Monday, June 27, 2011

The Peoples of Canaan

Alice C. Linsley

The term "Canaanite" can refer to many different peoples, some of whom were ethnically Nilotic. Most of the high places of the Judean hills, for example, were under Egyptian control from about 2000 to 1178 BC. Through biblical archaeology and biblical anthropology, we have come to know a great deal about the peoples who lived in the land of Canaan. Their shrines were built at high elevations near water systems and they were later fortified. They were masters of stone work and left behind standing stones of monumental proportions.

Photo: Dennis Cole

These standing stone at Tell Gezer date to the period of the standing stones erected on Salisbury Plain in England around 2500 BC.

The high places and fortified mounds are called "ophel" (Hebrew עֹ֫פֶל). The root of the word ophel is OP and pertains to a complex of interrelated ideas: seeing (optic); armed guards (opiltes); walled towns (oppida), and sun shrines (O'piru) served by a caste of priests known in the ancient world as Ha'piru, Ha'biru (Hebrew) and 'Apiru.

The oldest elevated settlements were near water sources. The oldest ophel in Jerusalem is near the Gihon Spring. Similar sites include Deir Tasi in Egypt; Jarmo in Iraq, and Tell Hassuna in Iraq. Of particular interest is the Paleolithic population that lived near the ravine or wadi known as Wadi-en-Natuf near Jerusalem. The Natufian population employed micro-flints, weapons, stone tools, and primitive agriculture. Artistic expressions included rock drawings and wall paintings, and they were sea travelers between 12,000 and 10,000 B.C. There are about 40 Paleolithic sites in the hills surrounding Jerusalem, many of them near Bethlehem. Surrounding Jerusalem, there are at least 28 Neolithic sites that fit the same description: elevated shelters near a water source.

Evidence of human habitation in the area of Bethlehem between 100,000-10,000 BC is well-attested along the north side of Wadi Khareitun where there are three caves: Iraq al-Ahmar, Umm Qal’a, and Umm Qatafa. These caves were homes in a wooded landscape overlooking a river. At Umm Qatafa archaeologists have found the earliest evidence of the domestic use of fire in Palestine.

The Canaanites in retrospect

Bible passages that speak about “the Canaanites” reflect authors who lived well after the time of the Patriarchs. The Canaanites are viewed by these later write, especially the Deuteronomist Historian, as decadent, idolatrous and deserving of being displaced from the land, even exterminated.

In Genesis 10 the peoples who descend from Noah through his grandsons Sidon and Het (Heth) are said to be the original inhabitants. This is supported by evidence from many disciples, including linguistics, archaeology, anthropology and genetics.

In II Chronicles 8:7 and I Kings 9:20 the term “Canaanite” is used to distinguish the Israelites from the other clans living in the land. However, it is clear from Genesis 10 that the Israelites were related to these Canaanite clans. The so-called Canaanites were blood-related Afro-Arabian peoples whose ancestry can be traced back to the Nile Valley and ancient Kush.

It is clear from analysis of the Genesis genealogical data that the ruling lines descending from Noah intermarried. This was the custom among the ancient Kushite rulers.  This means that it is impossible to say that the descendants of Ham and the descendants of Shem are different and unrelated peoples. Genesis 10 acknowledges this fact by listing the people as descendants of the same Patriarch, Noah and by designating the lines of descent as “clans.”  We are not talking about different ethnic groups.

Further, the Genesis 10 record tells a story of dispersal across the ancient Afro-Asiatic world. This too is fully supported by findings in linguistics, archaeology, anthropology and genetics. The Kushite migration has been well established. Nimrod (Sargon the Great) ruled over a great empire in Mesopotamia yet Genesis 10:8 states that he was one of Kush’s sons.

The list of “Canaanite” peoples in Genesis 10 attempts to reconstruct the confederation of peoples living in Palestine before the Israelites arrived after wandering in the wilderness. The difference between the lists is telling. Genesis 10 is much longer and more descriptive. Genesis 10: 15-19, traces the Canaanite peoples to an otherwise unknown descendant of Noah named "Canaan."

Canaan fathered the Sidon his first-born, then Heth, and the Jebusites, the Amorites, Girgashites, Hivites, Arkites, Sinites, Arvadites, Zemarites and Hamathites. Later Canaanite clans spread out.  The Canaanite frontier stretched from Sidon all the way to Gerar near Gaza and all the way to Sodom, Gomorrah, Admah and Zeboiim near Lehsa.

In II Chronicles and I Kings 9:20 only the Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites are identified as still living in the land, and they are identified as non-Israelite. So what happened to all the other clans? Many intermarried with the Israelites, though the priestly lines of Israel intermarried exclusively with other priestly lines (not all of which were Israelite).

Genesis tells us that these are clans, not ethnic groups. That’s important because all the clans listed in Genesis 10 are blood related. They are classified linguistically as Afro-Asiatics and their ethnicity is Kushite. They spread across the ancient Afro-Asiatic Dominion, taking their language and religious practices with them.

Confusion has arisen because in Genesis 10 the Hebrew word goy has been translated “nation” and goyim as “nations.” The Greek Septuagint renders goy as “ethnos” and goyim as “ethne” in the plural. Both translations are misleading. Genesis 10 says that all these peoples are descendants of the same Patriarch, Noah, and are therefore related. They do not represent different nations in the modern sense. Nor do they represent different ethnic groups. They are related clans which recognized their blood ties and which performed work which was expected of their caste. Some of the occupations involved metal work and scribal expertise.

Once we set aside the misconception that Genesis 10 is a “Table of Nations” we are able to explore the relationship of the clans and to reconstruct the confederations based on what is known about the Proto-Saharan languages spoken by Abraham's ancestors.

Reconstruction of the Kushite Confederations

Confederations of peoples listed in Genesis 10 are based on kinship and occupation, which indicates a caste structure. Castes are characterized by endogamy. Priestly lines intermarried exclusively. Metalworkers intermarried exclusively. Scribes intermarried exclusively. Merchants of purple dye (murex) intermarried exclusively. This was the caste structure of the ancient Afro-Asiatic Dominion.

It is possible to reconstruct the Genesis 10 confederations using what is known about the Proto-Saharan languages spoken by Abraham's ancestors. These languages were characterized by two-consonant roots (a “biconsonantal” system).  So we begin by eliminating the vowels and searching for the most basic consonantal unit in each of the names. To illustrate the method we will use the names Hittite and Hivite. The most basic root for these names is HT and is the same as the name Het (Heth). Genesis 10 tells us that these two clans are of Heth and a confederation. The name HT appears in the Hebrew and Arabic world for copper - nahas-het. Nahash means serpent. As an adjective it means shining bright, like burnished copper. So the evidence suggests that the clans of HT were Bronze Age coppersmiths. The serpent image was sacred for them, just as it was for Moses and the people of Israel in the wilderness. It was as they looked upon the bronze coiled serpent (a solar image) that the people were saved.

Genesis 23:3-20 tells us that the descendants of Heth were living in the land of Canaan where Abraham lived.  He bought a burial site from them. They considered Abraham “a prince of God” among them (Gen. 23:6)

The Hittites spread into Anatolia and introduced iron work there. They didn’t call themselves “Hittites” (an anachronism) but Nes or Nus (Nuzi), and their language was called Nesli. They were Afro-Asiatic metal workers and the root of their original name is NS. As the letter N remains unchanged in the older Proto-Saharan languages we can be fairly certain that this was the name of the Anatolian Hittites. They are the likely source of over 5000 Horite texts found in Nuzi in Mesopotamia. These are written using the Akkadian script.

The Clans of Het and the Clans of Ar were related 

The Arkites and the Arvadites were another two-clan confederation. The word “Arvadites” refers to residents of the Mediterranean island-city of Arvad (Arpah or Arphad in other ancient sources). Arvad is an extremely ancient city. Before the Phoenicians, it was populated seasonally by peoples passing from north Africa to Asia. Some of these were Netufians.

The Arvadites had close ties the Egyptians, and paid tribute to the Kushite Pharaohs for protection from the Assyrians. The Kushite Pharaoh Tahar-qo called the land of Canaan and Syria “Khor” which is a compound of K for Kush and Hor for Horus. (Kash, Kwash, Akwanski and Kush are cognates referring to the First People, who were considered deified ancestors.)  In 2010, the 4400 year old tomb of a Kushite priest was found at Giza. The tomb belongs to a priest named Rudj-Ka (or Rwd-Ka) and dates to the 5th Dynasty, between 2465 and 2323 B.C.

In a message sent to the King of Tyre Tahar-qo wrote, “Oh Amun, what I did in the land of Nubia, let [ … … ], let me do it with your tribute (inw) of Khor (Syria-Palestine) which has been turned aside from you.” (, p. 115)

The older root of the names Arkite and Arvadite is AR and its origin is likely Proto-Saharan. Among the Igbo of Nigeria, the scribe clans were called Ar or Aro. The word Ar-ab means “father is scribe.” The earliest known writing originated in Canaan among the coastline peoples of the Red Sea and Phoenicia. The Arabic word for throne is aarsh/ash and likely related to the scribal function attached to rulers.

The Egyptian Asa-ar means the Serpent of Asa (Deity). The peoples living in Arvad, Tyre and Sidon employed serpent imagery in their temples.

There are Israelites who were associated by their names with the Ar patrimony. They are Aroch (1 Chr 7:39, Ezr 2:5, Neh 6:18, Neh 7:10) and Ariel (Ezr 8:16, Isa 29:1, Isa 29:1, Isa 29:2, Isa 29:2, Isa 29:7). Ariel means “Scribe/Messenger of God.” So it appears that the Ar clans were scribes or messengers. This is further suggested by the name Ar-vad. Vad means “to speak” in Sanskrit. The association of the name Ar with the scribal caste is further demonstrated by the discovery of Aramaic scrolls from Arsames, the satrap, to his Egyptian administrator Psamshek and to an Egyptian ruler named Nekht-hor. (A.T.Olmstead, History of the Persian Empire, Chicago, 1948, pp.116-117) Some variations of the name Ar include Ar-Shem, Arsames, Artix, and Araxes, and all of these are figures named in historical texts.

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