🔼The name Kanaanite: Summary
- Zealot, Zealous One
- From the verb קנא (qana'), to be jealous, angry, zealous.
🔼The name Kanaanite in the Bible
There's only one Kanaanite mentioned in the Bible, namely Simon the Kanaanite (Matthew 10:4, Mark 3:18), whom the Lucan author calls the Zealot (Luke 6:15, Acts 1:13); one of Jesus' lesser known disciples. Many translations of the Bible insist on calling this man a Canaanite (or Cananite or Cananaean), to considerable and ultimately unnecessary confusion. The Greek word for the ethnonym Canaanite is Χαναναιος (Chananaios), whereas our friend Simon was a Κανανιτης (Kananites), which in Greek is quite obviously a wholly different word, and which should be transliterated with a K and not a C.
The name Kanaanite is not explained in the Bible, and over the centuries a few theories have been forwarded. Perhaps a Kanaanite was a Canaanite after all, and since the name Canaanite was also used to describe a merchant, Simon the Kanaanite might have been Simon the Merchant. This theory isn't very satisfying, also since it doesn't explain why Matthew and Mark would call this man a merchant (and why?), whereas Luke specifies him as a Zealot.
Simon's epithet also brings to mind instead of Canaanite or Zealot, the ethnonym Kenite (which is, in the Septuagint, indeed spelled with a Κ). It's perhaps possible that this Simon was a scribe of the tradition of the mysterious Kenite families of the Tirathites, the Sucathites and the Shimeathites (1 Chronicles 2:55 — note that the name Simon and the family-name Shimeathite derive from the same root). It wouldn't be too wild a guess to assume that Jesus wanted his outfit to consist of a diverse portfolio of talents, which certainly would have included a record keeper. In that case, this Simon might even be a candidate for being the author of the elusive Q-gospel, which supposedly lies at the root of the synoptic gospels.
The shortcoming of this entertaining theory, however, is that it is unfortunately not sustained by a shred of evidence. And it doesn't explain why Simon would be a crucial scribe in two of the gospels (and never actually noted to be one), and a Zealot in another and in Acts.
The solution to the mystery of the Kanaanite lies most likely in the etymology of it:
🔼Etymology of the name Kanaanite
We only have the word Kanaanite in Greek, but chances are excellent that it derives from the Hebrew verb קנא (qana'), meaning to be jealous:
The root קנא (qn') has to do with jealousy. It occurs in many languages and appears to have originally denoted becoming red. This is not because jealousy makes one's face red, but rather because in many languages the color red demonstrates the most primitive of considerations (hence also our English words rude and rudimentary).
Depending on the context, the noun קנאה (qin'a) can be translated with ardor, zeal, anger or jealousy. From this noun comes the verb קנא (qana'), to be jealous, angry, and so on. The two adjectives קנוא (qanno') and קנא (qanna) both mean jealous and only apply to God.