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Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary


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the son of Ham. The Hebrews believe that Canaan, having first discovered Noah's nakedness, told his father Ham; and that Noah, when he awoke, having understood what had passed, cursed Canaan, the first author of the offence. Others are of opinion that Ham was punished in his son Canaan, Genesis 9:25 . For though Canaan is mentioned, Ham is not exempted from the malediction; on the contrary, he suffers more from it, since parents are more affected with their children's misfortunes than with their own; especially if the evils have been inflicted through some fault or folly of theirs. Some have thought that Canaan may be put elliptically for the father of Canaan, that is, Ham, as it is rendered in the Arabic and Septuagint translations.

The posterity of Canaan was numerous. His eldest son, Sidon, founded the city of Sidon, and was father of the Sidonians and Phenicians. Canaan had ten other sons, who were fathers of as many tribes, dwelling in Palestine and Syria; namely, the Hittites, the Jebusites, the Amorites, the Girgasites, the Hivites, the Arkites, the Sinites, the Arvadites, the Zemarites, and the Hemathites. It is believed that Canaan lived and died in Palestine, which from him was called the land of Canaan. Notwithstanding the curse is directed against Canaan the son, and not against Ham the father, it is often supposed that all the posterity of Ham were placed under the malediction, "Cursed be Canaan; a servant of servants shall he be unto his brethren."

But the true reason why Canaan only was mentioned probably is, that the curse was in fact restricted to the posterity of Canaan. It is true that many Africans, descendants of other branches of Ham's family, have been largely and cruelly enslaved, but so have other tribes in different parts of the world. There is certainly no proof that the negro race were ever placed under this malediction. Had they been included in it, this would neither have justified their oppressors, nor proved that Christianity is not designed to remove the evil of slavery. But Canaan alone, in his descendants, is cursed, and Ham only in that branch of his posterity. It follows that the subjugation of the Canaanitish races to Israel fulfils the prophecy. To them it was limited, and with them it expired. Part of the seven nations of the Canaanites were made slaves to the Israelites, when they took possession of their land; and the remainder by Solomon.

CANAAN, LAND OF. In the map it presents the appearance of a narrow slip of country, extending along the eastern coast of the Mediterranean; from which, to the river Jordan, the utmost width does not exceed fifty miles. This river was the eastern boundary of the land of Canaan, or Palestine, properly so called, which derived its name from the Philistines or Palestines originally inhabiting the coast. To three of the twelve tribes, however, Reuben, Gad, and Manasseh, portions of territory were assigned on the eastern side of the river, which were afterward extended by the subjugation of the neighbouring nations. The territory of Tyre and Sidon was its ancient border on the north-west; the range of the Libanus and Anti-libanus forms a natural boundary on the north and north-east; while in the south it is pressed upon by the Syrian and Arabian deserts. Within this circumscribed district, such were the physical advantages of the soil and climate, there existed, in the happiest periods of the Jewish nation, an immense population. The kingdom of David and Solomon, however, extended far beyond these narrow limits. In a north-eastern direction, it was bounded only by the river Euphrates, and included a considerable part of Syria. It is stated that Solomon had dominion over all the region on the western side of the Euphrates, from Thiphsah, or Thapsacus, on that river, in latitude 25 20', to Azzah, or Gaza. "Tadmore in the wilderness," (Palmyra,) which the Jewish monarch is stated to have built, (that is, either founded or fortified,) is considerably to the north-east of Damascus, being only a day's journey from the Euphrates; and Hamath, the Epiphania of the Greeks, (still called Hamah,) in the territory belonging, to which city Solomon had several "store cities," is seated on the Orontes, in latitude 34

45' N. On the east and south-east, the kingdom of Solomon was extended by the conquest of the country of Moab, that of the Ammonites, and Edom; and tracts which were either inhabited or pastured by the Israelites, lay still farther eastward. Maon, which belonged to the tribe of Judah, and was situated in or near the desert of Paran, is described by Abulfeda as the farthest city of Syria toward Arabia, being two days' journey beyond Zoar. In the time of David, the people of Israel, women and children included, amounted, on the lowest computation, to five millions; beside the tributary Canaanites, and other conquered nations.

The vast resources of the country, and the power of the Jewish monarch, may be estimated not only by the consideration in which he was held by the contemporary sovereigns of Egypt, Tyre, and Assyria, but by the strength of the several kingdoms into which the dominions of David were subsequently divided. Damascus revolted during the reign of Solomon, and shook off the Jewish yoke. At his death, ten of the tribes revolted under Jeroboam, and the country became divided into the two rival kingdoms of Judah and Israel, having for their capitals Jerusalem and Samaria. The kingdom of Israel fell before the Assyrian conqueror, in the year B.C. 721, after it had subsisted about two hundred and fifty years. That of Judah survived about one hundred and thirty years, Judea being finally subdued and laid waste by Nebuchadnezzar, and the temple burned B.C. 588. Idumea was conquered a few years after. From this period till the aera of Alexander the Great, Palestine remained subject to the Chaldean, Median, and Persian dynasties. At his death, Judea fell under the dominion of the kings of Syria, and, with some short and troubled intervals, remained subject either to the kings of Syria or of Egypt, till John Hyrcanus shook off the Syrian yoke, and assumed the diadem, B.C. 130. The Asmonean dynasty, which united, in the person of the monarch, the functions of king and pontiff, though tributary to Roman conquerors, lasted one hundred and twenty-six years, till the kingdom was given by Anthony to Herod the Great, of an Idumean family, B.C. 39.

2. At the time of the Christian aera, Palestine was divided into five provinces; Judea, Samaria, Galilee, Perea, and Idumea. On the death of Herod, Archelaus, his eldest son, succeeded to the government of Judea, Samaria, and Idumea, with the title of tetrarch; Galilee being assigned to Herod Antipas; and Perea, or the country beyond Jordan, to the third brother, Philip. But in less than ten years the dominions of Archelaus became annexed, on his disgrace, to the Roman province of Syria; and Judea was thenceforth governed by Roman procurators. Jerusalem, after its final destruction by Titus, A.D. 71, remained desolate and almost uninhabited, till the emperor Hadrian colonized it, and erected temples to Jupiter and Venus on its site. The empress Helena, in the fourth century, set the example of repairing in pilgrimage to the Holy Land, to visit the scenes consecrated by the Gospel narrative; and the country became enriched by the crowds of devotees who flocked there. In the beginning of the seventh century, it was overrun by the Saracens, who held it till Jerusalem was taken by the crusaders in the twelfth. The Latin kingdom of Jerusalem continued for about eighty years, during which the Holy Land streamed continually with Christian and Saracen blood. In 1187, Judea was conquered by the illustrious Saladin, on the decline of whose kingdom it passed through various revolutions, and at length, in 1317, was finally swallowed up in the Turkish empire.

Palestine is now distributed into pashalics. That of Acre or Akka extends from Djebail nearly to Jaffa; that of Gaza comprehends Jaffa and the adjacent plains; and these two being now united, all the coast is under the jurisdiction of the pasha of Acre. Jerusalem, Hebron, Nablous, Tiberias, and in fact, the greater part of Palestine, are included in the pashalic of Damascus, now held in conjunction with that of Aleppo; which renders the present pasha, in effect, the viceroy of Syria. Though both pashas continue to be dutiful subjects to the Grand Seignior in appearance, and annually transmit considerable sums to Constantinople to insure the yearly renewal of their office, they are to be considered as tributaries, rather than subjects of the Porte; and it is supposed to be the religious supremacy of the Sultan, as caliph and vicar of Mohammed, more than any apprehension of his power, which prevents them from declaring themselves independent. The reverence shown for the firmauns of the Porte throughout Syria attests the strong hold which the Sultan maintains, in this character, on the Turkish population. The pashas of Egypt and Bagdad are attached to the Turkish sovereign by the same ecclesiastical tie, which alone has kept the ill- compacted and feeble empire from crumbling to ruin.

3. A few additional remarks upon the topography and climate will tend to elucidate the force of many of those parts of Scripture which contain allusions to these topics. Dr. E. D. Clarke, after stating his resolve to make the Scriptures his only guide throughout this interesting territory, says, "The delight afforded by the internal evidences of truth, in every instance where their fidelity of description was proved by a comparison of existing documents, surpassed even all we had anticipated. Such extraordinary instances of coincidence even with the customs of the country as they are now exhibited, and so many wonderful examples of illustration afforded by contrasting the simple narrative with the appearances presented, made us only regret the shortness of our time, and the limited sphere of our abilities for the comparison." Judea is beautifully diversified with hills and plains— hills now barren and gloomy, but once cultivated to their summits, and smiling in the variety of their produce, chiefly the olive and the vine; and plains, over which the Bedouin now roves to collect a scanty herbage for his cattle, but once yielding an abundance of which the inhabitants of a northern climate can form no idea. Rich in its soil; glowing in the sunshine of an almost perpetual summer; and abounding in scenery of the grandest, as well as of the most beautiful kind; this happy country was indeed a land which the Lord had blessed: but Mohammedan sloth and despotism, as the instruments employed to execute the curse of Heaven, have converted it into a waste of rock and desert, with the exception of some few spots, which remain to attest the veracity of the accounts formerly given of it.

The hills of Judea frequently rise into mountains; the most considerable of which are those of Lebanon and Hermon, on the north; those which surround the sea of Galilee, and the Dead Sea, also attain a respectable elevation. The other mountains of note are, Carmel, Tabor, Ebal, and Gerizim, and the mountains of Gilboa, Gilead, and Abarim; with the summits of the latter, Nebo and Pisgah: a description of which will be found under their respective heads. Many of the hills and rocks abound in caverns, the refuge of the distressed, or the resorts of robbers.

4. From the paucity of rain which falls in Judea, and the heat and dryness of the atmosphere for the greater part of the year, it possesses but few rivers; and as these, have all their rise within its boundaries, their course is short, and their size inconsiderable: the principal is the Jordan, which runs about a hundred miles. The other remarkable streams are, the Arnon, the Jabbok, the Kishon, the Kedron, the Besor, the Sorek, and the stream called the river of Egypt. These, also, will be found described under their respective heads. This country was once adorned with woods and forests: as we read of the forest of cedars in Lebanon, the forest of oaks in Bashan, the forest or wood of Ephraim, and the forest of Hareth in the tribe of Judah. Of these, the woods of Bashan alone remain; the rest have been swept away by the ravages of time and of armies, and by the gradual consumption of the inhabitants, whose indolence and ignorance have prevented their planting others.

5. There are no volcanoes now existing in Judea or its vicinity: nor is mention made of any in history, although volcanic traces are found in many parts on its eastern side, as they are also in the mountains of Edom on the south, the Djebel Shera and Hesma, as noticed by Burckhardt. There can be no doubt that many of the sacred writers were familiarly acquainted with the phenomena of volcanoes; whence it may be inferred that they were presented to their observation at no great distance, and from which they drew some of their sublimest imagery. Mr. Horne has adduced the following instances: "The mountains quake at him, and the hills melt, and the earth is burned at his presence. His fury is poured out like fire, and the rocks are thrown down by him," Nahum 1:5-6 . "Behold, the Lord cometh forth out of his place, and will come down and tread upon the high places of the earth. And the mountains shall be molten under him, and the valleys shall be cleft as wax before the fire, and as the waters that are poured down a steep place," Micah 1:3-4 . "O that thou wouldest rend the heavens, that thou wouldest come down, that the mountains might flow down at thy presence. As when the melting fire burneth, the fire causeth the waters to boil, to make thy name known to thine adversaries, that the nations may tremble at thy presence. When thou didst terrible things which we looked not for, thou camest down, the mountains flowed down at thy presence," Isaiah 64:1-3 .

6. The climate of Judea, from the southern latitude of the country, is necessarily warm. The cold of winter is, indeed, sometimes greater than in European climates situated some degrees farther to the north; but it is of short duration, and the general character of the climate is that of heat. Both heat and cold are, however, tempered by the nature of the surface; the winter being scarcely felt in the valleys, while in the summer the heat is almost insupportable; and, on the contrary, in the more elevated parts, during the winter months, or rather weeks, frosts frequently occur, and snow sometimes falls, while the air in summer is comparatively cool and refreshing. Many winters pass without either snow or frost; and in the coldest weather which ever occurs, the sun in the middle of the day is generally warm, and often hot; so that the pain of cold is in reality but little felt, and the poor who cannot afford fires may enjoy, during several hours of the day, the more genial and invigorating influence of the sun. This is the ordinary character of the winters; though in some years, as will be seen presently, the cold is more severely felt during the short time that it prevails, which is never more than two months, and more frequently not so much as one. Toward the end of November, or beginning of December, domestic fires become agreeable. It was at this time that Jehoiakim, king of Judah, is represented by Jeremiah as sitting in his winter house, with a fire burning on the hearth before him, Jeremiah 36:22 . The same luxury, though frequently by no means necessary, is used by the wealthy till the end of March.

7. Rain only falls during the autumn, winter, and spring, when it sometimes descends with great violence: the greatest quantity, and that which properly constitutes the rainy season, happening between the autumnal equinox, or somewhat later, and the beginning of December; during which period, heavy clouds often obscure the sky, and several days of violent rain sometimes succeed each other with winds. This is what in Scripture is termed the early or the former rain. Showers continue to fall at uncertain intervals, with some cloudy but more fair weather, till toward the vernal equinox, when they become again more frequent and copious till the middle of April. These are the latter rains, Joel 2:23 . From this time to the end of May, showers come on at irregular intervals, gradually decreasing as the season advances; the sky being for the most part serene, and the temperature of the air agreeable though sometimes acquiring a high degree of heat. From the end of May, or beginning of June, to the end of September, or middle of October, scarce a drop of rain falls, the sky being constantly unclouded, and the heat generally oppressive. During this period, the inhabitants commonly sleep on the tops of their houses. The storms, especially in the autumn, are preceded by short but violent gusts of wind, which, from the surface of a parched soil, raise great clouds of dust; which explains what is meant by, "Ye shall not see wind," 2 Kings 3:7 . The continuation of the same passage likewise implies, that such circumscribed whirlwinds were generally considered as the precursors of rain; a circumstance likewise alluded to by Solomon, who says, "Whoso boasteth himself of a false gift, is like clouds and wind without rain,"

Proverbs 25:14 . Another prognostic of an approaching storm is a small cloud rising in the west, and increasing until it overspreads the whole heavens. Such was the cloud, "like a man's hand," which appeared to Elijah, on Mount Carmel; which spread "till the heaven was black with clouds and wind, and there was a great rain," 1 Kings 18:44 . To this phenomenon, and the certainty of the prognostic, our Saviour alludes: "When ye see a cloud" (or the cloud, την ν εφελην ) "rise out of the west, straightway ye say, There cometh a shower; and so it is," Luke 12:54 . The same appearance is noticed by Homer;—

‘Ως δ ' οτ ' απο σκοπιης ειδεν νεφος αιπολος ανηρ

‘Ερχομενον κατα ποντον υπο Ζεφυροιο ιωης ,

Τω δε τ ', ανευθεν εοντι , μελαντερον , ηυτι πισσα ,

Φαινετ ' ιον κατα ποντον , αγει δε τε λαιλαπα πολλην ,

‘Ριγεσεν τε ιδων . κ .τ .λ .

Il. lib. v. 275.

"Slow from the main the heavy vapours rise, Spread in dim streams, and sail along the skies, Till black as night the swelling tempest shows, The cloud condensing as the west wind blows. He dreads the impending storm," &c.


Hail frequently falls in the winter and spring in very heavy, storms, and with hailstones of an enormous size. Dr. Russel says that he has seen some at Aleppo which measured two inches in diameter; but sometimes they are found to consist of irregularly shaped pieces, weighing near three ounces. The copious dew forms another peculiarity of this climate, frequently alluded to in Scripture: so copious, indeed, is it sometimes, as to resemble small rain, and to supply the wants of superficial vegetation. Mr.

Maundrell, when travelling near Mount Hermon, says, "We were instructed by experience what the Psalmist means by ‘the dew of Hermon,' Psalms 133:3; our tents being as wet with it, as if it had rained all night."

8. The seasons are often adverted to in Scripture, under the terms "seed time and harvest." The former, for wheat, is about the middle of October to the middle or end of November: barley is put into the ground two and sometimes three months later. The wheat harvest commences about the twentieth of May, and early in June the whole is off the ground. The barley harvest, it is to be observed, is generally a fortnight earlier. A survey of the astonishing produce of this country, and of the manner in which its most rocky, and, to appearance, insuperably sterile parts, are made to yield to the wants of man, will be sufficient to refute the objections raised by skeptical writers against the possibility of its furnishing subsistence to the multitude of its former inhabitants recorded in Scripture. Dr. Clarke, when travelling from Napolose to Jerusalem, relates, "The road was mountainous, rocky, and full of loose stones; yet the cultivation was every where marvellous: it afforded one of the most striking pictures of human industry which it is possible to behold. The limestone rocks and stony valleys of Judea were entirely covered with plantations of figs, vines, and olive trees: not a single spot seemed to be neglected. The hills, from their bases to their upmost summits, were entirely covered with gardens: all of these were free from weeds, and in the highest state of agricultural perfection. Even the sides of the most barren mountains had been rendered fertile, by being divided into terraces, like steps rising one above another, whereon soil had been accumulated with astonishing labour. Among the standing crops, we noticed millet, cotton, linseed, and tobacco, and occasionally small fields of barley. A sight of this territory can alone convey any adequate idea of its surprising produce: it is truly the Eden of the east, rejoicing, in the abundance of its wealth. Under a wine and a beneficent government, the produce of the Holy Land would exceed all calculation. Its perennial harvest; the salubrity of its air; its limpid springs; its rivers, lakes, and matchless plains; its hills and dales;—all these, added to the serenity of its climate, prove this land to be indeed ‘a field which the Lord hath blessed: God hath given it of the dew of heaven, and the fatness of the earth, and plenty of corn and wine.'" An oriental's ideas of fertility differ, however, from ours; for to him, plantations of figs, vines, and olives, with which the limestone rocks of Judea were once covered, would suggest the same associations of plenty and opulence that are called up in the mind of an Englishman by rich tracts of corn land. The land of Canaan is characterized as flowing with milk and honey; and it still answers to this description; for it contains extensive pasture lands of the richest quality, and the rocky country is covered with aromatic plants, yielding to the wild bees, who hive in the hollow of the rocks, such abundance of honey as to supply the poorer classes with an article of food. Honey from the rocks is repeatedly referred to in the Scriptures, as a delicious food, and an emblem of plenty, 1 Samuel 14:25; Psalms 81:16 . Dates are another important article of consumption; and the neighbourhood of Judea was famous for its numerous palm trees, which are found springing up from chance-sown kernels in the midst of the most arid districts. When to these wild productions we add the oil extracted from the olive, so essential an article to an oriental, we shall be at no loss to account for the ancient fertility of the most barren districts of Judea, or for the adequacy of the soil to the support of so numerous a population, notwithstanding the comparatively small proportion of arable land. There is no reason to doubt, however, that corn and rice would be imported by the Tyrian merchants; which the Israelites would have no difficulty in exchanging for the produce of the olive ground and the vineyard, or for their flocks and herds.

Delicious wine is still produced in some districts, and the valleys bear plentiful crops of tobacco, wheat, barley, and millet. Tacitus compares both the climate and the soil, indeed, to those of Italy; and he particularly specifies the palm tree and balsam tree as productions which gave the country an advantage over his own. Among other indigenous productions may be enumerated the cedar and other varieties of the pine, the cypress, the oak, the sycamore, the mulberry tree, the fig tree, the willow, the turpentine tree, the acacia, the aspen, the arbutus, the myrtle, the almond tree, the tamarisk, the oleander, the peach tree, the chaste tree, the carob or locust tree, the oskar, the doom, the mustard plant, the aloe, the citron, the apple, the pomegranate, and many flowering shrubs. The country about Jericho was celebrated for its balsam, as well as for its palm trees; and two plantations of it existed during the last war between the Jews and the Romans for which both parties fought desperately. But Gilead appears to have been the country in which it chiefly abounded: hence the name, "balm of Gilead." Since the country has fallen under the Turkish dominion, it has ceased to be cultivated in Palestine, but is still found in Arabia. Other indigenous productions have either disappeared or are now confined to circumscribed districts. Iron is found in the mountain range of Libanus, and silk is produced in abundance in the plains of Samaria.

9. The grand distinction of Canaan, however, is, that it was the only part of the earth made, by divine institution, a type of heaven. So it was exhibited to Abraham, and also to the Jews. It pointed to the eternal rest which the spiritual seed of the father of the faithful were to enjoy after the pilgrimage of life; its holy city was the figure of the "Jerusalem above;" and Zion, with its solemn and joyful services, represented that "hill of the Lord" to which the redeemed shall come with songs, and everlasting joy upon their heads; where they shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall fly away.

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Text Courtesy of Used by Permission.

Bibliography Information
Watson, Richard. Entry for 'Canaan'. Richard Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary. 1831-2.

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