Canaanite DNA and Biblically-Illiterate Journalism

An ancient Canaanite skeleton gives us clues to the DNA history behind a people group in the Middle East. (Credit: Dr. Claude Doumet-Serhal)

A recent study indicates that much of the DNA record of modern day Lebanese can be traced back to the Canaanite people described in the Bible. Sadly however, a number of mainstream journalists got the story wrong.

Archaeological studies over the years have raised a number of interesting questions about how the Biblical record is tied to history. But when the genome of 4,000-year-old Canaanite skeletons were sequenced, the discovery supports a significant aspect of the Bible’s historical claims.

However, you would never grasp that idea from a New York Times article reporting the discovery. Deuteronomy 20:16-17 does show that the Israelites were to completely wipe out the Canaanite peoples, when they take hold of the Promised Land.

“You shall devote them to complete destruction, the Hittites and the Amorites, the Canaanites and the Perizzites, the Hivites and the Jebusites, as the Lord your God has commanded” (v.17)

Yet the Times article goes on to miss the target, “But a genetic analysis published on Thursday has found that the ancient population survived that divine call for their extinction, and their descendants live in modern Lebanon.” The implication is that the Bible got it wrong.

Other media outlets did pretty much the same thing, with scathing headlines, such as “Study disproves the Bible’s suggestion that the ancient Canaanites were wiped out” (The Telegraph), and “New DNA study casts doubt on Bible claim” (Mother Nature Network)

However, if these journalists had kept on reading the Bible, they might have realized a problem. While Israel achieved notable victories at Jericho and Ai, the destruction of the Canaanites was far from complete.  Judges 1:27-28 specifically tells us that the Canaanites were not all wiped out by Joshua’s conquest of the land:

“…the Canaanites persisted in dwelling in that land…” (v.27)

Many of the Israelites tried to splice belief in the God of the Bible with beliefs in the Canaanite gods. More than a few Israelites intermarried with the Canaanites, adopting a syncretic form of religion. All of this behavior brought God’s judgment on the Israelite people, when God condemned their idolatrous actions. To miss this part of the story is to fail to understand the narrative within the Bible itself.

So, far from disproving the Bible, the survival of the Canaanites down to the present day actually confirms what the Bible claims. If we would but only read the text.

Thankfully, some of the news organizations have realized their error and made the appropriate corrections. The Telegraph made a note in their article, acknowledging the correction, and changed the headline more appropriately, as did Mother Nature Network. Science magazine did the same with their news story.

The irony behind the whole thing is that skeptics will often reject the Bible, on moral grounds, because of the supposed claim that the Israelites committed mass genocide against a large Canaanite population. But then they ding the Bible again, on historical grounds, when they discover that the supposed, full-blown, genocidal annihilation of the Canaanites never took place. Does anyone see something wrong with this picture?

There is a twist to all of this, too. True, Joshua’s conquest of the Promised Land, no matter how you envision the scale, and there is evidence to show that the traditional view is greatly oversized , did result in a lot of violent death. But were the Canaanites, properly speaking, the target of God’s wrath? Dr. Michael S. Heiser, an expert in Semitic languages, writes that the Anakim giants were actually the target for elimination, and not the Canaanites. His book, The Unseen Realm, is on my “to-be-read” list, but he gives an overview of his contrarian argument here. I am not sure what to make of Heiser’s argument yet, but he knows his Bible. The point is: there is more to the Bible than what most people realize.

Biblical illiteracy is at an all-time high, despite the ease of access to reading and studying the Bible, in a digital age. So, it does not help when mainstream journalism propagates errors, largely out of Bible-reading ignorance. As the proliferation of news sources abounds in the digital age, perhaps part of the problem is due to cuts among copy editor staff, at major newspapers, as Old Testament professor, Claude Mariottini, reports in another “fake news” story about archaeology in the land of the Bible (… a “BOO” for Fox News).

The best way people can correct such mistakes is pretty simple, and it does not take a Bible scholar to figure this out:


HT:  Breaking Israel News.

Why Facebook Can Never Be the Church … (and Why Christians Need to Think Differently)

Mark Zuckerberg, the enterprising CEO of Facebook, is a young, successful (wealthy) man with a mission. Social media on the Internet in the 21st century has done what the printing press did for Martin Luther in the 16th century. Both are communication platforms that enable the exchange of ideas, at a rapid rate, over long distances, drawing like-minded people together.

Zuckerberg, however, sees social media as being more than that. For technologies like Facebook, the Internet can be a vehicle for positive, social change. In fact, social media is replacing forms of community, that have traditionally held social structures together, such as civic volunteerism. Zuckerberg also places churches in that category, from a speech he made in Chicago recently:

“It’s so striking that for decades, membership in all kinds of groups has declined as much as one-quarter. That’s a lot of of people who now need to find a sense of purpose and support somewhere else…. A church doesn’t just come together. It has a pastor who cares for the well-being of their congregation, makes sure they have food and shelter. A little league team has a coach who motivates the kids and helps them hit better. Leaders set the culture, inspire us, give us a safety net, and look out for us.”

Zuckerberg has a point. When it comes to civic volunteerism, I have seen it drop off, right here in my hometown, Williamsburg, Virginia. Just this past week, it was announced that the annual First Night celebration, that has brought in the New Year in our community, for 24 years, has been canceled for this year. First Night directors cite a lack of volunteers to run the family-friendly event.

But what about the church? Zuckerberg believes that social media has the answer. Facebook recently exceeded 2 billion online members. They are bound together by no creed, no mutual statement of faith, but only by a high-speed Internet connection.

Compare that to some 3 billion professed Christians. Christians all say that they believe in Jesus, but many appear to be divided along denominational lines, or otherwise, having conflicting agendas. Jesus called all believers to fulfill the Great Commission, to make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:19-20), but, sadly, other priorities can easily distract us in our God-given task.

But this is just the start. More and more believers are choosing their churches, not on the basis of what a church teaches, but rather, on the quality of their online presence. I even know of people who go to church “virtually,” choosing to worship “in” a church in another city, because they like what the pastor says in the virtual church, more than the church just down the road. Streaming the Sunday sermon down to your iPhone has more value than actually getting up on a Sunday morning, and going to worship with other believers, and physically shake hands with them.

Is this what the church is moving towards?

I hope not.

Evangelical leaders have been critical of Zuckerberg’s comments, that suggest that Facebook is trying to replace the church. But I think the problem is more here at home, in the church, and not with Mark Zuckerberg.

Remember the “Day-Timer?” It was all the rage in the late 20th century, for time management, but now replaced by the folks at Google, Apple, and Microsoft. Does the church get taken captive by the latest trends in the corporate world?

The Zuckerberg-erisation of the Evangelical Church

Back in the late 1980s, decades before iPhones and Microsoft Exchange Internet calendars, I served in a Christian ministry, where we were required to take a time-management class, using the DayTimer system. The seminar was taught by a Mormon, who was a successful business person, and he was an expert in tailoring the DayTimer to meet the challenges faced by those in full-time ministry. I learned a lot from that seminar, lessons that I kept sharing with others for years afterwards, only finally ditching my DayTimer a couple of years ago, in favor of Google Calendar.

But why a Mormon, teaching evangelical ministry leaders?

I am not entirely sure why we took that class. Perhaps someone higher up in our ministry mission personally knew this Mormon, the DayTimer expert. Perhaps this was an attempt by our leaders to build a relationship, in which to share the Gospel with this man, by allowing him to educate my fellow ministry staff members and I, with leadership principles we could readily apply to our day-to-day tasks, that do not compromise doctrinal issues. When framed like that, it sounds like a good thing.

But what bothered me is a joke my fellow ministry staff members would tell, even years after the class. We were a lot more aware of how many people we had “converted” to the DayTimer system than we had “converted” to Christ.

That was a rather sad joke.

It showed me how easily it is to be taken in by the things of this world, without totally realizing it. We see this in too many churches today, where the pastor is often viewed more as a Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of an organization, rather than a shepherd of souls.

Now, I am all for helping people with time management, promoting excellence within church ministry structures through leadership seminars, and even using technology, like Facebook-style social media, to facilitate better communication and community building. But at the end of the day, all of these elements that drive the corporate business world and the movement towards globalization, do not matter that much in God’s Kingdom.

When it comes to the business of the church, it is all about loving God first, and then loving your neighbor into God’s family, one soul at a time, imparting the Word of God into the lives of people around you. This is the stuff that lasts.

The grass withers, the flower fades,
    but the word of our God will stand forever. (Isaiah 40:8 ESV)

So, let us be people of discernment, not being drawn into the ways of the world. Allow the Word of God to set the agenda for the people of God, and not the corporate spin of Mark Zuckerberg.


The Book of Zechariah: In Eight Minutes

Reading the Book of Zechariah is a wild ride! So we learn from the folks at the Bible Project, who give us another installment of visual illustrations, from the Minor Prophets.

The Book of Nahum: In Five Minutes

For those waiting with bated breath, here we have Nahum, one of the Minor Prophets, with some great visual illustrations from the Bible Project:

The Book of Obadiah: In Five Minutes

Here we go, with the shortest book in the Old Testament, Obadiah, one of the Minor Prophets, some great visual illustrations from the Bible Project:

%d bloggers like this: