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Canaan, Canaanites


The Name (§ 1).

Language and Religion (§ 2).

Commerce (§ 3).

Political Relations (§ 4).

The Earlier Inhabitants (§ 5).

Peoples Mentioned in the Bible (§ 6).

The Hittites (§ 7).

The Hivites (§ 8).

The Horites (§ 9).

The Perizzites (§ 10).

The Geshurites (§ 11).

The Conquest by the Hebrews (§ 12).

1. The Name.

Canaan, Canaanites, are names given in the Old Testament and elsewhere to the land acquired by the Hebrews and to the pre-Hebraic people who occupied it. Apart from a few cases of personification, Canaan is the general name applied to the country (Judges v. 19; in JE, Gen. xlii.; in P, Gen. xi. 31). It is formed from Kana‘ with the addition of the n denoting place; the simple form does not occur in the Old Testament, but there is abundant evidence in the Amarna tablets and elsewhere that it was used. It is also clear that it was not originally a proper name. The significance of the word is not clear, though many attempts to discover it have been made. It seems in some places to have the signification of "Lowland" (Num. xiii. 29; Josh. v. 1; Zeph. ii. 5). In some of the Egyptian inscriptions the word is used to denote the part of Asia under Egyptian control, including Phenicia; but the general custom of Egyptians was to designate southern Syria by Ḥaru and northern Syria by Rutennu. In the Amarna tablets it means what is now understood by Syria. Old Testament usage varies. In Gen. x. 19 (JE) it includes Phenicia, the land of Israel, and Philistia, with boundaries undefined on the north, a usage followed generally by D, though Deut. xi. 24 extends the eastern boundary to the Euphrates. The general statement is justified that in the Old Testament the name is used to designate what is now meant by Syria, without very definite boundaries, generally excluding lands east of the Jordan. And Canaanites designated the people who inhabited the land of Canaan, except that E uses "Amorites" to express this meaning.

2. Language and Religion.

The question is suggested whether the Canaanites had anything in common apart from their dwelling in the land so designated. Isa. xix. 18 mentions "the language of Canaan," a phrase which implies that a common language was there used. Of course there were dialectical differences, say, between the north and the south, but these were not such that the inhabitant of one part could not understand the inhabitant of another. Historic and inscriptional evidence bears this out. Besides unity of language there was a common conception of religion. The deities were originally nature-powers such as the sun, the heavens, the moon, thunder and lightning. With advance of civilization they blended, while worship was still offered at numerous local shrines. At these the proper names of the deities were not generally used, the gods were spoken of as the Ba‘al "Lord" or the Ba‘alah "Mistress" of the place, e.g., Baal-Hermon, "Lord of Hermon." The places of worship were the tops of the hills (see High Places). Near the altar stood a sacred stone or tree or pillar. If there were an image of 375the deity, there was also a temple or a house and a priest. The customs of worship were in the closest connection with the work of daily life, the offerings were of the products of field, garden, vineyard, or pasture. In the cities more developed forms took their place. The myth was everywhere employed, at first in local form, later in philosophical and poetical development in which origins, destinies, beginnings of human customs, and the beginnings of cities and holy localities had their place. In some places prostitution for religious purposes was practised, also self-mutilation and infant-sacrifice. There were also numerous practises which were survivals from primitive worship, from animism, totemism, and fetishism. The culture of the people had in general a common stamp. Babylonian influence had advanced by the third millennium B.C. at least as far south as central Syria. Egypt's influence was first felt about 1500 B.C. While northern Syria immediately bordered on the Euphrates, a desert stretched between southern Syria and Egypt. The fact that the Amarna tablets, which are classed as Egyptian documents, are in the cuneiform shows that Babylonian ideas were dominant, though some admixture of Egyptian ideas must be allowed.

3. Commerce.

The middle position of Syria, between the east and the west, between the desert and the sea, introduces another occupation besides those mentioned in which the inhabitants engaged, commerce. Before the sea was traversed by ships, the roads from the Euphrates to Egypt passed through north and south Syria. Sea-travel later opened up routes which included the Mediterranean and the Red Sea. The products of Canaan proper were small in proportion to those resulting from commercial operations. These became, therefore, the favorite employment of the Canaanites, and their name became synonymous with merchant (Ezek xvi. 29, R. V. margin).

4. Political Relations.

There were no great states built up in Canaan (the Hebrews are not here under discussion) except that of the Hittites, who possessed a great kingdom in northern Syria. Apart from this only small states are mentioned. The Amarna tablets make known a number of these as at war with each other and as accused of unfaithfulness to the Pharaohs Amenophis III. and IV. Egyptian overlordship was maintained more or less completely 1500–1200 B.C. The sons of the local kings were sent to Egypt for their education, and their enthronement when they succeeded to power was the deed of the Pharaoh. The topography of the country, cut up by mountain ranges with intervening valleys and wadis, is not favorable to the formation and maintaining of great states; even those of Damascus and of Israel were not long-lived.

5. The Earlier Inhabitants.

According to the representation in Gen. x. 18b, the Canaanites had spread from the central part toward the south. This can not be proved, but the course of subsequent historical movements makes it probable. The custom of E in using "Amorites" to connote the inhabitants of the land and the known course of the progress of this people is one of these indications. Only faint recollections of the primitive dwellers are preserved in the Old Testament, in such passages as Deut. ii. 10–11; II Sam. xxi. 16, 18, 20, 22, where they appear as "giants," a mythical term (cf. Amos ii. 9). From them the Plain of Rephaim west of Jerusalem received its name. In the passages from Samuel quoted above Raphah, "the Giant," is named as their ancestor. Deut. ii. 11 reckons the Anakim as belonging to them, and Num. xiii. 33 is an expression of their physical stature; their chief town is named as Kirjath-arba, the latter part of which name is explained as the name of the ancestor and the greatest of the Anakim (Josh. xiv. 15, xv. 13).

6. Peoples Mentioned in the Bible.

The Old Testament employs the term Canaanites not only in the sense explained in the foregoing as the common name of the inhabitants of Canaan, but also in an ethnographical sense of one of the stocks included. But from the preceding discussion the doubt is raised whether this usage is original or has ethnological worth. For decision of this question it is important to note that the Canaanites are mentioned among other peoples of Canaan when the author wishes to note a great number of peoples whom the Hebrews had subdued. In this case a settled form was employed with an alternative form. The common form was "Canaanite, Hittite, Amorite, Perizzite, Hivite, and Jebusite" (in eleven passages), in which the intention is clear to place the more important peoples first in the arrangement. The alternative form is "Amorite, Perizzite, Canaanite, Hittite, Girgashite, Hivite, and Jebusite" (Josh. xxiv. 11). This last is varied by the insertion of Kenites, Kenizzites, and Kadmonites (Gen. xv. 19–21), or by the omission of one or more from the list (for Kenites see Cain, Kenites; for Kenizzites see Caleb, Calebites, and see also Amorites and Jebus, Jebusites).

7. The Hittites.

The Hittites have become more familiar through the decipherment of the hieroglyphs and cuneiform inscriptions than through the Old Testament. Thothmes III. (c. 1500 B.C.) first came into contact with them in the district later known as Commagene on the northern boundary of Syria. A hundred years later they were in possession of a kingdom which stretched from the Euphrates to the middle Orontes, including Hamath within its bounds. Rameses II. (c. 1300–1230 B.C.) waged a long war with them, and in the twenty-first year of his reign made a treaty in which a demarcation of the boundaries of their respective realms was agreed upon. About 1200 B.C. this kingdom fell apart into a number of small states. In the ninth and eighth centuries the Assyrians mention a small Hittite kingdom encountered in their campaigns, that of Carchemish on the Euphrates. They also use the phrase "land of the Hittites" to denote the region between the Euphrates and the Taurus range and south as far as Palestine. But this can not be held to prove that the Hittite power extended so far. They left numerous inscriptions, 376in the attempt to decipher which P. Jensen is particularly engaged, and he thinks he can discover in the Hittites the forerunners of the Armenians. The Egyptians call the Hittites Ḥata, the Assyrians call them Ḥatti. Old Testament passages locate them in North Syria in close connection with the Arameans (I Kings x. 29) and II Kings vii. 6 associates them with the Syrian kingdom of Muẓri (according to Winckler, misread "Egypt," see Assyria, VI., 2, 3, § 7). And the Table of Nations in Gen. x. 15 with its context leaves no doubt that the intention was to locate them in North Syria. The Hittites in the service of David (I Sam. xxvi. 6; II Sam. xi. 3) were probably soldiers of fortune who had come south. Some few Old Testament passages coincide with the late Assyrian usage and speak of the land far south as Hittite. See Hittites.

8. The Hivites

The Hivites are associated with the Amorites in the LXX. text of Isa. xvii. 9 (cf. R. V. margin), but, apart from the stereotyped formulas mentioned above, seldom appear in Scripture. II Sam. xxiv. 7 locates them among the Canaanites dwelling south of Tyre. According to Judges iii. 3, cf. Josh. xi. 3, their country was in Lebanon between "Baal-hermon and the entering in of Hamath." Josh. xi. 3 is not in accord with II Sam. xxiv. 7, and it does not lighten the difficulty to substitute Hittites for Hivites.

9. The Horites.

The Horites according to Gen. xxxvi. 30 inhabited Mt. Seir, that is the district east and west of the valley (the wadi Arabah) south of the Dead Sea. They were destroyed by the Edomites (Deut. ii. 12, 22). Gen. xxxvi. 20–30 counts seven branches of the Horites. Gen. xiv. 6 assigns to them the mountain east of the wadi Arabah. Nowadays the custom prevails to connect them with the people named Haru by the Egyptians, who mean by it South Palestine.

10. The Perizzites.

The Perizzites are seldom mentioned except in the stereotyped formulas; in three J passages, Gen. xiii. 7, xxxiv. 30; Judges i. 4, they are associated with the Canaanites, and in Josh. xvii. 15 with the Rephaim, "Giants." The last passage would make of them pre-Canaanites, for which the J passages give no occasion, but locate them about Bethel, Shechem, and Bezek, within the boundaries of the Joseph territory.

11. The Geshurites.

The Geshurites are in Deut. iii. 14; Josh. xii. 5, xiii. 11, 13 placed in the Aramaic district of Geshur, in the northern part of the Jaulan east of the Jordan; but Josh. xiii. 2 and I Sam. xxvii. 8 locate them in southern Philistia. Since Wellhausen, the last passage has been made to read "Gezerites" instead. But it must be concluded that the name Geshurites was applied to nomads in southern Palestine. Besides the foregoing there appear the Girgashites (Gen. x. 16, etc.), to be connected, perhaps, with names known to be Phenician; the Avvim (Deut. ii. 23; Josh. xiii. 3), whose residence was south of Gaza; and the Kadmonites (Gen. xv. 19), of whom nothing is known.

12. The Conquest by the Hebrews.

The conquest of Canaan by the Hebrews was rendered easy by several circumstances. The overlordship of the Egyptians became about 1250 B.C. a mere name. Moreover, about 1400 B.C., according to the Amarna Tablets, a people called the Habiri had crossed the Jordan westward, partly because the chiefs there were employing them as soldiers and partly to better their lot. These, related to the Israelites, were indeed their predecessors along the same route, who by establishing themselves gave the invitation to others to settle there. But the light-armed Israelites, who established themselves in the more open country, had a more difficult task against the Canaanites armed with iron weapons and chariots of the same material. The assault of the Hebrews was not made with their united force and at one time, as the narrative in Joshua asserts, but in two divisions, and not at the same time. The first attack was made by Simeon, Levi, and Judah, the second by the Joseph tribes under the leadership of Joshua (Judges i. 1–3, 22). A series of victories, reported in Josh. ii.–x., made it possible for the Joseph tribes to settle between Bethel and the Plain of Jezreel. According to the first part of Joshua, the Hebrews put the ban on the Canaanites, i.e., exterminated them. But this does not agree with other statements. While indeed those foes were perhaps exterminated who were taken in actual contest, the universal application of the ban does not accord with many other passages of Scripture. The Canaanites were pressed back; progress in possession was made partly by subjecting the earlier inhabitants, partly by peaceful means. In the former case the Canaanites became slaves; in the latter, union of stocks was brought about. The victory at Taanach under Deborah and Barak assured to the Hebrews the control of the Plain of Jezreel. The northern districts of Naphtali and Asher retained their non-Israelitic population (see Galilee). The southern stock of Judah in time allied itself with many peoples of alien race (see Caleb, Calebites, and cf. Gen. xxxviii.). The remainder of the non-Hebraic population was put to service by Solomon.

It is this reduction of the Canaanites to servitude which is at the basis of the narrative in Gen. ix. 20–27, which deals with Noah and his three sons. Wellhausen has made it plain that in ix. 22 the words "Ham the father of" are an intrusion by the editor to bring the section into harmony with its context. Canaan is the younger brother who is there subjected to his brethren. Shem no doubt, in the passage, means Israel, and Japhet the Phenicians, and Shem and Japhet are both ruling peoples. Canaan's position in the Table of Nations is quite other than that in Gen. ix. 20–27.


Bibliography: K. Budde, Die biblische Urgeschichte, Giessen, 1883: A. H. Sayce. Races of the Old Testament. London, 1891 (brief, needs bringing up to date); idem, The 'Higher Criticism' and the Monuments, ib. 1894; idem, Patriarchal Palestine, ib. 1895 (the last two books are damaged by their polemic aim); G. F. Moore, in JAOS, 377xv. (1893), pp. lxvii.–lxx. (on the etymology); J. Benzinger, hebräische Archäologie, § 12, Freiburg, 1894; E. Schrader, Das Land Amurru, in Sitzungsberichte der Berliner Akademie, Dec. 20, 1894; idem, KAT, Index s.vv. "Amoriter," "Amurru," "Kanaan"; J. F. McCurdy, History, Prophesy and the Monuments, vols. i.–ii., New York, 1895–96; F. Buhl, Geographie des alten Palestina, § 46, Tübingen, 1896; F. Hommel, The Ancient Hebrew Tradition, London, 1897; G. A. Smith, Historical Geography of the Holy Land, pp. 4–5, ib. 1897 (on the etymology); L. B. Paton, Early History of Syria and Palestine, New York, 1901 (an antidote for the works of Sayce and Hommel); W. Erbt, Die Hebräer. Kanaan im Zeitalter der hebräischen Wanderung und hebräischen Staatengründungen, Leipsic, 1906; H. Vincent, Canaan d’aprés l’exploration récente, Paris, 1907; DB, i. 347–348; EB, i. 638–643. The literature on the Amarna Tablets usually discusses the subject.

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