A.W. Pink, Racist?

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In his section on the so-called curse of Ham (which is really the curse on Canaan, Ham's son), Daniel Hays [in From every People and Nation: A biblical theology of race] presents a little bit of information on biblical mmentators and scholars whose works are still available who present outdated and exegetically-unsound positions about that passage. He wants to make the point that it's easy to walk into a Christian bookstore and come out with a book that furthers ridiculous claims about the passage in question, and I'm glad to see someone complaining about that.

One author he picks on is A.W. Pink, whose Gleanings in Genesis offers one such outdated and exegetically-unsupportable interpretation. Pink assumes the traditional view and then tries to explain how the curse on Ham has indeed been fulfilled in some ways, thus defending the statement as a true prophecy:

The whole of Africa was peopled by the descendants of Ham, and for many centuries the greater part of that continent lay under the domination of the Romans, Saracens, and Turks. And, as is well known, the Negroes who were for so long the slaves of Europeans and Americans also claim Ham as their progenitor.[from 1950 Moody edition, p.126, as quoted in Hays, p.53]

He goes on to discuss C.F. Keil's comments (but attributes them to Keil and Delitzsch even though the Genesis commentary in the Keil-Delitzsch series was written just by Keil; Delitzsch did write a commentary on Genesis, but it's not included in that series):

In the sin of Ham there lies the great stain of the whole Hamitic race, whose chief characteristic is sexual sin; and the curse which Noah pronounced upon this sin still rests upon the race ... the remainder of the Hamitic tribes either shared the same fate, or sigh still, like the Negroes, for example, and other African tribes, beneath the yoke of the most crushing slavery.

Hays notes in a footnote that this statement is even worse, since it takes the peoples who most significantly dominated the ancient near east to have been slaves. I would have thought that the main reason it's worse is that it seems to attribute sexual sin as the chief characteristic of the whole Hamitic race. That is indeed racist in the extreme. Hays then cites a third, multi-author commentary that explains the curse as being fulfilled by the European trade in African slaves. He then says something that doesn't seem at all to be justified about Pink or the third commentary:

Although all three of these works espouse a rather racist interpretation of this text, a view that has been consistently rejected by Old Testament scholarship for over fifty years, nonetheless they are in print and for sale through popular distributors such as Christian Book Distributors (CBD) Amazon.com.

He goes on to point out that the position was used to justify slavery and calls it a "dangerous and damaging theological heresy that tends to cover up or 'whitewash' a very serious sin". While I have no interest in defending the view that the curse on Ham's son is a curse on all Africans, and I have no interest in supporting American slavery, I think his comments go a bit too far.

For one thing, I see nothing remotely racist in the quote he gives by Pink. I don't know if the context makes some sort of racism more clear, but the quote he actually gives shows nothing of racism. All it shows is that he presents the domination of Africa for several centuries by nations from other continents as the fulfillment of a curse that he interprets wrongly. How this shows anything remotely like racism is hard for me to see. Taking a curse against a group to be fulfilled by something negative that happened to that group displays no attitude, negative or positive, toward that group. Recognizing the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem and the exile to Babylon as part of God's judgment on Judah does not make one anti-Semitic. Pink's problem is in furthering a view that was still common enough in his day. It's not racism.

The Keil quote is indeed racist, as I said, although it's important to recognize that he was writing over a century ago in the country that a couple decades later voted Hitler into power. It's also important to remember that no one will be reading a 19th century commentary on Genesis by a German scholar who doesn't transliterate the Hebrew who doesn't know that the commentary is that old and is likely to reflect the views of the time. It's possibly different with Pink, who might be read by people who don't know how long ago the book was written.

But what I don't get is how he can say that all three "espouse a rather racist interpretation of this text" when only one of the three does. Isn't that a pretty serious claim to be offering without any evidence? It's possible that it's true, but what he presents in favor of it simply doesn't support such a claim. I'm happy to see Hays trying to raise consciousness about the ways scholars have assumed racist interpretations. I particularly like some of his remarks in later chapters that show how easily white scholars have assumed Cushites in Israel to have been slaves simply because they were black. There's no evidence whatsoever that Cushites were known for being slaves but rather tended to be archer-mercenaries, horse-breeders for chariots, and bow-manufacturers for the most powerful empires of the time (and some of this is during the time Cush ruled Egypt with a black Pharaoh). But it undermines such a purpose to throw racism charges at people when it's undeserved (or at least when the information given doesn't show that it is deserved). I very much regret that in what's so far been a very good book.


I suppose if Pink were using his interpretation to justify slavery (which I doubt he was), it could be construed as racist, although even then, that might not necessarily be a racist interpretation but a racist application (if that makes sense).

One could also question Pink's assertion that "Negroes" have claimed Ham as their progenitor. Or, to put it a different way, I wonder if a black person would have claimed that on their own, or if that interpretation was taught to them by those who were enslaving them.

Which brings us to what Hays may have been worried about. But still, you're right, Pink's quote is not racist.

I think he meant that those who claim Ham as their progenitor do so correctly, i.e. they rightly claim him as their ancestor.

Ah, I see. Read that incorrectly.

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