Biblical Canaanite descendants are still living in Lebanon, say geneticists

The descendants of the biblical Canaanites are still living in Lebanon today, according to a new genetic study.

Scientists have extracted DNA from the remains of five people found in the former Canaanite city of Sidon dating from around 3,700 years ago and sequenced their genome.
They compared this to 99 modern Lebanese people and found they had inherited around 90 per cent of their genetic makeup from their ancient forebears.

The Qadisha Valley, a gorge in northern Lebanon.Wikimedia Commons

Writing in the American Journal of Human Genetics, the researchers wrote: 'We show that present-day Lebanese derive most of their ancestry from a Canaanite-related population, which therefore implies substantial genetic continuity in the Levant since at least the Bronze Age.'

References in the Bible to the Canaanite population being killed or driven out might have implied there was no continuity between that population and modern inhabitants of the region. In Deuteronomy 20:16-18 the Israelites are told, 'In the cities of the nations the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance, do not leave alive anything that breathes. Completely destroy them — the Hittites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites — as the Lord your God has commanded you. Otherwise, they will teach you to follow all the detestable things they do in worshiping their gods, and you will sin against the Lord your God.'

However, it is clear from elsewhere in the Old Testament (Judges 1:19) that this command was not fulfilled and that pockets of Canaanites survived.