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|Title||What was the actual political and religious condition of the populace of Promised Land when the Israelites conquered it, and who were the people living there?|
|Publication Type||Magazine Article|
|Year of Publication||1973|
|Authors||S. Kent Brown|
|Date Published||October 1973|
|Keywords||Canaan (Land of); Israelite Conquest; Promised Land|
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What was the actual political and religious condition of the populace of Promised Land when the Israelites conquered it, and who were the people living there?
S. Kent Brown: When discussing the political and religious conditions in Palestine at the time of the Israelite conquest (between 1250 and 1200 B.C.), we should note that the whole Near East had boiled with turmoil during the preceding century. The power of Egypt’s ally in Mesopotamia, Mitanni, had collapsed. Egypt herself first lost and then regained power over much of the eastern Mediterranean area. The Hurrian and Aryan peoples had pressed down from the north almost as far as Palestine, Assyria had begun to rise as a world power, and the old Hittite Empire of Asia Minor and Egypt had reached a standoff for control of the Near East.
In Palestine, Egypt was nominally in control. The land of Canaan was made up of numerous city-states, each independently governed, which paid tribute to Egypt whenever they were forced to do so. Other Hebrew tribes, distant relatives of the Israelites, comprised a modest part of the population in Canaan. It is also worth noting that prior to Israel’s settlement, the Canaanites had developed a linear alphabet, which later passed from Phoenicia to Greece, thus becoming the ancestor to our own.
The material culture and international trade of the Canaanites was highly advanced, but their religious ways stood diametrically opposed to Israel’s. Based on the fertility cults led by the god Baal, the Canaanite religion was an extraordinarily immoral form of paganism, including sacred prostitution, homosexuality, and other orgiastic rites.
The population of Canaan was mixed. In addition to the Canaanites near the sea and a few Hebrew clans, the Amorites are mentioned often in the Old Testament. Abraham descended from this Semitic people. Many of the other peoples listed in the Bible as inhabitants of the land (Hittites, Hivites, Horites, Jebusites, etc.) represent Canaan’s non-Semitic elements, although their tribal names preserve their distant origins. These people fully adopted the Canaanite religion and way of life by the time of the Israelite invasion.
S. Kent Brown, assistant professor of ancient scripture and associate member, Institute for Ancient Studies, Brigham Young University
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