and actually a lot of others, too, along the line of Hagar, Keturah, Esau, etc.
Note that Canaan the ancestor of the Canaanites is Ham's youngest son of four Genesis But this is speculation. Indeed, anything we say about this story is speculative--we only have the story itself to go on: no other evidence or input. We do not actually know how this story came into being, or why a story about Noah and his children ends with the cursing of one of Noah's grandchildren.
But what is Ham's crime anyway? What is so wrong with accidentally seeing one's father naked? Genesis 10 is commonly referred to as the " table of nations " since it lists at least seventy descendants or peoples which sprang from Noah after the flood. Unfortunately, this pivotal Biblical chapter does not offer many details regarding where each of these descendants migrated to in the years after the deluge. A few scant details in other parts of the Bible, and from secular history, provide much of the information regarding where people lived after the flood.
Japheth's name a survivor of the flood referred to as "Japhet" in the above map means "expansion" or "enlargement" Strong's Concordance H Opinions differ regarding whether he was Noah's firstborn or second son.
Genesis seems to indicate that he was the oldest son and Shem was the second oldest. While some commentaries Adam Clarke's, Matthew Henry's, etc.
According to the first century historian Josephus Antiquities of the Jews, Book 1, Chapter 6 , the descendants of Japheth also populated the areas around the Taurus and Amanus mountains, living in Asia as far as the river Tansis and also inhabiting Europe to Cadiz. Research done on the lost tribes of Israel by Steven M. Collins suggests that from Gomer, after the flood, sprung the oriental nations like China, from Magog sprung those who would live in Russia, and Javan produced those who would eventually migrate to Japan. Japheth's descendants gave rise to peoples historically referred to as Cimmerians, Scythians, the Medians and Pares who would later form the Medo-Persian Empire , which is considered the most powerful in ancient history , Phrygians and others.
Shem's name means "renown" Hitchcock's Bible Names. Arphaxad firstborn son is Salah Genesis Salah's firstborn was Eber, whose name was used to derive the term "Hebrew" for his descendants. Abram Abraham , the great-great-great-great grandson of Eber, was known as "Abram the Hebrew" Genesis It was through the line of Shem that Jesus, the Savior of mankind, was born. After the great flood, Shem and his descendants are believed to have primarily settled in areas on either side of the mighty Euphrates River and in the Arabian Peninsula.