THE HAMITIC HYPOTHESIS:

Racial Christianity in the Service
of the Business and Political Elites

by: S.R. Shearer

The link between the economic elites that promote cheap labor (which ultimately was the rationale behind slavery) and racism is as undeniable as the fact that the sun rises in the east - and so, unfortunately, is the link between political Christianity and those same economic elites. For Christians to believe that their alliance with economic "fat cats" will lead them anywhere but into shame is naive at best, and very self-serving at worst.

It’s difficult today for most Christians - especially evangelicals - to understand with any degree of appreciation the kind of "Racial Christianity" which was practiced in Africa, India, and portions of Asia by the great majority of European and American missionaries - Catholics and Protestants alike - during the 18th, 19th and early 20th centuries, notwithstanding some very notable exceptions to the contrary.[1] The fact is, it was pervasive, widespread and its effects long-lasting and extremely pernicious - so much so that its consequences are even today - almost eighty years later - easily discernible in much of the "ethnic" strife which at present is ripping Africa apart (to say nothing of India and parts of Asia).

The specific culprit insofar as Africa was concerned was a kind of racism which combined in itself a strange and eccentric mixture of various passages of Scripture which had been thoroughly distorted and gnarled, and then grotesquely tied to bizarre evolutionary theories which postulated that black Africans were somewhat lower on the evolutionary scale than whites - an evolutionism which is, in reality, not that much different from what J. Philippe Rushton of the University of Western Ontario in Canada is "pushing" today. This freakish mixture of evolutionism and Scripture was known as the "Hamitic Hypothesis."[2]

The Hamitic Hypothesis derives principally from Genesis 9:18-27. These verses recount the story of Ham, the son of Noah, who, upon discovering his father naked and in a drunken stupor, "exposed" him to his brothers, Shem and Japheth. [Some commentators conjecture that the sin committed by Ham involved much more than "exposure;" specifically, bestiality and sodomy.] Canaan, Ham’s son, was also apparently involved. When Noah awoke, he "knew" what Ham had done and pronounced a curse in retribution; interestingly, only Canaan is directly mentioned: "Cursed be Canaan; a servant of servants he shall be to his brothers." (Gen. 9:25)

According to the hypothesis, Ham and Canaan were "marked" in the pigmentation of their skin (i.e., they were made black) and thereby became the fathers of the "Negro" or "black race" - and the curse [i.e., "a servant of servants he (Canaan) shall be"] accounts for why the "black race" has suffered to such an extent at the hands of whites and Arab slave traders.

There are, of course, a number of problems with this hypothesis: first, there is nothing in the Scriptures which suggests any kind of "marking" in reference to Ham and Canaan - Nothing! There is, of course, the "sign" or mark which was placed on Cain, the son of Adam, after he slew Abel; but presumably, all of Cain’s progeny were killed off as a result of the flood. Nor is there any Biblical indication that Canaan and his descendants settled in Africa. The Bible is quite specific as to where Canaan settled: Palestine [which is not to say that the modern-day Palestinians are the descendants of Canaan either; they (the original Canaanites) appear to have been killed off).3

There is Cush, of course, another son of Ham, who is generally regarded by fundamentalist Christians and Orthodox Jews as the father of the African people; but there is nothing in the Scriptures which indicate that the curse which was pronounced against Ham and Canaan devolved on Cush. The Bible is quite specific as to the direction the curse was to take insofar as Ham’s descendants were concerned: it was to fall on Canaan and his progeny - and the certainty that it did not fall on Cush is indicated by the fact that Nimrod, one of Cush’s sons, became the most powerful man of his time - and hardly could it be said of him that he was a "servant of servants" to his brethren, which most decidedly would have happened if one takes these verses literally, which one must if he really considers himself to be an evangelical.

The truth is, there is nothing in the Scriptures which in any way indicates that Cush and his descendants were cursed; on the contrary, there is much which argues the opposite: specifically that the African people were a peculiar treasure unto the Lord and enjoyed a very special relationship with Him. Psalm 68:31 says that Ethiopia (i.e., Africa) "stretched out her hands to God" (and that God, as a result, embraced her in a very close and peculiar way); and Psalm 87:4 lists Ethiopia (Africa) as a peculiar treasure unto God, a people who "know" Him and worship Him in a manner that is due particular recognition: "I shall mention ... Ethiopia among those who know Me." Finally, the great care with which the Lord specifically commissioned the Gospel to Africa (Acts 8:27-40) has no parallel to any other people in the Scripture outside the Jews.

One thing is sure: nothing is similarly said of white Europeans - something which white evangelicals would do well to take note of before they start - directly or indirectly - buying into the Racial Christianity which pervades the thinking of some of their right-wing political and business allies. And insofar as God is concerned, this kind of thinking has a way of boomeranging, and it should be noted that in the one place where God did curse and "mark" a particular people (i.e., the sons of Cain), a second curse went along with it: "And the Lord said unto him, Therefore whosoever slayeth Cain, vengeance shall be taken on him sevenfold ..." (Genesis 4:15) It’s a warning that those who buy into the Hamitic Hypothesis should take very, very seriously!

So much for the Scriptural basis for the Hamitic Hypothesis! - the fact of the matter is, the Hamitic Hypothesis was (is) a sham cooked up by bigots to justify their racism, their past exploitation of black labor (black slavery), and their economic rape of the African continent. And Christians - by allowing such myths to circulate without challenging their basis in Scripture and denouncing those in their community who are connected, directly or even indirectly, to such thinking - disgrace the name of Christ and cause it to be "blasphemed among the unbelievers." (Romans 2:24) After all, when Christians allow their names and the name of their Lord to be connected to such bigots as Roger Pearson et al what are blacks and others to think? Liberals have a right under such circumstances to question our sincerity.

Finally, to think that such thinking doesn’t have an effect is disingenuous at best, and just plain bogus at worst; and insofar as the so-called Hamitic Hypothesis is concerned, that effect is still being felt in Africa today - eighty years after the fact. Indeed, much of the ethnic strife that’s presently raging in Liberia, Nigeria, South Africa, Angola, the Central African Republic, Somalia, etc. can be traced directly to the continuing effects of this pernicious doctrine.

Take Rwanda, for example. When Belgian missionaries first arrived in Rwanda in the 1880s they brought with them this noxious way of thinking - which was then tied to European imperialism. In the case of Rwanda, the doctrine took a rather bizarre twist. The Belgians needed allies, there were simply not enough of them (i.e., whites) to go around to adequately control the country. They therefore postulated that the Tutsi Tribe - a minority tribe in the area - were really "black Caucasians" or "African Aryans." Why? because the Tutsi exhibited "a kind of white bone structure" and appeared on the whole taller, thinner, and more "European-looking" than did other tribes in the area, specifically the Hutu. The majority Hutus were designated as "African" - which meant they were incapable of mentally digesting the trappings of European civilization and, therefore, had to be treated as "children" and/or "wards of the colony" much as one would treat mental deficients in a modern society. And, of course, there were reasons in choosing the Tutsi above the more numerous Hutu: economics. The fact of the matter is, the whites needed laborers, and they needed a lot of them - and there were a lot more Hutu than there were Tutsi.

The elevation of the Tutsi meant the relegation of the Hutu to the status of "Bantu serfs," and of the Twa - a small group of potters and hunter-gatherers in the area - to the lowest position of aboriginal "pygmoids," supposedly remnants of an earlier stage of human evolution. Under the Belgians, Tutsi dominance and power were extended and Tutsi privileges intensified - leading over the years to a white-hot, jealous rage on the part of the Hutus and Twa. Interestingly, it should be noted that prior to the insertion of this particular twist of the Hamitic Hypothesis, the three groups had lived together in relative peace.

The practice of elevating one tribe to assist in the governance of the colony was common to all colonial governments in Africa; for example, in South Africa, the Zulus were elevated to semi-European status; in Nigeria, the Ibos were elevated to quasi-European rank, and in Liberia the re-settled American slaves received the status of "African-Aryans" - and all with the same result as in Rwanda: jealousy and hatred on the part of the tribes which had been left out.

And in all of this, Holy Writ and evolutionism were twisted together in a diabolical and cruel mixture to achieve the result - all with the acquiescence of the Christian community. God help us as evangelicals if we should ever repeat these mistakes! But this is certainly what some of our business and political allies are urging on us under the pretense of a new evolutionism presided over by men like Jensen, Shockley, Rushton, and the Pioneer Fund.

  1. People like Hudson Taylor, C.T. Studd, et. al. were very much the exception to this rule. Unfortunately, people like Taylor were - in the main - few and far between.
  2. Please see Edith Sanders, "The Hamitic hypothesis: Its origins and junctions in time perspective," Journal of African History, v. 10, 1969, pgs. 534- 526; also Ian Linden, Church and Revolution in Rwanda, Manchester University Press, 1977.
  3. Please see Davis Dictionary of the Bible, pg. 117-119.

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