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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:

READ AND STUDY THE BIBLE.

HT:  Breaking Israel News.


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