What Canaanite and Lebanese Genes Do, and Don’t, Say about the Bible

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.

You have 2 free articles left this month

Sign up now for unlimited access

Subscribe Now

Already have an account? Log in now

Read more at Critical Realism and the New Testament

More about: Archaeology, Canaanites, Genetics, Hebrew Bible, History & Ideas, Lebanon

No, Israelis and Palestinians Can’t Simply Sit Down and Solve the “Israel-Palestinian Conflict”

Jan. 17 2019

By “zooming out” from the blinkered perspective with which most Westerners see the affairs of the Jewish state, argues Matti Friedman, one can begin to see things the way Israelis do:

Many [in Israel] believe that an agreement signed by a Western-backed Palestinian leader in the West Bank won’t end the conflict, because it will wind up creating not a state but a power vacuum destined to be filled by intra-Muslim chaos, or Iranian proxies, or some combination of both. That’s exactly what has happened . . . in Gaza, Lebanon, Syria, and Iraq. One of Israel’s nightmares is that the fragile monarchy in Jordan could follow its neighbors . . . into dissolution and into Iran’s orbit, which would mean that if Israel doesn’t hold the West Bank, an Iranian tank will be able to drive directly from Tehran to the outskirts of Tel Aviv. . . .

In the “Israeli-Palestinian” framing, with all other regional components obscured, an Israeli withdrawal in the West Bank seems like a good idea—“like a real-estate deal,” in President Trump’s formulation—if not a moral imperative. And if the regional context were peace, as it was in Northern Ireland, for example, a power vacuum could indeed be filled by calm.

But anyone using a wider lens sees that the actual context here is a complex, multifaceted war, or a set of linked wars, devastating this part of the world. The scope of this conflict is hard to grasp in fragmented news reports but easy to see if you pull out a map and look at Israel’s surroundings, from Libya through Syria and Iraq to Yemen.

The fault lines have little to do with Israel. They run between dictators and the people they’ve been oppressing for generations; between progressives and medievalists; between Sunnis and Shiites; between majority populations and minorities. If [Israel’s] small sub-war were somehow resolved, or even if Israel vanished tonight, the Middle East would remain the same volatile place it is now.

You have 1 free article left this month

Sign up now for unlimited access

Subscribe Now

Already have an account? Log in now

Read more at New York Times

More about: Hizballah, Iran, Israel & Zionism, Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, Middle East