Canaan in the Old Testament
The Geography of Canaan
In Numbers 13:29 the Canaanites are described as dwelling "by the sea, and along by the side of the Jordan," i.e. in the lowlands of Palestine. The name was confined to the country West of the Jordan (Nu 33:51; Josh 22:9), and was especially applied to Phoenicia (Isa 23:11; compare Mt 15:22).
Hence, Sidon is called the "firstborn" of Canaan (Gen 10:15, though compare Jdg 3:3), and the Septuagint translates "Canaanites" by "Phoenicians" and "Canaan" by the "land of the Phoenicians" (Ex 16:35; Josh 5:12). Kinakhkhi is used in the same restricted sense in the Tell el-Amarna Letters, but it is also extended so as to include Palestine generally. On the other hand, on the Egyptian monuments Seti I calls a town in the extreme South of Palestine "the city of Pa-Kana'na" or "the Canaan," which Conder identifies with the modern Khurbet Kenan near Hebron.
As in the Tell el-Amarna Letters, so in the Old Testament, Canaan is used in an extended sense to denote the whole of Palestine West of the Jordan (Gen 12:5; 23:2,19; 28:1; 31:18; 35:6; 36:2; 37:1; 48:7; Ex 15:15; Nu 13:2; Josh 14:1; 21:2; Ps 135:11). Thus, Jerusalem which had Amorite and Hittite founders is stated to be of "the land of the Canaanite" (Ezek 16:3), and Isa (19:18) terms Hebrew, which was shared by the Israelites with the Phoenicians and, apparently, also the Amorites, "the language of Caaan." Jabin is called "the king of Canaan" in Jdg 4:2,23,24; but whether the name is employed here in a restricted or extended sense is uncertain.
Meaning of the Name Canaan
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 Hos 12:7 (8), "as, for Canaan" (Septuagint), instead of "he is a merchant" (the King James Version); in Zeph 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 Prov 3:1:24, though probably not in Zec 14:21, and Job 41:6 (Hebrew 40:30).
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.
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International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, which is in the public domain.