Legends of Old Testament Characters/Chapter 17



HAM, the accursed, the third son of Noah, was the inventor or the preserver of magic. As we have already seen, he buried the books of magic which existed in the world, before the Deluge swept over the globe; and when it abated he exhumed them. Cerco d'Ascoli, in the fourth chapter of his "Commentary on the Sphere of Sacrabosco," declares that he had seen a book of magic which had been composed by Ham, "which contained the elements and practice of necromancy." Certain it is that apocryphal books of alchemy and conjuration of spirits existed in the Middle Ages, which purported to have been composed by Ham.

Ham was turned black, according to the Talmud, because he did not maintain himself in perfect continence whilst in the ark;[1] other authorities say his skin became sooty in consequence of his scoffing at his father's drunkenness; and Japheth, for having smiled, says the Mussulman lost the gift of prophecy from his family.[2]

Berosus supposed that Ham was the same as Zoroaster.

Japheth, according to Khondemir, was given by his father all the land to the east and north of Ararat; he was the progenitor of the Turks, the Sclaves, of Gog and Magog, says Tabari. Before he started with his family to people these countries, Noah gave him a stone, on which was written the great name of God. The Turks say that, by means of this stone, Noah was able to guide the course of the ark without sail or oars. The Turks have similar stones, which, they pretend, came by a process of generation from the parental stone given to Japheth.[3] He is said by the Mussulmans to have had eleven male children: Sin or Tchin, the father of the Chinese; Scklab, the ancestor of the Sclavonian races; Manschug or Magog, the parent of the Scythians and Kalmuks; Gomari, the father of the Franks; Turk and Khalos, the ancestors of the Turks; Khozaz, from whom the Khozarans trace their pedigree; Rus, father of the Russians; Souffan, Ghoy, and Tarag, from whom the Turcomans derive.

Ilak, son of Turk, discovered the use of salt by having let fall a piece of meat he was eating on the ground covered with saline deposit.

Of Shem the Rabbis have somewhat to say. "I have found in the Midrash that the Rabbi Johanan, son of Nuri, said: 'The holy, ever-blessed God took Shem, son of Noah, and consecrated him priest of the Most High, that he should minister before Him; and He let his Majesty dwell with Him, and He gave him the name Melchizedek, a priest of the Most High God, king of Salem. His brother Japheth learnt the law of him in his school, till Abraham came, who learnt it in the school of Shem. For this Abraham obtained, praying to God that his Majesty should remain and dwell in the house of Shem, wherefore it was said of him, Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek.'"[4]

Shem learned his knowledge from the Book of Wisdom which Raphael, the holy angel, gave to Adam; but Shem's instructor was the angel Jophiel.[5]

The Rabbi Gerson writes in his book called "Sepher geliloth erez Israel," that having travelled through the lands of Og, king of Bashan, he saw there a grave which measured eighty ells, and it was indicated to him as the sepulchre of Shem.[6] A curious tradition that Shem, Ham, and Japheth fell asleep in a cave, and woke up at the Nativity of Christ, and that they were themselves the three wise men who came to adore Him, shall be mentioned more fully when we treat of the legends connected with the New Testament characters.

Shem is said to have received the priesthood instead of Noah, because Noah was bitten by the lion as he was leaving the ark, and, being suffused with blood, became incapable of receiving the priesthood.

Shem is believed to have written many books, and apocryphal writings of his exist.

  1. Tract. Sanhedrin, fol. 108, col. 2.
  2. Talari, i. p. 115.
  3. Colin de Plancy, p. 124.
  4. Eisenmenger, i. pp. 318-9.
  5. Ibid., p. 376.
  6. Ibid., p. 395.