Michael Coogan: The Land Before “Israel”

Michael D. Coogan, The Old Testament: A Historical and Literary Introduction to the Hebrew Scriptures (OUP, 2014), 13.

For most if its history, the Promised Land was not called Israel. Prior to the emergence of a political entity that called itself Israel in the late second millennium BCE, this region formed part of what its frequent overlords, the Egyptians, called Canaan. That is how the Bible itself uses the term: The “land of Canaan” is the usual designation for the territory promised to Abraham, and it is used almost exclusively in narratives about the period before ancient Israel came into existence. Modern scholars often use the term “Canaanite” in a broader sense to designate the culture shared by the ancient inhabitants of modern Israel, Jordan, Palestine, Lebanon, and western Syria. Sometimes in the Bible, Canaan is more precisely defined, as in Genesis 15.19-21: “The land of the Kennites, the Kenizzites, the Kadmonites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Rephaim, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Girgashites, and the Jebusites.” This lists at least some of the traditional pre-Israelite inhabitants of the land and makes it clear that the land had a history before the emergence of Israel.

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