May 29, 2020 | David F. Coppedge

Canaanites Were Genetically Distinct

A new study finds that the the Canaanites before the Conquest were a distinct people, as the Bible says.

A gene study of ancient DNA from 73 individuals in 9 Bronze Age sites confirms that Canaanites were genetically distinct, yet became admixed with Hebrews after the Conquest. A press release reprinted by Science Daily says that Canaanites were culturally distinct as well, as the Bible describes them. Though genetically similar to Arabic and Jewish groups living in Israel today, the Canaanites had originally migrated to the Levant from distant lands to the east, who continued migrating into the area for centuries.

The data suggest that the Canaanites descended from a mixture of earlier local Neolithic populations and populations related to Chalcolithic Iran and/or the Bronze Age Caucasus. The researchers documented a significant increase in the proportion of Iranian/Caucasus-related ancestry over time, which is supported by three individuals who are descendants of recent arrivals from the Caucasus.

“The strength of the migration from the northeast of the Ancient Near East, and the fact that this migration continued for many centuries, may help to explain why rulers of city-states in Canaan in the Late Bronze Age carry non-Semitic, Hurrian names,” says Shai Carmi of The Hebrew University of Jerusalem. “There were strong and active connections between these regions through movements of people that help to understand the shared elements of culture.”

The open-access paper in Cell Press, authored by prominent Israeli archaeologists Israel Finkelstein and David Reich, is titled “The Genomic History of the Bronze Age Southern Levant.” The genomic study also noted that the genomes of Canaanites and modern Arabs and Jews became admixed over time, so that the current inhabitants of the Levant are about 50% genetically similar to its ancient inhabitants.

The authors want to continue their genetic comparisons to other people groups mentioned in the Bible. Science Daily says,

Carmel reports that they are now working to extend their sampling, both geographically and over time. “We wish to analyze Iron Age samples from different areas of the southern Levant,” Carmel says. “This may shed light on the composition of the populations in the biblically mentioned kingdoms of the region, among them Israel, Judah, Ammon, and Moab.

The Pentateuch, composed by Moses from to time period when Canaanites existed (1400 BC), provides more detail, dividing up the Canaanites into regional kingdoms such as “the Hittites and the Girgashites and the Amorites and the Canaanites and the Perizzites and the Hivites and the Jebusites, seven nations greater and stronger than you” (Deuteronomy 7:1). Joshua further identifies the archaeological site of Gibeon as a city of Hivites (Joshua 9), and Jerusalem as city of Jebusites (Joshua 15:63), who were not driven out till the time of David in the Iron Age (roughly 1000 BC). If Canaanites had been settling in the Levant for much longer in the early Bronze Age (3500 BC), there was ample time for their settlements to be sophisticated, with walled cities and long-distance trade relations with other countries.

It makes sense that immigrating tribes from the Caucasus would take up residence in their own favorite areas of the Levant, establishing local kingdoms as described in the book of Joshua, yet forming coalitions based on their common ancestry and interests. The Hittites, once considered a Bible myth a century ago, are now well known inhabitants of Asia Minor and parts of the Levant. Abraham purchased a plot of ground from a Hittite in Hebron.

Update 5/30/20: In a related story, Smithsonian Magazine reports that a six-year-old boy discovered a 3500-year-old Canaanite tablet while out hiking with his family. The engraved tablet, dated from the late Bronze Age, reveals something of the “iniquity of the Amorites” (Genesis 15:16) that Joshua was ordered to purge from the land:

The tablet shows a man leading and humiliating a captive, according to the statement. In the depiction, the tablet’s creator emphasized the health of the leftmost figure through his curly hair and full face. The captor’s depicted strength contrasts with the thin, sickly appearance of his naked prisoner, according to researchers.

The contrast of the two figures was apparently meant to show the power of the captor over a victim, who must have been starved and tortured – a foretaste of many cultures who have lived by ‘survival of the fittest’ or Social Darwinism. Additionally, numerous burial jars have been found in ruins of Canaanite cities in the foundations of buildings, containing the bones of infants sacrificed to their gods. How perverse would a culture have to be to murder its children in order to receive a blessing? (Whoops.)

This study supports three Bible claims: namely, (1) that the Canaanites were originally distinct, with their own culture that the Bible condemned as degenerate, and (2) that Bronze Age people were sophisticated in trade and travel well before the United Kingdom of David and Solomon, and (3) that the Hebrews intermarried with Canaanites, though God had warned them not to (Joshua 23:13). As the book of Judges attests, intermingling relationships with Canaanites sent the fledgling nation of Israel into numerous cycles of iniquity, defeat, despair, repentance and deliverance for hundreds of years. When the iniquity of the Israelites became worse than the nations they had dispossessed, God sent the Assyrians to take the northern tribes into captivity in 720 BC, and the Babylonians to take the southern tribes into captivity in 586 BC, leaving only a remnant to return 70 years later.

Some archaeologists, at least those of the evolutionary stripe, tended to think of ancient peoples evolving from primitive groups of early pastoralists living in villages of huts. They thought that Moses didn’t know how to write as early as 1450 BC, so the Pentateuch must have been written centuries later. They thought that even David, by 1000 BC, was too simple a local chieftain to have built a kingdom with palaces and armies. The Bible, by contrast, always turns out to be correct. It portrays post-Flood humanity to be highly intelligent and sophisticated from the beginning, smart enough to build cities and monumental buildings.

Memories of antediluvian technology would have survived in Noah’s sons, and would have been handed down, though with setbacks in the post-Flood environment. The genetic bottleneck at the Flood would have also ensured that all human beings are genetically related and did not have time to split into separate species; proof is that all Homo sapiens, from all continents, are interfertile. The next setback at Babel, forcing people apart with different languages, would have reduced ancient technology for awhile, driving some to live in caves and survive as hunter-gatherers, but not for long. As people groups spread out and forgot or rejected knowledge of the one true God, their innate religious sense would have driven them to imagine their own gods, and build temples. Some of the earliest temple sites, such as at Gobekli Tepe in Turkey, amaze archaeologists with their sophistication long before Stonehenge. (See 10 March 2009; see news article on Live Science about its intelligent design.)

It would not have been difficult for people to populate much of the old world in short order, and even reach the new world through the Bering Strait, especially if some of the land bridges after the Flood had not closed. Evolutionary anthropologists admit that even “Homo erectus” populations were capable of crossing seas. Some memories of the Flood would have been carried far across the world. That makes sense if decades to centuries had transpired, but would not make sense over tens of thousands of years. 

Some 270 flood legends are known from around the world. Many have myths of a floating craft saving their people from a great flood.

By the time of the Bronze Age, technology, writing and trade were well along. People had already been making megalithic buildings in the Fertile Crescent, agriculture was flourishing and trade routes stretched from Egypt to India. Moses led the Israelites out of highly sophisticated country with giant pyramids already centuries old. Joshua led them into the land of Canaan, from which they had migrated 450 years earlier in the time of Jacob, into a “land of milk and honey” with walled cities like Hazor and Megiddo, and strong armies to face that organized to crush them. With God as the Captain of the Host of the Lord (Joshua 5:13-16, possibly the pre-incarnate Christ), they succeeded as long as they trusted Him.

No other “religion” in the world is so intricately linked in with verifiable history and archaeology. The Bible is not just a book of moral teachings. It contains thousands of place names, personal names and historical events that can be cross-checked by other sources. It tells the history of the world and its destiny. It explains man’s origin and purpose in life. Watch Ravi Zacharias, who passed away May 19, describe the uniqueness of Christianity among the worldview options available.

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