Michelangelo and the Curse of Ham: From a Typology of Jew-Hatred to a Genealogy of Racism

  • Benjamin Braude
Part of the Signs of Race book series (SOR)


Michelangelo’s Nakedness of Noah signaled a turning point in a myth, foundational for nearly half a millennium in the Euro-American construction of race and ethnicity, the myth of Noah and his Sons. With this image, the theology of Noah as a first Christ contracted and the anthropology of Noah as a second Adam expanded. With this image, the story of Noah and his Sons started to shift from a vehicle for Jew-hatred to a vehicle for Black-hatred. It was only after this image was painted and its implications diffused that the Curse of Ham, the most widespread justification for the enslavement of Africans, dominated biblical exegesis. However the role of Michelangelo in this transformation, please note, is not causative, but rather indicative.


British Library National Gallery Palace Museum Blood Libel Biblical Exegesis 
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  1. Acknowledgments: Earlier versions of this paper were given at various forums that stimulated my thinking and improved my argument. I thank Dr. Vera Lind and Prof. Helmut Keil, of the German Historical Institute, Washington DC and American Studies Institute, University of Leipzig respectively, Prof. David Brion Davis and Dr. Robert Forbes of the the Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance and Abolition, Yale University, Prof. Michael Fishbane and the Programs in Jewish Studies, Race and the Reproduction of Racial Ideologies, and African Studies and the Divinity School of the University of Chicago, Prof. Maurice Kriegel of the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales, Paris as well as Prof. John Brady of the Liberal Arts Luncheon Lecture, Smith College. This article is a summary without the iconographic evidence, of what will appear as Part One, “The Nakedness of Noah” in my Sex, Slavery, and Racism: The Secret History of Noah and His Sons, to be published by Alfred J. Knopf.Google Scholar
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© Philip D. Beidler and Gary Taylor 2005

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  • Benjamin Braude

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