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Canaan (Phoenician: Phoenician kaphPhoenician nunPhoenician ayinPhoenician nun, Kana'n, Hebrew: כנען kna-an, Arabic: كنعان Kanaʿān) is an ancient term for a region encompassing modern-day Israel, Lebanon, the Palestinian Territories, plus adjoining coastal lands and parts of Jordan, Syria and northeastern Egypt. In the Hebrew Bible, the "Land of Canaan" extends from Lebanon southward across Gaza to the "Brook of Egypt" and eastward to the Jordan River Valley, thus including modern Israel and the Palestinian Territories. In far ancient times, the southern area included various ethnic groups. The Amarna Letters found in Ancient Egypt mention Canaan (Akkadian: Kinaḫḫu) in connection with Gaza and other cities along the Phoenician coast and into Upper Galilee. Many earlier Egyptian sources also make mention of numerous military campaigns conducted in Ka-na-na, just inside Asia.

Various Canaanite sites have been excavated by archaeologists. Canaanites spoke Canaanite languages, closely related to other West Semitic languages. Canaanites are mentioned in the Bible, Mesopotamian and Ancient Egyptian texts. Although the residents of ancient Ugarit in modern Syria do not seem to have considered themselves Canaanite, and did not speak a Canaanite language (but one that was closely related, the Ugaritic language), archaeologists have considered the site, which was rediscovered in 1928, as quintessentially Canaanite.[1] Much of the modern knowledge about the Canaanites stems from excavation in this area. Canaanite culture apparently developed in situ from the Circum-Arabian Nomadic Pastoral Complex, which in turn developed from a fusion of Harifian hunter gatherers with Pre-Pottery Neolithic B (PPNB) farming cultures, practicing animal domestication, during the 6,200 BC climatic crisis.[2]


The name Canaan is mentioned frequently in the Bible. It referred to parts or all of the region between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea in antiquity[3] Proceeding northward Lebanon is bordered by the Litani river to the watershed of the Orontes river which is known by the Egyptians as upper Retenu.[4] Between Lebanon and Syria Canaan is bordered to the North by Hazor, Aram and Kadesh which include the lands of the Amorites. In Egyptian campaign accounts the term Djahi was used to refer to the watershed of the Jordan river. Many earlier Egyptian sources also make mention of numerous military campaigns conducted in Ka-na-na, just inside Asia.[5]

Canaan predates the ancient Israelite territories described in the Bible, and describes a land with different, but overlapping bounds.[6] The classical Jewish view, as explained by Schweid, is that "Canaan" is the geographical name, but this is not a view that is universally subscribed to; the renaming as "Israel" after its occupation by the Israelites is derived only from the Bible, and marks the origin of the concept of a Holy Land.[7] The region of Judaea existed by that name from the 6th century BC until it was renamed "Palestina" by the Romans following the Bar Kokhba revolt against Rome in the 2nd century AD. In the Bible and elsewhere, Zion originally meant the region of and around Jerusalem but, because of the importance of this city to zionists, came to designate the whole of the Israelite land, as for example in the naming of Zionism.


The English name Canaan ultimately comes from the Hebrew כנען, via Greek Χαναάν and Latin Canaan. The Hebrew name Canaan is of obscure origins, with one suggestion connecting it with the non-Semitic Hurrian term Kinahhu found at Nuzi (c. 1450 BC), and referring to the colour purple— also said to be the meaning of Phoenician (which itself is often used as synonym for Canaan).[8]

Another etymology is straightforward. "Can" means low as "Aram"[9] means high. A straightforward meaning of Canaan is "lowland." This was first applied to the lowland or classical Phoenicia, mainly Sidon, then by extension to the whole region.[10]

A third possibility is that Canaan derives from the Semitic root *k-n-' meaning "to be subdued"[1], or "to be humbled", possibly connected with the above meaning "low".[11]

The Bible attributes the name to Canaan, the son of Ham and the grandson of Noah, whose offspring correspond to the names of various ethnic groups in the land of Canaan, listed in the "Table of Nations" (Gen. 10), where Sidon is named as his firstborn son, to be subdued by the descendants of Shem.

The eponym Ham[2] merely means "Hot" or "Red" in Hebrew or Canaanite, although it may have been derived initially from the Egyptian word Kemet (KMT), a word applied to the land along the Nile. Some authors reason that the attribution was made because the Canaanite coast but not the interior was under Egyptian domination for several centuries.[12]

Canaan in the Hebrew Bible

The Hebrew Bible lists borders for the land of Canaan. Numbers 34:2 includes the phrase "the land of Canaan as defined by its borders." The borders are then delineated in Numbers 34:3–12. Present-day Bible scholars, such as Shalom Carmy, suggest that in around 1400 BC, Jews first arrived in Canaan. Others, such as Israel Finkelstein, Jonathan Tubbs and others, dispute the veracity of the Biblical account and claim that the Hebrew culture developed locally, from the Canaanite culture, with perhaps very minor population inflows from the outside.

John N. Oswalt notes that "Canaan consists of the land west of the Jordan and is distinguished from the area east of the Jordan." Oswalt then goes on to say that in Scripture Canaan "takes on a theological character" as "the land which is God's gift" and "the place of abundance".[13]

Canaan in Mesopotamian inscriptions

Certain scholars of the Eblaite material (dated 2350 BC) from the archive of Tell Mardikh see the oldest reference to Canaanites in the ethnic name ga-na-na which provides a third millennium reference to the name Canaan.[14]

Canaan is mentioned in a document from the 18th century BC found in the ruins of Mari, a former Sumerian outpost in Syria, located along the Middle Euphrates. Apparently Canaan at this time existed as a distinct political entity (probably a loose confederation of city-states). A letter from this time complains about certain "thieves and Canaanites (i.e. Kinahhu)" causing trouble in the town of Rahisum.[1]

Tablets found in the Mesopotamian city of Nuzi use the term Kinahnu ("Canaan") as a synonym for red or purple dye, laboriously produced by the Kassites from murex shells as early as 1600 BC and on the Mediterranean coast by the Phoenicians from a byproduct of glassmaking. Purple cloth became a renowned Canaanite export commodity which is mentioned in Exodus. The dyes may have been named after their place of origin. The name 'Phoenicia' is connected with the Greek word for "purple", apparently referring to the same product, but it is difficult to state with certainty whether the Greek word came from the name, or vice versa. The purple cloth of Tyre in Phoenicia was well known far and wide and was associated by the Romans with nobility and royalty.

Anne Killebrew has shown how cities such as Jerusalem were large and important walled settlements in the Middle Bronze IIB and Iron Age IIC periods (ca. 1800–1550 and 720–586 BC), but that during the intervening Late Bronze (LB) and Iron Age I and IIA/B Ages sites like Jerusalem were small and relatively insignificant and unfortified towns.[15]

References to Canaanites are also found throughout the Amarna letters of Pharaoh Akenaton circa 1350 BC, and a reference to the "land of Canaan" is found on the statue of Idrimi of Alalakh in modern Syria. After a popular uprising against his rule, Idrimi was forced into exile with his mother's relatives to seek refuge in "the land of Canaan", where he prepared for an eventual attack to recover his city. Texts from Ugarit also refer to an individual Canaanite (*kn'ny), suggesting that the people of Ugarit, contrary to much modern opinion, considered themselves to be non-Canaanite.[16]

Archaeological excavations of a number of sites, later identified as Canaanite, show that prosperity of the region reached its apogee during this Middle Bronze Age period, under leadership of the city of Hazor, at least nominally tributary to Egypt for much of the period. In the north, the cities of Yamkhad and Qatna were hegemons of important confederacies, and it would appear that Biblical Hazor was the chief city of another important coalition in the south. In the early Late Bronze Age, Canaanite confederacies were centered on Megiddo and Kadesh, before again being brought into the Egyptian Empire.

Early development of Canaanite civilization

One of the earliest settlements in the region was at Jericho in Canaan. The earliest settlements were seasonal, but, by the Bronze Age, had developed into large urban centres. By the Early Bronze Age other sites had developed, such as Ebla, which by ca. 2300 BC was incorporated into the Akkadian empire of Sargon the Great and Naram-Sin of Akkad (Biblical Accad). Sumerian references to the Mar.tu ("tent dwellers" – considered to be Amorite) country West of the Euphrates date from even earlier than Sargon, at least to the reign of Enshakushanna of Uruk. The archives of Ebla show reference to a number of Biblical sites, including Hazor, Jerusalem, and as a number of people have claimed, to Sodom and Gomorrah mentioned in Genesis as well. The collapse of the Akkadian Empire saw the arrival of peoples using Khirbet Kerak Ware pottery,[17] coming originally from the Zagros Mountains, east of the Tigris. It is suspected by some[18] that this event marks the arrival in Syria and Canaan of the Hurrians, possibly the people later known in the Biblical tradition as Horites.

Today it is thought that Canaanite civilization is a response to long periods of stable climate interrupted by short periods of climate change. During these periods, Canaanites profited from their intermediary position between the ancient civilisations of the Middle East — Ancient Egypt, Mesopotamia and Minoan Crete — to become city states of merchant princes along the coast, with small kingdoms specializing in agricultural products in the interior. This polarity, between coastal towns and agrarian hinterland, was illustrated in Canaanite mythology by the struggle between the storm god, variously called Teshub (Hurrian) or Ba'al Hadad (Aramaean) and Ya'a, Yaw, Yahu or Yam, god of the sea and rivers. Small walled market towns characterized early Canaanite civilization surrounded by peasant farmers growing a range of local horticultural products, along with commercial growing of olives, grapes for wine, and pistachios, surrounded by extensive grain cropping, predominantly wheat and barley. Harvest in early summer was a season when transhumance nomadism was practiced — shepherds staying with their flocks during the wet season and returning to graze them on the harvested stubble, closer to water supplies in the summer. Evidence of this cycle of agriculture is found in the Gezer Calendar and in the Biblical cycle of the year.

Periods of rapid climate change generally saw a collapse of this mixed Mediterranean farming system; commercial production was replaced with subsistence agriculural foodstuffs; and transhumance pastoralism became a year-round nomadic pastoral activity, whilst tribal groups wandered in a circular pattern north to the Euphrates, or south to the Egyptian delta with their flocks. Occasionally, tribal chieftains would emerge, raiding enemy settlements and rewarding loyal followers from the spoils or by tariffs levied on merchants. Should the cities band together and retaliate, a neighbouring state intervene or should the chieftain suffer a reversal of fortune, allies would fall away or inter-tribal feuding would return. It has been suggested that the Patriarchal tales of the Bible reflect such social forms.[19] During the periods of the collapse of Akkad and the First Intermediary Period in Egypt, the Hyksos invasions and the end of the Middle Bronze Age in Babylonia, and the Late Bronze Age collapse, trade through the Canaanite area would dwindle, as Egypt and Mesopotamia withdrew into their isolation. When the climates stabilized, trade would resume firstly along the coast in the area of the Philistine and Phoenician cities. The Philistines, while an integral part of the Canaanite milieu, do not seem to have been ethnically homogenous with the Canaanites; the Hurrians, Hittites, Aramaeans, Moabites, and Ammonites are also considered distinct from generic Canaanites or Amorites, in scholarship or in tradition (although in the Biblical Book of Nations, "Heth", (Hittites) are a son of Canaan). As markets redeveloped, new trade routes that would avoid the heavy tariffs of the coast would develop from Kadesh Barnea, through Hebron, Lachish, Jerusalem, Bethel, Samaria, Shechem, Shiloh through Galilee to Jezreel, Hazor and Megiddo. Secondary Canaanite cities would develop in this region. Further economic development would see the creation of a third trade route from Eilath, Timna, Edom (Seir), Moab, Ammon and thence to Damascus and Palmyra. Earlier states (for example the Philistines and Tyrians in the case of Judah and Israel, for the second route, and Judah and Israel for the third route) tried generally unsuccessfully to control the interior trade.[20]

Eventually, the prosperity of this trade would attract more powerful regional neighbors, such as Ancient Egypt, Assyria, the Babylonians, Persians, Ancient Greeks and Romans, who would attempt to control the Canaanites politically, levying tribute, taxes and tariffs. Often in such periods, thorough overgrazing would result in a climatic collapse and a repeat of the cycle (e.g. PPNB, Ghassulian, Uruk, and the Bronze Age cycles already mentioned). The fall of later Canaanite civilization occurred with the incorporation of the area into the Greco-Roman world (as Iudaea province), and after Byzantine times, into the Arab, Ottoman[clarification needed] and Abbasid Caliphates. Aramaic, one of the two lingua francas of Canaanite civilization, is still spoken in a number of small Syrian villages, whilst Phoenician Canaanite disappeared as a spoken language in about 100 AD.

Egyptian Canaan

During the 2nd millennium BC, Ancient Egyptian texts use the term Canaan to refer to an Egyptian province, whose boundaries generally corroborate the definition of Canaan found in the Hebrew Bible, bounded to the west by the Mediterranean Sea, to the north in the vicinity of Hamath in Syria, to the east by the Jordan Valley, and to the south by a line extended from the Dead Sea to around Gaza (Numbers 34). Nevertheless, the Egyptian and Hebrew uses of the term are not identical: the Egyptian texts also identify the coastal city of Qadesh in Syria near Turkey as part of the "Land of Canaan", so that the Egyptian usage seems to refer to the entire levantine coast of the Mediterranean Sea, making it a synonym of another Egyptian term for this coastland, Retenu.

There is uncertainty about whether the name Canaan refers to a specific ethnic group wherever they live, the homeland of this ethnic group, or a region under the control of this ethnic group, or perhaps any of the three.

At the end of what is referred to as the Middle Kingdom era of Egypt, was a breakdown in centralised power, the assertion of independence by various nomarchs and the assumption of power in the Delta by Pharaohs of the 17th Dynasty. Around 1674 BC, these rulers, whom the Egyptians referred to as "rulers of foreign lands" (Egyptian, Heqa Khasut), hence "Hyksos" (Greek), came to control Lower Egypt (northern Egypt), evidently leaving Canaan an ethnically diverse land.

Among the migrant tribes who appear to have settled in the region were the Amorites. In the Old Testament, we find Amorites mentioned in the Table of Peoples (Gen. 10:16–18a). Evidently, the Amorites played a significant role in the early history of Canaan. In Gen. 14:7 f., Josh. 10:5 f., Deut. 1:19 f., 27, 44, we find them located in the southern mountain country, while in Num. 21:13, Josh. 9:10, 24:8, 12, etc., we hear of two great Amorite kings residing at Heshbon and Ashtaroth, east of the Jordan. However, in other passages such as Gen. 15:16, 48:22, Josh. 24:15, Judg. 1:34, etc., the name Amorite is regarded as synonymous with "Canaanite"—only "Amorite" is never used for the population on the coast.

In Egyptian inscriptions Amar and Amurru are applied strictly to the more northerly mountain region east of Phoenicia, extending to the Orontes. In the Akkadian Empire, as early as Naram-Sin's reign (ca. 2240 BC), Amurru was called one of the "four quarters" surrounding Sumer, along with Subartu, Akkad, and Elam, and Amorite dynasties also came to dominate in Mesopotamia, including at Babylon and Isin. Later on, Amurru became the Assyrian term for the interior of south as well as for northerly Canaan. At this time the Canaanite area seemed divided between two confederacies, one centred upon Tel Megiddo in the Jezreel Valley, the second on the more northerly city of Kadesh on the Orontes River.

In the centuries preceding the appearance of the Biblical Hebrews, Canaan and Syria became tributary to the Egyptian Pharaohs, although domination by the sovereign was not so strong as to prevent frequent local rebellions and inter-city struggles. Under Thutmose III (1479–1426 BC) and Amenhotep II (1427–1400 BC), the regular presence of the strong hand of the Egyptian ruler and his armies kept the Syrians and Canaanites sufficiently loyal. Nevertheless, Thutmose III reported a new and troubling element in the population. Habiru or (in Egyptian) 'Apiru, are reported for the first time. These seem to have been mercenaries, brigands or outlaws, who may have at one time led a settled life, but with bad-luck or due to the force of circumstances, contributed a rootless element of the population, prepared to hire themselves to whichever local mayor or princeling prepared to undertake their support. Although Habiru SA-GAZ (a Sumerian ideogram glossed as "brigand" in Akkadian), and sometimes Habiri (an Akkadian word) had been reported in Mesopotamia from the reign of Shulgi of Ur III, their appearance in Canaan appears to have been due to the arrival of a new state in Northern Mesopotamia based upon Maryannu aristocracy of horse drawn charioteers, associated with the Indo-Aryan rulers of the Hurrians, known as Mitanni. The Habiru seem to have been more a social class than any ethnic group. One analysis shows that the majority were, however, Hurrian, though there were a number of Semites and even some Kassite adventurers amongst their number. The reign of Amenhotep III, as a result was not quite so tranquil for the Asiatic province, as Habiru/'Apiru contributed to greater political instability. It is believed that turbulent chiefs began to seek their opportunities, though as a rule could not find them without the help of a neighboring king. The boldest of the disaffected nobles was Aziru, son of Abdi-Ashirta, a prince of Amurru, who even before the death of Amenhotep III, endeavoured to extend his power into the plain of Damascus. Akizzi, governor of Katna–(Qatna?) (near Hamath), reported this to the Pharaoh, who seems to have sought to frustrate his attempts. In the next reign, however, both father and son caused infinite trouble to loyal servants of Egypt like Rib-Addi, governor of Gubla (Gebal), not the least through transferring loyalty from the Egyptian crown to that of the expanding neighbouring Hittites under Suppiluliuma I.

Egyptian power in Canaan thus suffered a major setback when the Hittites (or Hatti) advanced into Syria in the reign of Amenhotep III, and became even more threatening in that of his successor, displacing the Amurru and prompting a resumption of Semitic migration. Abd-Ashirta and his son Aziru, at first afraid of the Hittites, afterwards made a treaty with their king, and joining with other external powers, attacked the districts remaining loyal to Egypt. In vain did Rib-Addi send touching appeals for aid to the distant Pharaoh, who was far too engaged in his religious innovations to attend to such messages.

In the el Amarna letters (~1350 BC) sent by governors and princes of Canaan to their Egyptian overlord Akhenaten (Amenhotep IV) in the 14th century BC—commonly known as the Tel-el-Amarna tablets—we find, beside Amar and Amurru (Amorites), the two forms Kinahhi and Kinahni, corresponding to Kena' and Kena'an respectively, and including Syria in its widest extent, as Eduard Meyer has shown. The letters are written in the official and diplomatic Akkadian language, though "Canaanitish" words and idioms are also in evidence.

In the El Amarna letters(~1350 BC), we meet with the Habiri in northern Syria. Itakkama wrote thus to the Pharaoh,

"Behold, Namyawaza has surrendered all the cities of the king, my lord to the SA-GAZ in the land of Kadesh and in Ubi. But I will go, and if thy gods and thy sun go before me, I will bring back the cities to the king, my lord, from the Habiri, to show myself subject to him; and I will expel the SA-GAZ."

Similarly Zimrida, king of Sidon- (named 'Siduna'), declared, "All my cities which the king has given into my hand, have come into the hand of the Habiri." The king of Jerusalem, Abdi-Heba, reported to the Pharaoh,

"If (Egyptian) troops come this year, lands and princes will remain to the king, my lord; but if troops come not, these lands and princes will not remain to the king, my lord."

Abdi-heba's principle trouble arose from persons called Iilkili and the sons of Labaya, who are said to have entered into a treasonable league with the Habiri. Apparently this restless warrior found his death at the siege of Gina. All these princes, however, maligned each other in their letters to the Pharaoh, and protested their own innocence of traitorous intentions. Namyawaza, for instance, whom Itakkama (see above) accused of disloyalty, wrote thus to the Pharaoh,

"Behold, I and my warriors and my chariots, together with my brethren and my SA-GAZ, and my Suti ?9 are at the disposal of the (royal) troops to go whithersoever the king, my lord, commands."[21]

Just after the Amarna period a new problem arose which was to trouble the Egyptian control of Canaan. Pharaoh Horemhab campaigned against Shasu (Egyptian = "wanderers") or living in nomadic pastoralist tribes, who had moved across the Jordan to threaten Egyptian trade through Galilee and Jezreel. Seti I (ca. 1290 BC) is said to have conquered these Shasu, Semitic nomads living just south and east of the Dead Sea, from the fortress of Taru (Shtir?) to "Ka-n-'-na". After the near collapse of the Battle of Kadesh, Rameses II had to campaign vigorously in Canaan to maintain Egyptian power. Egyptian forces penetrated into Moab and Ammon, where a permanent fortress garrison (Called simply "Rameses") was established. After the collapse of the Levant under the so called "Peoples of the Sea" Ramesses III (ca. 1194 BC) is said to have built a temple to the god Amen in "Ka-n-'-na." This geographic name probably meant all of western Syria and Canaan, with Raphia, "the (first) city of the Ka-n-'-na,", on the southwest boundary toward the desert. Some archaeologists have proposed that Egyptian records of the 13th century BC are early written reports of a monotheistic belief in Yahweh noted among the nomadic Shasu. Evidently, belief in Yahweh had arisen among these nomadic peoples. By the reign of King Josiah (around 650 BC).[22][23] Yahweh had displaced the polytheistic family of "El" as the principle God amongst those living in the high country of Israel and Judah.

Some believe the "Habiru" signified generally all the nomadic tribes known as "Hebrews." and particularly the early Israelites, who sought to appropriate the fertile region for themselves, but the term was rarely used to describe the Shasu. Whether the term may also include other related peoples such as the Moabites, Ammonites and Edomites is uncertain. It may not be an ethnonym at all; see the Habiru article for details.

Biblical Canaanites

The part of the book of Genesis in the Hebrew Bible often called the Table of Nations describes the Canaanites as being descended from an ancestor called Canaan (Hebrew: כְּנַעַן‎, Knaan), saying (Genesis 10:15–19):

Canaan is the father of Sidon, his firstborn; and of the Hittites, Jebusites, Amorites, Girgashites, Hivites, Arkites, Sinites, Arvadites, Zemarites, and Hamathites. Later the Canaanite clans scattered, and the borders of Canaan reached [across the Mediterranean coast] from Sidon toward Gerar as far as Gaza, and then [inland around the Jordan Valley] toward Sodom, Gomorrah, Admah and Zeboiim, as far as Lasha.

The Biblical scholar, Richard Friedman, argues that this part of Genesis showing the origin of the Canaanites was written by the hypothetical Priestly Source.[24][25]

The Sidon whom the Table identifies as the firstborn son of Canaan has the same name as that of the coastal city of Sidon, in Lebanon. This city dominated the Phoenician coast, and may have enjoyed hegemony over a number of ethnic groups, who are said to belong to the "Land of Canaan".

Similarly, Canaanite populations are said to have inhabited:

During the Canaanite Period of the Archaeology of Israel, the cities of Canaan were ruled by vassals of the Egyptian Empire. The Table of Nations calls Canaan the "son of Ham", whose ethnicities, e.g. Egypt ("Mitzrayim"), are associated with Africa (Genesis 10:6).

A Biblical story involving Canaan seems to refer to the ancient discovery of the cultivation of grapes around 4000 BC around the area of Ararat, which is associated with Noah.[26] After the Flood, Noah planted a vineyard, made wine but became drunk. While intoxicated, an incident occurred involving him and his youngest son, Ham. Afterward, Noah cursed Ham's son Canaan (but not Ham, for reasons that are not stated) to a life of servitude (a possible pun on the Hebrew word "Can" meaning serviteur). He is to serve his brothers (who were not cursed either due to the respect they exhibited towards their inebriated father) and also his uncles Shem and Japheth (Genesis 9:20–27). Noah's curse is typically interpreted to apply to the descendants of the mentioned figures. "Shem" includes the Israelites, Moabites, and Ammonites, who dominated the Canaanite inland areas around the Jordan Valley.

The Canaanites (Hebrew: כנענים, Modern Knaanim Tiberian Kəna‘anîm) are said to have been one of seven regional ethnic divisions or "nations" driven out before the Israelites following the Exodus. Specifically, the other nations include the Hittites, the Girgashites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites (Deuteronomy 7:1).

According to the Book of Jubilees, the Israelite conquest of Canaan, and the curse, are attributed to Canaan's steadfast refusal to join his elder brothers in Ham's allotment beyond the Nile, and instead "squatting" on the eastern shores of the Mediterranean, within the inheritance delineated for Shem.

The Bible describes God cautioning the Israelites against the sexual idolatry of the Canaanites and their fertility cult (Leviticus 18:27). Thus the Land of the Canaanites, defined as including these seven groups, was deemed suitable for conquest by the Israelites partly on moral grounds (Deuteronomy 20:16–17). One of the 613 mitzvot (precisely n. 596) prescribes that no inhabitants of the cities of six Canaanite nations, the same as mentioned in 7:1, minus the Girgashites, were to be left alive. By the time of the Second Temple, "Canaanite" in Hebrew had come to be not an ethnic designation, so much as a general synonym for "merchant", as it is interpreted in, for example, Zechariah 14:21

Historical context

Jonathan Tubbs, a British archaeologist, argued that the Israelites were themselves Canaanites, and that "historical Israel", as distinct from "literary" or "Biblical Israel" was a subset of Canaanite culture.[16] Canaan when used in this sense refers to the entire Ancient Near Eastern Levant down to about 100 AD, including the kingdoms of Israel and Judah.[16] For example, Mark Smith in "The Early History of God: Yahweh and Other Deities of Ancient Israel" states "Despite the long regnant model that the Canaanites and Israelites were people of fundamentally different culture, archaeological data now casts doubt on this view. The material culture of the region exhibits numerous common points between Israelites and Canaanites in the Iron I period (ca. 1200–1000 BC). The record would suggest that the Israelite culture largely overlapped with and derived from Canaanite culture... In short, Israelite culture was largely Canaanite in nature. Given the information available, one cannot maintain a radical cultural separation between Canaanites and Israelites for the Iron I period." (pp6–7).[27]

Unlike Mesopotamia or Ancient Egypt, where documentation exists that is rich and varied, the documentation about Canaan is very sparse. The only sources that come from inside the region are from Syria – with Bronze Age cuneiform archives of Ebla, Mari, Alalakh and Ugarit. Iron Age materials are even more scarce, because writing then was mostly on papyrus, and unlike in Egypt, none of it has survived the humid climates of the most populous parts of the region.

Any debate on the historicity of the Canaanites as presented in Genesis must take into account that the Biblical narratives represent a compilation of many individual sources of information. This follows from the monumental study "Historicity of the Patriarchal Narratives" by Thomas L. Thompson, published in 1974,[28] which established a backbone for epigraphers, archaeologists and Old Testament scholars that cannot be ignored,[29] According to Biblical minimalism, the process of editing Biblical sources into a coherent narrative must have occurred after the 7th or possibly the 6th century BC.[30][31][32][33] (This assertion is widely disputed by conservative scholars.) The writers or editors of these Biblical texts had access to a very wide variety of source materials,[34][35] most of which were contemporary or near contemporary with the time of writing. These included religious and literary texts, songs, geographic and topographical information, traditional folk legends, propaganda and annalistic and chronological information of specific events. This material had an unknown and generally variable credibility.[36][37] The writers intended not to produce an objective modern historical account,[38][39][40] but to present a rationalisation for the theological and genealogical emergence of the monotheistic entity called Israel, bound in a specific covenant with a single divinity. Genesis was never intended to be a manual for archaeological excavation, as the anachronisms were of no concern to its contemporary audience, for whom the texts had meaning.[1]

Names of Canaanite kings or other figures mentioned in historiography or known through archaeology

Confirmed archaeologically

Biblical Characters

Rulers of Tyre

Phoenician Canaanites

Early on the Canaanites acquired fame as traders across a wide area beyond the Near East. There are occasional instances in the Hebrew Bible where "Canaanite" is used as a synonym for "merchant"—presumably indicating the aspect of Canaanite culture that the authors found most familiar. The term was derived from the place name, because so many merchants described themselves as Canaanites.

One of Canaan's most famous exports was a much sought-after purple dye, derived from two species of Murex sea snails found along the east Mediterranean coast and worn proudly by figures from ancient kings to modern popes.

Between ca. 1200–1100 BC, most of southern Canaan was settled, and according to the Bible conquered, by the Israelites, while the northern areas were taken over by Arameans. The remaining area still under clear Canaanite control, is referred to by its Greek name, "Phoenicia" (meaning "purple", in reference to the land's famous dye).

Much later, in the 6th century BC, Hecataeus of Miletus affirms that Phoenicia was formerly called χνα, a name that Philo of Byblos subsequently adopted into his mythology as his eponym for the Phoenicians: "Khna who was afterwards called Phoinix". Quoting fragments attributed to Sanchuniathon, he relates that Byblos, Berytus and Tyre were among the first cities ever built, under the rule of the mythical Cronus, and credits the inhabitants with developing fishing, hunting, agriculture, shipbuiding and writing.

St. Augustine also mentions that one of the terms the seafaring Phoenicians called their homeland was "Canaan." This is further confirmed by coins of the city of Laodicea by the Lebanon, that bear the legend, "Of Laodicea, a metropolis in Canaan"; these coins are dated to the reign of Antiochus IV (175–164 BC) and his successors.

The first of many Canaanites who emigrated seaward finally settled in Carthage, and St. Augustine adds that the country people near Hippo, presumably Punic in origin, still called themselves Chanani in his day.

Archaeological sites

Tel Kabri contains the remains of a Canaanite city from the Middle Bronze Age (2000-1550 B.C.). The city, the most important of the cities in the Western Galilee during that period, had a palace at its center center. Tel Kabri is the only Canaanite city that can be excavated in its entirety because after the city was abandoned, no other city was built over its remains. It is notable because the predominant extra-Canaanite cultural influence in Minoan; Minoan-style frescoes decorate the palace. [41]

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 Tubb, Jonathan N. (1998), "Canaanites" (British Museum People of the Past)
  2. Zarins, Juris (1992), "Pastoral nomadism in Arabia: ethnoarchaeology and the archaeological record—a case study" in O. Bar-Yosef and A. Khazanov, eds. "Pastoralism in the Levant"
  3. "Canaan". Retrieved 2008-03-26. 
  4. Breasted, J.H. (1906) "Ancient records of Egypt" (University of Illinois Press)
  5. Redford, Donald B. (1993)"Egypt, Canaan, and Israel in Ancient Times", (Princeton University Press)
  6. Canaan article in the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia online
  7. The Land of Israel: National Home Or Land of Destiny, By Eliezer Schweid, Translated by Deborah Greniman, Published 1985 Fairleigh Dickinson Univ Press, ISBN 0-8386-3234-3
  8. The Canaanites and Their Land (1991) by Niels Peter Lemche, pp. 24 ff.
  11. Lemche, p.26.
  12. Asimov, Isaac, Asimov's Guide to the Bible, Volume I, Page 44, Avon 1971
  13. John N. Oswalt, "כנען," in R. Laird Harris, Gleason L. Archer and Bruce K. Waltke (eds.), Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (Chicago: Moody, 1980) 445–446.
  14. Tubb, Johnathan N. (1998) "Canaanites" (British Museum People of the Past) p.15
  15. Killebrew Ann E. "Biblical Jerusalem: An Archaeological Assessment" in Andrew G. Vaughn and Ann E. Killebrew, eds., "Jerusalem in Bible and Archaeology: The First Temple Period" (SBL Symposium Series 18; Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2003)
  16. 16.0 16.1 16.2 Tubb, Johnathan N. (1998) "Canaanites" (British Museum People of the Past) p.16
  17. See
  19. Seters John van, (1987), "Abraham in Myth and Tradition" (Yale University Press)
  20. Thompson, Thomas L. (2000), "Early History of the Israelite People: From the Written & Archaeological Sources" (Brill Academic)
  21. El Amarna letter, EA 189.
  22. Who Were the Early Israelites?, William G. Dever. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2003, pp. 128, 236.
  23. Neil A. Silberman and Israel Finkelstein, The Bible Unearthed. New York: Simon and Schuster, 2001.
  24. Friedman, Richard Elliot (1997), "Who Wrote the Bible" (Eerdmans)
  25. Friedman, Richard Elliot (2005), "The Bible with Sources Revealed" (Eerdmans)
  27. Smith, Mark (2002) "The Early History of God: Yahweh and Other Deities of Ancient Israel" (Eerdman's)
  28. Thompson, Thomas L. (1974) "Historicity of the Patriarchal Narratives"
  29. Van Seters, John "Abraham in History and Tradition"
  30. "But now, all the thinking about the historicity of the Patriarchs is being radically reexamined. The somewhat facile assumptions of the past are under fierce scrutiny" (p.25) Magnusson, Magnus (1977) "The archaeology of the Bible Lands" (Bodley Head BBC)
  31. Thompson, Thomas L. (2000), "The Bible in History: How writers create a past" (Pimlico)
  32. Mitchell, T.C. "The Bible in the British Museum: Interpreting the Evidence" (British Museum Press) p. 75
  33. Jagersma, H. A (1985) "History of Israel to Bar Kochba" (SCM Press) pp.14–33
  34. Redford, Donald B. "Egypt, Canaan and Israel in Ancient Times" (Princeton Uni Press) pp.137ff
  35. "First the narratives represent a compilation of very many individual sources" (p.17) Tubb, Johnathan N. (1998) "Canaanites" (British Museum People of the Past)
  36. Tubb, Johnathan N. (1998) "Canaanites" (British Museum People of the Past) p.17
  37. Soggin, J. Alberto (1985), "A History of Israel: from the beginnings to the Bar Kochba revolt" (SCM Press) pp.90–108
  38. Whitelam, Keith W. (1996), "The Invention of Ancient Israel: the silencing of Palestinian history" (Routledge) pp.52–57
  39. Anderson, G.W. (1966), "The History and Religion of Israel" (Oxford Uni Press) pp.15–21
  40. "Unfortunately there are serious problems with this [Genesis Patriarchs] Scheme. First it accepts impossibly long lifespans assigned to the patriarchs. Second it is internally inconsistent. Moses and Aaron were the fourth generation descendents of Jacobs son Levi... The 430 years assigned to slavery in Egypt is too much for the three generations from Levi to Moses, an average of 143 years" pp.2–3 ,McCarter, P. Kyle The Patriarchal Age: Abraham, Isaac and Jacob" in Shanks, Hershel (Ed)(1989), "Ancient Israel: A Short History from Abraham to the Roman Destruction of the Temple" (SPCK)
  41. Remains Of Minoan-Style Painting Discovered During Excavations Of Canaanite Palace, ScienceDaily (Dec. 7, 2009) [1]


Further reading

External links

This page uses content from the English Wikipedia. The original article was at Canaan. The list of authors can be seen in the page history.

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