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Canaanite DNA disproves the Bible?

Or, Canaanite DNA disproves media’s ability to read the Bible


Published: 4 August 2017 (GMT+10)

Recently, many science news media outlets seemed to think that ‘fake news’ was OK when it denigrated the Bible. Researchers recently extracted DNA from skeletons, dated at around 3,750 years old and unearthed in Sidon, an ancient city inhabited by Canaanites at the time. When the DNA was compared to modern Lebanese people, they found that modern Lebanese derive about 93% of their ancestry from these Canaanites. There appears to be little reason to doubt the findings. And it’s interesting to see how genetics can provide clues to history when we lack written records. But science reporters seemed to have been utterly enthralled with the idea that these findings ‘contradicted’ the Bible. Here are some examples:

  • “Bronze Age DNA disproves the Bible’s claim that the Canaanites were wiped out: Study says their genes live on in modern-day Lebanese people” (Daily Mail)
  • “Bible says Canaanites were wiped out by Israelites but scientists just found their descendants living in Lebanon” (The Independent)
  • “Scientists Find Evidence That Ancient Canaanites Survive Today: Was The Bible Wrong?” (Tech Times)
  • “New DNA study casts doubt on Bible claim” (Mother Nature Network)
  • “The Bible was WRONG: Civilisation God ordered to be KILLED still live and kicking” (Express)
  • “Genetic evidence suggests the Canaanites weren’t destroyed after all” (Ars Technica)
  • “Canaanites Weren’t Annihilated by Ancient Israelites After All” (Newser)
  • “Study disproves the Bible’s claim that the ancient Canaanites were wiped out” (Click Lancashire)
  • “DNA vs the Bible: Israelites did not wipe out the Canaanites” (Cosmos)
  • “The Bible got it wrong: Ancient Canaanites survived and their DNA lives in modern-day Lebanese” (Pulse Headlines)1,2

Problem: the Bible says exactly the opposite of what these news outlets claim!

The original list of bogus headlines was even longer but, after initial publication, a few articles changed their titles and somewhat amended the text. Commenters typically lambasted the articles for the very reasons pointed out below. Thus, the articles still listed above either remain unchanged at this time, or the changes made didn’t fix the problem.

Not even ‘reputable’ sources were immune from this. Science added this “update” to their article:

Update, 12:00 p.m., 28 July: This story and its headline have been updated to reflect that in the Bible, God ordered the destruction of the Canaanites, but that some cities and people may have survived.

Some “may have survived”!? The Bible says they definitely survived, and persisted in the land, exactly as the DNA evidence indicates! And what was the original title of the Science article? “Ancient DNA counters biblical account of the mysterious Canaanites”.3 In other words, a title worthy of the ‘list of shame’ above.

What the Bible actually says about the fate of the Canaanites

Clearly these ‘reports’ didn’t check the source they say this DNA evidence ‘contradicted’. It will help to quote Scripture at some length, just to show how ludicrous these headlines really are. First, Numbers 33:55:

But if you do not drive out the inhabitants of the land from before you, then those of them whom you let remain shall be as barbs in your eyes and thorns in your sides, and they shall trouble you in the land where you dwell.

Note what happens if the Israelites fail to carry out God’s command—they let people remain. In other words, this was possible. And note what successful obedience looks like: “if you do not drive out the inhabitants of the land”. God didn’t command the total ‘extermination, ‘slaughter’, ‘annihilation’, or ‘destruction’ of the Canaanites! He wanted the Israelites to drive them out.

But how well did Israel do at driving the Canaanites out? Joshua 16:10:

However, they did not drive out the Canaanites who lived in Gezer, so the Canaanites have lived in the midst of Ephraim to this day but have been made to do forced labor.

Clearly, if the Canaanites were used as forced labour “to this day”, they were not exterminated. Note again that they were supposed to drive out the Canaanites, not slaughter them all. Death was meant to be used only for those sinful and stupid enough to stay and fight. Instead, Israel did precisely what God commanded them not to do with the Canaanites; subjugate them. This is even clearer in Judges 1:27–36:

Manasseh did not drive out the inhabitants of Beth-shean and its villages, or Taanach and its villages, or the inhabitants of Dor and its villages, or the inhabitants of Ibleam and its villages, or the inhabitants of Megiddo and its villages, for the Canaanites persisted in dwelling in that land. When Israel grew strong, they put the Canaanites to forced labor, but did not drive them out completely.

And Ephraim did not drive out the Canaanites who lived in Gezer, so the Canaanites lived in Gezer among them.

Zebulun did not drive out the inhabitants of Kitron, or the inhabitants of Nahalol, so the Canaanites lived among them, but became subject to forced labor.

Asher did not drive out the inhabitants of Acco, or the inhabitants of Sidon or of Ahlab or of Achzib or of Helbah or of Aphik or of Rehob, so the Asherites lived among the Canaanites, the inhabitants of the land, for they did not drive them out.

Naphtali did not drive out the inhabitants of Beth-shemesh, or the inhabitants of Beth-anath, so they lived among the Canaanites, the inhabitants of the land. Nevertheless, the inhabitants of Beth-shemesh and of Beth-anath became subject to forced labor for them.

The Amorites pressed the people of Dan back into the hill country, for they did not allow them to come down to the plain. The Amorites persisted in dwelling in Mount Heres, in Aijalon, and in Shaalbim, but the hand of the house of Joseph rested heavily on them, and they became subject to forced labor. And the border of the Amorites ran from the ascent of Akrabbim, from Sela and upward.

This is a long list of Israel’s failures to do what God told them to do. And again, the constant refrain is that they “did not drive out the inhabitants”, not that they didn’t slaughter them all.

Finally, God’s verdict on all this comes down in Judges 2:1–3:

Now the angel of the Lord went up from Gilgal to Bochim. And he said, “I brought you up from Egypt and brought you into the land that I swore to give to your fathers. I said, ‘I will never break my covenant with you, and you shall make no covenant with the inhabitants of this land; you shall break down their altars.’ But you have not obeyed my voice. What is this you have done? So now I say, I will not drive them out before you, but they shall become thorns in your sides, and their gods shall be a snare to you.”

Israel failed and disobeyed, because instead of driving the Canaanites out (not ‘slaughtering them all’), Israel made agreements with them and subjugated them. And note the punishment, exactly as warned about in Numbers 33:55: “So now I say, I will not drive them out before you, but they shall become thorns in your sides”. And, lo and behold, what do we find? All the way through Scripture, even into the New Testament (e.g. Matthew 15:22 and Mark 7:26), the Canaanites are present in the land originally allotted to Israel.

Kill the Canaanites, or drive them out?

But what about passages like Deuteronomy 20:16? “But in the cities of these peoples that the Lord your God is giving you for an inheritance, you shall save alive nothing that breathes”. This was an exception to the general rule for waging war against cities in Deuteronomy 20:10–15. Normally, Israel could subjugate cities who fought against them. But God forbade Israel from doing that with the Canaanites. Why? Deuteronomy 20:18: “that they may not teach you to do according to all their abominable practices that they have done for their gods, and so you sin against the Lord your God.” In other words, the Canaanites were rebels and moral degenerates being judged after centuries of God tolerating their abominations (Genesis 15:16).

And note that verse 16 refers specifically to the cities, and not to the land in general. If people didn’t leave the land, where would they go, on hearing of Israel coming into the land? The fortified cities, where they thought they would be protected. In other words, the people who were left in the cities for Israel to fight were the most stubborn, rebellious types, who had long refused to get out of the land.

At any rate, the ‘drive them out’ and the ‘leave nothing alive’ passages are mutually interpretive. The only options Israel was supposed to give the Canaanites were exile or death. Exile was the first option offered in most cases, even when Israel came to a city. And it was available to everyone well before Israel entered the promised land, since the Canaanites knew and feared Israel because they had heard about what God did to Egypt (Joshua 2:9–11). See Does the Bible condone slavery, abuse of women or mass murder? for more information.4

Archaeology refutes the Conquest?

A smaller point in some articles is that archaeologists think there was no Conquest, and Joshua was just a myth written long after the purported events. However, there is plenty of archaeological evidence for the Conquest; the key is to understand when the evidence points to. For more information, please see The walls of Jericho, The story of Jericho, and more generally Egyptian chronology and the Bible—framing the issues.

Getting the Bible right: too hard for reporters?

In the origins debate, we see all the time how biases can hinder people’s ability to interpret the evidence. However, in this case, it appears the purveyors of this ‘fake news’ didn’t even bother checking the evidence. They just ran with a meme worthy of the worst skeptical trolls on Internet message boards. Why? Probably because a sensational headline, even a sensationally absurd one, gets more views. But it does reveal just how anti-Bible the science news media really is. This is not news to those of us regularly engaged in the origins debate. But this example may provide some pause for those not so aware of this anti-Bible bias, since it shows clearly that it does in fact exist.

References and notes

  1. Adapted from Klinghoffer, D., For Culturally Illiterate Science Reporters, Canaanite DNA Yields Occasion to Slap Bible Around, evolutionnews.org, 29 July 2017. Return to text.
  2. There were some exceptions to this trend, like Fox News, but they seemed to be in the minority. Return to text.
  3. This original title is still reflected in the url for the Science article: sciencemag.org/news/2017/07/ancient-dna-counters-biblical-account-mysterious-canaanitesReturn to text.
  4. A useful in-depth defense of the morality of the Israelite conquest is Copan, P. and Flanagan, M., Did God Really Command Genocide? Baker Books, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 2014. Return to text.

Helpful Resources

How Did We Get Our Bible?
by Lita Cosner, Gary Bates
US $3.50
Soft Cover
Christianity for Skeptics
by Drs Steve Kumar, Jonathan D Sarfati
US $17.00
Soft Cover

Readers’ comments

P. Y.
It is good that people do inform the media of inaccuracies. However, one does wonder how many people read misinformed articles or watch documentaries which are slanted certain ways, and take it all as 'Gospel' truth.
Years ago, I was involved as a passenger in a minor car accident which ws reported on in a small, local newspaper. However, in two, very short paragraphs, they made two or three mistakes. In that instance, it didn't matter. But for other things, surely there should be more accuracy in headlines and reporting.
Brian J.
Another example of how the secular media, not knowing the Scriptures in detail, attempts to claim error in the word of God, and yet the attempt backfires.
Francine L.
Excellent, well written, informative, backed by facts. Thank you. Tomislav and Jared, had taken a note from todays "news", deflect & bring up another topic in order to lessen the validity of what is being presented. I don't care for the phrase "fake news" but it is here, there is no reason not to use it, and it might even attract one who is searching for elements of "fake news" and maybe the article will even make the scales fall from their eyes!

Being set apart does not mean sheltering ourselves from what we do not care for in culture, but we are called to engage & shine a light. How's that light doing!?!
Roger P.
Clearly these people have not read the Tel El Amarna tablets which are letters from Egyptian governors in the land of Palestine in c1400 b.c.to Akhenaten or Amenhotep IV. They plead for him to send archers because the Habiru (or sometimes Hapiru) "are killing us"
This is clearly the invasion under Joshua. The published letters are available, suggest google. I used interlibrary loans.
James K.
Thank yo for an excellent article. The critics come and go, but fall away time and again. Much the same thing was said against the Bible regarding the Hittites until well into the 1900's when archaeologists discovered a record of them. The detractors went silent for a time, but I see they have had a come back with new claims which make little sense. You know the story, "convince a man against his will, and he is of the same opinion still."
Daniel M.
Excellent article. Thank you CMI for continuing to provide Christians with the resources to fight outlandish fake news.
Judie S.
93% similarity?
If one believed other false claims from these media, that would mean modern Lebanese were more closely related to apes than to their ancestors!
Does this demonstrate the folly of blindly trusting those who care more for headlines and funding than for truth?
Shaun Doyle
The 93% figure is not saying that modern Lebanese have a 93% total genetic similarity to the Canaanite human remains they found in Sidon. Rather, it essentially means that 93% of the genetic ancestry of the modern Lebanese can be traced back to the ancient Canaanites as opposed to any other people group. This means the locals have mostly bred with each other for essentially the last 4,000 years, which is quite surprising, given how many different people groups have been through and occupied modern Lebanese lands throughout history. There's nothing relevant to evolution in these findings.
Jared C.
I'm going to have to agree with Tomislav (and against Shuan with love) about this article's use of the term "fake news."

Regardless to what these headlines erroneously claim, the term "fake news" remains an ambiguous term, that's typically a politically charged and divisive type of ad hominem attack. It's use, therefore, undermines the credibility of this article, particularly among those most likely to already be skeptical of the Bible.

Furthermore, the false claims about the Bible was originally made by a research paper that was published in the American Journal of Human Genetics. These headlines and their articles correctly reported claims made in that research paper. So why does this article ignore the original source completely, only to take jabs at the media reporting on it? That itself appears to be selective and bias... and dare I say... "Fake News!" (I only make this claim to demonstrate the dangers of using this rhetoric and to show how it can hurt the integrity of CMI)

The false claims of the research paper can easily be refuted with a little wisdom and discernment... and this article does that. But it would have been better off doing so without invoking a trendy catch-phrase that only resonates with those who already agree with you.
Shaun Doyle
And I must continue to disagree. As I said to Tomislav, readers can check the definition of 'fake news', and see if I used it appropriately. I think it's self-evident that I did.

But "These headlines and their articles correctly reported claims made in that research paper." Except that they didn't report them merely as the claims of the paper; they reported those claims as the truth. Is that OK? I think not.

Journalists are supposed to check their facts, regardless of the source. After all, they pulled their headlines for their 'reports' from neither the title nor the abstract of the original paper, but from a throwaway comment in the middle of the introduction. A rather odd place to derive the focus of the research from, isn't it? If media was 'careful' enough to do that, they surely should've been careful enough to check the Bible to see if the paper's claims had any validity. But they weren't.

If the media had reported on this research properly, the throwaway line in the introduction of the original paper would've just been viewed as a foolish dig at the Bible that got past the reviewers and editors of the article. And why did it get past the reviewers? They're biologists unconcerned with the Bible, it fit their worldview, and it didn't affect the research itself. But the mere presence of such an absurd claim buried in the text of the original paper didn't force the media to parade it as the focus of the story. That the media ran with it was their own fault.
Philip R.
I notice that Science didn't correct their article title from "Ancient DNA counters biblical account of the mysterious Canaanites" to "Ancient DNA confirms biblical account of the mysterious Canaanites" or even "Ancient DNA supports biblical account of the mysterious Canaanites".
Rather, they seem happy to mention the Bible when they think the evidence has shown it to be wrong, but happy to ignore it when the evidence shows it to be correct.
Jim S.
Poor Headline: “New DNA study casts doubt on Bible claim”
Better Headline: “New DNA study confirms Bible claim”
Better still Headline: "Bible confirms accuracy of new DNA study"
Thanks Shaun & the CMI Team.
Richard P.
[Note: I am not the same person as the previous Richard P!] This story was also covered by New Scientist. I did not see the original version of their article, but as of 4th August it had a footnote reading "Correction: This article has been revised to better represent the biblical representation of the Canaanites." However, apart from a brief introductory mention of Jericho, the article's ONLY mention of the bible was "...suggesting that biblical reports of their annihilation were greatly exaggerated."
I submitted feedback to New Scientist, pointing out that there were no such biblical reports, but instead total denials of such annihilation, citing some of the references in the CMI article, as well as Matt 10:4. I stated that rather than better representing the biblical position, they had in fact misrepresented it, and that it was their own claim in the article which was greatly exaggerated. I challenged them to publish a retraction, unless this was an intentional straw man assault on the Bible.
I shall be watching out, without optimism, for this to take place.
Michael B.
The genetic ancestry of a people is not confined to the borders of nations.
In addition to this I would wonder just how much genetic difference would be showing from any peoples of that land at that time (including Israelites) since they were only 1200-1400 years removed from Noah who they all came from.
Joy P.
To Tomislav: every single secular article on this subject touted the claim that "modern science has discredited the Bible"! That is the very definition of Fake News!!!
Richard P.
The article correctly refers to Mark 7:26 as an indication that Canaanites survived into New Testament times. The parallel text in Matthew 15:22 is even more clear, designating her as a "Canaanite" woman. (Mark refers to her as "Greek, Syrophoenician by race.")

The account of Jesus' interaction with the humble but clever Canaanite woman is a gripping example of divine grace. And it becomes all the more remarkable in light of the Old Testament's description of how God used the Israelites to bring (incomplete) judgment upon the woman's sin-laden ancestors.
Shaun Doyle
You're absolutely right Richard; thanks for the heads up. I've updated the sentence to include a reference to Matthew 15:22 as well.
Tomislav O.
I advise that nobody ever use the term "fake news" again, as this phrase originally referred to a type of viral clickbait that was highly prevalent on Facebook during 2016 (likely a deliberate misinformation campaign from the Russian government and Russian crackers) but has recently degenerated into a term meaning "source that I disagree with."
Shaun Doyle
The term isn't going away, and it is not limited to stories that appeared on Facebook in 2016. All I can do is call my readers to go look up the definition of 'fake news' (on e.g. Wikipedia or in the Collins dictionary), and judge for themselves whether my use of it was fair or not. I think the only reasonable conclusion is that I used the term precisely as it should be used. Indeed, finding a better fit for the textbook definition of 'fake news' than this story is almost impossible to do!

Indeed, I wonder whether you even read the article, or merely stopped at the first instance of 'fake news'. Read the titles of these articles I referenced (and the articles themselves, which perpetuate this fraud), and then read Judges 2:1-3. There is no way to conclude that this is anything other than a deliberate, sensationalistic misrepresentation of clear facts done precisely as viral clickbait. These 'reports' are the very definition of 'fake news'. And the fact that so many have refused to alter their story or their headlines, or they've altered them in ways that continue to mislead, shows how deliberate their intent was to malign the Bible on what is one of the flimsiest pseudo-pretexts I have ever seen. Maligning the Bible fits with the dominant narrative, and is bound to generate traffic.
F. G.
Once again, Bible critics can't even make the Bible *appear* to be wrong about something without misrepresenting what it says.
Dan M.
Yep! God hater's one and all, (atheist media). They are just like the Canaanites and God is giving them time to get it together. He is loving and long suffering, 2Pe 3:9.
Loose the bias, do the research and you will find the HOLY Bible to be accurate beyond scepticism. But if you keep listening to the mainstream media you'll never find the truth because the truth is not in them.
This WAR has been going on since the creation and is spiritual in nature, Eph 6:12. Once you understand this, all becomes clear.
God Bless
Joy P.
I'm pleased you guys addressed this. I too saw those articles making the rounds last week and I was so annoyed at the misinformation. But I was cheered to see just how many readers promptly and easily called out the authors for their mistake in the comment sections. Bible readers and believers are not the extinct species the mainstream media would have us believe. We are numerous, and thanks to ministries such as CMI, we are informed and immunized against anti-Biblical bias disguised as "scientific discoveries" . Thanks CMI!
Bill P.
This is what happens when people do not study The Word of God. People in high places who also believe w/all their heart that we are the foolish ones and we need them to lead us to us to truth. The Lord even says, "they have become foolish in their wisdom." I'd like to add one more thing directed towards believers. It is so important for us to read and study The Word of The Lord. Another scripture that comes to mind is the curse placed on Canaan, offspring of Ham. Even today that causes a terrible division among those who claim faith in The Gospel of Christ. Now I can see why those who hate The Word of The Lord are jumping for joy, being motivated by the father of all lies, but for us who believe we should know better. I know many who claim the faith but will not pick up God's Word to read and study it, and because of it many will probably believe what the media has to say about this report, just like many of them believe the lie being taught about Canaan offspring of Ham, Noah's son. I beg my brothers and sisters to read and study God's Word as often as possible, and if not, at least do it when the media comes out w/their twisted version of what they claim The Word of God has to say about the matter. These are the last days, I do not doubt it. The Word of The lord, led by His Holy Spirit is our rock solid foundation of TRUTH. The Lord left us His Word for such a time as this. Please, please, study it, and trust God's Word, not the media's word.

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