Using DNA extracted from ancient skeletons found near the Lebanese city of Sidon, scientists have concluded that the modern-day inhabitants of Lebanon derive 93 percent of their genomes from their Canaanite predecessors. Breathless reports in the popular press ignored the fact that archaeologists and linguists have long considered the Phoenicians—ancient inhabitants of what is now Lebanon—to be one of many Canaanite peoples, and that the new research only confirms what has long been thought. Equally unfounded is the repeated statement that the new evidence disproves biblical accounts of the extermination of the Canaanites. Jonathan Bernier sets the record straight:
The biblical text records the God of Israel commanding the ancient Israelites to destroy all the Canaanites, and we also find in the text assurances that He will deliver them into Israel’s hands. That, however, is not the same as saying that it happened. . . . And indeed, the books of Joshua and Judges make clear that certain portions of the population were not wiped out, and throughout the subsequent historical writings we again and again see “indigenous” Canaanite populations and persons playing a significant role in Israelite history. The biblical writers acknowledge that the Canaanites were not wiped out. They acknowledge, and they lament—for they see these people of the land as perhaps ultimately the single most significant external threat to Israel’s existence. . . .
Looking more specifically at the details in this study, we find that the ancient material used to produce the DNA profile came from Sidon. Now, that’s . . . quite significant, as the book of Joshua never reports that Sidon was destroyed, while Judges 1:31 lists it explicitly as a city that was never conquered by Israel. Moreover, Sidon appears repeatedly as a non-Israelite city throughout the balance of the Hebrew Bible. In other words, . . . there is no biblical claim that the people of Sidon were ever wiped out and in fact a biblical awareness that they weren’t. Far from contesting the biblical claims on the matter, the DNA confirms them. . . .
Although I have never made a systematic study of the matter, I am generally impressed by the extent to which various streams of data tend to cohere when it comes not just to biblical history but to ancient history more generally.
Sign Up For Our E-Mail List Get the latest from Mosaic right in your inbox
Sign up now for unlimited access