1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Canaan, Canaanites

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CANAAN, CANAANITES. These geographical and ethnic terms have a shifting reference, which doubtless arises out of the migrations of the tribes to which the term “Canaanites” belongs. Thus in Josh. v. 1 the term seems to be applied to a population on the coast of the Mediterranean, and in Josh. xi. 3, Num. xiii. 29 (cf. also Gen. xiii, 12) not only to these, but to a people in the Jordan Valley. In Isa. xxiii. 11 it seems to be used of Phoenicia, and in Zeph. ii. 5 (where, however, the text is disputed) of Philistia. Most often it is applied comprehensively to the population of the entire west Jordan land and its pre-Israelitish inhabitants. This usage is characteristic of the writer called the Yahwist (J); see e.g. Gen. xii. 5, xxxiii. 18; Ex. xv. 15; Num. xxxiii. 51; Josh. xxii. 9; Judg. in. i; Ps. cvi. 38, and elsewhere. It was also, as Augustine tells us,[1] a usage of the Phoenicians to call their land “Canaan.” This is confirmed by coins of the city of Laodicea by the Lebanon, which bear the legend, “Of Laodicea, a metropolis in Canaan”; these coins are dated under Antiochus IV. (175–164 b.c.), and his successors, Greek writers, too, tell us a fact of much interest, viz. that the original name of Phoenicia was χνα, i.e. Kĕna, a short, collateral form of Kena‘an or Kan‘an The form Kan‘an is favoured by the Egyptian usage. Seti I. is said to have conquered the Shasu, or Arabian nomads, from the fortress of Taru (Shūr?) to “the Ka-n-‘-na,” and Rameses III. to have built a temple to the god Amen in “the Ka-n-‘-na.” By this geographical name is probably meant all western Syria and Palestine with Raphia—“the (first) city of the Ka-n-‘-na”—for the south-west boundary towards the desert.[2] In the letters sent by governors and princes of Palestine to their Egyptian overlord[3]—commonly known as the Tel-el-Amarna tablets—we find the two forms Kinaḥḥi and Kinaḥna, corresponding to Kena‘ and Kena‘an respectively, and standing, as Ed. Meyer has shown, for Syria in its widest extent.

On the name “Canaan” Winckler remarks,[4] “There is at present no prospect of an etymological explanation.” From the fact that Egyptian (though not Hebrew) scribes constantly prefix the article, we may suppose that it originally meant “the country of the Canaanites,” just as the Hebrew phrase “the Lebanon” may originally have meant “the highlands of the Libnites”; and we are thus permitted to group the term “Canaan” with clan-names such as Achan, Akan, Jaakan, Anak (generally with the article prefixed), Kain, Kenan. Nor are scholars more unanimous with regard to the region where the terms “Canaanite” and “Canaan” arose. It may be true that the term Kinaḥḥi in the Amarna letters corresponds to Syria and Palestine in their entirety. But this does not prove that the terms “Canaanite” and “Canaan” arose in that region, for they are presumably much older than the Amarna tablets. Let us refer at this point to a document in Genesis which is perhaps hardly estimated at its true value, the so-called Table of Peoples in Gen. x. Here we find “Canaan” included among the four sons of Ham. If Cush in v. 6 really means Ethiopia, and M-ṣ-r-i-m Egypt, and Put the Libyans, and if Ham is really a Hebraized form of the old Egyptian name for Egypt, Kam-t (black),[5] the passage is puzzling in the extreme. But if, as has recently been suggested,[6] Cush, M-ṣ-r-i-m, and Put are in north Arabia, and Ḥam is the short for Yarḥam or Yeraḥme’el (see i Chr. ii. 25-27, 42), a north Arabian name intimately associated with Caleb, all becomes clear, and Canaan in particular is shown to be an Arabian name. Now it is no mere hypothesis that beginning from about 4000 b.c.[7] a wave of Semitic migration poured out of Arabia, and flooded Babylonia certainly, and possibly, more or less, Syria and Palestine also. Also that between 2800 and 2600 b.c. a second wave from Arabia took the same course, covering not only Babylonia, but also Syria and Palestine and probably also Egypt (the Hyksos). It is soon after this that we meet with the great empire-builder and civilizer, Khammurabi (2267–2213), the first king of a united Babylonia. It is noteworthy that the first part of his name is identical with the name of the father of Canaan in Genesis (Ḥam or Kham), indicating his Arabian origin.[8] It was he, too, who restored the ancient supremacy of Babylonia over Syria and Palestine, and so prevented the Babylonizing of these countries from coming to an abrupt end.

We now understand how the Phoenicians, whose ancestors arrived in the second Semitic migration, came to call their land “Canaan.” They had in fact the best right to do so. The first of the Canaanite immigrants were driven seawards by the masses which followed them. They settled in Phoenicia, and in after times became so great in commerce that “Canaanite” became a common Hebrew term for “merchant” (e.g. Isa. xxiii. 8). It is a plausible theory that in the conventional language of their inscriptions they preserved a number of geographical and religious phrases which, for them, had no clear meaning, and belonged properly to the land of their distant ancestors, Arabia.[9] For their own traditions as to their origin see Phoenicia; we cannot venture to reject these altogether. The masses of immigrants which followed them may have borne the name of Amorites. A few words on this designation must here be given. Both within and without Palestine the name was famous.

First, as regards the Old Testament. We find “the Amorite” (a collective term) mentioned in the Table of Peoples (Gen. x. 16–18a) among other tribal names, the exact original reference of which had probably been forgotten. No one in fact would gather from this and parallel passages how important a part was played by the Amorites in the early history of Palestine. In Gen. xiv. 7 f., Josh. x. 5 f., Deut. i. 19 ff., 27, 44 we find them located in the southern mountain country, while in Num. xxi. 13, 21 f., Josh. ii 10, ix 10, xxiv. 8, 12, &c. we hear of two great Amorite kings, residing respectively at Heshbon and Ashtaroth on the east of the Jordan. Quite different, however, is the view taken in Gen. xv. 16, xlviii. 22, Josh. xxiv. 15, Judg. i. 34, Am. ii. 9, 10, &c., where the name of Amorite is synonymous with “Canaanite,” except that “Amorite” is never used for the population on the coast. Next, as to the extra-Biblical evidence. In the Egyptian inscriptions and in the Amarna tablets Amar and Amurru have a more limited meaning, being applied to the mountain-region east of Phoenicia, extending to the Orontes. Later on, Amurru became the Assyrian term for the interior of south as well as north Palestine, and at a still more recent period the term “the land of Hatti” (conventionally = Hittites) displaced “Amurru” so far as north Palestine is concerned (see Hittites).

Thus the Phoenicians and the Amorites belong to the first stage of the second great Arabian migration. In the interval preceding the second stage Syria with Palestine became an Egyptian dependency, though the links with the sovereign power were not so strong as to prevent frequent local rebellions. Under Thothmes III. and Amen-hotep II. the pressure of a strong hand kept the Syrians and Canaanites sufficiently loyal to the Pharaohs. The reign of Amen-hotep III., however, was not quite so tranquil for the Asiatic province. Turbulent chiefs began to seek their opportunities, though as a rule they did not find them because they could not obtain the help of a neighbouring king.[10] The boldest of the disaffected was Aziru, son of Abdashirta, a prince of Amurru, who even before the death, of Amen-hotep III. endeavoured to extend his power into the plain of Damascus. Akizzi, governor of Katna (near Horns or Hamath), reported this to the Pharaoh who seems to have frustrated the attempt. In the next reign, however, both father and son caused infinite trouble to loyal servants of Egypt like Rib-Addi, governor of Gubla (Gebal).

It was, first, the advance of the Ḫatti (Hittites) into Syria, which began in the time of Amen-hotep III., but became far more threatening in that of his successor, and next, the resumption of the second Arabian migration, which most seriously undermined the Egyptian power in Asia. Of the former we cannot speak here (see Hittites), except so far as to remark the Abd-Ashirta and his son Aziru, though at first afraid of the Hatti, was afterwards clever enough to make a treaty with their king, and, with other external powers, to attack the districts which remained loyal to Egypt. In vain did Rib-Addi send touching appeals for aid to the distant Pharaoh, who was far too much engaged in his religious innovations to attend to such messages. What most interests us is the mention of troublesome invaders called some times sa-gas (a Babylonian ideogram meaning “robber”), sometimes Ḫabiri. Who are these Ḫabiri? Not, as was at first thought by some, specially the Israelites, but all those tribes of land-hungry nomads (“Hebrews”) who were attracted by the wealth and luxury of the settled regions, and sought to appropriate it for themselves. Among these we may include not only the Israelites or tribes which afterwards became Israelitish, but the Moabites, Ammonites and Edomites. We meet with the Habiri in north Syria. Itakkama writes thus to the Pharaoh,[11] “Behold, Namyawaza has surrendered all the cities of the king, my lord, to the Sa-gas 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 Ḫabiri, to show myself subject to him; and I will expel the Sa-gas.” Similarly Zimrida, king of Sidon, declares, “All my cities which the king has given into my hand, have come into the hand of the Ḫabiri.”[12] Nor had Palestine any immunity from the Arabian invaders. The king of Jerusalem, Abd-Ḫiba, the second part of whose name has been thought to represent the Hebrew Yahweh,[13] reports thus 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.”[14] Abd-Ḫiba’s chief trouble arose from persons called Milkili and the sons of Lapaya, who are said to have entered into a treasonable league with the Ḫabiri. Apparently this restless warrior found his death at the siege of Gina.[15] All these princes, however, malign each other in their letters to the Pharaoh, and protest their own innocence of traitorous intentions. Namyawaza, for instance, whom Itakkama (see above) accuses of disloyalty, writes thus to the Pharaoh, “Behold, I and my warriors and my chariots, together with my brethren and my Sa-gas, and my Suti[16] are at the disposal of the (royal) troops, to go whithersoever the king, my lord, commands.”[17] This petty prince, therefore, sees no harm in having a band of Arabians for his garrison, as indeed Hezekiah long afterwards had his Urbi to help him against Sennacherib.

From the same period we have recently derived fresh and important evidence as to pre-Israelitish Palestine. As soon as the material gathered is large enough to be thoroughly classified and critically examined, a true history of early Palestine will be within measurable distance. At present, there are five places whence the new evidence has been obtained: 1. Tell-el-Hasy, generally identified with the Lachish of the Old Testament. Excavations were made here in 1890–1892 by Flinders Petrie and Bliss. 2. Gezer, plausibly identified with the Gezer of I Kings ix. 16. Here R. A. S. Macalister began excavating in 1902. 3. Tell-eṣ-Ṣafy, possibly the Gath of the Old Testament, 6 m. from Eleutheropolis. Here F. J. Bliss and R. A. S. Macalister made some discoveries in 1899–1900. A complete examination of the site, however, was impossible. 4. Tell-el-Mutasellim, near Lejjun (Megiddo-Legio). Schumacher began working here in 1903 for the German Palestine Society. 5. Taannek, on the south of the plain of Esdraelon. Here Prof. Ernst Sellin of Vienna was able to do much in a short time (1902–1904). It may be mentioned here that on the first of these sites a cuneiform tablet belonging to the Amarna series was discovered; at Gezer, a deed of sale; at Tell-el-Hasy the remains of a Babylonian stele, three seals, and three cylinders with Babylonian mythological representations; at Tell-el-Mutasellim, a seal bearing a Babylonian legend, and at Taannek, twelve tablets and fragments of tablets were found near the fragments of the terracotta box in which they were stored. It is a remarkable fact that the kings or chiefs of the neighbourhood should have used Babylonian cuneiform in their own official correspondence. But much beside tablets has been found on these sites; primitive sanctuaries, for instance. The splendid alignment of monoliths at Gezer is described in detail in P.E.F. Quart. Statement, January 1903, p. 23, and July 1903, p. 219. There is reason, as Macalister thinks, to believe that it is the result of a gradual development, beginning with two small pillars, and gradually enlarging by later additions. There is a smaller one at Tell-eṣ-Ṣafy. The Semitic cult of sacred standing stones is thus proved to be of great antiquity; Sellin’s discoveries at Taannek and those of Bliss at Tell-eṣ-Ṣafy fully confirm this. Rock-hewn altars have also been found, illustrating the prohibition in Ex. xx. 25, 26, and numerous jars with the skeletons of infants. We cannot doubt that the sacrificing of children was practised on a large scale among the Canaanites. Their chief deity was Ashtart (Astarte), the goddess of fertility. Numerous images of her have been found, but none of the god Baal. The types of the divine form vary in the different places. The other images which have been found represent Egyptian deities. We must not, however, infer that there was a large Egyptian element in the Canaanitish Pantheon. What the images do prove is the large amount of intercourse between Egypt and Canaan, and the presence of Egyptians in the subject country.

See the Tell-el-Amarna Letters, ed. by Winckler, with translation (1896); the reports of Macalister in the Pal. Expl. Fund Statements from 1903 onwards; Sellin’s report of excavations at Tell Ta’annek; also H. W. Hogg, “Recent Assyriology,” &c., in Inaugural Lectures ed. by Prof. A. S. Peake (Manchester University, 1905). On Biblical questions, see Dillmann’s commentaries and the Bible dictionaries. See further articles Palestine; Jews.  (T. K. C.) 

  1. Enarratio in Psalm civ.
  2. W. M. Müller, Asien und Europa, p. 205.
  3. The letters are written in the official and diplomatic language—Babylonian, though “Canaanitish” words and idioms are not wanting.
  4. Die Keilinschriften und das Alte Testament, p. 181.
  5. These explanations are endorsed by Driver (Genesis, on Gen. x.).
  6. See the relevant articles in Ency. Bib. and Cheyne’s Genesis and Exodus.
  7. For the grounds of these dates see Winckler, Gesch. Isr. i. 127 f.; Paton, Early Hist. of Syria and Palestine (1902), pp. 6-8, 25-28.
  8. It is true the Babylonians themselves interpreted the name differently (5 R. 44 a b 21), kimta rapashtum, “wide family.” That, however, is only a natural protest against what we may call Canaanism or Arabism.
  9. See Cheyne, Genesis and Exodus (on Gen. i. 26), and cf. G. A. Cooke, N. Sem. Inscriptions (e.g. pp. 30-40, on Eshmunazar’s inscription).
  10. See Amarna Letters, Winckler’s edition, No. 7.
  11. Op. cit. No. 146.
  12. Op. cit. No. 147.
  13. Johns, Assyrian Deeds, iii. p. 16.
  14. Amarna Letters, No. 180 (xi. 20-24).
  15. Ibid. No. 164 (xi. 15–18).
  16. Nomads of the Syrian desert.
  17. Amarna Letters, No. 144 (xi. 24-32).