The story of Noah’s drunkenness (Gen 9:20–27) is famously plagued with several difficulties. Noah pronounces a severe curse in response to a seemingly minor crime. His son Ham committed the crime, yet it is Ham’s son Canaan who is cursed. And verse 24 refers to Ham as “his youngest son,” even though Japhet was the youngest son according to the simple implication of the passages that list Noah’s sons. Scholars have offered theories of textual evolution to account for these anomalies. In this article, I critique these theories and suggest a new redaction-critical analysis. In the story’s initial form (without vv. 22b–23, 26–27), it was an etiological tale about the drunkenness of Ham, not Noah. Whereas Noah was remembered as the hero of the flood story, Ham was remembered as the first vintner. Furthermore, the original offender was Canaan, Ham’s youngest son (Gen 10:6). The tale originally accounted for the indentured status of Canaan and the Canaanites vis-à-vis the other “sons of Ham,” who personify the Egyptian empire. A Priestly redactor subsequently took the non-Priestly story about Canaan’s violation of Ham and transformed it into a new story about Ham’s violation of Noah. This proposal for the development of Gen 9:20–27 raises the possibility that the exodus myth is ultimately rooted, to some extent, in the memory of Canaan’s political subordination to Egypt.

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