Pharaoh in Canaan – the unknown history


People say, the best comes at the end. Directly in front of the exit from the exhibition is a monitor on the wall. When typing in the name in Hebrew or in Latin letters in a second the name appears as written 3500 years ago. Unfortunately, I will never find out, because the technique failed with my name. On the other hand, maybe I did not understand how to handle it.

Currently the Israel Museum in Jerusalem is exhibiting the 350 years of Egyptian rule over Canaan, 1500 until 1150 BCE, the time of the late bronze era.

How did Canaan look like in this time? What regions were included and who was living there?


The first reference of the name Canaan in the Bible is in Bereshit 9.18-9.27. When God closed a covenant with Noah after the Noachian deluge, Noah became a winegrower. One day he drank too much of this delicious juice and fell asleep, since nights are often hot, naked in his tent. His son Ham, the middle of his three sons, discovered him and told his brothers about it, and they covered him. When Noah woke up he learnt what his son Ham did and he cursed him, 9,18 and 9,25, and decided twice, that he will be the lowliest servant of his brothers. Ham, known as the father of Canaan, 10,5, had four sons, Kush, Mizraim, Put and Canaan. Chapter 10,18ff details about the children of Canaan and their splitting up into various tribes and clans. Mentioned as areas of settlement is from Sidon via Gerar until Gaza, via Sodom & Gomorra and Zebojm until Lesha. The names of the places are of little help now, only a few are still known today.

The name „Canaan“, its radix was understood to be Semitic, was actually a language extinguished around 1200 BCE, Hurrian. It specifically identified the inhabitants of Tyros as the “people of purple”. They dyed with a dyestuff from the purple-snail textiles and traded them at the time as unique fabrics.


In old Egyptian texts often mention the classification “rebellious inhabitants of Canaan”, the Aramaic and Hebrew root „cni/ כנע“, indicating as “bent, humiliated” and “expulsed, conquered”.

Around 3100 BCE in the area of the old Egypt, ruled by pre-dynastic rulers, the consolidation of territories began with the establishment of a pharaonic civilization. From this area, trade with south Canaan trade posts is verifiable.

It was thanks to the domestication of the donkey, that after mid 4.s. BCE trade between long distances was possible. The voyages were time-consuming, trade was sluggish.


Discoveries of pottery at known trade posts prove that Egypt sent mainly men for trading, establishing and maintaining an administration. Why is it known? Because transport vessels and crockeries were found, but no cooking tools and no organic residues from a kitchen or from a camp. Maybe the Egyptians received the food from antique caterers, who cooked the meals outside and supplied it to the trade posts.


After about 2700, BCE Egypt operated a busy trade with the north Lebanese city of Byblos. Byblos developed into the most important port of the whole Levant and was the largest trade post for cedar wood and papyrus. In Byblos, the Egyptian war- and trade ships were built. The fast and effective trade on seaways caused the trade posts in the heartland to a halt. The booming economy led to vassalage of the inhabitants, who adapted increasingly to the Egyptian culture. The Greeks, also customers of the new material papyrus, called this product after the name of the city βιβλίον (Biblion). The word “Bible” derives from it.

With the invention of papyrus as writable material a new script was developed. This script was not the predecessor of todays alphabet, as the total of letters of more than 100 was too large.


Between 1850 and 1650 BCE Canaanite tribes settled in the eastern delta of the Nile and took over the political and economical rule. For about 200 years Egypt was divided, in the north, around the delta of the Nile to southern Canaan it was “rule of foreigners”, the Hycsos. If they really were as aggressive against the local Egyptians, as Josephus Flavius wrote 1600 years later, is doubtful. That they were a war tribe, was discovered from grave goods, mainly weapons. If they were the “kings of the shepherds”, Hycsos, is hidden in the history. It was possibly a try of Josephus Flavius to make a connection between the Israelites and this dynasty.

In Egypt, around 1500 BCE, with the expulsion of the Hycsos, the new kingdom began. For 500 years it was ruled by 26 pharaohs of the 18th until the 20th dynasty. This time is the period covered in the exhibition in Jerusalem. Well-known pharaoh names of these dynasties are: Amenhotep I – IV, Thutmose I – IV, Ramesses (Ramses) I – V, Seti I/II, Akhenaten (Echnaton) (The husband of Nefertiti, Father of Tutankhamun (Tutenchamon). The shortest ruling time was less than one year, (Smenkhkare 1336), the longest 48 (!) years (Thutmose III, the first 15 years jointly with Hatshepsut and after her death further 33 years.)

Egypt managed to conquer again the glory it had centuries ago. The time of Hycsos ruling left distinct traces, which influenced the foreign relations and the policy of expansion of Egypt.

Canaan was the area of passage for trade overland.

The extraordinary high number of locally produced scarabs shows the extent to which the Canaanites adapted to the culture of Egypt. They were carved from various stones and semi precious stones, besides serving as protective amulets they were also used as seals.

This tradition, unknown in Canaan at the time, now shows that Canaanites tried to adapt to their Egyptian partners. The higher the position was, the finer and more detailed was the production of the assigned scarab.


Just some days ago a bird watcher in Tel Dor, a few kilometer from Zichron Yaacov, found by coincidence a 3700 years old scarab. Before Herodotus built the port of Caesarea about 2000 years ago, Dor was the main port in this region. From there spices, raisins and wine were shipped to Egypt. This prominent discovery, still to be analyzed, says, the owner, whose name is not translated yet, is the “treasurer and bearer of the seal”. Possibly, he was a royal clerk. This are all assumptions and nobody knows why the scarab was there. The place it was discovered was not in the central archaeological site of Tel Dor.

Anyway, it is a proof, that not only tradesmen, but also high personalities were living in the area of Canaan.

How close the connections were, is documented in many archaeological discoveries, more than in any other historical period. Both, Egypt and Canaan profited from the expansion of the Pharaonic Empire up to Syria and well into Canaan territory up to the Dead Sea.


Thutmose III in his first 20 years of rule won 17 important battles, the most important one 1457 BCE in Megiddo. Megiddo is situated at the crossing of two antique trading routes, the Via Maris from Egypt to Syria and the route from Akko via Shechem to Jerusalem. The establishment of Megiddo is already documented, 20 layers of earth prove a continuous settlement until 918 BCE, when a late pharaoh destroyed the fortified city. Under the rule of Hatshepsut, when she was ruling jointly with her husband Thutmose, Many Syrian tribes left the coalition. Thutmose feared to loose his dominance in this important region. In the fortress, Megiddo Syrian-Canaanite rulers entrenched themselves.

Thutmose choose for his attack not the surrounding terrain with the clear view of the Jezreel valley but the for chariots difficult pass across the Carmel. The surprise was successful and the chieftains withdrew into the fortress. Because of the sophisticated water supply system the locked in could survive for months, until they were obliged to give up.


In the Karnak-temple in Egypt, the annals of Thutmose were discovered with a detailed report of the battle.

Enormous discoveries by Israeli archeologists prove the wealth of Megiddo under Egyptian rule. Right after this big battle, which secured Thutmose the dominance in Canaan, yearly other small battles took place in the region, without historical success but needed for the status quo.

Military bases between the Sinai in the south and Lebanon in the north secured the claims of pharaoh. In order to strengthen the relations of the de facto occupied tribes and Egypt, the pharaoh forced the local rulers and chieftains to send their sons to Egypt for education in military facilities for later service in the Egyptian military administration. Several successors of Thutmose III succeeded to maintain Egyptian rule in Canaan.

Then, on the change to the iron period, around 1200 BCE, times were changing. There was a migration from the Aegis and from Anatoly. Fights took place on land and on sea. The imperium of the Hittites in the north was destroyed.

Ramses III succeeded to settle the Philistines, a people of the sea, along the coasts of Canaan. At the same time an other people, the Hebrews, settled in the heartland and on the top of hills and mountains.

The very last proof of Egyptian rule discovered is a pedestal of a statue with the carved name „Ramses VI“. Fortunately, it was not destroyed by the stone-louse.

The famous stone-louse

To date we know a lot about this time and about the people living there. In addition, the historical context into which we can place the archaeological discoveries.

This, because in this times, in this region a script was developed readable for many. Canaanites and mineworkers in the Sinai, possibly because of urgent need, developed by begin of the the 2.s. BCE a script. Before the script was composed of several hundred signs, the letters, of that time. To read a message from Thebes, one had to know the script from there. If the cylinder seal was from Mesopotamia, more letters were used. Then the direction of the script was not uniform in the same region, from left to right and from right to left.


The Israeli Egyptologist Prof. Orly Goldwasser describes in well comprehensible pictures the problematics of information management in the pre-alphabetic time, hopefully this link survives some time, with Haaretz you never know, and here. Since then letters did not change dramatically, when looking at them we can find in every single letter the source, an Egyptian hieroglyph.

When in Israel until October 25th, 2016, do not miss this most astonishing exhibition:

 © esther scheiner, israel,

Translation: Alexander Scheiner


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