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People of the low country
The story of the Canaanites/Phoenicians...

An accursed people?

The Bible tells us that Noah cursed them to be slaves 1, Moses told the Israelites to massacre them 2, Joshua wiped out several of their cities 3, Jesus himself hesitated to heal their sick 4...

According to one legend, they had a metal idol that was hollow and rather large: large enough to contain a quantity of flour, as well as turtle-doves, a male and female sheep, a calf, an ox, and a child; and all of the above were burned simultaneously in the worship. 5

William Lane Craig, a conservative evangelical theologian, is so appalled by alleged Canaanite practices like child sacrifice, that he draws a remarkable conclusion: Israelite warriors did well to kill all the Canaanites they could find, children included. Massacres carried out by Israelites were actually beneficial to the Canaanite children themselves: "...the death of these children was actually their salvation." 6

Was the low country a low point in history?

"Canaanite" is a slightly anglicized version of a very ancient name, one interpretation of which is "people of the low country". 7

Did the Canaanites represent a low point in human history? Or is there something low about the way they have perceived by others?

I've recently been looking at range of material, ranging from passages from the Bible, classical Greek and Roman writings, reports of archeological finds, and modern attempts to analyse and explain.

The picture that emerges is not a black and white one...

Who were the Canaanites/Phoenicians?

The Canaanites were known to the ancient Greeks as Phoenicians. 8 This resolves an apparent contradiction in the New Testament: a woman who is described as a Canaanite in the Gospel of Matthew 9, but a Phoenician in the Gospel of Mark 10.

According to the Book of Genesis 11, their territory once extended along the eastern Mediterranean shore from Sidon in the north (in what is now Lebanon) to Gaza in the south. In fact the earliest known written expressions of an arguably Canaanite culture comes from further north than Sidon: from Ugarit, in Syria. In terms of its religion Ugarit is considered Canaanite. 12 The Ugaritic language is, however, distinct from Canaanite, although it is part of the same Northwest Semitic language family, to which the Hebrew language belongs as well. 13

The Canaanite mythology was older than that of the Bible, but had similarities. For instance, they had a myth in which the god Baal Hadad fights against powers of the sea, including a "wriggling serpent". The Book of Isaiah uses similar words to describe conflict between the Israelite god and the monster Leviathan. 14

The main difference was the Canaanites were a polytheistic culture, the Israelites a monotheistic one. To put this another way, the culture of ancient Israel can be characterized as a monotheistic variant of Canaanite culture. However, even after the Israelite monotheism emerged in the south of what had been Canaan, the polytheistic culture continued in the north, in and around the cities of Sidon and Tyre.


The Canaanites or Phoenicians developed the first widespread system of writing that was entirely phonetic, rather than part phonetic, part ideographic. They had 22 letters, each representing a consonant; vowels were originally not shown at all. 15 They wrote the name of their own country (for instance on coinage) with letters equivalent to KN'N. 16

Most forms of writing used in the world today are descendants of the ancient Phoenician script. For instance, the modern English alphabet is based on the Latin script, which is based on the Greek, which is based on the Phoenician.

They were capable seafarers, and established a number of colonies around the Mediterranean: the largest being Carthage, on the north coast of Africa.

Most of what they wrote down has been lost. But enough material is left to show that they had flourishing written languages from the period represented by the clay tablets of Ugarit (around 1200 BCE) until around the time represented by Saint Augustine of Hippo (around 400 CE).

Augustine wrote: "many things have been wisely preserved from oblivion in books written in the Punic tongue." 17 Punic is the form of Phoenician spoken in and around Carthage.

Augustine also wrote that many North African peasant farmers of his time, if asked about their origin, would reply with the Punic word chanani, meaning Canaanites. 18

Remembered names19

The serpent of healing

Sanchuniathon says that in Phoenician and Egyptian traditions, the serpent is praised for its vitality, and for its ability to rejuvenate itself by shedding its skin. 22 At a site near Sidon, archeologists have found a temple of Eshmun, the Phoenician god of healing; a gold plaque there shows Eshmun holding a staff around which a serpent is entwined. 23

Compare the Biblical passage 24 where Moses sets up a bronze serpent on a rod, which brings healing to Israelites who have been bitten by snakes. The Bible tells us that this bronze serpent was enshrined in the Jerusalem temple, but was destroyed by King Hezekiah during a campaign against idolatry. 25 Even though the metal object was lost, the image lived on. For it re-appeared in the New Testament as a symbol of Christ. 26

The distinction between polytheists and monotheists, between worshippers of idols and breakers of idols, may seem clear enough in theory; but the above comparison shows that in cultural history it is not so clear-cut.

What about those sacrifices?

The Canaanites could hardly have lasted so long, or achieved so much, if they didn't know how to care for their sons and daughters, and how to teach at least some of them to read and write.

Does this mean the stories about child sacrifice are all propaganda? Not necessarily.

There are several forms of evidence -- Biblical, Graeco-Roman literature, and archeological finds -- which support the conclusion that Canaanite cultures did sometimes sacrifice infants. The evidence suggests that they believed in powerful gods and goddesses, who could demand extreme acts of worship. The more help you needed from your gods, the more you might have to give up to them.

The strongest evidence I know of... at site near Carthage, there are jars containing burned remains of small children, or sometimes the remains of animals such as lambs. Above the jars are inscribed slabs (called stelae), mostly in the Punic language (a form of Phoenician), which say for instance: "To our lady, to Tanit ... and to our lord, to Ba'al Hammon, that which was vowed." Tanit is the name of a goddess important to the Carthaginians, and Ba'al Hammon is the name of a god. At a similar site further west on the coast of North Africa, a slab has been found bearing the words in Latin: "Life for life, blood for blood, a lamb for a substitute". 27

When I read the inscription about the vow, it reminded me of a passage in the Bible, where a human is sacrificed to the God of Israel – the story of Jephthah's vow, which obliged him to make an offering of his own daughter. 28 The idea of a sheep as a substitute for human sacrifice is also found in the Bible. 29 All of which suggests that Canaanite and Israelite beliefs about blood sacrifice were not as different as conservative monotheists might suppose.

Did they really burn children alive?

From evidence I've looked in the ancient sources, such as the essay De Superstitione by Plutarch (a Roman citizen of Greek family), and passages about sacrifice in the Bible, the answer is: Probably not.

Plutarch says that children sacrificed at Carthage were killed by the same method commonly used to slaughter lambs and birds: their throats were cut. 30

Why then have burnt remains been found? A likely scenario is a ritual like the Israelite whole-offering described in the Book of Leviticus 31, where the sacrificial victim is first killed, and afterwards burned thoroughly.

The god-king and his son

As Sanchuniathon mentions, they had a story of a god-king who had to sacrifice his only son in order to save his kingdom. This god-king is named El (Latinized as Elus) a name used also in Hebrew texts for the God of Israel.

It was a custom of the ancients in great crises of danger for the rulers of a city or nation, in order to avert the common ruin, to give up the most beloved of their children for sacrifice as a ransom to the avenging daemons; and those who were thus given up were sacrificed with mystic rites. Kronos then, whom the Phoenicians call Elus, who was king of the country and subsequently, after his decease, was deified as the star Saturn, had by a nymph of the country named Anobret an only begotten son... and when very great dangers from war had beset the country, he arrayed his son in royal apparel, and prepared an altar, and sacrificed him.32

Compare the following verse from the New Testament:

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life.33

Paganism, Judaism, and Christianity

For me, the bottom line of this study is a sense of continuity between Christianity, Judaism, and the most despised of the Pagan religions... A continuity that may have challenging implications for Christians and Jews as well as Neo-pagans...

Colin Robinson
January 2011

1 Genesis 9 verse 25

2 Deuteronomy 7 verse 2

3 For instance Jericho, whose fall is described in Joshua chapter 6

4 Matthew 15 verses 21 to 26

5 See Wikipedia entry: Moloch

6 William Lane Craig Reasonable Faith: Question 16 Slaughter of the Canaanites

7 See Wikipedia entry: Canaan.

8 See Wikipedia: Phoenicia and Canaan

9 Matthew 15 verses 21 to 28

10 Mark 7 verses 24 to 30

11 Genesis 10 verses 18 to 19

12 See Wikipedia: Ugarit#Ugaritic religion and Baal cycle

13See Wikipedia Ugaritic language

14 See Wikipedia: Leviathan#Origins

15 See Wikipedia: Phoenician alphabet

16 See Wikipedia: Canaan#Etymology

17 Letters of Saint Augustine, Letter 17.

18 Exposition of the Epistle to Romans, cited in Isaac Newton's Revised History of Ancient Kingdoms

19 See their Wikipedia entries for basic information and links.

20 2 Chronicles 2 verses 13 to 14

21 Sanchuniathon fragments presented as an independent text

Text by Eusebius, where Sanchuniathon quotes appear... Eusebius: Praeparatio Evangelica Book 1 (Chapter X)

22 Sanchuniathon fragments

23 See Wikipedia: Eshmun

24 Numbers 21 verse 9

25 2 Kings 18 verse 4

26 John 3 verse 14

27 The translations are by Lawrence Stager and Joseph Greene, who are specialists in study of ancient Carthage. See their article "YES, The Phoenician/Punic practiced Child Sacrifice". The article appears on the same page with arguments by other specialists who disagree, at Child Sacrifice: Children of Phoenician Punic Carthage Where Not Sacrificed to the Gods

28 Judges 11 verses 30 to 40

29 e.g. Genesis 22 verses 1 to 13

30 Plutarch: De Superstitione (Section 13)

31 Leviticus chapter 1

32 Cited in Eusebius: Praeparatio Evangelica Book 1 (Chapter X)

33 John 3: 16, King James Version

© Colin Robinson 2011


From Di Mitchell

Sun, 6 Feb 2011

Re: Biblio, Kanaanidoj

Kara Colin,

Via artikolo estas tre detala, vi devas scii multe pri malnovaj civilizacioj. Vi skribis konvinke kaj intereste. Mi estas impona.


Di Mitchell

From Sanjay Dey

Mon, 7 Feb 2011

Re: People of the low country: Canaanites/Phoenicians

Dear Colin,


I went through your text. What puzzles me is that their area of civilization. Hannibal was a military leader at the time of Caesar. So, did this civilization started at the time of the Greeks. Also, I have heared that after Christ was put on the cross, he reappeared in Kashmir, in some version in some part of Turkey or Syria(?). Is there a connection between the two.


About the cult of child sacrifice, many civilization has it. The Tantriks also did child sacrifices,the Incas had women sacrifices, etc.


Thanks ,

Sanjay Dey

Reply from Colin

Mon, 7 Feb 2011

Re: People of the low country: Canaanites/Phoenicians

Dear Sanjay,

Many thanks for your response to my article.

> I went through your text. What puzzles me is that their area of civilization.

Hannibal was a military leader at the time of Caesar. So, did this civilization

started at the time of the Greeks.

These three cultures -- Canaanite/Phoenician, Greek, Roman -- all overlapped in

time. They traded goods and ideas, as well as fighting wars with each other.

> Also, I have heared that after Christ was put on the cross, he reappeared in

Kashmir, in some version in some part of Turkey or Syria(?).

I think these are legends -- stories that might conceivably be true, but that

cannot be proven historically. There is also a legend that he spent time in

ancient Britain. Christianity does seem to have spread quite rapidly, both east

and west.

The New Testament itself -- which also contains material that can't be proven

historically -- mentions that Jesus spent much of life in Galilei, just south of

polytheistic Phoenicia. (Both Galilei and Phoenicia at that time were provinces

of the Roman Empire.) The New Testament also mentions Jesus paying a visit to Phoenicia.

> Is there a connection between the two.

Perhaps the reason why Christianity spread so rapidly through polytheistic

cultures, is that the new religion emerged from a sort of cross-fertilization

between Jewish monotheism and Phoenician polytheism.

This may also explain why (according to the New Testament) early Christianity

was attacked by Jewish intellectuals (Pharisees). In the eyes of the Pharisees,

it was one more Canaanite-influenced heresy.

> About the cult of child sacrifice, many civilization has it. The Tantriks also

did child sacrifices,the Incas had women sacrifices, etc.

Very true!

In western culture, there are numerous books and movies about sacrificial rites

in other parts of the world. A very popular one was Steven Spielberg's "Indiana

Jones and the Temple of Doom", where the bad guys are worshippers of Kali.

The books and movies are based on a few grains of truth about other cultures,

but they also say a lot about the mind-set of the culture that produced the


They show that, to westerners, blood sacrifice seems different from other forms

of violence. It evokes fear and repugnance, but also fascination.

Is this because we westerners have not come to terms with the

Phoenician/Canaanite element in our own cultural history?

Best wishes


From EmJayCee

Tues 8 Feb, 2011

Re: People of the low country: Canaanites/Phoenicians

Don't forget Mithraism, from which Christianity borrowed heavily. It was very popular with Roman soldiers and so already had a wide base from which it was easy to convert to the new religion.


Reply from Colin

Tues 8 Feb, 2011

Re: People of the low country: Canaanites/Phoenicians

Hello Kumari.

I did not mean to say that Israelite monotheism and Canaanite polytheism were

the only factors in early Christianity.

I haven't done much personal research on the topic of Mithraism, but it does

look like a probable influence. The New Testament legend about the journey of

the Magi tells us that early Christianity had at least some connection to the

wisdom teachings of Persia.

Another probable influence is the Egyptian vision of Isis and Osiris, which

certainly remained a living religion after Egypt became part of the Roman

Empire, and in fact gained Roman converts such as Lucius Apuleius, writer of the

Golden Ass.

The Canaanite (or Phoenician) connection seems important because they were so

close culturally and geographically to the Israelites (or Jews); and also

because monotheists have made such a show of shunning them...

Om Shantih


From EmJayCee

Tues, Feb 8, 2011

Re: People of the low country: Canaanites/Phoenicians

Good point. Definitely the Egyptian had an influence as well. When I was practicing Witchcraft I became familiar with Lucius Apuleus. Isis evolves into the BVMary and Osiris into Jesus.


Reply from Colin

Wed, Feb 9 2011

Re: People of the low country: Canaanites/Phoenicians

> Good point. Definitely the Egyptian had an influence as well. When I was

practicing Witchcraft I became familiar with Lucius Apuleus. Isis evolves into

the BVMary and Osiris into Jesus.

As the Bible says: "Honour your father and your mother."

The historical father of Christianity is Judaism, and the historical mother of

Christianity is Paganism...

When Christians learn to honour both, perhaps their sins really will be


Bright blessings,


From EmJayCee

Thurs, 10 Feb 2011

Re: People of the low country: Canaanites/Phoenicians

I really like that, Colin. Those people are representative of the ancestors of the present day Christians, who never learned to live and let live with them. Withn Hinduism a person is taught to bow to the mother and father (which include all the ancestors) even if we might have differences with them. We still have to appreciate what they sacrificed for us and how they tried to make us ready for adulthood. If you go back far enough in the ancestry all the families will converge until we have the first human family. Your family is my family and my family is your family.

Jai Maa!


Reply from Colin

Sun, 13 Feb 2011

Re: People of the low country: Canaanites/Phoenicians

I'm glad you like what I wrote, Kumari. I also like what you've written about

the our families and the human family.

I've been looking at the topic of Mithraism, which you mentioned in a posting

before. There do seem to be some striking parallels between the symbolism

associated with Mithras and with Christ.

However, a lot of the statues and pictures associated with Mithras -- at least

the Roman version of Mithras -- seem to come from the first few centuries after

Christ, so it is not 100 percent clear which influenced which.

Roman worshippers of the divine warrior Mithra may have changed and adapted

Mithraism into something rather different from the worship practised in and

around Iran. Just as Christian Romans changed the worship of the Biblical God

from the way it had been practised by the Israelites...

Om Shantih


From Debbie Sea-Kay

Thurs 11 Sept 2014

Re: People of the low country: Canaanites/Phoenicians

Great article, confirming much of what I've found during my own research into the Canaanites/Phoenicians.

I've been studying the Phoenician settlers in Cornwall in the Bronze age, where they came to mine tin and other metals, and came to the same Canaanite/Hebraic origins, - but I took the journey a little further.

There is archaeological evidence to suggest that the Canaanites were also very apparent in the Anatolian region earlier than in the near east/levant. DNA testing on Phoenician remains concluded that they were caucasian, blue eyed, blonde/red hair and very tall - the 'giants'.

They were a technologically advanced race, producing the first metals and building a mobile empire from the trade of metals and dyes (Phoenician is a Greek word referring to the red colour [known as royal purple] that they produced from the murex)

They settled in Carthage, Iberia and had great trading posts at Marseilles and Icthus (St Michaels Mount, Cornwall)and there is archaeological evidence to prove they also traveled to the Americas and to Australia.

One interesting point I discovered during my own studies, was the origin of the Celts, the first inhabitants of the British Isles.

The Celts came from three regions; Iberia, Troy and Phocaea. At the time of the migration to Britain, these three regions (the latter two being part of Ancient Greece, now modern western Turkey) were populated primarily by Phoenicians.

In fact, the word 'Iberia' is a derivation of the word 'Hibiru' - 'Hebrew'.

The Cornish language is so similar to Hebrew that it has been noted how easily understood it is to Hebrew speakers.

In fact the term 'British' is known to refer to the words 'Brith-Ish' - People of the Covenant.

Debbie Sea-Kay

From S. Ramabhadran

Sat, Dec 27, 2014

Re: Serpent of Healing

Serpent of healing is not a symbol of Christ. It is a symbol of gaining wisdom through the activities which are done in repetition on habitual things with immense focusing power, love for doing, excitement enjoyed, consciousness based, the level of KUNDALINI raises up to crown. These people will have super divine power. The coiled nerve around the spinal cord is the serpent heads and the spinal cord is the rod. Christ got this knowledge from India. The serpent and rod sign were used much before the birth of Christ in Greece.

S. Ramabhadran

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