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Definition: Canaan from Philip's Encyclopedia

Historical region occupying the land between the Mediterranean and the Dead Sea. The Canaanites were a Semitic people, identified with the Phoenicians from c.1200 bc. Canaan was the Promised Land of the Israelites, who settled here on their return from Egypt.


Summary Article: Canaan from The Encyclopedia of Ancient History

The term Canaan designates the geographical region on the eastern shore of the Mediterranean Sea, roughly from modern Lebanon and the southern portion of Syria in the north to the Negev region of modern Israel and Gaza in the south. It is bordered on the east by the Jordan River and the Dead Sea (see esp. Gen 10:19; Num 34:2–12). Less frequently it designates Phoenicia alone or Philistia alone (Tammuz 2001).

The terms Canaan and its related gentilic Canaanite are first attested in the first half of the second millennium bce and appear in Egyptian, Akkadian, Hittite, Ugaritic, Phoenician, Hebrew, and Greek sources. The etymology of the word Canaan is disputed. It may derive from the Semitic root kn', "to bow low, to bend," likely referring to the region of the setting sun (i.e., Occident; equivalent to Amurru) (Astour 1965: 348). If this etymology is correct, the term carries a fundamentally eastern orientation. In some Greek texts, Phoenicia is used as an alternative designation for Canaan (see Phoenicia, Phoenicians). Association with this renowned center of commerce likely explains the biblical usage of the term Canaanite with the sense of "merchant" (Isa 23:8; Zech 14:21; Job 40:30; Prov 31:24; cf. Jer 10:17; Zech 11:7 LXX).

Within the Hebrew Bible, Canaan appears 94 times and Canaanite 73 times. In the Bible's historical myth, Canaan is the fourth son of Ham, the son of Noah, and the eponymous ancestor of the Canaanite nations (Gen 9:18; 10:15–18). According to Gen 9:25–7, Canaan is cursed to serve Noah's sons Shem and Japhet, the eponymous ancestors of the Semitic and northern Mediterranean peoples. The archaeological record, however, suggests that the Israelites themselves originated as Canaanites. Thus, such hostility toward the Canaanites, as well as other biblical examples of anti-Canaanite sentiment (e.g., Deut 7:1–6), likely reflect attempts at intra-Canaanite differentiation.

References and Suggested Readings
  • Astour, M. (1965) "The origin of the terms 'Canaan,' 'Phoenician,' and 'purple.'" Journal of Near Eastern Studies 24: 346-50.
  • Tammuz, O. (2001) "Canaan - a land without limits." Ugarit-Forschungen 33: 501-43.
  • Tsirkin, Ju. B. (2001) "Canaan, Phoenicia, Sidon." Aula Orientalis 19: 271-9.
  • Weippert, M. (1980) "Kanaan." Reallexikon der Assyriologie 5: 352-5.
  • Jeffrey Stackert
    Wiley ©2012

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