From Bible Encyclopedia
(1) The fourth son of Ham (Genesis 10:6). His descendants were under a curse in consequence of the transgression of his father (Genesis 9:22-27). His eldest son, Zidon, was the father of the Sidonians and Phoenicians. He had eleven sons, who were the founders of as many tribes (Genesis 10:15-18).
(2) The country which derived its name from the preceding. The name as first used by the Phoenicians denoted only the maritime plain on which Sidon was built. But in the time of Moses and Joshua it denoted the whole country to the west of the Jordan and the Dead Sea (Deuteronomy 11:30). In Joshua 5:12 the LXX. read, “land of the Phoenicians,” instead of “land of Canaan.”
The name signifies “the lowlands,” as distinguished from the land of Gilead on the east of Jordan, which was a mountainous district. The extent and boundaries of Canaan are fully set forth in different parts of Scripture (Genesis 10:19; Genesis 17:8; Numbers 13:29; Numbers 34:8).
The Language of Canaan
Mentioned in Isaiah 19:18, denotes the language spoken by the Jews resident in Palestine. The language of the Canaanites and of the Hebrews was substantially the same. This is seen from the fragments of the Phoenician language which still survive, which show the closest analogy to the Hebrew. Yet the subject of the language of the “Canaanites” is very obscure. The cuneiform writing of Babylon, as well as the Babylonian language, was taught in the Canaanitish schools, and the clay tablets of Babylonian literature were stored in the Canaanitish libraries. Even the Babylonian divinities were borrowed by the Canaanites.
The descendants of Canaan, the son of Ham. Migrating from their original home, they seem to have reached the Persian Gulf, and to have there so-journed for some time. They thence “spread to the west, across the mountain chain of Lebanon to the very edge of the Mediterranean Sea, occupying all the land which later became Palestine, also to the north-west as far as the mountain chain of Taurus. This group was very numerous, and broken up into a great many peoples, as we can judge from the list of nations (Genesis 10), the 'sons of Canaan.'” Six different tribes are mentioned in Exodus 3:8, Exodus 3:17; Exodus 23:23; Exodus 33:2; Exodus 34:11. In Exodus 13:5 the “Perizzites” are omitted. The “Girgashites” are mentioned in addition to the foregoing in Deuteronomy 7:1; Joshua 3:10.
The “Canaanites,” as distinguished from the Amalekites, the Anakim, and the Rephaim, were “dwellers in the lowlands” (Numbers 13:29), the great plains and valleys, the richest and most important parts of Palestine. Tyre and Sidon, their famous cities, were the centres of great commercial activity; and hence the name “Canaanite” came to signify a “trader” or “merchant” (Job 41:6; Proverbs 31:24, lit. “Canaanites;” compare Zephaniah 1:11; Ezekiel 17:4). The name “Canaanite” is also sometimes used to designate the non-Israelite inhabitants of the land in general (Genesis 12:6; Numbers 21:3; Judges 1:10).
The Israelites, when they were led to the Promised Land, were commanded utterly to destroy the descendants of Canaan then possessing it (Exodus 23:23; Numbers 33:52, Numbers 33:53; Deuteronomy 20:16, Deuteronomy 20:17). This was to be done “by little and little,” lest the beasts of the field should increase (Exodus 23:29; Deuteronomy 7:22, Deuteronomy 7:23). The history of these wars of conquest is given in the Book of Joshua. The extermination of these tribes, however, was never fully carried out. Jerusalem was not taken till the time of David (2 Samuel 5:6, 2 Samuel 5:7). In the days of Solomon bond-service was exacted from the fragments of the tribes still remaining in the land (1 Kings 9:20, 1 Kings 9:21). Even after the return from captivity survivors of five of the Canaanitish tribes were still found in the land.
In the Tell-el-Amarna tablets Canaan is found under the forms of Kinakhna and Kinakhkhi. Under the name of Kanana the Canaanites appear on Egyptian monuments, wearing a coat of mail and helmet, and distinguished by the use of spear and javelin and the battle-axe. They were called Phoenicians by the Greeks and Poeni by the Romans. By race the Canaanites were Semitic. They were famous as merchants and seamen, as well as for their artistic skill. The chief object of their worship was the sun-god, who was addressed by the general name of Baal, “lord.” Each locality had its special Baal, and the various local Baals were summed up under the name of Baalim, “lords.”