CHAPTER 3 THE CANAANITES
If, as scholars such as Finkelstein and Dever have suggested, the majority of the Iron I settlers in the hill country were drawn from the indigenous population of Canaan (whether local pastoral nomads or sedentarized peoples from the lowlands), then it is worthwhile to consider what, in fact, we know about the territory, culture, society, and, in particular, the religious beliefs and practices, including burial customs, of the Canaanites.
At the outset, it should be pointed out that the ancient inhabitants of Canaan do not appear to have known that they were Canaanites. The term ‘Canaanite’ was used rather by those outside of the area when referring ‘in a more or less casual manner’ to the inhabitants of the south-western Levant (Lemche 1997:152). As Thompson (1999:81) has observed: ‘The only historical group known to refer to themselves as Canaanites were Jewish merchants of North Africa in the fourth century CE.’ According to Lemche (1991:57): ‘Displaced persons, who may have lost their homeland and have settled in other parts of world, as was the case with the Punic population of North Africa, could very well have kept an old ethnic identity alive although this very identity had never been equally evident to their forefathers in Western Asia.’ Gray (1964:16) is of the opinion, that the term ‘Amorite’ is probably ‘more appropriate’ than ‘Canaanite’ ‘as an ethnic term denoting the Semitic substratum of the population of Syria and Palestine in the second millennium.’ Na’aman (1994:241), on the other hand, considers the term ‘Amorite’ to be ‘an archaic nonhistorical name.’ In the absence of a more appropriate term, and for the sake of convenience, the term ‘Canaanite’ will thus be used in this discussion. In addition, no distinction has been made between the terms ‘Canaanite’ and ‘Amorite,’ since they are largely interchangeable in the biblical literature (eg, in Jdg 1:34-36 (‘Amorites’) and in Jdg 1:29; Jos 16:10 (‘Canaanites’)) and refer to the autochthonous population of Palestine – the biblical ‘inhabitants of the land’ (Gn 50:11) or ‘who were born in the land’ (1 Chr 7:21).
Although Canaan plays a prominent role in the Hebrew Bible as the Promised Land (the term ‘Canaan’ appears 94 times and ‘Canaanite’ appears 74 times; Lemche 1991:63), and a central theme is its possession, loss and partial recovery, we are told little about the inhabitants other than their wickedness, which justified their extermination. They apparently had neither a central or eponymous city, nor a separate history or culture. In addition, they do not appear to have exerted an imperial rule over other lands. They did not leave behind a national epic which could serve as an historical source analogous to the Hebrew Bible and the few inscriptions from the period itself are of little help to the historian. It is ironic that the Canaanites, who gave mankind the first alphabet, left behind so few inscriptions to document their history. Lacking texts ostensibly by Canaanites, providing information about themselves or other Canaanites, our knowledge is largely dependent on the witness of other peoples, especially the Ugaritic texts (the nearest texts yet discovered to a corpus of Canaanite literature). Other sources include Egyptian documents, such as the Amarna letters, and those in the various languages using cuneiform script (Millard 1973:29).
THE LAND OF CANAAN
The territory ‘Canaan’ is a little easier to define than the term ‘Canaanite’ and, here, even the Hebrew Bible provides some information. There is no doubt that, by the middle of the second millennium BCE, a specific region was known as ‘Canaan.’ The term, ‘Canaan,’ which denotes a culture rather than a distinctive ethnic group, derives from the kinahna (Greek: phoinix and, hence, Phoenicia) and was used by the Semites of Mesopotamia in the second millennium to indicate the Syrian coast (from the Gulf of Alexandretta to Carmel Head), from which they obtained the much-prized purple dye (kinahhu; Gray 1964:15-16,47) produced by marine sea snails (Murex species) – the reddish-purple colour of the dye, reminded the Greeks of the mythical firebird, the phoenix; the Phoenicians, however, referred to themselves as Tyrians or Sidonites, after their two principal coastal cities: Tyre and Sidon (Hillel 2006:170-171).
Another explanation of the etymology of the term ‘Canaan’ is that it is derived from the Semitic verbal root kn‘, which is well represented in Hebrew and means ‘to be humble,’ ‘to be depressed’ (Lemche 1991:26). If correct, the meaning of Canaan could well be ‘the low,country’ or just ‘lowland.’ On the other hand, as De Vaux (1968; cited by Lemche 1991) has pointed out, the term could simply be ‘a very old geographical name for which no obvious etymological explanation can be offered – irrespective of the fact that the name is itself certainly Semitic.’
The earliest mention of Canaan in Egyptian texts appears in a text from the time of Amenophis II (ca 1427-1401 BCE), where 640 Canaanite captives are listed. Prior to this, and from the beginning of the second millennium, Palestine and southern Syria were referred to as Retenu, with chiefly ‘Asiatic’ inhabitants, Djahy (an interchangeable term), and then Hurru. The ‘Canaanite slaves of Hurru’ are mentioned in a Ramesside papyrus and Canaan and Hurru are included, along with Israel and others, on the ‘Israel Stele’ of Merneptah (Millard 1973:30,32; Lemche 1991:43,48).
In his autobiography, Idri-mi, prince of Aleppo (in modern Syria), in the 15th century BCE recounts how he was driven from his home and found refuge in the town of Ammiya (Efneh, ca 13km down the coast from Tripolis, in Northern Lebanon) in Canaan and, after Idri-mi had finally gained the throne, the land of Canaan is mentioned as the home of persons listed in three tablets from Alalakh (Tell Atshana, on the lower Orontes), roughly contemporary with Amenophis II or slightly earlier (Millard 1973:32,49, n 14). From the Amarna letters (14th century BCE), where Canaan or the Canaanites are mentioned twelve times (although only once is the population of Canaan intended; Lemche 1991:31), the limits of Canaan as an Egyptian province can be stated with some confidence.14 The natural limits to the west and the east, were the Mediterranean and the Dead Sea, respectively. The Sinai desert to the south would appear to have been beyond Canaan, with Gaza the first major town (‘the town of Canaan,’ which also served as an administrative centre) on the road from Egypt. The northern limit, although more difficult to discern, appears to have been the province of Upe (named after the Damascus area, but including the Beq‘a) and the territory controlled by the Amurru. Biblical sources (Nm 34:2-12, and elsewhere) reveal the same borders to the west, east and south, while the northern border (although less certain) appears to have been beyond the Lebanon range in the upper valley of the Orontes at Lebo-Hamath (now Lebweh), sweeping around the Anti-Lebanon to the edge of the desert, and then south through the Hauran, turning westwards to the Sea of Galilee. Thus, from biblical descriptions and extra-biblical writers of the latter part of the second millennium, Canaan at the time of the Israelite settlement (ca 1200 BCE) stretched from the northern limit of Lebanon, including the Damascene and Bashan to the east, to the Negev (ie, all the territory held by Egypt following the peace treaty with the Hittites in 1284 BCE; Millard 1973:32-33).
CULTURE AND SOCIETY
A commencement date for the identification of the ‘Canaanites’ is difficult (Gray 1964:23; Millard 1973:36,38), but for Old Testament purposes, an upper limit for ‘Canaanite culture’ can be fixed at the beginning of the Middle Bronze Age city-life (ca 1850 BCE). The end point for ‘Canaanite culture,’ in the context of this discussion, is taken as the end of the Bronze Age, although it is acknowledged that the Phoenicians were little more than latter-day Canaanites. The Canaanite population of the Late Bronze Age, as revealed by personal names in the Amarna letters and related tablets from Palestinian sites, as well as the archives from Ugarit, was a predominantly Semitic population, but included some Hurrians and Indo-Europeans (Millard 1973:42). The major highways and fertile districts were ruled by numerous city-states, each with its own king, and none of the frequent alliances resulted in any lasting hegemony. While Hazor may have been thought of as ‘the head of all those kingdoms’ (Jos 11:10), it would appear that each city-state retained its identity as a ‘kingdom.’ The landless, deserters and outlaws (known comprehensively as ‘apiru, habiru or hapiru; see 2.4.2) living outside the cities hindered merchants and couriers in their daily duties and sometimes joined forces to attack the city dwellers (Millard 1973:42-43).
The material remains of value found in buildings and tombs, although displaying declining standards in most crafts, exceed those from the Middle Bronze Age and it is apparent that the superior houses of the aristocracy were well stocked with imported luxuries. Tell el-Ajjul, near Gaza, has revealed hoards of jewellery from the earliest Late Bronze phase, which may have been buried prior to the first invasion by Thutmosis III (ca 1468 BCE; Millard 1973:43). Numerous, predominantly Egyptian-style artifacts of varying dates (although virtually all of the artistic styles of the era are represented) have been discovered at Megiddo. The cylinder seals, in particular, display a coalescence of Egyptian with Babylonian, combining elements of each as seen, for example, in the seals of a king of Sidon and his son. Trade with Cyprus and the Aegean was evidently brisk, as evidenced by the ubiquitous vessels from these areas; in some tombs their number almost equals that of the local ware. The Amarna letters supply evidence of trade with other areas. Although information about the Canaanite cities of the 13th century remains sparse, it is evident that the glory of many, such as Hazor, had passed and that only the strongest, such as Beth-shan and Megiddo where Egypt’s influence could still be felt, were able to resist the settlers in the east (Israelites) and the west (Philistines). This settlement process, however, brought about only relatively minor changes to the material culture of the Canaanites (Millard 1973:43).
The early biblical scholars and some archaeologists, perpetuating biblical biases, assumed that while the religion of the Israelites was ‘morally uplifting,’ that of the Canaanites was ‘decadent’ and many treatments of Canaanite religion are marked by an absence of the fundamental ‘sympathy’ required for insight into any religion. For example, Bright (1972:116-117) has described it as ‘an extraordinary debasing form of paganism,’ while Kitchen (1982:166) sees it as appealing ‘to the bestial and material in human nature.’ In Gray’s view, in contrast to Israelite morality, ‘there was no moral purpose in the fertility cult’ and Canaanite ‘religion was essentially magical and, as such amoral’ (1965:257). Even Roland de Vaux, in his otherwise generally sensitive and well-balanced magnum opus, Ancient Israel: its life and institutions (1973:288) refers to ‘the immoral practices of the Canaanites.’ Lemche (1991:171) has gone so far as to argue that the biblical writers ‘invented’ the Canaanites and, as for their deities, ‘no such “gods of Canaan” ever existed,’ while Thompson (1999:81) is of the opinion that the biblical name ‘Canaanite’ is simply ‘a literary and fictive term to contrast with biblical Israel;’ in addition: ‘It is a negative term for those who worship foreign gods, and especially Ba‘al.’ As Mark Smith (2002b:19) has put it: ‘Clearly, such statements reflected the belief-structures of these scholars as much as, or more than, the beliefs of the authors of the Ugaritic texts.’ Fortunately, recent scholarship has overturned the traditional view of Canaanite religion as inferior to Israelite religion. As Rabbi Jacob Neusner, (2007:30) has so rightly pointed out: ‘If religion matters, and it does, then it’s not honest to be indifferent to the convictions of others.’ Nevertheless, knowledge of the religious practices and beliefs in Canaan is far from complete, although a reasonable amount of information has been gleaned from material remains and written documents. Unfortunately, few generalisations can be drawn, since the facts are extremely diverse in nature and provenance and, as Millard (1973:44) has warned, ‘it is dangerous to treat the rich data of Ugarit as typically Canaanite.’ For example, the Hebrew Bible mentions the ‘high places’ of the Canaanite cult on numerous occasions, and examples of artificial mounds from Megiddo and elsewhere have been discovered, and yet there is no mention of a cultic ‘high place’ at Ugarit. Ba‘al is ‘Lord of the Earth’ at Ugarit, while Phoenician sources call him ‘Lord of Heaven.’ In addition, the city of Ugarit probably lay beyond the boundaries of ancient Canaan (Millard 1973:43-47).
The Canaanite Bronze Age pantheon
During the excavations at Ras Shamra (1929-1969), Claude Schaeffer and his colleagues uncovered the remains of Ugarit, a Late Bronze Age, cosmopolitan, metropolis which reached its cultural zenith around 1400 BCE. Although great buildings, private homes, narrow lanes, broad thoroughfares, tombs, ramparts and entrances were uncovered, the most significant discovery proved to be the several thousand clay tablets found in the archives of the ancient city. Many think that the Ugaritic text tablets were purposely and regularly baked after inscription. Pardee (2002:8, n 3) has pointed out that ‘this practice was extremely rare, and virtually all the tablets that have come down to us were baked in accidental fires;’ most of them were probably baked in the final conflagration that consumed the Late Bronze city of Ugarit. The tablets (14th – 13th centuries BCE) are written in a number of different languages: Akkadian, Sumerian, Hurrian, Hittite and Cypro-Minoan; there are also some Hittite and Egyptian hieroglyphic inscriptions. The most important from a biblical studies point of view, however, proved to be those in a previously unknown alphabetic cuneiform: Ugaritic, a Northwest Semitic language and a close linguistic relative of biblical Hebrew. The Ugaritic texts are extremely diverse and include administrative texts, census lists, economic texts and letters, as well as those with a more literary, poetic and mythological character (Gray 1965:1-3; Craigie 1983:62,69).
Evidence relating to the religion of Canaan in these texts is fourfold. It is reflected in: (1) the actions of the human heroes in the literary texts; (2) the largely theophoric personal names in the administrative texts; (3) the many gods worshipped and the offerings made in the offering-lists and other ritual texts; and (4) the myths, which give insight into the fertility-cult principles (Gray 1964:121). When using these texts, however, to reconstruct Syro-Palestinian religion and/or interpret biblical references to Canaanite deities, Dearman (1992:42) has pointed out that these texts ‘must be interpreted first of all as the material culture of a Late Bronze Age city-state not as the model of a general religion of Syria.’ Scholars (eg, J-M de Tarragon, cited by Dearman 1992) have noted discrepancies between the administrative-cultic and the more selective mythic texts and it would appear that a wider variety of religious practices existed than just the ones appearing in the mythic texts. Perhaps, the same holds true with respect to the Israelite cultic practices (ie, there were more religious practices than those actually depicted in the Hebrew Bible). Furthermore, Phoenician, Punic and Aramaic Iron Age texts would be more useful resources. To date, however, the majority of those found date from Iron II (and later) and contain references to variety of pantheons from many different areas. In Dearman’s opinion (1992:42-43): ‘A discovery of archival and mythic texts from either Tyre or Sidon would likely afford more explicit parallels for the early religion of Israel than the Ugaritic texts.’ Nevertheless, the Ugaritic texts are able to provide ‘some of the larger background behind the development of Israelite religion’ (Smith 2002b:27) and, in my opinion, they are especially useful for shedding light on the ‘folk/cult/popular religion’ practised during Iron I.
CHAPTER 1 INTRODUCTION
1.2 DEFINITIONS, NOMENCLATURE AND ABBREVIATIONS
1.4 METHODOLOGICAL CONSIDERATIONS
CHAPTER 2 FROM THE ‘EXODUS’ TO THE ‘PERIOD OF THE JUDGES:’ POLITICAL AND ETHNIC BACKGROUND
2.1 THE INTERNATIONAL AND POLITICAL SITUATION AT THE TIME
2.2 THE ‘EXODUS – SINAI TRADITION’ AND THE ‘CONQUEST’ OF TRANSJORDAN
2.3 MODELS FOR THE SETTLEMENT OF EARLY ISRAEL
2.4 ETHNICITY AND EARLY ISRAEL
CHAPTER 3 THE CANAANITES
3.1 THE LAND OF CANAAN
3.2 CULTURE AND SOCIETY
3.3 CANAANITE RELIGION
3.4 ARCHAEOLOGICAL EVIDENCE FOR RELIGION AND CULT IN SYRIA-PALESTINE DURING THE LATE BRONZE AGE (ca 1500-1200 BCE)
CHAPTER 4 CULTIC ARTIFACTS, CULTIC SITES, AND BURIAL CUSTOMS AND PRACTICES IN THE HIGHLANDS OF PALESTINE (12th – 10th CENTURIES BCE)
4.2 CULT/OFFERING STANDS
4.3 MODEL SHRINES
4.5 CULTIC SITES DURING THE PRE-MONARCHIC PERIOD MENTIONED IN THE HEBREW BIBLE
4.6 OPEN-AIR CULTIC SITES
4.7 OTHER CULTIC INSTALLATIONS
4.8 BURIAL CUSTOMS
4.9 TOMB TYPES
CHAPTER 5 CLIMATE VARIABILITY AND TOPOGRAPHY
5.1. CLIMATE STUDIES: RESEARCH HISTORY
5.2 WEATHER FLUCTUATIONS IN THE LATTER PART OF THE LATE BRONZE AGE AND THE EARLY IRON AGE
5.3 THE WOODLANDS OF THE HILL COUNTRY OF PALESTINE
5.4 THE SUBSISTENCE ECONOMY OF THE HILL COUNTRY SETTLERS IN IRON
5.5 EDIBLE WILD PLANTS AND PLANT PRODUCTS OF THE PALESTINIAN HIGHLANDS
5.6 THE INFLUENCE OF THE ENVIRONMENT ON THE GENESIS OF MONOTHEISM
CHAPTER 6 CONCLUSION
6.1 DID THE CANAANITE BRONZE AGE CULT PERSIST IN THE CENTRAL HIGHLANDS OF PALESTINE DURING THE 12th – 10th BCE?
6.2 CLIMATIC CONDITIONS
GET THE COMPLETE PROJECT
THE SETTLERS IN THE CENTRAL HILL COUNTRY OF PALESTINE DURING IRON AGE I (ca 1200-1000 BCE): WHERE DID THEY COME FROM AND WHY DID THEY MOVE?