New Analysis of Ancient DNA Proves that Canaanites Survived Biblical Massacre
Science Mag reports that the ancient Canaanites were not exterminated, as the Hebrew Bible suggests, but instead they survived and went on to become modern-day Lebanese, as the first study to analyze their DNA shows.
Science Disproves Hebrew Bible
According to the tales of the Hebrew Bible, God asked the Israelites to annihilate the Canaanites, a tribe of people who occupied modern-day Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, Israel and the Palestinian territories thousands of years ago. According to a passage in Deuteronomy , soon after their exodus from Egypt, God ordered the Israelites to destroy Canaan and its people, “You shall not leave alive anything that breathes. But you shall utterly destroy them ... so that they may not teach you to do according to all their detestable things which they have done for their gods.”
Nonetheless, DNA evidence tells a quite different story as The Telegraph reports , “The Bible reports the destruction of the Canaanite cities and the annihilation of its people; if true, the Canaanites could not have directly contributed genetically to present-day populations. However, no archaeological evidence has so far been found to support widespread destruction of Canaanite cities between the Bronze and Iron Ages: cities on the Levant coast such as Sidon and Tyre show continuity of occupation until the present day,” the researchers wrote in the American Journal of Human Genetics .
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Although the Bible records these as the orders of God, and that the Israelites were more or less successful in their attempt to carry them out, it is recorded in other parts of the Bible that they were not completely successful in this genocidal act and that some Canaanites survived.
“The Canaanites persisted in dwelling in this region. And when Yisrael gained the upper hand, they subjected the Canaanites to forced labor; but they did not dispossess them.” Judges 1:27-28 . Rabbi Winston thus claims as reported by Breaking News Israel, “They were not wiped out in the Bible, so of course they would still exist,” the rabbi said. “But not in Israel.”
Extermination of the Canaanites by F Philippoteaux ( IABI)
DNA Analysis Sheds Some Light on the Actual Facts
Scientists managed to extract DNA from five Canaanite skeletons from around 4,000 years ago. These skeletons were found as part of a substantial, abiding excavation of an ancient Canaanite city in Sidon, a coastal city in Lebanon. The archaeological team uncovered 160 burials in total, but it wasn’t easy in such conditions for DNA to be preserved. To extract enough DNA for the study, the researchers focused on a bone found at the base of the human skull, which is extra dense and was recently distinguished as an ideal source of DNA long after it has decayed elsewhere in the skeleton.
The analysis of the DNA showed that the Israelites didn't kill all of the Canaanites (if any) in reality. After investigating the DNA of the region's ancient and modern inhabitants, the scientists found more than 95% of the ancestry of modern-day Lebanese derived from the Canaanites. “We show that present-day Lebanese derive most of their ancestry from a Canaanite-related population, which therefore implies substantial genetic continuity in the Levant since at least the Bronze Age,” the researchers stated as the Telegraph reported .
- Unknown Canaanite City found in Israel
- The Fierce Amorites and the First King of the Babylonian Empire
- Treasure trove of ancient Phoenician artifacts uncovered in Lebanon
Some of the excavation site at Sidon. "College site" (Bronze & Iron Ages) ( Public Domain )
Marc Haber – a British geneticist from the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute in Hinxton who extracted the DNA from the ancient skeletons – suggests that nearly 50% of the Canaanites’ genes came from local farmers who settled the Levant about 10,000 years ago. This finding correlates to another recent study of the Levant led by Iosif Lazaridis (a geneticist at Harvard Medical School in Boston), which found the same mixture of eastern and local ancestry in the genomes of ancient skeletons from Jordan, “It’s nice to see that what we observed wasn’t a fluke of our particular site, but was part of this broader Canaanite population,” Lazaridis stated as Science Mag reports .
No War Between the Israelites and the Canaanites?
So the question is: was there no war between the Israelites and the Canaanites or at least no near annihilation as the Hebrew Bible suggests? Geneticist Chris Tyler from the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, claims that we can’t be sure yet as genes can’t accurately track war and conflict, “You can have genetically similar or indistinguishable populations that are culturally very different and don’t get on with one another at all” he says as Science Mag reports . Johannes Krause, a geneticist from the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History in Jena, Germany, didn’t participate in the recent study but shared his views, which appear to be in accordance with Tyler’s take on the subject, “If those populations conquer each other, it probably wouldn’t leave traces that we could easily pick up [with ancient DNA]” he told Science Mag , implying that there might have been a war as the Hebrew Bible reports, that DNA testing just couldn’t trace.
Top image: Skeleton found in Sidon, Lebanon, from which the Canaanite DNA was extracted (Credit: Dr. Claude Doumet-Serhal/The Sidon Excavation)