Last week, the American Journal of Human Genetics published a study connecting the DNA of ancient Canaanites to modern-day people in Lebanon. Various news outlets immediately reported that this study proved the Bible wrong, when nothing could be further from the truth.
Evolution News’ David Klinghoffer compiled a helpful series of headlines:
- “Study disproves the Bible’s suggestion that the ancient Canaanites were wiped out” (The Telegraph)
- “Bible says Canaanites were wiped out by Israelites but scientists just found their descendants living in Lebanon” (The Independent)
- “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)
- “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)
- “Canaanites survived Biblical ‘slaughter’, ancient DNA shows” (ABC Online)
- “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)
To be fair, The Telegraph corrected the headline to “Study shows ancient Canaanites survived divine call in Bible for them to be wiped out.”
As Klinghoffer noted, the Bible does not say the Israelites wiped out the Canaanites — in fact, it explicitly says they survived.
God commands the Israelites to wipe out the Canaanites in Deuteronomy 20: “But in the cities of these people that the Lord your God is giving you for an inheritance, you shall save alive nothing that breathes … the Hittites and the Amorites, the Canaanites and the Perizzites, the Hivites and the Jebusites … 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.”
But this is not the Bible’s last word on the Canaanites. The first chapter of Judges says that Israel “put the Canaanites to forced labor, but they did not drive them out completely” (Judges 1:28). In fact, various tribes of Israel (Ephraim, Zebulun, Asher, and Naphtali, to be exact) allowed Canaanites to live among them.
God was not pleased. He told Israel that since “you have not obeyed my voice,” God would “not drive them out before you, but they shall become thorns in your sides, and their gods shall be a snare to you” (Judges 2:2-3).
Anyone with a basic familiarity with the biblical narrative of Israel’s history should not be surprised by this. Throughout the narratives of the histories and prophets of Israel, God’s people reject Him time and time again, worshipping foreign gods of … whom? The Canaanites.
As The Telegraph noted in a correction, “The original version of this story erroneously said the Bible claimed the Canaanites were wiped [out]. However, elsewhere in the Bible, it says the elimination was not successful.” That would be an understatement.
As of Monday, Ars Technica has not corrected its article. “First, God orders the Hebrews to destroy the Canaanites along with several other groups, and later we hear that the Canaanites have actually been wiped out,” reporter Annalee Newitz wrote.
The Independent‘s Ian Johnston went so far as to quote atheist Richard Dawkins, who said the Old Testament God was “a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser … a genocidal … megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.”
Johnston quoted the book of Joshua, saying that the Israelites actually did slaughter all of the Canaanites. Joshua 10:40 says Joshua “left no survivor, but he utterly destroyed all who breathed, just as the Lord, the God of Israel, had commanded.”
Here’s the thing: Joshua 10 is talking about the conquest of southern Canaan. Ephraim, Zebulun, Asher, and Naphtali settled in the north. Joshua 10:40 is perfectly compatible with Judges 1:28 and Judges 2:3.
Science, a generally reputable journal that originally got the facts wrong, hilariously would not admit just how wrong they were. “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,” the update reads.
May have survived? Try, “emphatically did survive, and plagued the people of Israel for centuries.”
Digging into the original report in the American Journal of Human Genetics revealed that the basic misconception came right from the source. “Uncertainties also surround the fate of the Canaanites: the 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,” the journal reported.
Perhaps the reporters for these various outlets read this statement in the journal, and deciding not the check it, merely reported it as fact. These reporters’ lack of biblical literacy might not be surprising (check out these media misconceptions of Romans 1, the entire book of Proverbs, and basic Christian doctrines like Jesus not being buried in a tomb), but it is nonetheless revealing.
Last December, New York Times Executive Editor Dean Baquet admitted, “I think that the New York-based and Washington-based too probably, media powerhouses don’t quite get religion. We don’t get religion. We don’t get the role of religion in people’s lives.”
That fact, along with this painful biblical illiteracy, is truly unfortunate, partially because it distracts from the really cool results of the study — that DNA evidence has linked today’s Lebanese people to Canaanites from 3,700 years ago.
This evidence actually supports the Bible’s claims about Canaanite survival, and anyone familiar with the opening chapters of Judges would know that. Perhaps it’s time for reporters to dust off a copy of the scriptures, and get to work accurately reporting what the Bible says.