1902 Encyclopedia > Canaanites


CANAANITES. Only two of the possible senses of the word Canaanite need be here referred to ; for the others, see PHOENICIANS and PHILISTINES. And as one of these is included in the other, let us pass at once to the Canaanites in the larger sense, i.e., the whole group of nations conquered by the Israelites on the west side of the Jordan. The group is variously described. It is some-times said to consist of five—Canaanites, Hittites, Amo-rites, Hivites, Jebusites (Exod. xiii. 5); sometimes of six, the Perizzites, i.e., Pagani, being added (Exod. iii. 8, 17, xxiii. 23, xxxiii. 2, xxxiv. 11 ; Deut. xx. 17; Josh. ix. 1, xii. 8) ; sometimes of seven, by including the Girgashites (Deut. vii. 1; Josh. iii. 10, xxiv. 11); once of ten, omit-ting the Hittites, and including the aboriginal Rephaim and three Arab tribes, the Kenites, Kenizzites, and Kadmonites (Gen. xv. 19-21). The latter, however, are clearly inserted by mistake, as they only became inhabitants of Palestine, so far as they did become such, as the reward of assist-ance given to the Israelites. There are only two of these nations about whom we have any collateral information— the Hittites and the Amorites. The former, however, seem also to have been included among the Canaanites by mistake. Historical evidence, both Biblical and extra-biblical, proves convincingly that they dwelt beyond the borders of Canaan; and linguistic evidence tends on the whole to show that they did not even speak a Semitic language (see HITTITES). The latter, too, were not en-tirely homogeneous with the other Canaanitish peoples, if the notices in Deut. iii. 11 ("Og ... of the remnant of the Rephaim"), ibid. 13; Josh. xii. 4, xiii. 12, may be taken as historical. Perhaps, as Ewald suggests, they were mixed with the aborigines. A Semitic basis seems probable, but has only one linguistic fact in its favour— Senfr, the Amorite name of Hermon (Deut. iii. 9), mentioned also in an inscription of Shalmaneser (Brit. Mus. Coll., vol. iii. p. 5, No. 6, 1. 45); personal names like Og and Sihon may easily have been Semiticized, and the name Amorite itself, being probably descriptive (see AMORITES), has no ethnological value. They are at all events un-Canaanitish in their political capacity, two con-siderable states having been founded by them on the east of the Jordan (Deut. iii. 8; Josh. xii. 2; Judg. x. 8, xi. 22). It will therefore be better to exclude Hittites and Amorites from the present notice.
I. It is extremely difficult to draw any distinction between the remaining members of the Canaanitish group. As Political
described in the early books of the Old Testament, they state,
have a general family likeness. They are described as
living in a state of political disintegration, the combined
result of the Semitic love of independence and of the varied
conformation of the soil. Thirty-one of their petty kings
are mentioned in Josh. xii. 9-24, including the king of
Hazor (afterwards reckoned to Naphtali), whose realm, in
Judg. xi. 10, is called "the chief of all those kingdoms."
We find, indeed, a king of Bezek claiming to have enslaved
" seventy " of the surrounding reguli (Judg. i. 7), but this
is an altogether exceptional event, for which the loosening
of authority produced by the guerilla warfare of the
Israelites sufficiently accounts. Yet the isolation of the
Canaanites can never have been complete. Like the
Phoenicians, they will have had their federations, as
appears to be implied by the title Baal-berith, or " Baal of
the Covenant " (Judg. viii. 33); and hieroglyphic inscrip-
tions tell of their alliances with the Khita or Hittites against
their Egyptian suzerains. Indeed, the rebellious tendencies
of the Syrian states will partly explain the inaction of the
Pharaohs during the Israelitish conquest. The only injury
Joshua could do to the latter would consist in blocking up
the military coast-road to the north of Syria, but this was
well secured by Egyptian garrisons, which Joshua did not
venture to attack; while to get the Canaanites humbled
without any trouble was a clear gain. That the Israelites ^
were not immediately and at all points successful is now universally recognized. The work of many years was concentrated by tradition on a single great name; yet the Old Testament itself corrects by numberless indications the error of the more imaginative narrative. Thus the kingdom of Hazor, which had been utterly destroyed, according to Josh. xi. 10, 11, emerges again in the more accurate account of Judges (iv. 2, 3). And both Joshua and Judges (not to descend later—see AMORITES) supply evidence for the continued Canaanitish occupation of many parts of the country (Josh. xiii. 13, xv. 63, xvi. 10, xvii. 12, 13; Judg. i. 19-36). The immediate result of the invasion was, not the extinction of the old, but the addition of a new (and yet not wholly new) element, of stronger stuff but less advanced culture.
II. No doubt the Israelites at first put an end to much ResuKs at
of which they could not discern the value, or, to use their the oon-
own phrase, made it a kherem, a thing consecrated to God <fuest-
by destruction. The origin of Hebrew literature would
not be such a blank if the sacred archives of Kiryath-sepher, or " the Book-city," otherwise called Kiryath-sannah, or "the Law-city (?)" (Josh. xv. 15, 49), had been preserved. Still the attractions of culture were superior in the long run to the dictates of religious zeal. Goodly houses, vineyards, and oliveyards (Deut. vi. 10, 11) were agents more powerful even than chariots of iron. The secrets of agriculture had to be learned from the Canaanites ; intercourse naturally led to intermarriage, and so a new strife arose in the field of religion, in which half the Jewish nation perished utterly, and the other half was only saved by its voluntary submission to a spiritual despotism.
III. The pages of the book of Judges are full of com- Religious
plaints of Israelitish infidelity, which is rightly ascribed by character-
the compiler to mixture of blood (Judg. iii. 6). It is true j^J^f
that expressions like this of infidelity have only a limited
accuracy. As Ewald and Kuenen have pointed out, the
final editor of Judges lived in the age of the Exile, when the religion of Yahveh (miscalled Jehovah) had attained its full development. From his point of view, religious approximation to the Canaanites was wilful apostasy, because it involved the effacement of the distinction between physical and moral religion. But of this distinction the Israelites were hardly more conscious than the Canaanites.
The religions of both nations were based on a feeling for the powers of nature, whether regarded as destructive and awful, as by the one, or as favourable and lovely, as by the other. Thus the one religion was stern and in tendency moral; the other soft and in tendency immoral: there was indeed a difference, but not a clear-cut distinction between them. To come to particulars,—the chief object of Canaanitish worship was the dual-natured god of life and fruitfulness, viz., Baal, or rather the Baal, i.e., " the lord," and his consort Asherah, i.e., " the happy," and so " happy-making, favourable" (as in Assyrian, Salmanu-asir, " Salman is favourable"). The masculine form is also probably a divine title, and has given its name to the tribe of Asher, as Gad (" good fortune") to the Gadites. As Movers long ago pointed out, Asherah is not identical with Ashtoreth or Astarte, whose name is philologically different, and who belongs to another type of Semitic religion. Her symbol was the stem of a tree (Deut. xvi. 21; Judg. vi. 25), though this may have been sometimes carved into an image; that of the Baal probably had the form of a cone, and represented the rays of the sun. It is these symbols which are referred to in the phrase, " the Baals and the Asherahs" (Judg. iii. 7); the " groves " of the authorized version is an evident mistranslation (see in the Hebrew or some accurate modern version, Judg. vi. 25; 1 Kings xv. 13; 2 Kings xxiii. 6). The licensed harlotry which formed part of the worship of Asherah was profoundly obnoxious to the later Hebrew writers (Num. xxv.; Deut. xxiii. 18), though, indeed, even the folk-lore of the Israelites shows traces of aversion to its attendant immorality. An illustration of this is furnished in the narrative of Sodom (Gen. xviii., xix.), which can only refer to the later Canaanites. Simi-larly, another writer (Gen. xv. 16) describes "the iniquity of the Amorites " as the divine justification of the Israelitish conquest. It is also the subject of a threatening passage in the Levitical legislation (Lev. xviii.), which if composed during the Babylonian exile, as is held by Graf and Kalisch, is a remarkable evidence of the tenacity of pre-Israelitish customs.
Another characteristic of Canaanitish reb'gion, though far from peculiar to this, was soothsaying. After Israelite prophecy had broken its shell, and taken its daring flight into a more spiritual region, its first anxiety was to destroy that rival phenomenon which enslaved the minds of men to gross superstition. Hence the earnest dehortaticns of Isaiah (ii. 6), and of the writer of Deuteronomy (xviii. 10-14).
There was only one relic of Canaanitiah times which the disciples of prophetic religion could not or would not throw aside—the old traditions. For it can hardly be doubted by uncompromising historical critics that some, perhaps many, of the narratives of Genesis are but purified versions of Canaanitish myths and legends. The most obvious examples will naturally be those stories which are attached to localities in Canaan, e.g., Luz and Beersheba. Of course the story of Melchizedek, " the king of Salem," and " priest of the most high God" (Gen. xiv. 17-24), is not one of these, being out of harmony with all our other notices of the Canaanites. It is also easily separable from the rest of the narrative, and may possibly be as late as the Mac-cabean period, and written in honour of the temple and its priesthood, which are glorified by being, as it were, prefigured in the patriarchal age.
IV. The question has been asked of late, whether a remnant of the old population of Palestine may not still be in existence. M. Clermont-Ganneau, following Prof. E. H. Palmer (His-tory of the Jewish Nation, p. 64), answers it confidently in the affirmative. In the fellahfn or peasants of the Holy Land he sees the descendants of the Canaanites, who, having been reduced to a state of serfdom, were contemptuously over-
looked by the successive hordes of conquerors. Their strange
superstitious customs have been remarked by every close observer, and are evidently survivals of some early form of religion. M. Ganneau also mentions some curious legendary parallels to Biblical narratives existing among them. Dr Thomson (The Land and the Book, pp. 226-8) holds a similar theory about the sect of the Nusairieh in northern Syria, who are equally bad Moslems, but more probably represent the débris of the later Syrian paganism.
V. We have yet to speak of the ethnological relation of the Canaanites and the Israelites. The linguistic evidence points to a kinship as close as that of both to the Phoenicians. Not only are the personal names of the Canaanites (Melchizedek, Adonibezek, Adonizedek, Oman or Aranyah, of which Araunah seems to be a corruption) pure Hebrew, but so too are the names of their cities, an evidence of still greater value, as given both in the Old Testament and in the lists of the places conquered by Thothmes III. The latter have been discovered by Mariette-Bey on a kind of triumphal arch at Karnak ; they include 119 names belonging to Canaan, of which 75 have been identified with known Hebrew names of places (Mariette-Bey, in Comptes Rendus de l'Académie des Inscriptions, 1874, p. 243, &c). The same Hebraic character is apparent in the names given in the "Travels of a Mohar" (see the Records of the Past, vol. ii. pp. 107-116), which have been illustrated, we understand, by the recent explorations of Lieutenant Conder. How, it has been asked, is this community of language to be accounted for ? The problem is a real one to those who regard the Table of Nations (Gen. x.) as an ethnological authority, for in that docu-ment the Canaanites are classed separately from the Hebrews among the descendants of Ham. From this, as we believe, antiquated point of view, it becomes necessary to assume that the Canaanites borrowed their language from some of the genuine descendants of Shem. From the Israelites? But they spoke the language long be-fore the Israelite immigration. From an aboriginal Semitic-speaking race? But there is no historical evidence for the existence of such a people. We are thus driven to accept the view that the Table of Nations is arranged not on an ethnological but on a geographical principle. The Canaanites will then be classed among the descendants of Ham as belonging, according to the compilers, to the southern terrestrial zone—not, however, the Canaanites, in our sense of the word, for these formed no part of the original Table (see CANAAN), but the Phoenicians. Apart from this misunderstood document there is no difficulty in admitting the affinity of the three nations, the Israelites, the Canaanites, and the Phoenicians, who all appear to have migrated successively from a Babylonian centre (see PHOENICIANS). The last to move westward were probably the Hebrews. They are generally supposed to have originally spoken an Aramaic dialect, but after entering Palestine to have adopted that of the more civilized Canaanites (see Introduc-tions of Bleek and De Wette-Schrader). The only evidence, however, offered in support of this view is Gen. xxxi, 47. where the " cairn of witness " receives a Hebrew name from Jacob, an Aramaic from Laban. From this it is inferred that Laban's great-uncle Abraham must, according to tradi-tion, have spoken Aramaic, as if Aramaic were as early a development as Hebrew, and as if the writer in Genesis had any thought of illustrating philological problems ! Of any' such event in the history of the Hebrews we have simply no evidence whatever.
Compare Ewald, History of the People of Israel, Eng. trans., vol,
i. pp. 232-242 ; Kuenen, Religion of Israel, Eng. trans., vol. i.
chap. 1 (with note) and 4 ; Movers, Die Phönizier, vol. ii. (1), pp.
61-82 ; Knobel, Die Voïkertafel der Genesis, pp. 202, 321, 332-338 ;
Clermont-Ganneau, "The Arabs in Palestine," in Macmillan's Mag-
azine, August 187? (T. K. C.)

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