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CANAAN, CANAANITES (kā'nan̆, kā'năn-īts)

CANAAN, CANAANITES kā’ nən, kā’ nən īts (כְּנַ֫עַן, H4047, LXX Χανάααν, KJV NT CHANAAN Acts 7:11; 13:19; כְּנַ֣עֲנִ֔ים). In a restricted sense Canaan embraced the land W of Jordan occupied by the Israelites at the time of the Conquest. In a wider sense it included part of Syria; the people of the area were Canaanites. The term “Canaanite” is used in a few passages in the OT to denote “trader,” “merchant.”

The name.

Biblically the name both of people and the land derives from the ancestor Canaan referred to in Genesis 10:15-18. The same derivation is proposed in Canaanite-Phoenician tradition preserved by Philo of Byblos reporting the statement of Sanchuniathon the Phoen. writer. Parallels to the name kna’ (an) appear in Gr. sources from Philo of Byblos to Stephanus of Byzantium, and on coins from Phoenicia.

The exact meaning of the term kn’ (n) is unknown. Outside the Bible it occurs both with and without the final n. This final n is known in Sem. languages and also in Hurrian as a suffix, and such it may be here.

The earliest document referring to Canaanites is an inscr. of Amenophis II c. 1440 b.c. reporting two campaigns in Asia. Among the war captives were 550 maryana, and 640 kyn’n.w. The maryana were a Hurrian military aristocracy and the kyn’n.w. another social group, prob. the merchant aristocracy of the coastal and trading centers of Syria and Palestine (B. Maisler, BASOR, 102 [1946], 9). Ugaritic texts from the 14th-13th centuries b.c. also refer to kncn and so this spelling is known both in Egypt and in Ugarit. The form kn’n.w. corresponds to the Akkad. kinaẖnia, kinnaẖẖu which is found in the Amarna letters. The W Sem. laryngeal ‘ often appears as h in Akkad. A lost Sem. word *kn’ (*kina-) meaning “murex” (shell fish which produces purple dye), has been proposed and the word Canaan is understood to mean “belonging to (the land of) Purple.” The Gr. name Phoenicia refers to the purple industry (φοινός, purple). The Hurrian texts from Nuzi E of the Tigris mention kinaḥḥu “red purple,” “dyed cloth” or “kna’-ian dye.”

One can prob. trace the use of the term “Canaanite,” כְּנַעֲנִי in Job 41:6 KJV; Isaiah 23:8; Ezekiel 17:4; Hosea 12:7; Zephaniah 1:11; Zechariah 11:7, 11, with the more restricted meaning of “merchant, trafficker” to the fact that the most characteristic Canaanite occupation was trading, in particular, trading in purple dye.

Geographical extent.

The term Canaan has both a restricted and a more extensive meaning, not merely in the Bible but also in the non-biblical sources.

This wider use of the term Canaan is known also in external sources. The Amarna letters of the 14th cent. b.c. refer to Canaan in terms which suggest the whole Syro-Pal. territory of Egypt. The Egyp. Papyrus Anastasi IIIA (lines 5, 6) and IV (16: line 4) of the 13th cent. b.c. mention “Canaanite slaves from Huru” (i.e. Syria-Pal.).

The people.

Non-Biblical sources likewise refer to the area of Syria-Palestine as the land of the Amorites. Thus the Alalaḫ tablets of the 18th cent. b.c. mention Amurru as part of Syria, and the Mari documents refer to Amorite princes in Hazor, the large Canaanite city in N Pal. The Amarna letters of the 14th-13th centuries b.c. point to Amorite control of the coastal regions of Canaan. Petty kings like Abdi-aširta, Aziru, etc. of the kingdom of Amurru in the mountains of Lebanon secured a hold on the coastal regions “from Byblos to Ugarit” (Amarna Letter No. 98). Rameses II (13th cent. b.c.) in his report of the Battle of Kadesh refers to the arrival of troops from “a port in the land of Amurru.”

Archeological discovery.

The present cent. has witnessed spectacular archeological discoveries in the area of Canaanite studies. Significant excavations in Palestine, Lebanon and Syria have revolutionized the knowledge of the Canaanites both in regard to their own culture and also to the links between them and neighboring peoples. French and British archeologists have conducted large-scale, systematic excavations in Syria; e.g., at Byblos under P. Montet and M. Dunand, at Ugarit under C. F. A. Schaeffer, at Khadattu (Arslan Tash) under F. Thureau Dangin, at Hamath on the Orontes under H. Ingholt, at three mounds in the plains of Antioch under C. W. McEwan, at Mari on the Euphrates under A. Parrot, and at Alalakh under Sir Leonard Woolley. These excavations have thrown light on the history and civilization of the early Canaanites. The Canaanite background of the later Phoenicians has been enormously broadened by the discovery at Ugarit (Ras Shamra) of thousands of baked clay tablets written both in regular Akkad. cuneiform and in an alphabetic cuneiform script and deciphered by H. Bauer, E. Dhorme, and Ch. Virolleaud. A compendious grammar by C. H. Gordon which has appeared in successive edd. as well as several smaller grammars, now makes possible a study of the language of the Canaanites at Ugarit. Numerous inscrs. in Phoen. from about the 10th cent. b.c. onward have become available.

In Pal. a new era of archeological work began when Sir Flinders Petrie undertook his epochal excavation of Tell el-Hesi in 1890. In the years following Gezer, Taanach, Megiddo and Jericho were investigated. Between the two world wars important sites like Beth-shan, Jericho, Megiddo, Lachish, Tel el-’Ajjul, Tell Beit Mirsim, Beth-shemesh, Bethel, Ai, Beth-Yerah, Hazor and Shechem were excavated. Since World War II work has gone on at Bethel, Dothan, Gibeon, Hazor, Jericho, Qasileh, Shechem, Tirzah and other sites in Israel and Jordan as well as at Dibon and Aro’er in Trans-Jordan. All these have made it possible to write the story of the development of Canaanite material culture in Pal. A synthesis of the archeological material has recently been undertaken by Dr. K. M. Kenyon in the Schweich Lectures of the British Academy (1963) where she has attempted to produce a coherent picture of the material culture of the Syro-Pal. coastal area for the thousand years or so preceding the entry of the Israelites into Pal. She has shown that the origins of the Canaanite culture in Pal. are to be sought to the N and E of the land. The importance of both the Amorites and the population which lived along the Syrian littoral in the development of Canaanite culture has now become evident. This culture spread S among related groups of people in Pal. and gave shape to the Palestinian Canaanite culture which was able to survive other influences such as the superimposed warrior aristocracy, which was centered in the walled cities which they built.

The language.

The Canaanite lit. that has become available makes it clear that Canaanite belongs to the NW group of Sem. languages, as distinct from the NE group (Akkad.), the SW group (N Arab.) and the SE group (S Arab.). There is some evidence that up to about 1750 b.c., there was a broadly Amorite dialect extending from N Mesopotamia westward into Syria-Pal. Between c. 1750 and 1450 b.c. some divergence appeared between Early Canaanite in Syria-Pal. and Amorite to the E. Between c. 1800 and 1000 b.c. dialectical distinctions became clear in the Canaanite area leading to a break between Heb. and Phoen. with proto-Aram. beginning to take on a recognizable form. After c. 1000 b.c. Hebrew, Moabite, Phoenician and Aramaic are attested in inscrs. as distinct languages. Later developments resulted in further divisions.

Within this broad classification Biblical Heb. (Isa 19:18), the W Sem. terms in the Amarna letters, Moabite and Phoenician might be termed “S Canaanite.” Separate, but related is the Aram. group. The language of Ugarit lies between the two, although its exact classification is not clear. Many scholars regard it as belonging to a N Canaanite group and recognize a closer tie between N Canaanite and Amorite than between N and S Canaanite during the period c. 1750-1400 b.c. There is a development, however, in Ugaritic. Late Ugaritic prose of the 14th to 13th centuries has a tense system which differs somewhat from the earlier epics and has links with Biblical Heb. prose (W. F. Albright, BASOR, 150 [1958], 36-38). In broad terms NW Sem. included S Canaanite (Hebrew, Moabite, etc.), N Canaanite (Ugaritic etc.) and Aramaic.

Like other Sem. languages Canaanite shows the distinguishing mark of three consonantal roots which give the basic idea, although biconsonantal and quadriliteral roots exist. The verb structure makes use of affixes, prefixes and duplication of the middle radical. The nouns in earlier times were inflected as in Akkad. and Arab., and the case vowel was followed by mimmation. Later the case inflection was dropped. In Canaanite dialects an initial “y” replaces the initial “w” which occurs in word stems in Akkad. and Arab., a feature common to NW Sem. languages such as Canaanite, Amorite, Hebrew and Aramaic. The article ha-which does not appear in early dialects like Ugarit, came later.

Canaanite was written first in a special script with an undetermined number of characters, related to the Egyp. hieroglyphic system. Several inscrs., in this script on metal and stone have been found at Byblos. At Ras Shamra (Ugarit) the cuneiform alphabet was used. Ultimately the typical NW Sem. alphabet replaced the others and became standard. The ancient Heb. and the Phoen. scripts are closely related.

The history of the Canaanites.

There is some uncertainty about the exact date when Canaanites appeared first in Syria-Pal. Certainly there were Sem. speaking peoples in the area in the third millennium, judging by a few Canaanite place names and loan words in Egyp. records. The oldest towns in Pal. have Canaanite names e.g. Megiddo, Beth-shean, Bethyerah, Jericho. In Syria, Ugarit, Gabala, Acre (’Irqatum), Tyre (Ṩur) are Canaanite.

It is certain that the Canaanites and the related Amorites were well established in the region by 2000 b.c. when Syria-Pal. was divided among a varying number of Canaanite/Amorite city states. After the Amorite invasions had subsided, cultural influences from the N produced the standard Palestinian Middle Bronze Age Canaanite culture which was only slightly disturbed by the Hyksos movement.

After the expulsion of the Hyksos from Egypt c. 1570 b.c., Egypt dominated Pal.-Syria once again during the 18th (c. 1570-1310 b.c.) and 19th (c. 1310-1200 b.c.) dynasties when numerous petty states existed in Canaan. During the 14th cent. northern city states like Ugarit came under Hitt. suzerainty. After the confusion of the Amarna age in the first half of the 14th cent. b.c. caused by Habiru incursions, Egypt regained control under the 19th dynasty, but lost it before the inroads of the Sea Peoples c. 1200 b.c. Merneptah’s raid of c. 1220 b.c. was at best abortive, and the raid of Rameses III c. 1180 b.c. was superficial, being confined to the main routes.

The Israelites soon gained control of the highlands, but possession of the valleys and coastal regions was a slow process. In Canaan as a whole, areas to the SW of old Canaan fell to the Sea Peoples (Philistines), Syria itself was occupied by Arameans, and the Canaanites were confined to the coastal areas that became known as Phoenicia. In Pal. the surviving Canaanites were absorbed by the Israelites.


The Canaanite social structure was akin to that which prevailed all over the Ancient Near East; i.e., it was comprised of city states in which the king had wide powers to appoint and conscript his subjects for military service, to control lands and lease them for services rendered, to impose taxation of various kinds, and to compel his subjects to undertake public works (corvée). This state of affairs is implied in 1 Samuel 8, c. 1050 b.c. and is seen at first hand in the Alalaḫ tablets (18th-15th centuries) and at Ugarit (14th-13th centuries b.c.). Military, economic, and religious matters were under the king’s control. The queen held a significant place and was appealed to at times by high officials. In larger states the court was highly organized.

There were several strata in society, such as freemen, semi-freemen (clients), and slaves. The slaves comprised war captives, foreign slaves, and native Canaanites who became slaves because of debt, unemployment, or because parents sold them or exposed them as children. Slaves might belong to the state, to the temple, to private landowners, or to craftsmen.

The economy was based on agriculture. All land was owned by the state, the temples and private landowners, although tenant farmers, the ḫupši, possessed small areas. One of the Amarna letters of Rib-Addi of Byblos tells how hupši farmers were forced at times to sell the wood of their houses and even their children to buy food.

Guilds were widespread throughout society among farmers, artisans, traders, priests, musicians and warriors. One important group of professional warriors was the maryannu who possessed superior equipment such as the horse-drawn chariot. They rendered special services to the king and received special privileges.

Since society was basically feudal much of the land was held as a grant from the king. Members of the royal family, state officials, the maryannu and others, owed the king specified services and taxation in return for their lands. There was a severe difference in living standards between the upper class patricians and the wide range of lower class people such as half-free serfs, slaves, etc. Some evidence of class distinction comes from excavations which reveal some fine houses and many inferior houses.

The population was distributed in the larger towns and their numerous associated villages or suburbs (many references in Josh 13ff.).


The excavations at Ugarit revealed an unsuspected world of Canaanite lit. The texts which date from the early 14th cent. b.c. are written on clay tablets in the special thirty-letter cuneiform alphabet.

Among the more important epics are three: the Baal Epic, which recounts the deeds and fortunes of Baal or Hadad; the legend of Aqhat the only son of the good King Dan’el; the story of King Keret who was bereft of his family and took another wife by conquest, thus incurring the wrath of the gods. There are fragments of other stories as well as a wide variety of letters, treaties, etc.

Important insights into Canaanite religious beliefs, and into numerous aspects of national and family life shine through these epics.


The pantheon.

The OT gives hints of a Canaanite pantheon which is now known to have been extensive. The senior deity was El to whom matters were referred by other gods. For practical purposes, however, Baal (Lord) was more significant. He is known in the OT in his various local manifestations as the fertility god par excellence and is to be equated with Hadad the storm god. Both he and Dagon had a temple in Ugarit. The god Aṭtar was Baal’s substitute during his absence in the underworld. He was the son of Aṭerat, the consort of El. Among the goddesses were Anath, Asherah, and Astarte (Ashtaroth), goddesses of sex and war. Anath was important in agricultural rituals. She is associated with Aṭtarat, the Canaanite Astarte deliberately misvocalized by Jewish scribes as Ashtoreth. The third goddess, Asherah (Aṭerat) was consort of El though confused with Astarte in Pal. Some doubt remains as to whether a god Yah or Ya’u was known among the Canaanites, but the gods Shaḥru (Dawn star), Shalmu (Evening star) and Yarhu the Moon god and his consort Nikkal were certainly worshiped. Others were Resheb, the god of pestilence and death, Mot the power of drought and death, the antagonist of Baal.

The cult.

The Ras Shamra texts enable one to make some kind of reconstruction of the cult at Ugarit. One text gives a list of gods and their appropriate offerings. Among the offerings were the šrp or burnt offering wholly offered to the deity and šlmm or communion offering in which both worshipers and deity shared. Among the technical terms which are paralleled in Heb. are dbh “sacrifice,” mtn “gift,” ndr “vow.” Among the animals offered in sacrifice were sheep and oxen. There were singers and some kind of psalmody, and times and seasons were observed. The phases of the farmer’s year were celebrated by appropriate rites and the recital of the proper myths.

Cultic personnel.

At Ugarit there was a high priest and no less than twelve families of priests (khnm). In ancient times the king exercised some priestly functions which he retained in part in later times. Among the cultic functionaries were priests (khnm), consecrated persons (qdšm), singers (šrm), makers of vestments, sculptors and others. The priests were also custodians of the literary tradition which they taught. There seem also to have been women among the temple personnel associated with the fertility cult.

The temples.

Canaanite temples have been excavated in Syria and Pal. Among the most famous of these is the Late Bronze Temple of Lachish (q.v.), the temples at Megiddo and Jericho from c. 3000 b.c., three at Megiddo from c. 1900 b.c., two at Beth-shan from the Late Bronze Age and several important temples at Hazor from the Late Bronze Age also. A wide variety of cultic objects, altars, incense stands, knives, tongs, libation vessels, etc. is available for study. The debris on the floors of the temples often yields bones of animals which give an idea of the types of sacrifices offered.

Israel and Canaan.

Israel owed a great deal to Canaan on the level of material culture in which the Canaanites were superior. It is not easy to say how much Israel owed to the Canaanites in the area of lit. although Canaanite themes and meters and language are common in the Psalms. There was considerable correspondence between Hebrew and Canaanite religion at least in a superficial way. It is the essential differences between Canaanites and Israelites that are important, however, for it was these that enabled Israel to break away from what was essentially a baneful influence. Those in Israel who worked at a superficial level were attracted to the Canaanite way of life, which lacked the austerity and high ethical demands of the faith of Israel. It was the task of the prophets to draw the lines strongly between the worship of Baal and the worship of Yahweh. The way of Ahab, challenged by Elijah, could end only in the destruction of Israel for it confused Baal with Yahweh and destroyed the unique covenant relationship between Yahweh and Israel. The challenge of Elijah on Mount Carmel, “If Yahweh is God, follow him; but if Baal, then follow him” summarizes in succinct form the problem that the prophets faced over many centuries.


From an extensive lit. only a few items are here selected.

(a) Historical. J. Gray, The Canaanites, (n.d.); B. Maisler, “Canaan and the Canaanites,” BASOR, 102 (1946); H. H. Rowley, Joseph to Joshua (1950); D. J. Wiseman, The Alalaḥ Tablets (1953); I. Mendelsohn, “Samuel’s denunciation of the Kingship in the light of the Akkadian documents from Ugarit,” BASOR, 143 (1956); W. F. Albright, “The Role of the Canaanites in the History of Civilization,” in The Bible and the Ancient Near East, ed. G. E. Wright (1961).

(b) Literature, Religion, Language. Z. S. Harris, Development of the Canaanite Dialects (1939); W. F. Albright, Archaeology and the Religion of Israel (1953); A. van Selms, Marriage and Family Life in Ugaritic Literature (1954); G. R. Driver, Canaanite Myths and Legends (1956); J. Gray, The Legacy of Canaan (1965); W. F. Albright, Jahweh and the Gods of Canaan (1968).

(c) Archeology. R. S. Lamon, Megiddo I (1939), Lachish II, The Fosse Temple (1940); E. Lund, Megiddo II (1948); Mission de Ras Shamra various volumes by J. Nougayrol, C. Virolleaud, C. F. A. Schaeffer; “Les fouilles de Ras Shamra, Preliminary Reports of first to tenth Seasons, Syria, X, XII-XX; O Tufnell, Lachish IV (Tell ed-Duweir), The Bronze Age (1958); Y. Yadin, Hazor I (1958), Hazor II (1960); K. Kenyon, Archaeology in the Holy Land (1960).

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)

ka’-nan, ka’-nan-its (kena`an; Chanaan):

1. Geography

2. Meaning of the Name

3. The Results of Recent Excavations

4. History

(1) Stone Age

(2) Bronze Age

(3) A Babylonian Province

(4) Jerusalem Founded

(5) The Hyksos

(6) Egyptian Conquest

(7) Tell el-Amarna Tablets

5. The Israelitsh Invasion

6. Culture

7. Art

8. Commerce

9. Art of Writing


Canaan is stated in Ge 10:6 to have been a son of Ham and brother of Mizraim, or Egypt. This indicates the Mosaic period when the conquerors of the XVIIIth and XIXth Egyptian Dynasties made Canaan for a time a province of the Egyptian empire. Under the Pharaoh Meneptah, at the time of the Exodus, it ceased to be connected with Egypt, and the Egyptian garrisons in the South of the country were expelled by the Philistines, who probably made themselves masters of the larger portion of it, thus causing the name of Philistia or Palestine to become synonymous with that of Canaan (see Ze 2:5). In the Tell el-Amarna Letters, Canaan is written Kinakhna and Kinakhkhi. The latter form corresponds with the Greek (Chna), a name given to Phoenicia (Hecat. Fragments 254; Eusebius, praep. Ev., i.10; ix.17).

1. Geography:

2. Meaning of the Name:

As the Phoenicians were famous as traders, it has been supposed that the name "Canaanite" is a synonym of "merchant" in certain passages of the Old Testament. The pursuit of trade, however, was characteristic only of the maritime cities of Phoenicia, not of the Canaanitish towns conquered the Israelites. In Isa 23:11 we should translate "Canaan" (as the Septuagint) instead of "merchant city" (the King James Version); in Ho 12:7 (8), "as, for Canaan" (Septuagint), instead of "he is a merchant" (the King James Version); in Ze 1:11, "people of Canaan" (Septuagint), instead of "merchant people" (the King James Version); on the other hand, "Canaanite" seems to have acquired the sense of "merchant," as "Chaldean" did of "astrologer," in Isa 23:8, and Pr 3:1-24, though probably not in Zec 14:21, and Job 41:6 (Hebrew 40:30).

3. The Results of Recent Excavation:

Much light has been thrown upon the history of Canaan prior to the Israelite occupation by recent excavation, supplemented by the monuments of Babylonia and Egypt. The Palestine Exploration led the way by its excavations in 1890-92 at Tell el-Hesy, which turned out to be the site of Lachish, first under Professor Flinders Petrie and then under Dr. Bliss. Professor Petrie laid the foundations of Palestine archaeology by fixing the chronological sequence of the Lachish pottery, and tracing the remains of six successive cities, the fourth of which was that founded by the Israelites. Between it and the preceding city was a layer of ashes, marking the period when the town lay desolate and uninhabited. The excavations at Lachish were followed by others at Tell es-Safi, the supposed site of Gath; at Tell Sandahanna, the ancient Marissa, a mile South of Bet Jibrin, where interesting relics of the Greek period were found, and at Jerusalem, where an attempt was made to trace the city walls. Next to Lachish, the most fruitful excavations have been at Gezer, which has been explored by Mr. Macalister with scientific thoroughness and skill, and where a large necropolis has been discovered as well as the remains of seven successive settlements, the last of which comes down to the Seleucid era, the third corresponding with the first settlement at Lachish. The two first settlements go back to the neolithic age. With the third the Semitic or "Amorite" period of Canaan begins; bronze makes its appearance; high-places formed of monoliths are erected, and inhumation of the dead is introduced, while the cities are surrounded with great walls of stone. While Mr. Macalister has been working at Gezer, German and Austrian expeditions under Dr. Schumacher have been excavating at Tell em-Mutesellim, the site of Megiddo, and under Dr. Sellin first at Tell Taanak, the ancient Taanach, and then at Jericho. At Taanach cuneiform tablets of the Mosaic age were found in the house of the governor of the town; at Samaria and Gezer cuneiform tablets have also been found, but they belong to the late Assyrian and Babylonian periods. At Jericho, on the fiat roof of a house adjoining the wall of the Canaanitish city, destroyed by the Israelites, a number of clay tablets were discovered laid out to dry before being inscribed with cuneiform characters. Before the letters were written and dispatched, however, the town, it seems, was captured and burnt. An American expedition, under Dr. Reisner, is now exploring Sebastiyeh (Samaria), where the ruins of Ahab’s palace, with early Hebrew inscriptions, have been brought to light, as well as a great city wall built in the age of Nebuchadrezzar.

4. History:

(1) Stone Age.

The history of Canaan begins with the paleolithic age, paleolithic implements having been found in the lowlands. Our first knowledge of its population dates from the neolithic period. The neolithic inhabitants of Gezer were of short stature (about 5 ft. 4 inches in height), and lived in caves--at least in the time of the first prehistoric settlement--and burned their dead. Their sacred place was a double cave with which cup-marks in the rock were connected, and their pottery was rude; some of it was ornamented with streaks of red or black on a yellow or red wash. In the time of the second settlement a rude stone wall was built around the town. The debris of the two neolithic settlements is as much as 12 ft. in depth, implying a long period of accumulation.

(2) Bronze Age.

The neolithic population was succeeded by one of Semitic type, which introduced the use of metal, and buried its dead. The name of Amorite has been given to it, this being the name under which the Semitic population of Canaan was known to the Babylonians. Gezer was surrounded by a great wall of stone intersected by brick towers; at Lachish the Amorite wall was of crude brick, nearly 29 ft. in thickness (compare De 1:28). A "high-place" was erected at Gezer consisting of 9 monoliths, running from North to South, and surrounded by a platform of large stones. The second monolith has been polished by the kisses of the worshippers; the seventh was brought from a distance. Under the pavement of the sanctuary lay the bones of children, more rarely of adults, who had been sacrificed and sometimes burnt, and the remains deposited in jars. Similar evidences of human sacrifice were met with under the walls of houses both here and at Taanach and Megiddo. In the Israelite strata the food-bowl and lamp for lighting the dead in the other world are retained, but all trace of human sacrifice is gone. At Lachish in Israelite times the bowl and lamp were filled with sand. The second "Amorite" city at Gezer had a long existence. The high-place was enlarged, and an Egyptian of the age of the XIIth Dynasty was buried within its precincts. Egyptian scarabs of the XIIth and XIIIth Dynasties are now met with; these give place to scarabs of the Hyksos period, and finally to those of the XVIIIth Dynasty (1600 BC). Hittite painted pottery of Cappadocian type is also found in the later debris of the city as well as seal-cylinders of the Babylonian pattern.

(3) A Babylonian Province.

Meanwhile Canaan had for a time formed part of the Babylonian empire. Gudea, viceroy of Lagas under the kings of the Dynasty of Ur (2500 BC), had brought "limestone" from the "land of the Amorites," alabaster from Mt. Lebanon, cedar-beams from Amanus, and golddust from the desert between Palestine and Egypt. A cadastral survey was drawn up about the same time by Uru-malik, "the governor of the land of the Amorites," the name by which Syria and Canaan were known to the Babylonians, and colonies of "Amorites" engaged in trade were settled in the cities of Babylonia. After the fall of the Dynasty of Ur, Babylonia was itself conquered by the Amorites who founded the dynasty to which Khammurabi, the Amraphel of Ge 14:1, belonged (see Hammurabi). In an inscription found near Diarbekir the only title given to Khammu-rabi is "king of the land of the Amorites." Babylonian now became the official, literary and commercial language of Canaan, and schools were established there in which the cuneiform script was taught. Canaanitish culture became wholly Babylonian; even its theology and gods were derived from Babylonia. The famous legal code of Khammu-rabi (see Code of Hammurabi) was enforced in Canaan as in other parts of the empire, and traces of its provisions are found in Gen. Abram’s adoption of his slave Eliezer, Sarai’s conduct to Hagar, and Rebekah’s receipt of a dowry from the father of the bridegroom are examples of this. So, too, the sale of the cave of Machpelah was in accordance with the Babylonian legal forms of the Khammu-rabi age. The petty kings of Canaan paid tribute to their Babylonian suzerain, and Babylonian officials and "commerical travelers" (damgari) frequented the country.

(4) Jerusalem Founded.

We must ascribe to this period the foundation of Jerusalem, which bears a Babylonian name (Uru-Salim, "the city of Salim"), and commanded the road to the naphtha springs of the Dead-Sea. Bitumen was one of the most important articles of Babylonian trade on account of its employment for building and lighting purposes, and seems to have been a government monopoly. Hence, the rebellion of the Canaanitish princes in the naphtha district (Ge 14) was sufficiently serious to require a considerable force for its suppression.

(5) The Hyksos.

The Amorite dynasty in Babylonia was overthrown by a Hittite invasion, and Babylonian authority in Canaan came to an end, though the influence of Babylonian culture continued undiminished. In the North the Hittites were dominant; in the South, where Egyptian influence had been powerful since the age of the XIIth Dynasty, the Hyksos conquest of Egypt united Palestine with the Delta. The Hyksos kings bear Canaanitish names, and their invasion of Egypt probably formed part of that general movement which led to the establishment of an "Amorite" dynasty in Babylonia. Egypt now became an appanage of Canaan, with its capital, accordingly, near its Asiatic frontier. One of the Hyksos kings bears the characteristically Canaanitish name of Jacob-el, written in the same way as on Babylonian tablets of the age of Khammu-rabi, and a place of the same name is mentioned by Thothmes III as existing in southern Palestine

(6) Egyptian Conquest.

The Pharaohs of the XVIIIth Dynasty expelled the Hyksos and conquered Palestine and Syria. For about 200 years Canaan was an Egyptian province. With the Egyptian conquest the history of the second Amorite city at Gezer comes to an end. The old wall was partially destroyed, doubtless by Thothmes III (about 1480 BC). A third Amorite city now grew up, with a larger and stronger wall, 14 ft. thick. The houses built on the site of the towers of the first wall were filled with scarabs and other relics of the reign of Amon-hotep III (1440 BC). At Lachish the ruins of the third city were full of similar remains, and among them was a cuneiform tablet referring to a governor of Lachish mentioned in the Tell el-Amarna Letters. At Taanach cuneiform tablets of the same age have been discovered, written by Canaanites to one another but all in the Babylonian script and language.

(7) Tell el-Amarna Tablets.

In the Tell el-Amarna Letters we have a picture of Canaan at the moment when the Asiatic empire of Egypt was breaking up through the religious and social troubles that marked the reign of Amon-hotep IV. The Hittites were attacking it in the North; in the South of Canaan the Khabiri or "confederate" bands of free-lances were acquiring principalities for themselves. The petty kings and governors had foreign troops in their pay with which they fought one against the other; and their mercenaries readily transferred their allegiance from one paymaster to another, or seized the city they were engaged to defend. Hittites, Mitannians from Mesopotamia, and other foreigners appear as governors of the towns; the Egyptian government was too weak to depose them and was content if they professed themselves loyal. At times the Canaanitish princes intrigued with the Assyrians against their Egyptian masters; at other times with the Mitannians of "Aram-Naharaim" or the Hittites of Cappadocia. The troops sent by the Egyptian Pharaoh were insufficient to suppress the rebellion, and the authority of the Egyptian commissioners grew less and less. Eventually the king of the Amorites was compelled to pass openly over to the Hittite king, and Canaan was lost to the Pharaohs.

5. The Israelite Invasion:

Gaza and the neighboring towns, however, still remained in their hands, and with the recovery of Egyptian power under the XIXth Dynasty allowed Seti I to march once more into Canaan and reduce it again to subjection. In spite of Hittite attacks the country on both sides of the Jordan acknowledged the rule of Seti and his son Ramses II, and in the 21st year of the latter Pharaoh the long war with the Hittites came to an end, a treaty being made which fixed the Egyptian frontier pretty much where the Israelite frontier afterward ran. A work, known as The Travels of the Mohar, which satirizes the misadventures of a tourist in Canaan, gives a picture of Canaan in the days of Ramses II. With the death of Ramses II Egyptian rule in Palestine came finally to an end. The Philistines drove the Egyptian garrisons from the cities which commanded the military road through Canaan, and the long war with the Hittites exhausted the inland towns, so that they made but a feeble resistance to the Israelites who assailed them shortly afterward. The Egyptians, however, never relinquished their claim to be masters of Canaan, and when the Philistines power had been overthrown by David we find the Egyptian king again marching northward and capturing Gezer (1Ki 9:16). Meanwhile the counry had become to a large extent Israelite. In the earlier days of the Israelite invasion the Canaanitish towns had been destroyed and the people massacred; later the two peoples intermarried, and a mixed race was the result. The portraits accompanying the names of the places taken by Shishak in southern Palestine have Amorite features, and the modern fellahin of Palestine are Canaanite rather than Jewish in type.

6. Culture:

Canaanitish culture was based on that of Babylonia, and begins with the introduction of the use of copper and bronze. When Canaan became a Babylonian province, it naturally shared in the civilization of the ruling power. The religious beliefs and deities of Babylonia were superimposed upon those of the primitive Canaanite. The local Baal or "lord" of the soil made way for the "lord of heaven," the Sun-god of the Babylonians. The "high-place" gradually became a temple built after a Babylonian fashion. The sacred stone, once the supreme object of Canaanitish worship, was transformed into a Beth-el or shrine of an indwelling god. The gods and goddesses of Babylonia migrated to Canaan; places received their names from Nebo or Nin-ip; Hadad became Amurru "the Amorite god"; Ishtar passed into Ashtoreth, and Asirtu, the female counterpart of Asir, the national god of Assyria, became Asherah, while her sanctuary, which in Assyria was a temple, was identified in Canaan with the old fetish of an upright stone or log. But human sacrifice, and more especially the sacrifice of the firstborn son, of which we find few traces in Babylonia, continued to be practiced with undiminished frequency until, as we learn from the excavations, the Israelite conquest brought about its suppression. The human victim is also absent from the later sacrificial tariffs of Carthage and Marseilles, its place being taken in them by the ram. According to these tariffs the sacrifices and offerings were of two kinds, the zau`at or sin offering and the shelem or thank-offering. The sin offering was given wholly to the god; part of the thank-offering would be taken by the offerer. Birds which were not allowed as a sin offering might constitute a thank-offering. Besides the sacrifices, there were also offerings of corn, wine, fruit and oil.

7. Art:

What primitive Canaanitish art was like may be seen from the rude sculptures in the Wadi el-Kana near Tyre. Under Babylonian influence it rapidly developed. Among the Canaanite spoil captured by Thothmes III were tables, chairs and staves of cedar and ebony inlaid with gold or simply gilded, richly embroidered robes, chariots chased with silver, iron tent poles studded with precious stones, "bowls with goats’ heads on them, and one with a lion’s head, the workmanship of the land of Zahi" (the Phoenician coast), iron armor with gold inlay, and rings of gold and silver that were used as money. At Taanach, gold and silver ornaments have been found of high artistic merit. To the Israelites, fresh from the desert, the life of the wealthy Canaanite would have appeared luxurious in the extreme.

8. Commerce:

The position of Canaan made it the meeting-place of the commercial routes of the ancient world. The fleets of the Phoenician cities are celebrated in the Tell el-Amarna Letters, and it is probable that they were already engaged in the purple trade. The inland towns of Canaan depended not only on agriculture but also on a carrying trade: caravans as well as "commercial travelers" (damgari) came to them from Cappadocia, Babylonia and Egypt. Bronze, silver, lead, and painted ware were brought from Asia Minor, together with horses; naphtha was exported to Babylonia in return for embroidered stuffs; copper came from Cyprus, richly chased vessels of the precious metals from Crete and corn from Egypt. Baltic amber has been found at Lachish, where a furnace with iron slag, discovered in the third Amorite city, shows that the native iron was worked before the age of the Israelite conquest. The manufacture of glass goes back to the same epoch. As far back as 2500 BC, alabaster and limestone had been sent to Babylonia from the quarries of the Lebanon.

9. Art of Writing:

Long before the age of Abraham the Babylonian seal-cylinder had become known and been imitated in Syria and Canaan. But it was not until Canaan had been made a Babylonian province under the Khammu-rabi dynasty that the cuneiform system of writing was introduced together with the Babylonian language and literature. Henceforward, schools were established and libraries or archive-chambers formed where the foreign language and its complicated syllabary could be taught and stored. In the Mosaic age the Taanach tablets show that the inhabitants of a small country town could correspond with one another on local matters in the foreign language and script, and two of the Tell el-Amarna letters are from a Canaanitish lady. The official notices of the name by which each year was known in Babylonia were sent to Canaan as to other provinces of the Babylonian empire in the cuneiform script; one of these, dated in the reign of Khammurabi’s successor, has been found in the Lebanon.


H. Vincent, Canaan d’apres l’exploration recente, 1907; G. A. Smith, Historical Geography of the Holy Land, 1894; Publications of the Palestine Exploration Fund; E. Sellin, Tell Ta`annek and Eine Nachlese auf dem Tell Ta`annek, 1904-5; Schumacher, Tell Mutesellim, 1909; Thiersch, Die neueren Ausgrabungen in Palestina, 1908.


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