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Migrating from their original home, they seem to have reached the Persian Gulf, and to have there sojourned for some time. They thence “spread to the west, across the mountain chain of Lebanon to the very edge of the Mediterranean Sea, occupying all the land which later became Israel, also to the northwest as far as the mountain chain of Taurus.
This group was very numerous, and broken up into a great many peoples, as we can judge from the list of nations (Gen. 10), the ‘sons of Canaan’.” Six different tribes are mentioned in Ex. 3:8, 17; 23:23; 33:2; 34:11. In Ex. 13:5 the “Perizzites” are omitted. The “Girgashites” are mentioned in addition to the foregoing in Deut. 7:1; Josh. 3:10.
The “Canaanites,” as distinguished from the Amalekites, the Anakim, and the Rephaim, were “dwellers in the lowlands” (Num. 13:29), the great plains and valleys, the richest and most important parts of Israel.
Tyre and Sidon, their famous cities, were the centers of great commercial activity; and hence the name “Canaanite” came to signify a “trader” or “merchant” (Job 41:6; Prov. 31:24, lit. “Canaanites;” compare Zeph. 1:11; Ezek. 17:4). The name “Canaanite” is also sometimes used to designate the non-Israelite inhabitants of the land in general (Gen. 12:6; Num. 21:3; Judg. 1:10).
The Israelites, when they were led to the Promised Land, were commanded utterly to destroy the descendants of Canaan then possessing it (Ex. 23:23; Num. 33:52,53; Deut. 20:16,17. This was to be done “by little and little,” lest the beasts of the field should increase (Ex. 23:29; Deut. 7:22,23).
The history of these wars of conquest is given in the Book of Joshua. The extermination of these tribes, however, was never fully carried out. Jerusalem was not taken till the time of David (2 Sam. 5:6-7). In the days of Solomon bond-service was exacted from the fragments of the tribes still remaining in the land (1 Kings 9:20,21). Even after the return from captivity survivors of five of the Canaanitish tribes were still found in the land.
In the Tell-el-Amarna tablets Canaan is found under the forms of Kinakhna and Kinakhkhi. Under the name of Kanana the Canaanites appear on Egyptian monuments, wearing a coat of mail and helmet, and distinguished by the use of spear and javelin and the battle-axe. They were called Phoenicians by the Greeks and Poeni by the Romans. They were famous as merchants and seamen, as well as for their artistic skill. The chief object of their worship was the sun-god, who was addressed by the general name of Baal, “lord.” Each locality had its special Baal, and the various local Baals were summed up under the name of Baalim, “lords.”