Among the fathers that the Bible celebrates, there is one – Noah, whose story is quite surprising. He has set many biblical commentators and exegetes to work. Chosen by God as the saviour of the human and animal species at the time of the Flood, this patriarch is also the protagonist of a lesser known myth that follows the end of the Flood. The Book of Genesis tells us that after leaving the ark with the people he had saved, Noah and his three sons – Shem, Ham and Japheth, settled on dry land and cultivated it. Having harvested the fruit of his vineyard, one day he drank a lot of his wine, got drunk and fell asleep naked in his tent. Passing by him, his son Ham saw his father’s nakedness. Immediately, he sought his brothers and together they laughed at the father’s degradation. Thus arises the object of obscenity, the forbidden object that should not be seen: the father’s sexual attributes. The father is seen drunk, naked, humiliated, emasculated.
Why is this event so important? Several commentators tell us that in the Torah, “to see nakedness” indicates the act of incest or an act of rape: “The nakedness of thy father, or the nakedness of thy mother, shalt thou not uncover. […] The nakedness of thy father’s wife shalt thou not uncover: it is thy father’s nakedness.” This is how the Talmud interprets the episode of Noah’s drunkenness: Ham violates the prohibition of insulting the father’s authority with his gaze. On the contrary, Shem and Japheth advance towards their father with respect, walking backwards so as not to see his nakedness, and threw a cloak over him, all the while averting their gaze. When Noah awakens from his drunkenness and is furious to learn of Ham’s disrespectful behaviour, he curses all of the descendants of this son, condemning them to slavery and to work for the other brothers.
We recall that Noah’s curse (malé-diction) on the son responds to Ham’s slander (mal-dire) on the father. Thus the character of Noah in the biblical myth embodies the two faces of the Father. One is that of the father of the ark, the father blessed by God, the father of the law, saviour and normative, the father who works the land and plants the vineyard, who guarantees order in the family. The other is that of the father of excess, who disdains limits, the obscene father, who exhibits his jouissance drunk and naked.
In a detail of the Sistine Chapel fresco, Michelangelo depicts these two opposite sides of the father: on the right-hand side of the scene, the drunk and naked father shows the signs of the excess of his jouissance and his humiliation; on the left-hand side, Noah appears in his dignity, clothed and dedicated to working the land to feed his family.
Does the episode of Noah’s drunkenness, which is set in a bygone era characterised by the generalised domination of patriarchy, still convey any message to us? How can it be read from the perspective of the time of the fall of the father’s rule, the time of his “evaporation”?
A quotation from Jacques-Alain Miller sheds light on this context: the father “is a semblance that Lacan progressively denuded”. A denuded semblance is certainly not a denuded father, nevertheless, we can hear in this reference, the thread of Lacanian elaboration that goes towards the beyond of the Father and the beyond of Oedipus. Far from wanting to restore the fallen father, Lacan shows us his character of semblance. And the semblance, says J.-A. Miller: “is the antonym, [or] the opposite of the real”.
Ham outraged the father: his gaze and laughter tore the veil thereby exhibiting the father’s castration and his shame. The averted gaze of his two brothers repair and restore the veil by turning away from the forbidden object.
The father’s sin is shown here with a double power. Either it falls with devastating effects on the son and produces his perdition and curse, or, on the other hand, it hides the father’s shame, covered with the “cloak” with which Shem and Japheth have veiled it. With what remains of it, not-all of which can be eliminated, the two brothers will manage and endure that this jouissance is not all reabsorbed, absorbed in desire, not-all metaphorised in desire.
We can say then that yes, the father’s sin falls on the sons, but not in spite of the sons whose position is not fixed by fate. Perhaps the modern message of this myth lies precisely in the reduction of the absolute power of the Father, and in the recognition of the responsibility of each son, called upon in his own subjective experience to do without this father, to finally make use of him.
References from the autor.
 Genesis, 9:18-27, King James Bible. https://www.kingjamesbibleonline.org/Genesis-Chapter-9.
 Leviticus, 18:7-8, King James Bible. https://www.kingjamesbibleonline.org/Leviticus-Chapter-18/.
 Cf. Genesis, 9 : 25-26. “Cursed be Canaan; a servant of servants shall he be unto his brethren.”
 Lacan J., “Intervention on M. de Certeau’s presentation “Ce que Freud fait de l’histoire. Note on: “Une névrose démoniaque au XVIIe siècle”, Strasbourg congress, 12 October 1968 afternoon, ”” Lettres de l’École freudienne, n°7, March 1970, p. 84. (Unpublished in English). Translation by A-M Kroker.
 Miller J.-A., “Une diatribe”, La Cause freudienne, n°37, November 1997, p. 137, quoted by Cottet S., “Feu sur l’ordre symbolique,” La Cause freudienne, n°60, June 2005, p. 129. Cf. also Miller J.-A., “L’orientation lacanienne. De la nature des semblants”, lecture given at the psychoanalysis department of the University of Paris 8, course of 18 December 1991, unpublished. “It is indeed in psychosis that we can, that we can say we find the real of the father stripped. […] In what sense should we understand the real of the father? It is the real veiled by the semblance(s) of the father. It is the real […] that the semblants spare us. And you will see, if you accept this use of the term ‘semblant’ in this case, that however much it may be a semblant, it is no less effective […]! The semblance is not a vain illusion, the semblance, if I may say so, operates!” Translation by A-M Kroker.
 Cf. Miller J.-A., “Petite introduction à l’au-delà de l’Œdipe”, Revue de l’École de la Cause freudienne, n°21, May 1992, p. 7-10. (Unpublished in English). Translation by A-M Kroker.
 Miller J.-A., “L’orientation lacanienne. De la nature des semblants”, op. cit. lecture of 20 November 1991. (Unpublished in English). Translation by A-M Kroker.
Translation: Ana-Marija Kroker
Proofreading: Caroline Heanue
Picture : © Michelangelo Buonarroti, Sistine Chapel, Rome.