What happened to the Canaanites? According to Bible, God ordered the children of Israel to annihilate the inhabitants of Canaan, leaving nothing alive. (Deuteronomy 20:15-18) However, a recent study published in The American Journal of Human Genetics has revealed that modern-day Lebanese share almost 90% of their genome with the ancient Canaanites. This implies that the Canaanites where not wiped out, but in fact continued to live and thrive in the region well into the modern era. Furthermore, many of the articles detailing the recent genetic findings have been keen to point out that there is no evidence that Canaanite cities were ever destroyed or abandoned, according to the most recent archaeological data.
Therefore, it would seem that these new developments have at last provided solid evidence in contradiction to the Old Testament, thus disproving the Biblical account and vindicating atheism once and for all. The Bible is debunked at last!
Or is it?
According to Deuteronomy 6:10-13, God not only promised to give the Israelites the land of Canaan, but also the cities and houses therein, as well as the crops and other possessions of the Canaanites.
"The Lord your God will soon bring you into the land he swore to give you when he made a vow to your ancestors Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. It is a land with large, prosperous cities that you did not build. The houses will be richly stocked with goods you did not produce. You will draw water from cisterns you did not dig, and you will eat from vineyards and olive trees you did not plant..."
~Deuteronomy 6:10-11 New Living Translation (NLT)
It seems apparent, based on this passage, that we would find little to no archaeological evidence of destruction or long-term abandonment of Canaanite cities for the simple reason that the Israelites occupied the cities immediately after destroying and/or taking possession of everything in them. This is further supported by Joshua chapters 13-23, which record in great detail the division of Canaanite lands, cities, and villages among the Israelite tribes west of the Jordan River.
That said, there is still the issue of genetics. Scientific data doesn't lie. But neither does the Bible. So if the Israelites destroyed the Canaanites, how can modern people groups share DNA with the ancient inhabitants of Canaan? The answer is simple: The Israelites did not wipe out all of the Canaanites.
In Joshua 2, the Bible records the story of Rahab—a Canaanite prostitute living in Jericho who aided spies sent out ahead of Joshua and the Israelite army. In exchange for her help, the two spies promised to spare Rahab and her family when they took the city. True to their word, they kept their promise in Joshua 6:
"Meanwhile, Joshua said to the two spies, 'Keep your promise. Go to the prostitute’s house and bring her out, along with all her family.'
"The men who had been spies went in and brought out Rahab, her father, mother, brothers, and all the other relatives who were with her. They moved her whole family to a safe place near the camp of Israel.
"Then the Israelites burned the town and everything in it. Only the things made from silver, gold, bronze, or iron were kept for the treasury of the Lord’s house. So Joshua spared Rahab the prostitute and her relatives who were with her in the house, because she had hidden the spies Joshua sent to Jericho. And she lives among the Israelites to this day."
~Joshua 6:22-25 New Living Translation (NLT)
After Rahab and her family were spared at Jericho, Rehab married an Israelite man named Salmon. Together they had a son named Boaz (you can read more about him in the book of Ruth) who was not only an ancestor of King David, but also of Jesus Christ. (Matthew 1:5) So from a purely genetic standpoint, Jesus Christ himself had traces of Canaanite DNA.
In addition to sparing Rahab's entire family, the Israelites also inadvertently spared the powerful city-state of Gibeon in Joshua 6, when the leaders of the Gibeonites deceived Joshua into forming an alliance with them, in direct violation of God's commands in Exodus 23:32-33 and Deuteronomy 7:2. This resulted in a coalition of five Canaanite city-states marching against Gibeon and Israel in Joshua 10. However, Joshua and the Israelites proved victorious and lay claim to the entire region.
"So Joshua conquered the whole region—the kings and people of the hill country, the Negev, the western foothills, and the mountain slopes. He completely destroyed everyone in the land, leaving no survivors, just as the Lord, the God of Israel, had commanded. Joshua slaughtered them from Kadesh-barnea to Gaza and from the region around the town of Goshen up to Gibeon. Joshua conquered all these kings and their land in a single campaign, for the Lord, the God of Israel, was fighting for his people."
~Joshua 10:40-42 New Living Translation (NLT)
However, despite these victories, the Israelites failed to completely drive out the inhabitants of Canaan, as recorded in Joshua 13:1-6.
"When Joshua was an old man, the Lord said to him, 'You are growing old, and much land remains to be conquered. This is the territory that remains: all the regions of the Philistines and the Geshurites, and the larger territory of the Canaanites, extending from the stream of Shihor on the border of Egypt, northward to the boundary of Ekron. It includes the territory of the five Philistine rulers of Gaza, Ashdod, Ashkelon, Gath, and Ekron. The land of the Avvites in the south also remains to be conquered. In the north, the following area has not yet been conquered: all the land of the Canaanites, including Mearah (which belongs to the Sidonians), stretching northward to Aphek on the border of the Amorites; the land of the Gebalites and all of the Lebanon mountain area to the east, from Baal-gad below Mount Hermon to Lebo-hamath; and all the hill country from Lebanon to Misrephoth-maim, including all the land of the Sidonians.*
"'I myself will drive these people out of the land ahead of the Israelites. So be sure to give this land to Israel as a special possession, just as I have commanded you.'"
~Joshua 13:1-6 New Living Translation (NLT) [Emphasis Added]
~Joshua 13:1-6 New Living Translation (NLT) [Emphasis Added]
Following the death of Joshua (Joshua 24:29-31, Judges 2:6-9) the Israelites continued to fight against the people of Canaan, but failed to wipe them out completely. (Judges 1:19-36) Shortly thereafter, the people of Israel abandoned God's commands altogether. (Judges 2:10-15) Instead of wiping out the Canaanites and the other people living in the land, they began to intermarry, adopting both their customs and their gods.
"So the people of Israel lived among the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites, and they intermarried with them. Israelite sons married their daughters, and Israelite daughters were given in marriage to their sons. And the Israelites served their gods."
~Judges 3:5-6 New Living Translation (NLT)
This pattern continues throughout the book of Judges and indeed much of the Old Testament, with Canaanites and people descended from Canaanites mentioned time and time again. Therefore, it is clear from the Biblical text that the Israelites did not succeed in wiping out the Canaanites, and in most cases did exactly the opposite. Thus, even though the Canaanites' cultural identity has been lost to time, their genetics remain in living populations today.
In conclusion: the presence of Canaanite DNA in living populations does not disprove the Bible in any way, shape, or form, and in fact affirms the validity and reliability of God's Word.
* (The genetic research team conducted their tests in the Lebanese city of Sidon, the same region mentioned in Joshua 13:6)