The Confederation of Canaan

The Confederation of Canaan is my answer to the Middle Eastern problem, that is, the formation of a confederation of peoples of Common Identity, centred on Jersusalem. Canaan, Northwest Semitic knaʿn; biblical Hebrew: כנען / knaʿn;  Masoretic: כְּנָעַן / Kənáʿan) was, during the late 2nd millenium BC, a region in the Ancient Near East, which as described in the Bible roughly corresponds to the Levant, i.e. modern-day Lebanon, Israel, Palestine, the western part of Jordan and southwestern Syria.

The name is used commonly in the Bible, with particular definition in references Genesis 10 and Numbers  34, where the “Land of Canaan” extends from Lebanon southward to the ” Brook of Egypt” and eastward to the Jordan River Valley. References to Canaan in the Bible are usually retrospective, referring to a region that had become something else ( most notably the Land of Israel), and references to Canaanites commonly describe them as a people who had been annihilated, just as the Ancient British Pretani , Cruthin or Picts were said to have been annihilated in Pretania, the 6,000 British Isles, by the  Celtic Gaels and English, which, of course, they were not.

Archaeological attestation of the name Canaan in Ancient Near Eastern sources is almost exclusively during the period in which the region was a colony of the New Kingdom of Egypt, with usage of the name almost disappearing following the Late Bronze Age collapse. The references suggest that during this period the term was familiar to the region’s neighbours on all sides, although it has been disputed to what extent such references provide a coherent description of its location and boundaries, and regarding whether the inhabitants used the term to describe themselves. The Amarna Letters and other cuneiform documents use Kinaḫḫu, while other sources of the Egyptian New Kingdom mention numerous military campaigns conducted in Ka-na-na.

The name “Canaanites” is attested, many centuries later, as the endonym of the people later known to the Ancient Greeks from c.500 BC as Phoenicians. Following the emigration of Canaanite speakers to Carthage, and then to Ireland, which is Phoenician for “Uttermost habitation”, it was was also used as a self-designation by the Punics. This mirrors later usage in later books of the Hebrew Bible, such as at the end of the Book of Zechariah, where it is thought to refer to a class of merchants or to non-monotheistic worshippers in Israel or neighbouring Sidon and Tyre.

The term Canaan is used only three times in the New Testament: twice in Acts when paraphrasing Old Testament stories, and once in the Exorcism of the Syrophoenician woman’s daughter. The latter story is told by both Matthew and Mark; Matthew uses the term Chananaia (Χαναναία), where Mark calls the woman Syrophoenician (Συροφοινίκισσα). Strong’s Concordance describes the term Chananaia as “in Christ’s time equivalent to Phoenician”.

Linguistically, the Canaanite languages form a group within the Northwest Semitic languages; its best-known member today is the Hebrew language, being mostly known from Iron Age epigraphy, so that Hebrew should have a special place in the Confederation of Canaan. Other Canaanite languages are Phoenician, Ammonite, Moabite and Edomite, now lost.

Map of Canaan, with the border defined by Numbers 34:1–12 shown in red, and of Ezekiel 47:13-20 in blue.

In biblical usage, the name was confined to the country west of the Jordan, the Canaanites being described as dwelling “by the sea, and along by the side of the Jordan” (Numbers 33:51; Joshua 22:9), and was especially identified with Phoenicia (Isaiah 23:11). The Philistines, while an integral part of the Canaanite milieu, do not seem to have been ethnic Canaanites, and were listed in the Table of Nations as descendants of Misraim; the Arameans, Moabites, Ammonites, Midianites and Edomites were also considered fellow descendants of Shem or Abraham, and distinct from generic Canaanites/Amorites. “Heth”, representing the Hittites, is a son of Canaan. The later Hittites spoke an Indo-European language (called Nesili), but their predecessors the Hattians had spoken a little-known language (Hattili), of uncertain affinities.

The biblical narrative makes a point of the renaming of the “Land of Canaan” to the “Land of Israel” as marking the Israelite conquest of the Promised Land. The Hebrew Bible describes the Israelite conquest of Canaan in the ” Former Prophets” (Nevi’im Rishonim [נביאים ראשונים] ), viz. the books of Joshua, Judges, 1st & 2nd Samuel, 1st & 2nd Kings. These five books of the Old Testament canon give the narrative of the Israelites after the death of Moses and Joshua leading them into Canaan. In 586 BC, the Israelites in turn lost the land to the Babylonians. These narratives of the Former Prophets are also “part of a larger work, called the Deuteronomistic History.

Canaan and the Canaanites are mentioned some 160 times in the Hebrew Bible, mostly in the Pentateuch and the books of Josua and Judges. Canaan first appears as one of Noah’s grandsons during the narrative known as the Curse of Ham, in which Canaan is cursed with perpetual slavery because his father Ham had “looked upon” the drunk and naked Noah. God later promises the land of Canaan to Abraham, and eventually delivers it to descendants of Abraham, the Israelites. However archaeological and textual evidence now supports the idea that the early Israelites were in fact themselves Canaanites. While the Hebrew Bible contrasts the Canaanites ethnically from the Ancient Israelites, modern scholars have theorized that the kingdoms of Israel and Judah were actually a subset of Canaanite culture, based on their archaeological and linguistic interpretations.

The Hebrew Bible lists borders for the land of Canaan. Numbers 34:2 includes the phrase “the land of Canaan as defined by its borders.” The borders are then delineated in Numbers 34:3–12. The term “Canaanites” in biblical Hebrew is applied especially to the inhabitants of the lower regions, along the sea coast and on the shores of Jordan, as opposed to the inhabitants of the mountainous regions. By the time of the Second Temple, “Canaanite” in Hebrew had come to be not an ethnic designation, so much as a general synonym for “merchant”, as it is interpreted in, for example, Job 40:30, or Proverbs 31:24. John N. Oswalt notes that “Canaan consists of the land west of the Jordan and is distinguished from the area east of the Jordan.” Oswalt then goes on to say that in Scripture Canaan “takes on a theological character” as “the land which is God’s gift” and “the place of abundance”. So should it be today, and there should be no more war.

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