Christians Dispute Claim That Genetic Link Between Ancient Canaanites, Modern Lebanese Contradicts Bible

Photo Credit: Dr. Claude Doumet-Serhal

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — A number of Christian scientists, writers and analysts are pushing back to defend the Bible’s historical veracity after a team of researchers recently claimed that the discovery of a genetic link between the modern Lebanese people and the ancient Canaanites contradicts Scripture. While the researchers assert that the Bible says the Canaanites were annihilated, and therefore, there should be no descendants, those disputing this claim note that the Bible clearly and repeatedly states that the people of Israel “did not utterly” drive the Canaanites out.

In a report published in The American Journal of Human Genetics, a team of 15 international researchers explained the findings of a recent study in which they analyzed ancient human remains from Lebanon and compared them to modern DNA samples in the same region.

“In this study, we sequenced five whole genomes from ∼3,700-year-old individuals from the city of Sidon, a major Canaanite city-state on the Eastern Mediterranean coast,” they reported. “We also sequenced the genomes of 99 individuals from present-day Lebanon to catalog modern Levantine genetic diversity.”

The scientists admitted that, due to “the limited number of ancient samples available,” they are “just beginning to reconstruct a genetic history of the Levant or the Near East.” Nevertheless, because they found genetic similarities between the ancient genomes and the modern genomes, they concluded that descendants of the ancient Canaanites live on to this day.

The researchers believe over 90 percent of the genetic ancestry of the present-day Lebanese population comes from the ancient Canaanites.

“In this report we have … provided insights into how the Bronze Age Canaanites were related to other ancient populations and how they have contributed genetically to present-day ones,” they stated. “We show that present-day Lebanese derive most of their ancestry from a Canaanite-related population, which therefore implies substantial genetic continuity in the Levant since at least the Bronze Age.”

In addition to reporting their findings, the study’s authors said that their conclusions contradict the Bible’s accounts of the Canaanites.

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“[T]he Bible reports the destruction of the Canaanite cities and the annihilation of its people; if true, the Canaanites could not have directly contributed genetically to present-day populations,” they claimed in their journal article.

“Were [the Canaanites] annihilated like the Bible says?” a press release also asked, later adding, “[T]he Canaanites did not just disappear. Instead, they survived and are the ancestors of the people now living in modern-day Lebanon.”

A number of media outlets likewise suggested that the genetic findings challenged the biblical narrative. A headline from The Independent read, “Bible says Canaanites were wiped out by Israelites but scientists just found their descendants living in Lebanon.” The Daily Mail similarly declared, “Bronze Age DNA disproves the Bible’s claim that the Canaanites were wiped out.” Comos also proclaimed, “DNA vs the Bible: Israelites did not wipe out the Canaanites.”

However, a number of Christian scientists, writers and analysts are pushing back against the researchers’ claims regarding the Bible, noting that the Scriptures do not say that the Canaanites were annihilated, but rather went on to inhabit various lands.

“References in the Bible to the Canaanite population being killed or driven out might have implied there was no continuity between that population and modern inhabitants of the region,” writes Mark Woods of Christian Today. “However, it is clear from elsewhere in the Old Testament (Judges 1:19) that this command was not fulfilled and that pockets of Canaanites survived.”

“The Bible is detailed and unambiguous in relating that the Canaanites survived Joshua’s invasion. So it’s no wonder they have living descendants,” states David Klinghoffer, a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute. “The first chapter in Judges lists all the places in Israel where the Canaanites persisted ‘to this day,’ ‘for they did not drive them out…'”

“The ancient DNA evidence comprises the ‘complete genomes of five Canaanite individuals who lived almost 4,000 years ago in what’s now the modern-day Lebanese city of Sidon,'” he notes, quoting Science Daily. “Interestingly, the Canaanites in that ancient city are among those that the Bible specifically says lived on (Judges 1:31) to cause serious trouble for the Israelites.”

“[T]he Bible does not describe annihilation!” likewise writes Jeffery Tomkins, a geneticist with the Institute for Creation Research. “While God commanded the Israelites to eliminate the Canaanites from the land they were given, the Bible clearly documents that the Israelites disobeyed God and refused to follow the instructions recorded in three different places (Joshua 17:12-13, Judges 1:27-33, Judges 2:1-3). As it turns out, the Canaanites got a big break and survived just fine.”

Judges 1 reads, “Neither did Manasseh drive out the inhabitants of Bethshean and her towns, nor Taanach and her towns, nor the inhabitants of Dor and her towns, nor the inhabitants of Ibleam and her towns, nor the inhabitants of Megiddo and her towns. But the Canaanites would dwell in that land.”

“And it came to pass, when Israel was strong, that they put the Canaanites to tribute, and did not utterly drive them out,” Scripture continues. “Neither did Ephraim drive out the Canaanites that dwelt in Gezer; but the Canaanites dwelt in Gezer among them. Neither did Zebulun drive out the inhabitants of Kitron, nor the inhabitants of Nahalol; but the Canaanites dwelt among them, and became tributaries.”

“Neither did Asher drive out the inhabitants of Accho, nor the inhabitants of Zidon, nor of Ahlab, nor of Achzib, nor of Helbah, nor of Aphik, nor of Rehob. But the Asherites dwelt among the Canaanites, the inhabitants of the land, for they did not drive them out.”

“Once again science confirms the Scriptures as being historically accurate—this time with the aid of new technologies that help sequence ancient DNA,” Tomkins says. “We await the next discovery.”

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