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Canaanite DNA disproves the Bible?

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



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.

Published: 4 August 2017

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
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Christianity for Skeptics
by Drs Steve Kumar, Jonathan D Sarfati
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