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Bible Dictionaries

Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary


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the posterity of Canaan by his eleven sons, who are supposed to have settled in the land of Canaan, soon after the dispersion of Babel. Five of these are known to have dwelt in the land of Canaan; viz. Heth, Jebus, Hemor or Amor, Girgashi, and Hevi or Hivi; and these, together with their father Canaan, became the heads of so many nations. Sina or Sini was another son of Canaan, whose settlement is not so precisely ascertained; but some authors infer, from the affinity of the names, that the Desert of Sin, and Mount Sinai, were the places of his abode, and that they were so called from him. The Hittites inhabited the country about Hebron, as far as Beersheba, and the brook Besor, reckoned by Moses the southern limits of Canaan. The Jebusites dwelt near them on the north, as far as the city of Jebus, since called Jerusalem. The Amorites possessed the country on the east side of Jordan, between the river Arnon on the south-east, and Mount Gilead on the north, afterwards the lot of Reuben and Gad. The Girgashites lay next above the Amorites, on the east side of the Sea of Tiberias, and their land was afterward possessed by the half tribe of Manasseh. The Hivites dwelt northward, under Mount Libanus. The Perizzites, who make one of the seven nations of the Canaanites, are supposed, by Heylin and others, to be the descendants of Sina or Sini; and it is probable, since we do not read of their abode in cities, that they lived dispersed, and in tents, like the Sycthians, roving on both sides of the Jordan, on the hills and plains; and that they were called by that name from the Hebrew pharatz, which signifies "to disperse." The Canaanites dwelt in the midst of all, and were surrounded by the rest. This appears from the sacred writings to have been the respective situation of those seven nations, which are said to have been doomed to destruction for their idolatry and wickedness, when the Israelites first invaded their country. The learned have not absolutely determined whether the nations proceeding from Canaan's other six sons should be reckoned among the inhabitants of the land of Canaan. The prevalent opinion is, that they were not included. As to the customs, manners, arts, sciences, and language of the seven nations that inhabited the land of Canaan, they must, from the situation they severally occupied, have been very different. Those who inhabited the sea coast were merchants, and by reason of their commerce and wealth, scattered colonies over almost all the islands and maritime provinces of the Mediterranean. ( See PHENICIA. ) The colonies which Cadmus carried to Thebes in Baeotia, and his brother Cilix into Cilicia, are said to have proceeded from the stock of Canaan. Sicily, Sardinia, Malta, Cyprus, Corfu, Majorca, Minorca, Gades, and Ebutris, are supposed to have been peopled by the Canaanites. The other Canaanites, whose situation was inland, were employed partly in pasturage, and partly in tillage, and they were also well skilled in the exercise of arms. Those who dwelt in the walled cities, and who had fixed abodes, cultivated the land; and those who wandered about, as the Perizzites seem to have done, grazed cattle: so that among the Canaanites, we discover the various classes of merchants, and, consequently, mariners; of artificers, soldiers, shepherds, and husbandmen. We learn, also, from their history, that they were all ready, however diversified by their occupations or local interests, to join in a common cause; that they were well appointed for war, both offensive and defensive; that their towns were well fortified; that they were sufficiently furnished with military weapons and warlike chariots; that they were daring, obstinate, and almost invincible; and that they were not destitute of craft and policy. Their language, we find, was well understood by Abraham, who was a Hebrew, for he conversed readily with them on all occasions; but as to their mode of writing, whether it was originally their own or borrowed from the Israelites, it is not so easy to determine. Their religion, at least in part, seems to have been preserved pure till the days of Abraham, who acknowledged Melchisedek to be priest of the most high God; and Melchisedek was, without doubt, a Canaanite, or, at least, dwelt at that time in Canaan in high esteem and veneration.

2. But we learn from the Scripture history, that the Hittites in particular were become degenerate in the time of Isaac and Rebekah; for they could not endure the thoughts of Jacob's marrying one of the daughters of Heth, as Esau had done. From this time, then, we may date the prevalence of those abominations which subjected them to the divine displeasure, and made them unworthy of the land which they possessed. In the days of Moses, they were become incorrigible idolaters; for he commands his people to destroy their altars, and break down their images, (statues or pillars,) and cut down their groves, and burn their graven images with fire. And lest they should pervert the Israelites, the latter were strictly enjoined not to intermarry with them; but "to smite them, and utterly destroy them, nor show mercy upon them," Deuteronomy 7:1-5 . They are accused of the cruel custom of sacrificing men, and are said to have made their seed pass through the fire to Moloch, Leviticus 18:21 . Their morals were as corrupt as their doctrine: adultery, bestiality of all sorts, profanation, incest, and all manner of uncleanness, are the sins laid to their charge. "The Canaanites," says Mr. Bryant, "as they were a sister tribe of the Mizraim, resembled them in their rites and religion. They held a heifer, or cow, in high veneration, agreeably to the customs of Egypt. Their chief deity was the sun, whom they worshipped, together with the Baalim, under the titles of Ourchol, Adonis, or Thamuz."

3. When the measure of the idolatries and abominations of the Canaanites was filled up, God delivered their country into the hands of the Israelites, who conquered it under Joshua. However, they resisted with obstinate valour, and kept Joshua employed six years from the time of his passing the river Jordan, and entering Canaan, in the year B.C. 1451, to the year B.C. 1445, the sabbatical year beginning from the autumnal equinox; when he made a division of the land among the tribes of Israel, and rested from his conquests. As God had commanded this people, long before, to be treated with rigour, see Deuteronomy 7:2 , Joshua extirpated great numbers, and obliged the rest to fly, some of them into Africa, and others into Greece. Procopius says, they first retreated into Egypt, but advanced into Africa, where they built many cities, and spread themselves over those vast regions which reach to the straits, preserving their old language with little alteration. In the time of Athanasius, the Africans still said they were descended from the Canaanites; and when asked their origin, they answered, "Canani." It is agreed, that the Punic tongue was nearly the same as the Canaanitish or Hebrew.

4. On the rigorous treatment of the nations of Canaan by the Israelites, to which infidels have taken so many exceptions, the following remarks of Paley are a sufficient reply: The first thing to be observed is, that the nations of Canaan were destroyed for their wickedness. This is plain from Leviticus 18:24 , &c. Now the facts disclosed in this passage sufficiently testify, that the Canaanites were a wicked people; that detestable practices were general among them, and even habitual; that it was for these enormities the nations of Canaan were destroyed. It was not, as some have imagined, to make way for the Israelites; nor was it simply to make away with their idolatry; but it was because of the abominable crimes which usually accompanied the latter. And we may farther learn from the passage, that God's abhorrence of these crimes, and his indignation against them, are regulated by the rules of strict impartiality, since Moses solemnly warns the Israelites against falling into the like wicked courses, "that the land," says he, "cast not you out also, when you defile it, as it cast out the nations that were before you; for whosoever shall commit any of these abominations, even the souls that commit them shall be cut off from among their people," Leviticus 18:28-29 . Now, when God, for the wickedness of a people, sends an earthquake, or a fire, or a plague among them, there is no complaint of injustice, especially when the calamity is known, or expressly declared beforehand, to be inflicted for the wickedness of such people. It is rather regarded as an act of exemplary penal justice, and, as such, consistent with the character of the moral Governor of the universe. The objection, therefore, is not to the Canaanitish nations being destroyed; (for when their national wickedness is considered, and when that is expressly stated as the cause of their destruction, the dispensation, however severe, will not be questioned;) but the objection is solely to the manner of destroying them. I mean there is nothing but the manner left to be objected to: their wickedness accounts for the thing itself. To which objection it may be replied, that if the thing itself be just, the manner is of little signification, of little signification even to the sufferers themselves. For where is the great difference, even to them, whether they were destroyed by an earthquake, a pestilence, a famine, or by the hands of an enemy? Where is the difference, even to our imperfect apprehensions of divine justice, provided it be, and is known to be, for their wickedness that they are destroyed? But this destruction, you say, confounded the innocent with the guilty. The sword of Joshua, and of the Jews, spared neither women nor children. Is it not the same with all other national visitations? Would not an earthquake, or a fire, or a plague, or a famine among them, have done the same? Even in an ordinary and natural death the same thing happens; God takes away the life he lends, without regard, that we can perceive, to age, or sex, or character. "But, after all, promiscuous massacres, the burning of cities, the laying waste of countries, are things dreadful to reflect upon." Who doubts it? so are all the judgments of Almighty God. The effect, in whatever way it shows itself, must necessarily be tremendous, when the Lord, as the Psalmist expresses it, "moveth out of his place to punish the wicked." But it ought to satisfy us; at least this is the point upon which we ought to rest and fix our attention; that it was for excessive, wilful, and forewarned wickedness, that all this befel them, and that it is all along so declared in the history which recites it.

But, farther, if punishing them by the hands of the Israelites rather than by a pestilence, an earthquake, a fire, or any such calamity, be still an objection, we may perceive, I think, some reasons for this method of punishment in preference to any other whatever; always bearing in our mind, that the question is not concerning the justice of the punishment, but the mode of it. It is well known, that the people of those ages were affected by no proof of the power of the gods which they worshipped, so deeply as by their giving them victory in war. It was by this species of evidence that the superiority of their own gods above the gods of the nations which they conquered, was, in their opinion, evinced. This being the actual persuasion which then prevailed in the world, no matter whether well or ill founded, how were the neighbouring nations, for whose admonition this dreadful example was intended, how were they to be convinced of the supreme power of the God of Israel above the pretended gods of other nations; and of the righteous character of Jehovah, that is, of his abhorrence of the vices which prevailed in the land of Canaan? How, I say, were they to be convinced so well, or at all indeed, as by enabling the Israelites, whose God he was known and acknowledged to be, to conquer under his banner, and drive out before them, those who resisted the execution of that commission with which the Israelites declared themselves to be invested, namely, the expulsion and extermination of the Canaanitish nations? This convinced surrounding countries, and all who were observers or spectators of what passed, first, that the God of Israel was a real God; secondly that the gods which other nations worshipped were either no gods, or had no power against the God of Israel; and thirdly, that it was he, and he alone, who possessed both the power and the will, to punish, to destroy, and to exterminate from before his face, both nations and individuals, who gave themselves up to the crimes and wickedness for which the Canaanites were notorious. Nothing of this sort would have appeared, or with the same evidence, from an earthquake, or a plague, or any natural calamity. These might not have been attributed to divine agency at all, or not to the interposition of the God of Israel.

Another reason which made this destruction both more necessary, and more general, than it would have otherwise been, was the consideration, that if any of the old inhabitants were left, they would prove a snare to those who succeeded them in the country; would draw and seduce them by degrees into the vices and corruptions which prevailed among themselves. Vices of all kinds, but vices most particularly of the licentious kind, are astonishingly infectious. A little leaven leaveneth the whole lump. A small number of persons addicted to them, and allowed to practise them with impunity or encouragement, will spread them through the whole mass. This reason is formally and expressly assigned, not simply for the punishment, but for the extent to which it was carried; namely, extermination: "Thou shalt utterly destroy them, that they teach you not to do after all their abominations, which they have done unto their gods."

In reading the Old Testament account, therefore, of the Jewish wars and conquests in Canaan, and the terrible destruction brought upon the inhabitants thereof, we are always to remember that we are reading the execution of a dreadful but just sentence, pronounced by Jehovah against the intolerable and incorrigible crimes of these nations; that they were intended to be made an example to the whole world of God's avenging wrath against sins, which, if they had been suffered to continue, might have polluted the whole ancient world, and which could only be checked by the signal and public overthrow of nations notoriously addicted to them, and so addicted as even to have incorporated them into their religion and their public institutions; and that the Israelites were mere instruments in the hands of a righteous Providence for effecting the extirpation of a people, of whom it was necessary to make a public example to the rest of mankind; that this extermination, which might have been accomplished by a pestilence, by fire, by earthquakes, was appointed to be done by the hands of the Israelites, as being the clearest and most intelligible method of displaying the power and the righteousness of the God of Israel; his power over the pretended gods of other nations; and his righteous indignation against the crimes into which they were fallen.

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

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