Canaan and Canaanites

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The term "Canaanite" is historically, geographically and culturally synonymous with "Phoenician." For convenience, Canaanite is used to designate the Northwest Semitic people and culture of Palestine and Western Syria before 1200 b.c., while Phoenician refers to the same people and culture after that date.

The origin of the term Canaanite, which first appears in 15th-and 14th-century texts from Egypt, Alalakh, Nuzi and Ugarit, is not certain. Derivation from a lost Semitic word kn ', "murex," with later meanings of merchant or purple merchant is possible. The etymology of Phoenician is uncertain also, but since the murex shell-fish, which yielded purple dye, was abundant along the Syrian coast, so that Phoenicia became the center of the manufacture of purple dye, the Greek name "Phoenicia" probably refers to this industry (φο[symbol omitted]νιξ, purple or crimson).

Canaanite territory included most of Palestine west of the Jordan and the Lebanon-Syrian coast as far north as Ugarit near modern Latakia. Just how far inland this latter region extended cannot be determined with precision.

History. The Canaanites may have settled in these areas as early as the fourth millennium. This inference is based on the Canaanite names of towns founded before 3000 b.c., such as Jericho, Beth Yerakh and Megiddo. The coastal cities such as Acco (Acre), Tyre, Sidon, and ugarit have names that are Semitic and in some instances specifically Canaanite. Since there is no clear evidence to show that these names supplanted earlier non-Semitic names, it becomes difficult to accept the theory of S. Moscati [I Predecessori d'Israele (Rome 1956) 4041] that the Canaanites migrated into these parts around 2000 b.c.

Early Period. In the third millennium Canaan was in close commercial and political contact with Egypt. In fact, Egypt claimed political suzerainty over Canaan and c. 26002200 b.c. byblos was virtually an Egyptian colony. After two centuries of decline and anarchy in Egypt, matched by similar developments in Canaan, there arose the powerful Twelfth Dynasty in Egypt (19911786 b.c.), which once again brought Canaan into the Egyptian orbit. The Egyptian execration texts from 19501850 b.c. reveal that a new wave of Semitic nomads had moved into Palestine bearing Amorrite names. Though Egypt claimed political control over Palestine, revolts were not infrequent. The second half of the 18th century saw the rise of the Hyksos who ruled Canaan and the Delta of Egypt c. 17101580 b.c. Further study in the history of the hyksos shows that most of the known Hyksos names are certainly or probably Canaanite or Amorrite, not Hurrian nor Hittite, as formerly believed. Concurrent with the Hyksos movement was a great migration of Hurrian and Indo-Iranian tribes from the northeast into Syria and Palestine, so that by the 15th century many cities in Palestine, such as Megiddo, Ascalon and Jerusalem, were ruled by princes with non-Semitic names. It follows that the Canaanites of the Late Bronze Age (c. 15501230 b.c.) were a much more mixed people than their ancestors

of the Middle Bronze Age. The Late Bronze Age is characterized as a period of vigorous commercial activity and trade with the Aegean regions, interior Syria and Egypt. As a result of wealth gathered by trade, Canaanite prosperitythat of Ugarit is a good examplereached an unprecedented level.

Late Period. In the course of the 13th century the Canaanites lost most of their territory to the Israelites who conquered the hill country of Palestine, and to the philistines who, driven away from the Delta by Ramses III, settled along the coast from Gaza to south of Jaffa (Joppe). Several decades later, Aramaean tribesmen from the Syrian desert occupied the hinterland of Phoenicia from Hauran to the Eleutherus Valley. Phoenicia was thus reduced to the coast and the immediate hinterland from the Ladder of Tyre to just north of Arvad, a distance of about 120 miles. The Phoenicians, however, were later able to extend their southern border as far as Jaffa. Their cities included Tyre, Sidon, Sarepta, Byblos, Arvad and Amrit. In the early Iron Age, the most important were Byblos and Sidon, but later Tyre assumed the ascendancy (Ez 27). In the Bible (Dt 3.9; Is 23.2) and in Homer's Odyssey the Phoenicians are called Sidonians.

Phoenicia's commercial expansion began in the 1110th century, when her traders penetrated to all parts of the Mediterranean coast, setting up colonies by 900 b.c. in Cyprus, Sicily, Sardinia, Africa and Spain. In the late eighth and early seventh century Assyrian expansion put an end to the independence of Sidon, while at the same time the rise of Greek colonization weakened Phoenician commerce in the Mediterranean. In 572 b.c., after a siege of 13 years, the Chaldeans destroyed Tyre and with it all serious Phoenician maritime activity. The Greeks and the Punic colonies would fill the void created by the passing of the mainland powers (see carthage).

Culture. Phoenician art was essentially synthetic; it borrowed and combined motifs from Egypt and Mesopotamia, as is evident in the groups of Phoenician ivories found at megiddo, Enkomi in Cyprus, Nimrud, Samaria and Arslan Tash, as well as from the silver bowls discovered in Greece and Cyprus. The chief cultural contribution of the Phoenicians was the invention, sometime before 1500 b.c., of the linear alphabet from which are derived Hebrew, Syriac, Arabic, Amharic and numerous other Oriental scripts. Though there is still some dispute, 800 b.c. is the probable date when the Greeks borrowed the Phoenician alphabet and thus began its spread throughout the West.

Before the hundreds of inscribed clay tablets dating to the 15th and 14th century b.c. were discovered at Ugarit beginning in a.d. 1929, the principal sources of knowledge of the Canaanite language were the Hebrew Bible, since Biblical Hebrew is a Canaanite dialect, and the scores of Phoenician inscriptions, which, though generally brief and formulaic, sufficed to give a substantial idea of the nature of the language. The Azitawwadu Inscription from Karatepe in southern Turkey, discovered in 1946 and dating to the late eighth century b.c., contains 63 lines and is thus the longest and linguistically perhaps the most informative Phoenician inscription yet found.

See Also: amorrites.

Bibliography: e. a. speiser, "The Name Phoinikes, " Language, 12 (1936) 121126. b. maisler, "Canaan and the Canaanites," The Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research, 102 (1946) 712. j. gray, The Legacy of Canaan: The Ras Shamra Texts and Their Relevance to the Old Testament (Vetus Testamentum, Suppl 5; 2d ed. 1964). w. f. albright, "The Role of the Canaanites in the History of Civilization," The Bible and the Ancient Near East, ed. g. e. wright (New York 1961) 328362. j. c. l. gibson, "Observations on Some Important Ethnic Terms in the Pentateuch," Journal of Near Eastern Studies, 20 (1961) 217238.

[m. j. dahood]

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Canaan and Canaanites

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