What Happened to the Canaanites?

The ancient Canaanites were not wiped out, as the Bible suggests, but went on to become modern-day Lebanese, a study has found.

Living between 3,000 and 4,000 years ago, the holy text suggests things did not end well for the people living in the Middle East.

According to a passage in Deuteronomy, God had ordered the Israelites to exterminate the Canaanites. “You shall not leave alive anything that breathes. But you shall utterly destroy them … so that they may not teach you to do according to all their detestable things which they have done for their gods.”

It seems they didn’t destroy them all, though. Examining the DNA of the region’s ancient and modern inhabitants, the scientists found more than 90 per cent of the ancestry of modern-day Lebanese derived from the Canaanites.

“The Bible reports the destruction of the Canaanite cities and the annihilation of its people; if true, the Canaanites could not have directly contributed genetically to present-day populations,” the researchers wrote in the American Journal of Human Genetics.

“However, no archaeological evidence has so far been found to support widespread destruction of Canaanite cities between the Bronze and Iron Ages: cities on the Levant coast such as Sidon and Tyre show continuity of occupation until the present day.

“We show that present-day Lebanese derive most of their ancestry from a Canaanite-related population, which therefore implies substantial genetic continuity in the Levant since at least the Bronze Age.”

The scientists came to the conclusion by comparing five whole genomes, obtained from the base of skulls from ancient remains found in the area of Sidon, with those of 99 Lebanese living in the region today.

“One of the most exciting parts of the research was to get DNA out of the specimens,” one of the researchers, Chris Tyler-Smith, told the ABC.

The modern-day Lebanese are “likely to be direct descendants of the Canaanites” said Dr Marc Haber, of The Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, according to the Independent.

“But they have in addition a small proportion of Eurasian ancestry that may have arrived via conquests by distant populations such as the Assyrians, Persians, or Macedonians.”

I know this might sound strange, but this gives me a huge relief. I’ve always rooted for the Canaanites much like I cheer for the Trojans — even though I know their ending is tragic.

2 thoughts on “What Happened to the Canaanites?”

  1. I also postulate that they are the ancestors of the Israelites. According to most academic archaeologists today, there is absolutely no proof of a so-called “exodus” of the type reported in the Torah. There were Hebrew traders from the Levant who did go to Egypt at that time to do business. At that time, there was religious unrest in Egypt caused by Akhenaten when he attempted to completely change Egyptian religion. When he died high ranking people who did not return to the status quo did leave the country. Some may have gone to Cana/Levant, bringing their religion with them.

  2. Ah! An AnthroGeek after my own heart. I agree with your postulations that the Canaanites married into the Israelites and thus became ancestors (I think it’s even mentioned in the Torah somewhere?). There’s a fascinating article that I need to re-post on the subject of the Exodus and how it didn’t really happen, and the author’s postulation of what actually happened.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this subject!

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