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Canaanite Facts for 9-13 Year Olds

Categories: Elijah and Elisha, Noah

  • The Canaanites lived in the land of Canaan before the arrival of the Israelites.
  • Canaan comprises portions of the land now known as Israel, Palestine, Lebanon, Syria, and Jordan.
  • The name Canaan might mean “to be low, humble, subjugated.”
  • Stories about Canaanites date back 3800 years.
  • Most of the information comes from what others have written about them.
  • The “Amarna Letters” from Egypt (ca 1300s BCE) have correspondence between Pharaoh and various rulers in Canaan.
  • Pharaoh exercises a lot of power over these areas.
  • The groups of people living in these areas do not unite into one kingdom.
  • Nonetheless, there are references to “kings of Canaan.”
  • A 1929 discovery at Ras Shamra in Ugarit has information about religious matters regarding the Canaanites.
  • There are many similarities with biblical passages.
  • Some of the names for God are the same, i.e. El.
  • They also have female gods, goddesses, such as Asherah.
  • A grandson of El and Asherah is Baal.
  • Baal is the god of rain and storms.
  • Baal is defeated by Elijah at Mount Carmel (see 1 Kings 18:16-42).
  • The prophets repeatedly warn the Israelites against worshiping any of these gods.
  • It’s hard for them not to do so.
  • Basic to the Hebrew concept of God is the notion that God is connected to the land.
  • When people move to a new land, they think they it’s reasonable to adopt the gods of that land, such as Baal.
  • The Israelites do change over time.
  • Indeed, texts found at Ras Shamra indicate that Yahweh is known as one of the sons of El.
  • There are differences between Yahweh and Baal. Yahweh is eternal; Baal dies every fall and reawakens each spring. When he dies, vegetation dies. When he awakens, vegetation springs forth.
  • There are also similarities between the Israelites and Canaanites’ worship practices.
  • Lament rituals abound. They also share the yearly practice of sending a “scapegoat” out into the wilderness to atone for the sins of the community.
  • However, there are also stark differences, especially regarding morality.
  • After the Exodus, many wars are fought between the Canaanites and the Israelites as the Israelites attempt to settle in the land promised to them by God.
  • Israel wins most of the battles and enslaves the Canaanites.
  • Modern scholars have a hard time with all of this.
  • Some think that the Canaanites are punished for their many sins.
  • Others point to the cursing of Canaan, Noah’s grandson, described in Genesis 9:18-27.
  • Noah blesses his other two sons. Noah’s words tend to predict the destinies of the various tribes and nations.
  • While the Canaanites are incorporated into Israelite cities, the Israelites also absorbed many of their practices.