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Chanaan (Chanaanites)

Hebrew word Kena'an denoting a person

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Chanaan, Chanaanites. — The Hebrew word, KNCV Kena’an, denoting a person, occurs: (I) in the Old Testament as the name of one of Cham’s sons; (2) in a lengthened form, Kena’anah (D. V., Chanana, Chanaana) as the name of two other people (I Par., vii, 10; II Par., xviii, 10); (3) denoting a country, as the name of the region of the Chanaanites, or descendants of Chanaan. In the days when the trading Phoenicians held a prominent place, especially among the Chanaanites, this word (Kena’ani), and even Chanaan (e.g. Is., xxiii, 8), got the signification of merchant, trader. As the name of the country it occurs under the forms Kinahhi, Kinahni, and Kinahna, as early as two centuries before Moses in the cuneiform letters of Syrian and Palestinian princes to Egyptian Pharaos, found at Tell el-Amarna; and earlier still in Egyptian inscriptions, in the form Ka-n-‘-na. The Phoenician town of Laodicea calls itself on coins from the second century B.C. “a mother in Kena’an “. In Grecian literature, too, evidence remains that the Phoenicians called one of their ancestors, as well as their country, Chna and even at the time of St. Augustine the Punic country people near Hippo called themselves Chanani, i. e. Chanaanites. If the word be of Semitic origin, it should be derived from the root KNC Kana’, and mean, originally, low; or, in a figurative sense, small, humble, despicable, subjected. Following this derivation in its original sense, “the land of Chanaan” has been explained by various scholars as “the low land”—whether the name may have originally denoted only the flat seashore, or the mountainous country of Western Palestine as well, in opposition to the still higher mountains of the Lebanon and the Hermon. But Biblical tradition rather seems to derive the name of the country from that of the person. It takes the “land of Canaan” as “the border of the Canaanites” (A. V., Gen., x, 19), i.e. of the race of Chanaan, Cham’s son, and it does not seem advisable to put against this so uncertain a conjecture as the etymology given above. The less so, as the figurative meaning of the word, as a synonym of slave or servant, fits in very well with the little we know of Noe’s grandson.

CHANAAN, THE SON OF CHAM.—In Gen., ix, 18 and 22, Cham appears as the father of Changan, and in Noe’s prediction (verses 25-27) Chanaan stands side by side with his “brothers” (in the larger sense of the Hebrew word) Sem and Japheth:

“He said: Cursed be Chanaan, a servant of servants

shall he be unto his brethren.

“And he said: Blessed be the Lord God of Sem,

be Chanaan his servant.

“May God enlarge Japheth, and may he dwell in

the tents of Sem, and Chanaan be his servant.”

The curse called down on Chanaan is undoubtedly connected with the sin of his father, Cham (verse 22). But it is rather hard to indicate the precise nature of this connection. Had Chanaan in some way a share in his father’s sin, and is it for this reason that what was said in verse 18 is repeated in the story of the sin, viz.: that Cham was the father of Chanaan? Or is the latter struck by Noe’s prophetic curse for the sins of his posterity, who were to imitate Cham’s wickedness? Certain it is, that this curse, as well as the blessing invoked upon Sem and Japheth, was especially fulfilled in their posterity. The descendants of Chanaan were partly rooted out, partly subjected by the Israelites; and all the Chanaanite races, as such, disappeared from the scene of history. Others have tried to solve the problem by critical methods. It was supposed that Gen., ix, 20-27 was derived from a source in which Chanaan had taken the place of his father, Cham, and so was passed off as Noe’s third son. It is as conceivable that in the original prophecy the name of Cham occurred, and that the Israelites, seeing the prophecy fulfilled, especially in the posterity of Chanaan, might have changed it to that of the son. But none of these critical conjectures has any solid foundation.

Quite uncertain, too, is the opinion which represents Chanaan as the youngest of Cham’s four sons. It is based on Gen., x, 6: “And the sons of Cham: Chus, and Mesram and Phuth, and Chanaan”. But this whole list of the descendants of Noe’s sons is, at least in substance, ethnographical, and the order of succession geographical; hence an enumeration of tribes beginning with the most distant and ending in Palestine. In verses 16-20, therefore, there is question only of Chanaanite tribes, and they occupy the last place because they dwell in, or near, Palestine. Consequently it cannot be concluded from this that Chanaan was the youngest son of Cham.

THE LAND OF CHANAAN.—With a few exceptions the Biblical writers seem to indicate by this name, at the least, the whole of Western or cis-Jordanic Palestine. It extends from the desert of Sin in the south to near Rohob and the entrance to Emath in the north (Num., xiii, 3, 18; cf. 22). A more accurate demarcation of the land of Chanaan is in Num., xxxiv, 3-12, and Ezech., xlvii, 15-20. For though the name does not occur in Ezechiel, the identity of the boundary lines drawn there is not to be doubted. In either text the western boundary is formed by the Mediterranean, and the greater part of the eastern by the Dead Sea and the lower course of the Jordan.

The southern frontier coincides with that of the territory of Juda (Jos., xv, 1-4), whilst Cadesbarne (Ain Kedis), 30° 33′ N. lat., may be taken as the most southern point. From St. Jerome’s time (In Ezech., Migne, XXV, 476-478) the northern frontier was placed in Middle or even Northern Syria. From this passage of St. Jerome even a fons Daphnis (Daphne near Antioch) found its way into the Vulgate (Num., xxxiv, 11) instead of the town of Ain. But though some of the border towns are not yet known with absolute certainty, we may take for granted nowadays that this northern boundary-line of Chanaan must be drawn to the south of the Lebanon and Hermon, at about 33° 18′ N. lat.; and that it completely coincides with the northern frontier of the country conquered and inhabited by the Israelites, which, according to numerous quotations, stretched “from Dan to Bershabee” or “from the entering in of Emath unto the brook of Egypt“. The northern part of the eastern boundary, however, seems to follow, not the upper course of the Jordan, but the course of the Rukkad from Hasar-`Enan (El-Hadr) to `Ain (`Ayun), so that here the whole of Western Jaulan still seems to be included in the land of Chanaan—not, however, the land of Galaad or the country in general beyond the Jordan to the south of the Jarmuk. All the places quoted above agree with. this conception, and only twice does the name of the country Chanaan occur in a more limited sense: first for the Phoenician coast (Is., xxiii, 11), and secondly for the low land of the Philistines (Soph., ii, 5)—both in a time when only these regions along the coast were still inhabited by Chanaanites. We have already seen how the name was honored even later still in Phoenicia itself. In Egypt the name of the country seems to be used especially for the sea-coast; at the same time the name Chanaanites is also applied to the inhabitants of the mountainous country behind it. In the Tell el-Amarna letters the country of Kinahhi seems to include both the Phoenician coast and the mountains of Upper Galilee, and probably, farther to the north, the country of Amurri (Lebanon and Anti-Lebanon). Cf. H. Clauss, Zeitschrift des Deutschen Palastinavereins (1907), XXX, 17, 29, 30, 35, 36, 64, 67.

Gen., x, 15-18 enumerates as the descendants of Chanaan a series of tribes, most of which, and originally perhaps all, were settled outside Palestine proper, and up to Northern Syria; “And Chanaan begot Sidon, his firstborn, the Hethite, and the Jebusite, and the Amorrhite, and the Gergesite, the Hevite and the Aracite: the Sinite, and the Aradian, the Samarite, and the Hamathite: and afterwards the families of the Chanaanites were spread abroad.” These latter are the tribes peopling Biblical Chanaan or Western Palestine: “And the limits of Chanaan were from Sidon as one comes to Gerara even Gaza, until thou enter Sodom and Gomorrha, and Adama, and Seboim even to Lesa.” If we may identify Lesa (A. V. Lasha) with Lesem (Jos., xix, 47) or Lais (Judges, xviii, 14, etc.), the Dan of later days, the coast from Sidon to Gaza and Gerara is here indicated as the western boundary of Chanaan, and the valley of the Jordan from the Pentapolis to Lais-Dan as the eastern boundary. But the “Codex Samaritanus” has in verse 19 quite another statement: “And the border of the Canaanite was from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates, and [from the Euphrates] to the hindmost [or Western] Sea.” Apparently by “the Canaanite” are here meant all the descendants of Chanaan, mentioned in verses 15-18, of whom the Hethites, at least, lived close to the Euphrates. It is hard to decide which reading is the original one. Both show the descendants of Chanaan settled in the Biblical “land of Chanaan”, i.e. the later “land of Israel”. As a rule it is the pre-Israelitish inhabitants of this “land of Chanaan”, taken collectively, who are indicated by this common name of Chanaanites. Thus in the Pentateuch, especially in parts attributed to a Jahvistic source, as e.g. Gen., xii, 6, xxiv, 3, 37, xxxviii, 2, 1, 11. Elsewhere, however, chiefly in so-called Elohistic parts, the name of Amorrhites is used in the same general sense. And very often as many as six or seven, or even eleven, different tribes or peoples are distinguished, one of which in particular bears the name of Chanaanites. Thus e.g. Fxod., iii, 8: “The Chanaanite, and Hethite, and Amorrhite and Pherezite, and Hevite, and Jebusite.” Repeatedly (e.g. Jos., iii, 10), the Gergesites, mentioned above (Gen., x, 16), are added; and in Gen., xv, 19-21, we find “the Cineans and Cenezites, the Cedmonites…the Raphaim also”; whilst in Num., xiv, 25, the Amalecite; in A. V. Deut., ii, 23, and Jos., xiii, 3, the Avims; and in Jos., xi, 21 (and elsewhere), the Enacims are named, leaving out other older, and probably trans-Jordanic, tribes like the Zuzim, the Emim, and the Chorreans (Gen., xiv, 5,6).

Of most of these tribes little or nothing is known. For Amorrhites see article under that title. The Hethitec founded a mighty kingdom in Northern Syria, but it is uncertain whether their namesakes in the south of Palestine (Gen., xxiii, 3, xxvi, 34, etc.) had anything in common with them besides the name. About the Chanaanites in a more limited sense we learn that they had their dwelling-place to the east and west of the mountains, i.e. along the coast of the Mediterranean and in the valley of the Jordan and the Araba to the south of the Dead Sea (Num., xiii, 30, xiv, 25; Deut., i, 7, xi, 29 sq.; Jos., v, 1, xi, 3, xiii, 3). So it is by this name that the Phoenicians are still called in Abd., 20; and the “Syrophenician” woman of Mark, vii, 26, is a Chanaanitish woman in Matth., xv, 22. It is not likely that all the various pre-Israelitish tribes remained sharply distinguished from one another. “There are good reasons for believing that at a very early period the population of Palestine already presented a mixture of races; and that through intermarriage the dividing lines between these races became fainter in the course of time, until all sharp distinctions were obliterated. The problem of distinguishing between these various groups whom the Hebrews encountered upon settling in Palestine is at present incapable of solution.” (Morris Jastrow Jr., Encyclop. Bibl., I, 642.) Still it does not seem too great a venture to distinguish (with Hughes Vincent, “Canaan”, p. 455) two principal groups of tribes: the Amorrhites in the mountains and the Chanaanites along the sea-coast and in the valley of the Jordan, and perhaps in the plain of Esdrelon (Jos., xvii, 12-18). On the other hand, when the Israelites under Josue penetrated into Chanaan they found this mixed “Chanaanitish” or “Amorrhitish” population, not bound together politically under one government, but divided into more than thirty petty kingdoms (Jos., xii, 7-14), a state of things which must have made the conquest considerably easier for them. This same system of cutting up the country into small parts obtained two or three centuries earlier, in the time of the Tell el-Amarna letters, which were for the greater part written by, or to a number of these city-kings—and apparently even earlier still in the days of Abraham (Gen., xiv, 2, 8, 18, xx, 2). In this respect these letters contain a striking corroboration of the Biblical story. After the campaigns of Tothmes III in the sixteenth century B.C. all these small states acknowledged the supremacy of the Egyptian Pharaos and paid them tribute. After a time, however, this sovereignty must have gradually become more and more nominal, and in spite of the later campaigns of Seti I and Ramses II against the Hethites, it left no traces after the conquest by Josue.

The further particulars given by the Bible about the Chanaanites are rather scanty. We read occasionally of their cities “great and walled up to the sky” (Dent., i, 28; cf. Num., xiii, 29); of their “chariots of iron” (Jos., xvii, 16); and repeatedly of their gods Baal and Moloch and their goddesses Astarte and Ashera; of their altars and their stone pillars (masseboth) and wooden posts (asherim); in connection with these altars, of their sacrifices of children and manifold forms of moral perversity; the abominations on account of which “the land itself vomiteth out her inhabitants” (kV., Lev., xviii, 25), and which, in spite of the severe prohibition of the Law and the admonitions of the Prophets, found but too much imitation in Israel itself. Most of these particulars have of late received a splendid corroboration and explanation in archaeological discoveries, principally in consequence of the systematic excavations conducted in Palestine by W. H. Flinders Petrie and F. J. Bliss at Tell el-Hesy; by Bliss and M. R. A. Stewart Macalister at Tell Zakariya, Tell es-Safy, and Tell Jedeide; by Macalister at Tell Jezer; by E. Sellin at Thenac; by G. Schumacher at Tell el-Mutesallim to all of which Sellin added in 1907 his labors at old Jericho.

Even before the tribes who are introduced to us as Chanaanites in the Bible penetrated into Palestine (between 3000 and 2500 B.C.) there must have lived for many centuries an older population, dwelling there partly in caves, but also possessing their primitive “towns” surrounded by earthen walls. This period is characterized especially by stone instruments and very primitive earthenware. The Chanaanitish tribes who gradually took their place came from the north and were for a long time, if not under the supremacy, without a doubt under the manifold influence of Babylon. In the fifteenth century B.C., when the country was already politically subject to Egypt, the kings of the Chanaanitish towns used in their correspondence, not only with the Pharaos but also between themselves, the Babylonian cuneiform characters, and—with the addition of a number of Chanaanitish words—the language of Babylon as well. Macalister (Pal. Expl. Fund Quart. Stat. 1905, 323 sq.) and, quite lately, Sellin (Mitth. and Nach. des Deutschen Palastinavereins, 1907, 70) found some scanty evidence that the Old Hebrew or Phoenician characters were also known in those days. Civilization, meanwhile, had made immense progress, as is evident from the use of bronze and other metals—soon, too, of iron; from the building of dwelling-places, city walls, towers, and strongholds; from the increasing number and value of objects of domestic and religious use; from the designs and fitting up of sanctuaries and burial caves; and from the richer variety of form, ornamentation, and painting in the products of the potter’s art—though art does not appear to have enjoyed a continuous and even development.

When the Israelites (Num., xiii, 29; Dent., i, 28) speak in awe of “great cities”, the hyperbole is nearly as great as in the expression “walled up to the sky”; those explored have covered, at most, seven or eight hectares (about 19 acres), but the fortifications have been excellent. The wall of Jericho, built of burnt bricks, had a width of from three to twelve metres, i.e. from about 9 to 39 feet (Sellin, op. cit., p. 69). If the ancient inhabitants offered their sacrifices in dish-like cups cut in the surface of the rocky ground, the Chanaanites had their open-air temples, or Bamoth (high places), with altar, sacrificial pit, and stone pillars from about seven to nine feet high. At Gazer eight pillars were found, still standing, the smallest of which (about 5 ¬? feet high) seems to be the oldest, and is perhaps the real emblem of the deity. Of the asherim, or wooden posts, only the stone bases seem to be left. Two large grottos situated under the sanctuary must also have played a part in this worship. But the most disgusting traces of this idolatry are the skeletons of infants—mostly new-born babes—sacrificed to the deity, which at Gazer were found buried in jars beneath the floor of the sanctuary, and elsewhere, especially at Mageddo, in its immediate neighborhood. Several times the remains of these human victims, among which have been adults, were found beneath or in the foundations of houses and other buildings; a striking illustration of the words of Jos., vi, 26: “Cursed be the man before the Lord that shall raise up and build the city of Jericho. In [or with] his firstborn may he lay the foundation thereof, and in [or with] the last of his children set up its gates.” The naturalistic character of this religion becomes especially evident in the numerous Astarte plaques, or statuettes, of divergent types, and likewise in the often occurring phallic emblems. Among these latter some class part of the baetylic stone pillars, and find in a few bulls’ heads representations of Baal or Moloch. Some representations of Babylonian deities also occur, and, still more frequently, images from Egyptian mythology. The Astarte plaques likewise show Egyptian inspiration. In short, the Chanaanitish civilization seems continually to have felt the influence of both these nations. In pottery, moreover, Aegean-Phoenician art produced marked results from the beginning of the fourteenth century B.C. On the other hand, the settlement of the Israelites in Chanaan, judging from the explorations made, opened no new period in so far as archaeology is concerned, so that the “Chanaanitish” period (i.e. the various “Semitic” periods of Macalister, Palestine Exploration Fund Quarterly Statements, 1907, p. 203) has been extended to about the ninth or eighth century B.C.

Indeed, the submission of the Chanaanites was not made effectual nearly so soon as some chapters of the Book of Josue might lead us to expect. Particularly the places that have become best known to us through the excavations, Thenac, Mageddo, and Gazer, are among those that submitted to Israel only after a lapse of time (Jos., xvii, 11-13; Judges, i, 27-29). Gazer even in the days of Solomon was still inhabited by Chanaanites (III K., ix, 16). And in the same context (verses 20-21) we learn that Solomon, through forced statute labor, subjugated “unto this day” the whole of the Chanaanitish population of his realm. Thus Chanaan had become once and for all the servant of Sem. Afterwards Phoenicia with its colonies was subjugated by the Romans, sons of Japheth, and soon vanished altogether from the roll of nations.


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