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Skeleton found in Sidon, Lebanon, from which the Canaanite DNA was extracted

New Analysis of Ancient DNA Proves that Canaanites Survived Biblical Massacre

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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.

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.

In a report by Breaking News Israel, Rabbi Pinchas Winston sites a Biblical passage that says the Canaanites were not wiped out,

“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

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.

Some of the excavation site at Sidon. "College site" (Bronze & Iron Ages)

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.  

Ancient DNA Origins

Top image: Skeleton found in Sidon, Lebanon, from which the Canaanite DNA was extracted (Credit: Dr. Claude Doumet-Serhal/The Sidon Excavation)

By Theodoros Karasavvas



Thank you for correcting the clickbait headline. I think this story made the rounds of many news services and virtually all could not be bothered to spend 20 minutes researching the facts. A headline like, "Science proves religious nuts idiots" is like crack to the modern journalist.
In addition, if you read this author's other stories he seems particularly disinterested in the stories he covers and I can only surmise he has a personal relationship with the editor. Really, he is quite poor at his job. Perhaps he could look into the law.

Thank you for pointing out the facts that this author failed to get right or even look into.

This article repeats the very bad reporting of a study of Ancient DNA in the city of Sidon. This study covers remains across the millennia fro around 1600 BC to its destruction by Alexander the Great in ca. 330 BC. Its fascinating results show that the people of Lebanon have a long and enduring heritage in, among other peoples, the Canaanite founders of the city. This is all obscured by the illiterate claim that the Bible predicted and/or reported the complete destruction of the Canaanite people. In fact, it does just the opposite. First of all, the Bible reports that God ordered the complete destruction of certain cities and the destruction of its inhabitants. It records that the people of Israel did not do even this and the failure to do so is reported throughout the Old Testament. In fact, the Bible reports that one Canaanite woman and her family from Jericho were ancestors of the Israelite royal line and of Jesus of Nazareth himself. Second, Sidon, where the study was conducted, was never a part of the land promise to Israel by her God. That land extends only to Dan. Joshua was never commanded to take and destroy that city. All of this could have been brought into the story, had any of the journalist bothered to call a pastor, priest or rabbi, much less a scholar of the Biblical text. Or, for that matter, bothered to read the journal article reporting the actual study's findings.

Theodoros Karasavvas's picture


Theodoros Karasavvas, J.D.-M.A. has a cum laude degree in Law from the University of Athens, a Masters Degree in Legal History from the University of Pisa, and a First Certificate in English from Cambridge University. When called upon to do... Read More

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