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Meaning and etymology of the Hebrew name Canaan

Canaan Canaan

Canaan is the name of the fourth son of Ham, the youngest son of Noah (Genesis 9:18). Canaan becomes the recipient of a curious curse that makes him the perpetual servant of his two uncles Japheth and Shem. After having survived the flood and their 230 days stay in the ark (40 days of rain, 150 days of floating, 40 days of drying) Noah plants a vineyard, makes wine and gets drunk and lays naked in his tent. Then not Canaan but Ham, the father of Canaan, sees Noah naked and quips about it to Shem and Japheth. The two older brothers walk into their father's tent backwards and cover Noah without looking at him.

When Noah awakes he learns what Ham has done but then lashes out at Canaan, Ham's fourth son. He says that Japheth should become large but live in the tents of Shem, but Canaan should be the servant of all of them. Why Noah gets so upset with Canaan instead of Ham is unknown but later Canaan would give his name to the much coveted country of Canaan and the people who live there. The original Canaanites (an ethically diverse group of people) are displaced by Israel (Deuteronomy 7:1).

Canaan's brothers are Cush (the Biblical name for Ethiopia), Mizraim (the Biblical name for Egypt) and Put. Canaan's eleven sons as listed in 1 Chronicles are also all known nations, among whom Sidon, Heth, Jebusites (who owned Jerusalem - Joshua 10:1, 2 Samuel 5:6 ), Amorites, Hivites.

The name Canaan may have been original and turned proverbial, but it may also have been taken from the Hebrew verb kana and projected back upon this person. Either way, the name Canaan surely has to do with the Hebrew verb kana kana (1001) meaning be humbled, subdued, low. About this verb, HAW Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament states, "It denoted bringing a proud and recalcitrant people or spirit into subjection." About half of the thirty six occurrences of this verb are in the reports of military campaigns (Nehemiah 9:24). A large portion of the other occurrences deal with a king's submission to God (1 Kings 21:29).

HAW Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament notes two striking usages of this verb, namely in Leviticus 26:41 and 2 Chronicles 7:14, where humility is a key condition for God's blessing. The Old Testament's passion for reaching the "land of Canaan" may have a very clear connotation of reaching a blissful state of humility (also see Isaiah 57:15 and Matthew 18:4).

Being located on the bridge between three continents, he historical people of Canaan maintained a flowering culture of trade. Thus the words Canaan, meaning Canaan, and Canaanite, meaning Canaanite, acquired the additional meaning of trade or merchant (Zephaniah 1:11, Ezekiel 16:29). Perhaps the connection between Canaan the humble one and Canaan the merchant lies in the origin of trade, namely the last resource of those who owned no land, and who had to revert to selling other people's produces.

NOBS Study Bible Name List translates this name with Low. Jones' Dictionary of Old Testament Proper Names reads Merchant or Servant.



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