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Are the Edomites and Canaanites the same people?

Obadiah says, “The house of Jacob shall be a fire … and the house of Esau stubble; they shall burn them and consume them, and there shall be no survivor for the house of Esau, for the LORD has spoken. Those of the Negeb shall possess Mount Esau … The exiles of this host of the people of Israel shall possess the land of the Canaanites ….”

So are the Edomites and Canaanites the same people? (5/29/2010)

No, although from this passage alone it would be somewhat difficult to tell who’s who. I think Obadiah just got carried away. Mostly he was talking about the Edomites, but in these few verses he also rails against the Philistines, Samarians, and Canaanites.

Reading just these few verses can give you the impression that we are dealing with poetic parallels: We know that Jacob = Israel, so maybe Esau = Canaan. Actually, these lines should be read more like this: Who are Americans? Are they the people whose ancestors were here before 1400? Are they all the people who live in North or South America? Or are they U.S. citizens? Yes. All three of those possibilities are given as definitions of “Americans.” Most often, however, “Americans” refers to citizens of the United States. The important point is that you can usually – but not always – tell from context which group is being referred to when you hear something about “Americans.”

“Canaanites” is used in about the same way as “Americans.” The land of Canaan encompassed all the territory between the Jordan River to the Mediterranean, with some slop on the north and south. The boundaries were somewhat fluid, and in fact if you search for “Canaanites map” on Google, you’ll get half a dozen maps, all different. One of them is especially interesting, because it gives two different boundaries, both based on scripture – Numbers 34:1-12 and Ezekiel 47:13-20.

Therefore, “Canaanites” sometimes means “all the non-Israelites who live in the land of Canaan,” just like “American” sometimes means “all the people who live in North and South America.” In this sense, “Canaanites” includes the Hivites, Hittites, Philistines and Phoenicians (who are possibly the same bunch), Perizzites, Jebusites, Gergesenes, Sidonians, Arameans, and Amorites (although mostly the latter lived east of the Jordan).

Other times the label refers to one or more specific tribes – the Canaanites – of the non-Israelites who live in the land of Canaan, mostly along the west side of the Jordan and along the coast of the Mediterranean. This would be analogous to “U.S. citizens.” All these groups live at least partly within the Numbers/Ezekiel boundaries. None of them are descended from Abraham.

Samarians, at the time Obadiah, were the people who lived in northern Canaan after the destruction of the northern Kingdom of Israel. They were a motley crew of genuine Canaanites, a few leftover Israelites, and other conquered peoples imported by the Assyrians.

When you look at maps of Edom, you also find some variability in boundaries; however, all the maps agree that Canaan and Edom don’t overlap. Edom is south of Canaan and more inland. Aside from the totally interchangeable names “Edom” and “Esau,” there’s no ambiguity about who the Edomites are. Edomites are Edomites. Like the Israelites, they are descended from Abraham. Remember that Edom descended from Esau, and Israel from Jacob, and that Esau and Jacob were twins. So Edomites and Canaanites are not the same.

While we’re on the subject, the Moabites were not descended from Abraham; however, they descended from Abraham’s nephew Lot. The Moabites also lived outside Canaan, east of the Dead Sea. They were located south of the Amorites and north of the Edomites. Or maybe east of the Edomites, depending on whose map you look at. Moabites aren’t Canaanites, either.


Copyright 2010, 2011 by Regina L. Hunter. All rights reserved. This page has been prepared for the web site by Deanna Rains.

Opinions expressed on this page are solely those of the author, Regina Hunter, and may or may not be shared by the sponsors or the Bible-study participants.  Thanks to the Holy Spirit for any useful ideas presented here, and thanks to all the readers for their support and enthusiasm.  All errors are, of course, the sole responsibility of the author.

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