Archeologists have discovered the bones of Canaanites that are said to be nearly 4,000 years old, and have determined that the tribe condemned by God as philistines is very much alive.
Joshua fit the battle of Jericho, and the walls come tumbling down, hallelujah – or so the story goes. By the time Joshua’s feet touched the shallows of the river Jordan, God had been trying, for years, to purify the land of Israel.
God’s protracted wrath was directed toward the Canaanites, people who were described as being wicked idolators. So it is writ in the Book of Deuteronomy, chapter 20, verse 17: “But you shall utterly destroy them… the Canaanites… as the Lord your God has commanded you.”
It was Moses who was tasked with the duty of cleansing the Promised Land of evil and sin. But the old man did not succeed, and before his death, Moses passed the burden on to Joshua, his young apprentice.
Thus, by the will of God, Joshua found himself wading through the southward flow of the river Jordan, as it weaved its way to the Sea of Galilee. Surrounding Joshua was a powerful army of Israelites infused with the Holy Spirit, armed with the divine power of the Almighty.
And just as the Red Sea had parted for Moses, so too the Lord split a furrow in the river Jordan, making it easier for His infantry to proceed towards Jericho, where the walls soon tumbled down. Next, the Israelites defeated the city of Ai, and together with the Amorite kings and a few miracles from God, the rest of the Canaan territories were purged.
Just as the God of the Israelites had commanded, Joshua “left nothing undone of all that the Lord had commanded Moses.” Well, at least, that’s according to the version of events recorded in the Book of Joshua.
But does the story of the Ancient Canaanite genocide survive the scrutiny of modern science?
The Canaanites, according to archeologists, were not a homogenous group of people but consisted of multiple different nations spread out across the Levant. At the dawn of the second millennium B.C., Canaanites occupied various independent city-states that were controlled by the Egyptians. Evidence of this fact is well documented in the writings of Bronze Age rulers hailing from Egypt, Anatolia, and Babylon.
In the Mediterranean region, the Greeks referred to Canaanites as Phoenicians, who were spread out along the eastern “Mare Nostrum” coast – the belt which is known today as Syria and Lebanon.
As Greek ocean pioneers explored further reaches of the Mediterranean sea, these sailors frequently made contact with Phoenicians.
The Canaanites, or Phoenicians, had managed to extend their own colonial conquest well beyond Greece and Italy, even settling as far as the southern regions of Spain where they had discovered rich silver mines.
Meanwhile, closer to their east coast settlements, the Canaanites had established the key port of Carthage located on the north shore of Africa.
Later accounts of interactions between Greece, Egypt, and the Phoenicians are meticulously documented by the prolific ancient historian, Herodotus.
Furthermore, advancing down the historical timeline, during the Christian epoch when Jesus traveled the Middle East, the Canaanites make recurrent appearances in the holy texts.
Yet, although Canaantines feature prominently in the historical documents of surrounding nations, their own recordings – most likely scribed on papyrus – have not survived. As a result, scholars know almost nothing about the Phoenicians from their own annals, as reported by the New York Times.
Now, with the advent of modern science, the Old Testament records of Canaanite encounters with the Israelites have come into question.
Contemporary archeologists have found no evidence whatsoever to affirm the Biblical account of the total annihilation of the Canaanites, or Phoenicians. Some experts believe that the Israelites themselves may have been descendants of a Canaanite tribe.
So which technologies enabled the discovery of this historic bombshell? Just a regular dose of genome sequencing.
Despite the use of tried and trusted DNA sampling, Marc Haber of the Sanger Institute asserts that extracting DNA from Canaanite remains in the Middle East is a particularly trying endeavor due to the extreme heat and humidity. Such a climate is a brutal destroyer of DNA preserves.
A number of DNA samples used in the genome sequencing process came from human remains found in excavated Canaanite vessels near the shore of Sidon. “Genetics has the power to answer questions that historical records or archaeology are not able to answer,” says Dr. Haber.
What amazed and excited scientists and archaeologists were that, after comparing samples of the ancient Canaanite DNA with modern Lebanese people, they uncovered staggering genetic similarities between both groups who have occupied the region for 4,000 years.
For scientists, the success of this study has opened up a world of possibilities for future DNA-based research in the Levant. Moreover, Chris Tyler-Smith, an expert in genomic and genetic research, is convinced that the DNA revelations about ancient Canaanites are only the beginning.
“This is only the tip of the iceberg. We’re looking forward to more samples from different places and different time periods.”
Fellow archaeologist, Assaf Yasur-Landau of the Tel Kabri Archaeological Project and who is currently writing a book about the Canaanites, agrees with his colleagues.
“Canaanites are still a huge mystery to us, so every study of the Canaanites—whether it’s in genetics, culture, economy, religion, or politics—is something that will tell us tremendously important facts about the makeup of the Biblical world of the first millennium.”
So it seems, according to the momentous findings, that neither Moses nor Joshua succeeded in carrying out the commands of God. For if the scholars are indeed correct, the Canaanites are very much alive and living in Lebanon.
[Featured Image by Mohammed Zaatari/AP Images]