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The Land of Canaan

The Land of Canaan (Heb. אֶרֶץ]כְּנַעַן ,כְּנָעַן]]), was promised to the Israelites by God (e.g., Gen. 17:8; Ex. 6:4). The name Canaan first appears in documents from the 15th century B.C.E. and was variously written: Akkadian: Kinani (m), Kinaḫḫu / i, etc.; Egyptian: Knʿn·w and P -knʿn; Ugaritic: Knʿny ("a Canaanite"); Phoenician and Hebrew: Knʿn. Most scholars connect the name with the Hurrian term kinaḫḫu meaning (reddish) purple. Support for this is found in the similarity between the Greek Φοῖνιξ meaning reddish purple and Φοινίκη meaning Phoenicia. Those who derive the name from the Semitic root kn' consider it either a name for the conchiferous snail which yielded purple dye, or a term for the western nations, because the sun set in the west (see also Astour 1965). Since purple cloth was the chief export of Phoenicia, the term Canaan also appears in the sense of merchant (Isa. 23:8; Zeph. 1:11; Prov. 31:24; et al). The land of Canaan is also known in ancient sources as, variously, ʿAʾmu-ḥryw-šʿ ("'Asiatics' who dwell in the sand"), Amurru, Retenu, Hurru, and Hatti (for the first see Helck in bibliography). Apart from one instance of the mention of "thieves and Canaanites (who) are in Rahishum" in an 18th-century B.C.E. text from *Mari , the earliest written records mentioning Canaan are Egyptian from the late 15th and 14th centuries B.C.E., respectively a booty list of Amenophis II mentioning the deportation of Canaanites and the *Amarna letters. Mention of the Land of Canaan predominates in the Bible in the four books of Genesis, Numbers, Joshua, and Judges, but less so elsewhere.

No single geographical definition for the land of Canaan exists in the Bible (Num. 34:2–12; Ezek. 47:13–20; 48:1–7, 23–29) or in other sources. The term occasionally indicates an extensive area encompassing all of Palestine and Syria, while at other times it is confined to a strip of land along the eastern shore of the Mediterranean (for the southern boundary, see Josh. 15:2–4, and for the northern boundary, see Josh. 19:24–31). According to Genesis 10:19, Canaan extended in a restricted fashion from Sidon in the north to Gaza, Gerar, and the southern end of the Dead Sea in the south. The inclusion of Zemar, Arvad, and Sin (Siyanu, to the south of Ugarit) in Genesis 10:15–18, and the mention of Ammia (near Tripoli) as a city "in the Land of Canaan" in the inscriptions of Idrimi,

Canaan in the El-Amarna age.
Canaan in the El-Amarna age.

king of *Alalakh (dated by various scholars to the 15th–13th centuries B.C.E.), indicate that even areas north of Sidon were included in the land of Canaan. However, the mention of a Canaanite among other foreigners in a merchant list from Ugarit from around 1200 B.C.E. suggests, therefore, that at that time Ugarit was not considered a part of Canaan. According to the detailed description of the borders of the land of Canaan in Numbers 34:2–12, the southern border began at the southern tip of the Dead Sea and continued southwest to the ascent of Akrabbim and Kadesh-Barnea, reaching to the Brook of Egypt (probably Wadi El-Arish). On the west was the Mediterranean. The northern border started at the coast near a place known as Mount Hor and extended east to Lebo-Hamath, the present-day Labwa in the valley of Lebanon (the Biqāʿ), north of Baalbek (ancient Heliopolis). From there the border continued east to Zedad, the present-day Ṣadad, about 65½ miles (c. 100 km.) north-northeast of Damascus. The northeast corner of Canaan was marked by the settlements of Ziphronah and Hazar-Enan, identified today with Ḥawārīn and Qaryatayn, southeast of Ṣadad. The eastern boundary included the region of Damascus and the Hauran to the east and the Bashan and the Golan to the south, touching the southeast corner of the Sea of Galilee and continuing south along the Jordan River to the Dead Sea (cf. Ezek. 47:17–18). Neither Numbers 34 nor other biblical passages include Transjordan within the land of Canaan (Num. 33:51; 35:10; Josh. 22:10–11; et al.). It is reasonable to assume that the political and demographic realities reflected in the boundaries of Canaan given in Numbers 34 are roughly similar to those existing at the time of Egyptian rule in Ereẓ Israel and Syria in the third quarter of the second millennium B.C.E. This area is given in one instance, in a broken and doubtful context, as [p-i?]-ḫati ša ki-na-ḫi (J.A. Knudtzon (ed.), Die El-Amarna-Tafeln, 1 (1915), 36:15, p. 288), which would mean "the province (?) of Canaan." According to certain biblical passages, the name Canaan applied to an area along the coast of the Mediterranean, including the important cities of Tyre and Sidon (e.g., Num. 13:29; Josh. 5:1; Isa. 23:11).

Canaan's population was not homogeneous. The names of various peoples living in Canaan are given in Genesis 10:15–18. In some passages the Canaanites are only one of several peoples settled in the land allocated to the Israelites (Ex. 3:8; 34:11). At times, the term *Amorite occurs as a general name for the inhabitants of Canaan (Gen. 15:16; I Sam. 7:14). Canaan's population was primarily Semitic, as is indicated by place-names such as Jericho, Megiddo, Gebal, and Sidon, and by documents from the first half of the second millennium B.C.E. containing names of places and rulers. During the first centuries of the second millennium, West-Semitic tribes known in the sources as Amurru penetrated into Canaan. The movement of the Hyksos brought considerable change to the ethnic composition of the population, since in its wake, Hurrian and Indo-European elements penetrated the country during the 17th and 16th centuries. The ethnic heterogeneity of Canaan's population is illustrated by the names of rulers of the country, appearing in the *El-Amarna letters and in Egyptian documents from the time of the New Kingdom.

Canaan was never consolidated into a unified political whole. Rather, it was split up into small political units, each usually under the rule of a king. Many Canaanite city-states are mentioned in inscriptions of the Egyptian pharaohs; most of the Tell el-Amarna letters were sent by Canaanite kings to the pharaoh. Thirty-one kings whom the Israelites fought during the conquest of the country are listed in Joshua 12. The most important city-states were Gebal, Sidon, Amurru, Hazor, Ashtaroth, Megiddo, Acre, Shechem, Jerusalem, and Ashkelon. The borders of the Canaanite city-states were fluid, each ruler attempting to expand at the expense of his neighbor. Some kings did not hesitate to enlist bands of nomads, such as the Shutu and the Apiru- *Habiru , in their support. The internal struggles of the Canaanite kings were concurrent with the competition of the larger powers for domination of Syria and Palestine. At first, the struggle was between Egypt, Babylonia, and Mitanni (15th–14th centuries) and later between Egypt and the Hittites (14th–13th centuries). Egyptian sovereignty over Canaan began in the Old Kingdom (third millennium B.C.E.), continuing until the last quarter of the second millennium. Ethnic and political changes rocked Canaan following the penetration of West Semitic tribes, including the Edomites, the Moabites, the Ammonites, the Israelite tribes, and the Arameans from the east, and the Sea Peoples from the north and west. Israelite settlement in Canaan about 1200 B.C.E. marks the end of the Canaanite period in Palestine, although Canaanite culture endured in the large coastal cities to the north (e.g., Tyre, Sidon, Gebal). The name Canaan began to be limited to the strip of land along the coast, which was later known as *Phoenicia , but it was rarely used after the Iron Age, though some third century B.C.E. coins have been found in Beirut inscribed in Phoenician "Laodikea which is in Canaan."


B. Maisler (Mazar), in: BASOR, 102 (1946), 7–12; A. Van Selms, in: OTS, 12 (1958), 182ff.; Aharoni, Land, 61–72; R. de Vaux, in: JAOS, 88 (1968), 23ff.; J.H. Breasted, Ancient Records…, 1 (1927), 142, no. 311; W. Helck, Die Beziehungen Aegyptens… (1962), 17–18; E.A. Speiser, in: Language, 12 (1936), 121–6; idem, One Hundred New Selected Nuzi Texts (=AASOR, 16 (1936), 121–2). ADD. BIBLIOGRAPHY: M.C. Astour, "The Origin of the Terms 'Canaan,' 'Phoenician,' and 'Purple,'" in: JNES, 24 (1965), 346–50; K.M. Kenyon, Amorites and Canaanites (1966); B. Mazar, Canaan and Israel: Historical Essays (1974); B. Halpern, The Emergence of Israel in Canaan (1983); J. Tubb, Canaanites (1998).

[Bustanay Oded / Shimon Gibson (2nd ed.)]

Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2007 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.