Name of Phoenicia-Palestine before the coming of the Hebrews, who, led by Abraham around 1790 b.c.e., saw this as the land promised to them by God. The name Canaan comes from the word kinahu, which means a region where the population has mastered the technique of purple dyeing. According to Biblical tradition, the Israelites established themselves in the land of Canaan after leaving Egypt twice: the first time led by Abraham, around 1800 b.c.e., the second by Moses, five hundred years later. From this later date, the Hebrews lived there in stable settlements until the breakup of the Kingdom of Judah. Many cities were built in the natural highlands of the country, including Megiddo, Hebron, Sh'khem (Nablus), Gezer, and Salem (Jerusalem, Urusalimu). Although they had sworn loyalty to the religion of Moses, some Hebrews borrowed religious customs from the Canaanites, even worshipping their gods, such as Baal and Astarte. Toward the year 1004 b.c.e., David conquered the city of Salem, inhabited by the Jebuseans, and under the name of Jerusalem made it the capital of the kingdom of Israel. The reign of Solomon (968–928 b.c.e.) marked the apogee of Israelite royalty, exemplified by the construction of the Temple, which housed the Ark of the Covenant. According to the Bible, Canaan was the son of Shem and the eponymous ancestor of the Canaanites.
CANAAN (Heb. כְּנָעַן), the fourth son of *Ḥam and the ancestor of the Canaanites (Gen. 10:6, 15–19; i Chron. 1:8, 13–16). The biblical narrative relates that when Noah awoke from sleep brought on by wine, he realized that his youngest son had seen his nakedness and he cursed Canaan, saying "Cursed be Canaan; a slave of slaves shall he be to his brothers" (Gen. 9:21–27).
Canaan (Kanʿān) son of Ḥām is not mentioned in the Koran, but the commentators believe that Sura 11:44ff. refers to him, when it mentions the son who did not join Noah in the ark and drowned in the waters of the deluge. Ṭabarī calls him Yām. Arab historians believe that Kanʿan is the father of the Canaanites, who according to the legend either left the Land of Canaan of their own free will or fled before Yūshaʿ (see *Joshua) to Africa and that they are the ancestors of the *Berbers. Muslim legend (Thaʿlabī, p. 51), however, also states that Yākūnūn (= Canaan) son of Ḥām was cursed to be the slave of his brothers Sām and Yāfith (cf. Gen. 9:22–26).
[Haïm Z'ew Hirschberg]
B. Joel, in: eis, 2 (1927), s.v.Kan'ān, incl. bibl.; Tabarī, Ta'rikh, 1 (1357 A.H.), 142, 145; Thaʿlabī, Qiṣaṣ, 1356 A.H.), 48; Kisā'ī, Qiṣaṣ, ed. by Eisenberg (1922–23), 96–97.
Canaan (kā´nən). 1 According to biblical ethnography, Canaan was the son of Ham and the ancestor for whom the Canaanites were named. 2 Territory, the same as ancient Palestine, lying between the Jordan, the Dead Sea, and the Mediterranean and sometimes including Transjordan. It was the Promised Land of the Israelites, and after their delivery from Egypt they subjugated it. The land held a number of pre-Israelite peoples listed in several passages in the Bible. See Ugarit; Asherah; Baal; Philistia; Phoenicia.