Learn more about Canaan
Canaan is an ancient term for a region approximating present-day Israel and West Bank and Gaza plus adjoining coastal lands and parts of Lebanon and Syria. The Hebrew Bible identifies Canaan with Lebanon - foremost with the coastal city of Sidon - but extends the "Land of Canaan" southward across Gaza to the "Brook of Egypt" and eastward to the Jordan Valley, thus including modern Israel with the Palestinian Territories. This southern area included various ethnic groups. The Amarna Letters found in Ancient Egypt mention Canaan (Akkadian: Kinaḫḫu) in connection with cities along the Phoenician coast and into Upper Galilee. Many earlier Egyptian sources also make mention of numerous campaigns conducted in Ka-na-na, just inside Asia.
Various Canaanite sites have been excavated by archaeologists, most notably the Canaanite town of Ugarit in modern Syria, which was rediscovered in 1928. Much of the modern knowledge about the Canaanites stems from excavation in this area. Canaanites are mentioned in the Bible, Mesopotamian and Ancient Egyptian texts, and have always normally been considered an ethnic group radiating out of Lebanon; though some recent sources, without specifying any evidence, have asserted an origin on the Arabian Peninsula <ref> Bernard Lewis (2002), The Arabs in History, Oxford University Press, USA; 6New Ed edition, page 17</ref> .
In linguistic terms, Canaanite refers to the common ancestor of closely related Semitic languages. Hebrew is a southern dialect of the Canaanite language, and Ugaritic a northern one. Canaanite is the first language to use a Semitic alphabet, from which the others derived their scripts.
The name Canaan is of obscure origins, with one possibility being the non-Semitic Hurrian Kinahhu, meaning "blue cloth". The first known references appear in the 2nd millennium BC, possibly from Hurrian sources in the Mesopotamian city of Nuzi.
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 Table of Nations (Gen. 10). The Table associates Canaan foremost with the coastal city of Sidon in modern Lebanon. While acknowledging the hegemony of the Canaanites, they are considered one ethnic group among several in the area, including biblical "Hittites" from Hatti in modern Turkey. Also in modern Turkey were the Lydians.
Nowadays, the English word Canaanite can describe anything pertaining to Canaan, especially its culture, its languages and its inhabitants. The language of ancient Amon and Moab in modern Jordan can be called eastern dialects of Canaanite, although these ethnic groups are not Canaanite, properly speaking.
 Canaan in Mesopotamian inscriptions
Canaan is mentioned in a document from the 18th century BC found in the ruins of Mari, a former Sumerian outpost in Syria. Apparently Canaan at this time existed as a distinct political entity (probably a loose confederation of city-states).
Soon after this, the great empire-builder and law-giver Hammurabi (1728 BC-1686 BC), first king of a united Babylonia, extended Babylonian influence over Canaan and Syria. E. Schrader (Cuneiform Inscriptions and the Old Testament, vol II (1888), pp 299ff) associated Hammurabi with the Amraphel of Genesis, but according to The Oxford Companion to the Bible this view has been largely abandoned in recent years.
Tablets found in the Mesopotamian city of Nuzi use the term Kinahnu ("Canaan") as a synonym for red or purple dye, apparently a renowned Canaanite export commodity. The dyes were likely named after their place of origin (much as "champagne" is both a product, and the name of the region where it is produced). The purple cloth of Tyre in Phoenicia was well known far and wide.
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. 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.
 Egyptian Canaan
During the 2nd millennium BC, the 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, which is bounded on the west by the Mediterranean Sea, on the north by the border of the vicinity of Hamath in Syria, on the east by the Jordan Valley, and on 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. 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 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 power was not so strong as to prevent frequent local rebellions and inter-city struggles. Under Thutmose III (1479 BC-1426 BC) and Amenhotep II (1427 BC-1400 BC), the regular presence of the strong hand of the Egyptian ruler and his armies kept the Syrians and Canaanites sufficiently loyal. The reign of Amenhotep III, however, was not quite so tranquil for the Asiatic province. 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 Abd-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 (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. It is related that Abd-Ashirta, and his son Aziru, at first afraid of the Hittites, were afterwards clever enough to make 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 language Babylonian/Akkadian, though "Canaanitish" words and idioms are also in evidence.
Seti I (ca. 1290 BC) is said to have conquered the Shasu, Arabian nomads living just south and east of the Dead Sea, from the fortress of Taru (Shtir?) to the "Ka-n-'-na", and Ramesses III (ca. 1194 BC) is said to have built a temple to the god Amen in the "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. (See pages 128 and 236 of the book Who Were the Early Israelites? by archaeologist William G. Dever (William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids, MI, 2003). Evidently, belief in Yahweh displaced polytheistic beliefs that had arisen among the early Hebrews, during and after the reign of King Josiah (around 650 BC), according to that book, and also according to archaeologists Neil A. Silberman and Israel Finkelstein, in The Bible Unearthed (Simon and Schuster, New York, 2001).
Most interesting is the mention of troublesome groups called sometimes SA-GAZ (a Sumerian ideogram glossed as "brigand" in Akkadian), and sometimes Habiri (an Akkadian word). These Habiri are believed by some to signify generally all the nomadic tribes known as "Hebrews", and particularly the early Israelites, who sought to appropriate the fertile region for themselves. The term may also include other related peoples such as the Moabites, Ammonites and Edomites, or may not be an ethnonym at all; see the Habiru article for details.
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, 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"; El Amarna letter, EA 189.
 Biblical Canaanites
Ultimately, the Hebrew Bible identifies Canaan (Hebrew: כְּנַעַן, Knaan) with the coastal city of Sidon, in modern Lebanon. This city dominated the Mediterranean coast and enjoyed wide hegemony over a number of ethnic groups, who are said to belong to the "Land of Canaan". The part of the book of Genesis often called the Table of Nations describes the Canaanites as being descended from a personifying ancestor called Canaan, saying (Genesis 10:15):
- "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."
Similarly, Canaanite populations are said to inhabit:
- the Mediterranean coastlands (Joshua 5:1), including Lebanon corresponding to Phoenicia (Isaiah 23:11) and the Gaza Strip corresponding to Philistia (Zephania 2:5).
- the Jordan Valley (Joshua 11:3, Numbers 13:29, Genesis 13:12).
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 recognizes Egypt's regional influence and calls Canaan himself 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 BCE around the area of Ararat, which is associated with Noah.<ref> http://www.savoreachglass.com/articles.php/13</ref> 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. He is to serve his brothers (who were not cursed either) and also his uncles Shem and Japheth (Genesis 9:20-27). Noah's curse is typically interpreted to apply to the descendents of the mentioned figures. "Shem" refers the Israelites, Moabites, and Ammonites, who dominated the Canaanite inland areas around the Jordan Valley.
The Canaanites (Hebrew: כנענים, Standard Hebrew Knaanim, Tiberian Hebrew Kəna‘anîm) are said to have been one of seven regional ethnic divisions or "nations" driven out before the Israelites. Specifically, the other nations include the Hittites, the Girgashites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites (Deuteronomy 7:1).
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, as defined by these seven groups was deemed suitable for conquest by the Israelites partly on moral grounds (Deuteronomy 20:16-17). One of the 613 mitzvot 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.
 Canaanite Kings
- Canaan, son of Ham
- Sidon, son of Canaan
- Heth, son of Canaan
 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 sea snails found along the east Mediterranean coast and worn proudly by figures from ancient kings to modern popes.
Between ca. 1200 BC–1100 BC, most of southern Canaan was conquered by 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 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 BC–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.
The Phoenicians are the Canaanites proper. Genetic research using Y-chromosome haploid analysis has identified a Phoenician genetic marker (a so-to-speak "Canaanite gene") among modern Lebanese populations, including among Maronite Christians and Shiite Muslims, especially near the coast. Initial findings evidence the modern Lebanese gene pools comprise indigenous Canaanites, followed by immigration waves from Arabs, Crusader Europeans, and Seljuk Turks. The American University of Beirut launched the Phoenician genographic project to precisely map the genetic makeup of the Lebanese population and even the Mediterranean populations where ancient Canaanites colonized. A high-frequency of the Canaanite gene has even been detected in Malta, an island that Phoenicians colonized.
 Further reading
- This article incorporates text from the Encyclopædia Britannica Eleventh Edition, a publication now in the public domain. - this article needs updating with modern research results.
 External links
- "The Origin of the Jewish People and the Land of Canaan" by David Storobin
- Canaan & Ancient Israel @ University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology Explores their identities (land-time, daily life, economy & religion) in pre-historical times through the material remains that they have left behind
- Catholic Encyclopedia article
- Canaan Review every scripture on Canaan in the Bible
- Antiquities of the Jews by Flavius Josephus
- The Amarna Letters Encyclopedia, excellent source on Egyptian province of Canaanca:Canaan