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The Land of Canaan, to King David

Archeological work at Kebara Cave in northern Israel describes the cave as occupied by humans between 60,000 and 48,000 years ago. And it describes a more recent occupation between 18,000 and 12,500 BCE by hunter-gatherers, people who had by then spread through the Eastern Mediterranean area, the Levant, and the Sinai.

By 3200 BCE in the area today known as Lebanon and part of Syria was a thinly populated area to be known as the Land of Canaan. There were the Amorites, whom scholars today associate with the Canaanites. The Amorites lived primarily in the hilly regions west of the Dead Sea and east of the Jordan River. And living on the coast were Phoenicians – seagoing traders also described as Canaanites.

Also in Canaan were those described today as Hebrews or Israelites. They were settled in the less fertile hills east of the coastal plains. Their language is described as part of a larger group of Canaanite languages (Encyclopaedia Britannica).Their alphabet is judged as derived from the Phoenicians, who had acquired the alphabet from Mesopotamia – more Sumerian influence.


Abraham was a Hebrew patriarch. His story, told in chapters 11 through 25 of the Book of Genesis, plays a prominent role in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. According to the Encyclopaedia Britannica:

According to the biblical book of CIVILIZATION, Abraham left Ur [a Sumerian City] in Mesopotamia, because God called him to found a new nation in an undesignated land that he later learned was Canaan. He obeyed unquestioningly the commands of God, from whom he received repeated promises and a covenant that his "seed" would inherit the land.

There can be no biography of Abraham in the ordinary sense. The most that can be done is to apply the interpretation of modern historical finds to biblical materials so as to arrive at a probable judgment as to the background and patterns of events in his life. This involves a reconstruction of the patriarchal age (of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph; early 2nd millennium bc), which until the end of the 19th century was unknown and considered virtually unknowable.

The Hebrews have been described as living in communities led by priests or military chieftains, and others as living in Canaanite towns, including Jerusalem. Some of these Hebrews are said to have worked at agriculture, and some had become tradesmen and involved with the caravans that carried spices, ointments and resin across Canaan. Other Hebrews are described as wandering with their flocks to and from desert watering places, as migrating during dry seasons to the greener pastures of Egypt's Nile delta and then returning to Canaan when pastures there were green again. According to the Old Testament, some Hebrews wandered into Egypt and stayed, and there they were despised by the Egyptians for their foreign ways.

Debates remain as to how the Hebrews made it to the Land of Canaan. Adding to the description of the ancient Hebrews is a Public Broadcasting System documentary titled "The Bible's Buried Secrets: Archeology of the Hebrew Bible." In it the scholar Peter Machinist (Harvard's Divinity school) is interviewed, and referring to the Hebrews as Israelites, he claims:

The Israelites were always in the land of Israel [Canaan]. They were natives, but they were different kinds of groups. They were basically the have-nots.

The Philistines

In the mid-1100s a people called Philistines arrived on the coast of Canaan. Some have speculated that they were Greeks fleeing from the Dorian invasions that ended the Greek Mycenaean civilization. In their coastal cities, the Philistines maintained some cohesion as a people. But they are also described as adopting the Canaanite language, as melding their religion with Canaanite religion and as giving to their gods the names of Canaanite gods.

Philistines attempted to expand against the Israelites, who were also resisting occasional attacks by camel riding nomads from the east. Philistines forced the Hebrew tribe of Dan to leave their home in the foothills and to migrate northward. The Philistines established military outposts between their cities and the Israelites. Around the year 1050, the Israelites combined their forces for the first time and confronted an army of Philistines near the Philistine outpost at Aphek, a little east of what today is Haifa in Israel's north. The Philistines had iron weapons and horse-drawn chariots. The Israelites rode into battle on donkeys. According to 1 Samuel 4:2, the Israelites lost the battle.

In the wake of their defeat the Israelites chose a new military leader – Samuel – a Nazarite holy man, oracle and soothsayer. And Samuel took on what for the Israelites was a new institution, perhaps at the urging of the Israelite elders. It was the kind of kingship other Canaanites had – for the Israelites a warrior king to better unite them. Samuel anointed Saul as king. Saul appears to have been close to the worship of the Canaanite god Ba'al. He named one of his sons Eshbaal (meaning Ba'al exists) and another son he had named Meribaal (meaning Ba'al rewards).

As yet the Israelites appear as not having been influenced by what see as the Moses myth: the command that the god Yahweh is said to have given Moses during his journey through the Sinai desert: that "You shall have no other gods before Me." Today, scholars are telling us that many Israelites thought of the god Yahweh (Jehovah) as the chief God among many gods. The polytheism that extended from hunter-gatherer animist religions was established not only in civilized Asia and also among the people in Canaan, it extended to the Israelites. It is claimed that "archaeology has shown that Yahweh was worshiped along with other gods throughout the period after the exile, when many shrines were in honor of 'Yahweh and his Asherah' [Asherah was a Phoenician goddess]." (The quote is from Amazon.com discussing Twilight of the Gods: Polytheism in the Hebrew Bible, by David Penchansky, a scholar who focuses on the Hebrew Bible at the University of St. Thomas in Minnesota.)

Saul successfully engaged the Philistines in at least three battles, which were followed by the Philistines withdrawing their garrisons from around Israelite territory. With Saul was a warrior named David. He was a military hero, and according to the Old Testament King Saul was jealous and tried to kill him. (1 Samuel 18-19). David fled from Saul and his agents to a cave in the "southern wilderness," near Hebron. There, David gathered around him a band of adventurers and debtors. He was already married to Saul's daughter, and now he took another wife – the daughter of a local, wealthy herdsman. This marriage brought him more local support. And for more advantage David allied himself with the Philistine king of Gath, Achish.

In general the Philistines remained hostile to David. The Old Testament describes David as defeating the Philistines and expanding his rule – while the great powers of Assyria and Egypt were too preoccupied to challenge his expansion. According to the Old Testament, David conquered Edom, which extended south to the Red Sea, David gaining Edom's mines of copper and iron. He conquered Moab, rich with cattle. He conquered Ammon, and he conquered northward to Damascus and beyond to the border of the Assyrian Empire. And, like other conquerors, as David conquered he took booty and demanded tribute.

David's Rule

A consensus among scholars today puts David's rule as between 1005 to 965 BCE. David's rule was part of the authoritarian of ancient times. His subjects prostrated themselves in his presence, and like conquerors before him, he claimed to be the agent of the gods. He is described as having acquired the trappings of a potentate and as ruling in splendor, including a large harem. In addition to Saul's daughter and the wife he had taken while at Hebron, he took wives from his conquered territories, ostensibly to help bind his empire together. Among the women he took was Bathsheba, the wife of a local neo-Hittite (a neo-Hittite being someone having the Hittite culture that survived the disappearance of the Hittites). And soon Bathsheba was to be the mother of David's son: a child named Solomon.

According to the Old Testament, David proclaimed his intention to build in Jerusalem a temple connected with the worship of Yahweh. But like Saul, David appears to have been close to the worship of the Canaanite god Ba'al. He gave one of his sons a Canaanite name: Beeliada. David's "leaping and capering before the Lord" with music accompaniment (described in Chapter 6 of the Second Book of Samuel) was a part of Ba'al worship. Polytheistic outlooks acknowledged a multiplicity of paths to truth or salvation. As with King Saul, no evidence exists that King David knew of the commandment said to have been given to Moses that "You shall have no other gods before Me."

CONTINUE READING: Israel and the "Lost Tribes" Invasion

Copyright © 2016 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.