A 1692 depiction of Canaan, by Philip Lea
|Polities and peoples|
Canaan (//; Northwest Semitic: knaʿn; Phoenician: 𐤊𐤍𐤏𐤍; Biblical Hebrew/ Masoretic: כְּנָעַן [Kənā‘an; Ḵənā‘an]) was a Semitic-speaking region in the Ancient Near East during the late 2nd millennium BC. In the Bible it corresponds to the Levant, in particular to the areas of the Southern Levant that provide the main setting of the narrative of the Hebrew Bible, i.e., the area of Israel, Philistia, Phoenicia, and other nations.
The name Canaan occurs commonly in the Hebrew Bible, with particular definition in references Genesis 10 and Numbers 34, where the "Land of Canaan" extends from Lebanon southward to the "Brook of Egypt" and eastward to the Jordan River Valley. References to Canaan in the Bible are usually backward-looking, referring to a region that had become something else (i.e., the Land of Israel).
The term Canaanites serves as an ethnic catch-all term covering various indigenous populations—both settled and nomadic-pastoral groups—throughout the regions of the southern Levant or Canaan. It is by far the most frequently used ethnic term in the Bible, which commonly describes Canaanites as a people which, in the Book of Joshua are marked down on a list as one of the nations to be exterminated, and later as a group which the Israelites had annihilated.
Archaeological attestation of the name Canaan in Ancient Near Eastern sources relates almost exclusively to the period in which the region operated as a colony of the New Kingdom of Egypt (16th–11th centuries BC), with usage of the name almost disappearing following the Late Bronze Age collapse (ca. 1206–1150 BC). The references suggest that during this period the term was familiar to the region's neighbors on all sides, although scholars have disputed to what extent such references provide a coherent description of its location and boundaries, and regarding whether the inhabitants used the term to describe themselves. The Amarna Letters and other cuneiform documents use Kinaḫḫu [Kinakh'khu], while other sources of the Egyptian New Kingdom mention numerous military campaigns conducted in Ka-na-na.
The name "Canaanites" (כְּנָעַנִיְם kǎnā‘anīm, כְּנָעַנִי kǎnā‘anī, chana‘ani) is attested, many centuries later, as the endonym of the people later known to the Ancient Greeks from c. 500 BC as Phoenicians, and following the emigration of Canaanite speakers to Carthage, was also used as a self-designation by the Punics (chanani) during Late Antiquity. This mirrors later usage in later books of the Hebrew Bible, such as at the end of the Book of Zechariah, where it is thought[by whom?] to refer to a class of merchants or to non-monotheistic worshippers in Israel or neighbouring Sidon and Tyre, as well as in its single independent usage in the New Testament, where it is alternated for "Syrophoenician" in two parallel passages.
Canaan had significant geopolitical importance in the Late Bronze Age Amarna period (14th-century BC) as the area where the spheres of interest of the Egyptian, Hittite, Mitanni and Assyrian Empires converged. Much of the modern knowledge about Canaan stems from archaeological excavation in this area at sites such as Tel Hazor, Tel Megiddo, and Gezer.