The expressions "Canaan" and "Canaanite" () are applied in the Old Testament sometimes to the collective non-Israelitish population west of the Jordan, or to the land itself (Gen. xii. 5; Josh. xxii. 9; Ps. cvi. 38), and sometimes to a part of the population. Thus, the Canaanites are mentioned among other Palestinian tribes (Gen. xiii. 7, xv. 21; Ex. iii. 8); and the term is applied specifically to the inhabitants of the Mediterranean coast (Josh. v. 1) or to the tribes dwelling between that coast and the Jordan (Josh. xi. 3; Num. xiii. 29). As a designation for the coast inhabitants it is identical with "Phenicians," and is thus used in a political sense in Isa. xxiii. 2. In Zeph. ii. 5 the name is applied to the Philistine population of the southern coast; but the accuracy of the text is not quite certain. Since the term "Canaanites" was also applied to the Phenicians, it gradually obtained the meaning of "traders," as used in Isa. xxiii. 8; Ezek. xvi. 29, xvii. 4; Zeph. i. 11; Job xl. 30 (A. V. xli. 6); Prov. xxxi. 24; (possibly also in Zech. xiv. 21). The consistent use of the word is one of the distinguishing features of the Jahvist sources, while the Elohist uses "Amorite" in the same sense (compare Amorites; Hittites). In Isa. xix. 18, where the language of the Canaanites is referred to, the word "Canaan" is applied to the Jewish population of Palestine, but in Hosea xii. 8 it is an opprobrious epithet for idolatrous Israel, if indeed the text here be reliable.
The same double use of the word is found elsewhere. Thus, on Phenician coins the word is used to designate the Phenician people. Similarly, Greek writers employ the word χνα (a short form = ) in reference to Phenicia or to the ancestors of the Phenicians (compare Schröder, "Die Phoenizische Sprache," p. 6). In the El-Amarna tablets "Kinahhu" () and "Kinahna" refer to the northern portion of the Mediterranean coast. In the old Egyptian inscriptions the word "Kan'na" is applied especially to the Phenician coast; sometimes, also, to the whole shore of the Mediterranean. The word designating Canaanites in these inscriptions is, however, applied in a wider sense to the people of western Syria in general. This is similar to the Old Testament usage, but is more comprehensive.
In all probability the limited application of the word to the Mediterranean coast is the original, narrower use of the word found in so many inscriptions pointing in that direction. The designation was afterward applied to the inhabitants of the interior, either because the coast population was originally best known, or because they actually occupied a great portion of the mountainous district also.
- Moore, in Proceedings of Am. Oriental Soc. 1890, lxvii. et seq.;
- Zimmern, in Zeit. Deutsch. Paläst.-Ver. xiii. 138;
- W. Max Müller, Asien und Europa, pp. 205 et seq.