The Canaanites Were Real – and They're Living in Lebanon!

To everyone’s amazement, scientists have been able to extract DNA from the remains of ancient Canaanites buried in the Lebanese city of Sidon some 3,700 years ago – and they have made an astonishing discovery. When comparing the DNA with that of the population of Lebanon, they found a 90% match, meaning that most Lebanese are Canaanites by origin, according to a paper published on 27th July in the American Journal of Human Genetics.

“We can see the present-day Lebanese can trace most of their ancestry to the Canaanites or a genetically equivalent population,” said Chris Tyler-Smith, one of the authors of the paper. “They derive just over 90 percent of their ancestry from the Canaanites.” [1]

Several skeletons were found at the excavation site, but it was unclear if they would be able to extract genetic material from the bones or not. Eventually they successfully took DNA from five of the bones that they had found.
We usually think of the Lebanese people as Arabs, but their true roots, it would seem, are not from the Arabian peninsular but from the indigenous Canaanites who were living in the region even before the time of the Patriarchs.

Who were the Canaanites?

The Canaanites were mentioned in letters from rulers in Egypt, Anatolia, Babylon, along with other places in the region during the time of the Bronze Age, and of course, they get a good few mentions in the Bible. Biblically, the Canaanites populated the land of Israel as it is today, along with other people groups such as the Amorites, the Hittites and the Jebusites, among others. The people of the land had been engaged in the kind of idol worship that involved child sacrifice and ritual prostitution, among other horrors, and God had had enough. He ordered the Israelites to put an end to it all.

“You must utterly destroy them—the Hittites, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Perizzites, the Hivites and the Jebusites—just as Adonai your God has commanded you. You are to do this so they will not teach you to do all the abominations as they have done for their gods, and so you would sin against Adonai your God.” (Deuteronomy 20:17-18)

We know from the Scriptures that although the Israelites took great areas of land and won many battles, a lot of Canaanites continued to live among the Israelites.
For example, Joshua 16:10 tells us of the tribe of Ephraim,

“They did not drive out the Canaanites that were living in Gezer, so the Canaanites continued to live in the midst of Ephraim to this day, and became forced laborers.”

Similarly, Joshua 17:12 says,

“The children of Manasseh could not take possession of these towns, because the Canaanites were resolved to live in that land.he tribe of Manesseh, but when the sons of Israel became stronger, that they put the Canaanites to forced labor, but did not utterly dispossess them.”

The violent struggle continues throughout Judges, and other tribes (Naphtali, Asher, Zebulun) also ended up living among the Canaanites rather than eliminating them. Judges 3:5 tells us that the sons of Israel ended up settling among the Canaanites and other peoples of the land, contrary to the command of God.
Interestingly though, we read in 2 Samuel 24:7 that the “Stronghold of Tyre” was a city of the Canaanites – this is in Lebanon today, not far from Sidon (known as Saïda today).

God and the Canaanites

More than 400 years earlier, in Genesis 15:13-21, God does serious business with Abraham, and gives him a heads up about what is coming with Egypt, slavery, and the Exodus, as well as the return to the promised land:

“Know for certain that your seed will be strangers in a land that is not theirs, and they will be enslaved and oppressed 400 years. But I am going to judge the nation that they will serve. Afterward they will go out with many possessions...Then in the fourth generation they will return here—for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete… I give this land to your seed, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the Euphrates River: the Kenite, the Kenizzites, the Kadmonites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Raphaites, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Girgashites, and the Jebusites.”  

God foresaw it all, and was waiting for the iniquity of those living in the land to reach its full measure, giving 400 years of mercy before he sent Israel to take the land from them. As we know, the enterprise was not an overwhelming success and the Israelites were drawn into idol worship with all of its horrors just as God warned in Deuteronomy 20.
But the Canaanites crop up again later in the bible – much later…

Now Yeshua left from there and went away to the region of Tyre and Sidon. And behold, a Canaanite woman from that district came out and started shouting, “Have mercy on me, O Master, Ben-David! My daughter is severely tormented by a demon.”

But He did not answer her a word. And when His disciples came, they were urging Him, saying, “Send her away, because she keeps shouting at us.”

But He responded, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”

So she came and got down on her knees before Him, saying, “Master, help me!”

And answering, He said, “It’s not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.”

But she said, “Yes, Master, but even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.”

Then answering, Yeshua said to her, “O woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” And her daughter was healed in that very hour. (Matthew 15:21-28)

A Canaanite woman from the region of Tyre and Sidon – one of the ancient ancestors of the Lebanese people! And despite the manner in which Yeshua treats her (likely as a lesson to his disciples as he draws out her great faith and certainty in his heart and ability to heal for all to see) the Messiah has words of high praise for her at the end of their interaction. He crossed over ethnic and religious boundaries to express his compassion and care, just as she knew he would. She was counting on it. Yeshua loved this Canaanite woman, and has great love for the millions of Canaanites who are alive and well today, and living in Lebanon, whatever their background, religion or culture.
In fact, Yeshua warns that the people of Tyre and Sidon would have an easier time of it on judgment day, because they were quicker to believe and repent:

“Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes.” (Matthew 11:21)

Yeshua goes on to invite all who are weary to come to him and find rest – an offer which is still open to us all (Jews, gentiles, Canaanites!) today.
Geneticist Chris Tyler-Smith was careful to point out that we cannot draw too many conclusions based on genetic data alone. Genes are not the same as culture, which can radically evolve over the years while genes can remain unchanged. “[The] Canaanites are still a huge mystery to us”, admits Assaf Yasur-Landau, an archaeologist writing a book on the subject, “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.”[2]

[1] New York Times, Fate of Ancient Canaanites Seen in DNA Analysis: They Survived[2] National Geographic, Living Descendants of Biblical Canaanites Identified Via DNAJuly 27, 2017

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