Summary: The Late Bronze Age (c. 1550–c. 1200 BCE) was mainly one of Egyptian dominance in Canaan, although the Hittites of Anatolia contested their power there. The period has also been marked by incursions of marauders called Hapiru, or Habiru (Egyptian: ʿApiru).
Canaan was a Semitic-speaking civilization and region in the Ancient Near East during the late 2nd millennium BC. Canaan had significant geopolitical importance in the Late Bronze Age Amarna Period (14th century BC) as the area where the spheres of interest of the Egyptian, Hittite, Mitanni, and Phoenician existed.
The English term "Canaan" (pronounced /'ke?n?n/ since c.?1500)
Canaan is an area diversely (variously)l and biblical literature but always centered on Palestine. Its original pre-Israelite inhabitants were called Canaanites. The names Canaan and Canaanite occur in cuneiform, Egyptian, and Phoenician writings from about the 15th century BCE and the Old Testament. In these sources, "Canaan" sometimes refers to an area encompassing all of Palestine and Syria, sometimes only to the land west of and sometimes just to a strip of coastal land from Acre (?Akko) northward. The Israelites occupied and conquered Palestine, or Canaan, beginning in the late 2nd millennium BCE, or perhaps earlier; and the Bible justifies such occupation by identifying Canaan with the Promised Land, the land promised to the Israelites by God.
The term's origin is disputed, but it may derive from an old Semitic word denoting "reddish purple," referring to the area or the wool colored with dye. Biblically, Canaanites are identified in Genesis as descendants of Canaan, a son of Noah.
The human habitation of coastal Canaan can be traced back to Paleolithic and Mesolithic times, and excavations have revealed that a settled community and an agricultural way of life existed at the site of Jericho by 8,000 BCE. More widespread settlement in fixed towns and villages appears not to have occurred until the Neolithic Period (c. 7000–c. 4000 BCE). The following period called the Chalcolithic Age (c. 4000–c. 3000 BCE), was characterized by the use of pottery and copper and by houses of uncut stones with mud brick walls.
The introduction of bronze in the Early Bronze Age (c. 3000–2000 BCE) brought about a cultural revolution marked by the development of metallurgy and by a decline in painted pottery. Semitic peoples first appeared in Canaan during this period. With the Middle Bronze Age (c. 2000–c. 1550 BCE), recorded history in the area began. The Semitic Amorites, who penetrated Canaan from the northeast, became the dominant element of the population during this time. Other invaders included the Egyptians and the Hyksos, a group of Asian peoples who seem to have migrated there from north of Palestine. The Hurrians (the Horites of the Old Testament) came to Canaan from the north.
The Late Bronze Age (c. 1550–c. 1200 BCE) was mainly one of Egyptian dominance in Canaan, although the Hittites of Anatolia contested their power there. The period has also been marked by incursions of marauders called Hapiru, or Habiru (Egyptian: ?Apiru). Many scholars feel that among the Hapiru were the original Hebrews, of whom the later Israelites were only one branch or confederation. The Egyptians applied this term to other peoples or social groups of foreign origin.
During the transition from the Late Bronze to the Early Iron Age—probably about 1250 BCE—the Israelites entered Canaan, settling at first in the hill country and the south. By the end of the 13th century BCE, Egypt's domination over southern Canaan had waned, and the Hittites collapsed under the assault of enemies from the north. The Israelites' infiltration was opposed by the Canaanites, who continued to hold the stronger cities of the region. In the following century, Canaan suffered further invasion at the hands of the Philistines, who appear to have come from Crete. They eventually established a coalition of five city-states on the southern coast of Canaan. Under the leadership of King David (10th century BCE), the Israelites were finally able to break the Philistine power and, simultaneously, vanquish the native Canaanites, taking the city of Jerusalem. After that, Canaan became the Land of Israel for all practical purposes.
Current knowledge of Canaan's history and culture is derived from archeological excavations and literary sources. Excavations, mainly in the 20th century, have unearthed the remains of many critical Canaanite cities, including BetShe?an, Gezer, Hazor, Jericho, Jerusalem, Lachish, Megiddo, and Shechem. The most important literary sources for the region's history are the Old Testament; the Ras Shamra texts discovered at the site of ancient Ugarit on the north coast of Syria; and the Amarna Letters, a set of dispatches sent in the 14th century BCE by governors of Palestinian cities and Syrian cities to their Egyptian overlords.
Canaan was situated at the crossroads of several cultures, and throughout its recorded history, its art and literature illustrate a mixture of many elements: Egyptian, Mycenaean, Cretan, Hurrian, and Mesopotamian. Most of what is known about the Canaanite religion is derived from a series of tablets discovered at Ras Shamra. The principal god was El, but the jurisdiction over rainfall and fertility was delegated to Baal or Hadad. Other important deities included Resheph, lord of plague and the nether world; Kothar, the divine craftsman; Asherah, consort of El; and Astarte, goddess of fertility.