THE ANCIENT CANAANITES
By Tim Lambert
In 1500 BC the land we now call Israel was divided into many small kingdoms. Each kingdom centered on a fortified city, which controlled the surrounding territory. One city-kingdom was Jericho, another was Ai. When the Israelites invaded Canaan c. 1200 BC they conquered most of the small kingdoms there.
In the Southwest of the country were the Philistines. It is believed the Philistines originally came from Crete. They invaded the coast of what is now Israel about 1200 BC. The Philistine realm was called Philistia and it included 5 cities Gaza, Ashkelon, Ashdod, Gath and Ekron. The main Philistine god was Dagon, who is shown as part man and part fish. The Philistines were not uncultured! They were great builders and craftsmen and they appreciated arts like music.
The Philistines were deadly enemies of the Israelites and they fought many wars with them. However the power of the Philistines was finally broken by King David (c. 1050 BC). Afterwards the Philistines declined in importance and they were finally destroyed by Babylon in the 6th century BC. However the Philistines gave their name to Palestine.
Various peoples lived in the rest of Israel in 1200 BC including the Jebusites, Amorites and Amalekites. The Canaanites were polytheists (they worshiped many gods and goddesses). Their god Baal controlled rainfall (vitally important in an arid climate), Resheph was god of plague and Kothar was the craftsman of the gods. Astarte was the goddess of fertility. The Canaanites also worshiped a god called Moloch or Molech, to whom they sacrificed children.
When the Israelites conquered Canaan they were monotheists. However they were led astray by their neighbors and many of them began to worship Canaanite gods.