I am aware of the curse of Ham. It is a myth deriving from Abrahamic religions. It was used as moral justification by European and Arab slave traders.

The etymology of the word Ham is associated with blackness i.e Ham is a latinized form of the Hebrew word Kham. The Arabic equivalent is Chamam, while the Egyptians equivalent is K'mt. I learnt that this word is the root of what the Greeks called "Chemia" and what the arabs called "Al-kimiya".

All transliterations of this word have closely related meanings. The K'mt of the Egyptians meant "black", the Kham of the Hebrews meant "hot", "burnt" while the Chamam of the arabs meant "burnt", "black".

With the above in mind, I became increasingly curious because I have constantly heard scholars, and even friends describing various groups of people as being of Semitic origin.

The Ancient and modern Egyptians, the Berbers, the Abyssinians of the modern Ethiopian state, Himyarites, Arabs e.t.c. all are described as Semites.

In view of this, I would like to know what set of parameters delineate Semites, Hamites, Japhetites as ethnic or linguistic groupings.

I would also like to know how the Nubians, Fulani, Tuareg, Somali, Bantus and other peoples of subsaharan Africa are grouped based on these classifications.

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    As to your suggested etymology of the name 'Ham', I'd recommend you read The Curse of Ham: Race and Slavery in Early Judaism, Christianity, and Islam by David M. Goldenberg, especially Chapter 10, pp141-149. He concludes: One thing is, however, absolutely clear. The name Ham is not related to the Hebrew or to any Semitic word meaning "dark", "black", or "heat", or to the Egyptian word meaning "Egypt". – sempaiscuba Oct 4 '18 at 1:53
  • See Afroasiatic languages. – Lucian Oct 4 '18 at 11:59
  • @user20490 If 'Scores of Jewish and Arabic scholars still believe that the name implies blackness' then cite them in your question. Dr Goldenberg has presented a detailed explanation, with his evidence, of why that is not the case. I'd strongly recommend reading that chapter. – sempaiscuba Oct 4 '18 at 14:46
  • @user20490 The origin of the term "semitic" should answer your question, if this users' answer do not. Individuals and groups invented the term "semitic" in the 18th century then retroactively inserted their invented term into "history" to cover whatever region of the globe meets their political goal, for whomever recognizes their classification scheme. "Widespread use" of a term today does not mean that a term was used by the people in the times where the term is retroactively applied for their own political goals - to insert themselves into "history" where they cannot be found otherwise. – guest271314 Oct 5 '18 at 21:28

First of all, the practice of simplifying evolution of linguistics to simple transliteration is widely panned by professional linguists all over the world - especially because it's so popular amongst people who fancy themselves as amateur linguists.

Second - the names of Noah's sons Ham, Shem and Japhet come from the Bible. But the Bible itself does not refer to any group of people as Hamites, Shemites or Japhetites - these words only emerged much later; that also means we do not have any universal criteria to differentiate these groups. Thus, these words were used by different people to mean very different things, and even criteria by which one group of people was assigned to one group or another were different, too: for example, medieval philosopher Honorius of Autun in his work "De imagine mundi" refers to nobles as Japhetites, free men as Shemites and serfs - as Hamites to justify the structure of medieval society (note the lack of any references to skin color). Thus, people pursuing different goals could put same people in different groups - as another example, different etymologists in XIX century put Egiptyan language in Semitic or Hamitic group.

Third - the Bible doesn't even condemn all descendants of Ham to slavery. The text specifically refers to his oldest son Canaan. But that interpretation isn't that useful for people seeking to justify slave trade, is it? Thus emerged the "curse of Ham" - politically charged myth not rooted even in the text it originated from. Note that linking this narrative with black-skinned people was only prominent in societies which traded in African slaves and felt the need to justify it - it only became prominent in XIX century Europe and european colonies in Americas, earlier sources did not receive such spread. And even then and there such notion was often challenged - for example, by Robert Boyle in "Experiments and Considerations Touching Colour".

And lastly - the spread of the term "Semitic" is linked to the events of the XX century, and spread of both Zionism and anti-Semitism (note that in the political term "anti-Semitism", Semites are implied to be only Jews, while linguistic term "Semitic" refers not only to Hebrew, but to Arabic language, too). Nowadays, it is only used as a convenient and already commonly-known term. On the other hand, the word "Hamitic" lost its importance with decline of slavery, and "Japhetic" never even gained any sort of popularity.


No, the African Ancient Egyptians are not "Semitic".

"Semetic" has absolutely nothing to do with "hot", "burnt" or "black".

No individual is born "semite" or "hot", "burnt" or "black".

If an individual decides to self-identify as "semite" or "semetic" based on the language or culture they learn or adopt, that is an individual choice.

I would also like to know how the Nubians, Fulani, Tuareg, Somali, Bantus and other peoples of subsaharan Africa are grouped based on these classifications.

Grouped by who? If they already represent the cultures and nations they are described as at the question, they have no reason to classify themselves as "semite", or by any other external classification scheme.

  • History SE has again decided to place a defacing label at this users' answer. "Semitic" is a term created in the 18th century by Europeans using the fictitious story of Noah and a global cataclysmic flood in the bible. Neither a "Semite" nor bible existed in Ancient Egypt and the only people who apply such a label as "Semitic" to African people are European invaders/academia - after the 18th century. The label itself requires a reason why it is placed at this answer, else it is simply a defacing mechanism perpetuated by the same Eurocentric colonial apparatus which invented the term "Semitic". – guest271314 Oct 5 '18 at 20:58

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