The Sequencing of the Canaanite Genome

National Geographic is reporting that according to a paper published in the American Journal of Human Genetics, more than 90 percent of the genetic ancestry of modern Lebanese is derived from the ancient Canaanites, the people who are mentioned in the Old Testament. Below is an excerpt from the article.

More than 90 percent of the genetic ancestry of modern Lebanese is derived from ancient Canaanites, according to a paper published today in the American Journal of Human Genetics.

Researchers supported by The Wellcome Trust were able to sequence the Canaanite genome from the remains of five individuals buried in the ancient port city of Sidon (modern Saïda, Lebanon) around 3,700 years ago. The results were compared against the DNA of 99 modern-day Lebanese residents.

According to the results, Canaanite ancestry is a mix of indigenous populations who settled the Levant (the region encompassing much of modern Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Israel, and Palestine) around 10,000 years ago, and migrants who arrived from the east between 6,600 and 3,550 years ago.

An additional Eurasian element was added to the genetic mix sometime between 1800 and 200 B.C., a tumultuous period that saw the collapse of the Bronze Age and the advent of the Iron Age, the era in which most scholars believe the Bible was recorded.

Canaanite remains buried in large clay jars. Photograph courtesy of Dr. Claude Doumet-Serhal

Biblical Villains or Israelite Ancestors?

Biblical accounts generally portray Canaanites as the arch-enemies of early Israelites, who eventually conquered Canaanite territory and either exterminated or subjugated its people.

Archaeologists, however, identify the Canaanites as a collection of tribes of varying ethnicities that appears in the Levant around the beginning of the second millennia B.C. Over the centuries, they were at various times independent city-states or client states under Egyptian control, and their presence is recorded in letters from Bronze Age rulers in Egypt, Anatolia, Babylon, and elsewhere in the region.

Despite massive cultural and political upheaval in the eastern Mediterranean at the end of the Bronze Age in the 12th century B.C., Canaanite presence persisted in the region, most notably in powerful port cities along the coast, where they were known to the Greeks as Phoenicians.

No archaeological evidence for the widespread destruction of Canaanite settlements described in the Bible has yet been identified, and many scholars believe that the Israelites, who appear around the beginning of the Iron Age, may have originally been Canaanites.

You can read the article in its entirety by visiting National Geographic.

The Old Testament presents the Canaanites not as a specific group of people, but as a group of different tribes composed of people of different ethnicities. For instance, according to Deuteronomy 7:1, the people who lived in the land of Canaan at the time Israel was preparing to enter the land were identified as seven different ethnic groups: the Hittites, the Girgashites, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites.

As the article in National Geographic states, this group of people that the Bible calls the Canaanites, appeared “in the Levant around the beginning of the second millennia B.C. Over the centuries, they were at various times independent city-states or client states under Egyptian control, and their presence is recorded in letters from Bronze Age rulers in Egypt, Anatolia, Babylon, and elsewhere in the region.”

This study of the sequencing of the Canaanite genome is important because it may provide more information about the Canaanites and their culture and shed valuable information on the makeup of the people who lived in Canaan at the time Israel settled in the land.

Claude F. Mariottini
Emeritus Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary

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One Response to The Sequencing of the Canaanite Genome

  1. Pingback: The Sequencing of the Canaanite Genome post by Dr. Claude Mariottini – Professor of Old Testament | Talmidimblogging

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