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Repudiating the traditional view that Israel was fundamentally different in culture and religion from its Canaanite neighbors, this provocative book argues that Israelite religion developed, at least in part from the religion of Canaan. This thoroughly revised second edition of The Early Histoey of God includes a substantial new preface by the author and a foreword by Patrick D.
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Victor H. The earliest habitation in the region was around the city of Jericho in the Paleolithic Age and this early rural community would then develop into the city which is the oldest urban center in the region and, arguably, the world. Other cities developed during the Early Bronze Age but were abandoned, probably because of overpopulation, and the people returned to an agrarian lifestyle for a number of years. Cities again grew up during the Middle Bronze Age which saw the development of trade with other civilizations and, most notably, Egypt.
Canaan also referred to as Phoenicia at this time continued to prosper until c. The biblical books of Joshua and Numbers attribute the destruction of Canaan to the Hebrew general Joshua and his conquest but this claim has been challenged by modern-day scholars. Following the upheaval of c. These kingdoms lasted until the region was conquered in succession by the Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians, Alexander the Great , the Seleucids, and the Roman Empire.
The indigenous people of the land of Canaan were never a unified ethnic group nor did they worship the same gods in the same way. The Phoenicians, for example, were Canaanites but not all Canaanites were Phoenicians. In religion, they worshiped many gods but, chief among them, the god El, the goddess Ashera associated with Astarte and her consort Baal, and Sumerian deities such as Utu-Shamash.
Other deities worshipped included a minor god named Yahweh who, according to recent scholarship, may have been the Canaanite god of metallurgy. Religious rites included human sacrifice especially child sacrifice in the understanding that the gods gave only the best to the people and so they should reciprocate by offering their best to the gods. Fertility cults were numerous and bread and grain offerings were made to Ashera and her various regional avatars for increased fertility and healthy children.
Human sacrifice does not seem to have played any part in the fertility cults and, further, it is unknown under what conditions a community would sacrifice one of their own. There is no record of any king ruling a unified nation but only of men governing their own city-state and however much land around it they could hold. Byblos, in fact, is probably the most famous of the Canaanite cities even if one has never heard of it. The rivalry between Tyre and Sidon ensured high-quality products from both until Tyre eventually monopolized the textile business.
The region prospered through trade because of its location. It was the terminus, at Gaza, for the Incense Routes which wound up from the Kingdom of Saba in Arabia to then divide into diverse courses upwards throughout Mesopotamia and down through Egypt. It was also a nexus of trade between Mesopotamia, Egypt, and Libya. The alphabet , however, is considered their greatest achievement, as noted by scholar Marc van de Mieroop:. The role of the Phoenicians in the spread of the alphabet is their most renowned accomplishment.
Having preserved the use of the script in the Dark Age after , the Phoenicians inspired all the alphabetic writing systems of their neighbors. Of major importance to Europe was the adoption of the Phoenician alphabet by the Greeks, either directly from Phoenicians or through intermediaries in Syria or Anatolia. The classical sources were clear about this debt: the Greeks called their letters Phoenician. All of this came later, however, following their involvement in trade with other nations. In the beginning, the people of the land were nomads who most likely migrated to the region from Mesopotamia.
Human habitation was established in the region before 10, BCE but the people led a nomadic existence with only seasonal settlements such as the site of the later city of Jericho. During the Early Bronze Age c. The people were primarily hunter-gatherers as the land proved largely inhospitable for agriculture. The Larousse Encyclopedia notes how Canaan was never favored by nature for the cultivation of crops:. The zone of the high hills between the Jordan and the coastal plain was dry and infertile. Many waves of people had, however, succeeded each other here.
The hazards and uncertainties of growing crops explain why nomadism always prevailed in Canaan [at an early date].
These early people have been designated proto-Canaanites by modern-day scholars because they had not yet established an identifiable culture. They worked in stone but built no structures and had a religious belief system but what it consisted of is unknown.
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They developed trade with other nations, however, prior to BCE and the region was considered important enough to be absorbed into the Akkadian Empire by Sargon the Great r. During this time, urban centers arose and trade either increased or was initiated with other nations.
The primary commodity seems to have been ceramics and assorted pottery. After the fall of Akkad to the Gutians, Elamites, and Amorites in c. The people seem to have returned to a nomadic, agrarian, lifestyle for reasons which are unclear but, possibly, due to overuse of the resources around the cities and overpopulation.
During the Middle Bronze Age c. Urbanization and trade flourished and an early version of the Phoenician alphabet was developed which would have a significant impact on other nations of the time and later history.
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At this time, however, cuneiform was still the written language of trade in the Near East and it has been established that Canaan developed especially strong contacts with the cities of Mesopotamia through trade agreements. Miller and Hayes note:.
Related The Early History of God: Yahweh and the Other Deities in Ancient Israel (Biblical Resource Series)
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