[b-hebrew] Canaan's Southern Boundary: Genesis 10: 19

JimStinehart at aol.com JimStinehart at aol.com
Mon Apr 27 10:03:34 EDT 2009


Canaan’s Southern Boundary:  Genesis 10: 19
 
In this post, I will try to “harmonize” my view of the southern border of 
ancient Canaan with the view of Prof. Yigal Levin in his fine article, “
Numbers 34: 2-12, The Boundaries of the Land of Canaan, and the Empire of Necho”
, in “Journal of the Ancient Near Eastern Society”, Vol. 30 (2006), pp. 
55-76.
 
Prof. Levin notes that Numbers 34: 1-12 sets forth a southern boundary for 
Canaan that is, strangely enough, about 60 miles south of Gaza.  (As 
discussed below, that is about 60 miles south of the natural southern border of 
Canaan proper -- the northern edge of the Negev Desert.)  The main point of 
Prof. Levin’s article is his assertion that the extended southern boundary for 
Canaan in chapter 34 of Numbers did not come (as some other scholars have 
asserted) from the Late Bronze Age (when Egypt had long-term influence over 
Canaan), but rather “fit the reality of the seventh century B.C.E.” [when 
Canaan very briefly was an Egyptian province under pharaoh Necho, who killed 
Hebrew King Josiah].  “[T]he Priestly writer of Numbers 34…’grafted’ [such] 
southern boundary into his ‘Land of Canaan’ description”.  At p. 74.  
Coming from “the reality of the seventh century B.C.E.”, this aspect of the P 
source (i) post-dates J, who is often thought to reflect the 8th century BCE, 
and (ii) pre-dates the post-Exilic days of the Ezra era.
 
I accept that central assertion of Prof. Levin’s analysis.  I will further 
assume, in what I take to be the majority scholarly view, that the author of 
the alternative description of Canaan’s boundaries at Genesis 10: 19 was an 
earlier author, J, who pre-dates King Josiah, and who sets forth an 
earlier, more modest version of the boundaries of Canaan proper (as opposed to the “
Greater Canaan” concept that I see embodied in Numbers 34: 1-12).  
 
Genesis 10: 19 is not central to Prof. Levin’s article, and unfortunately 
Prof. Levin does not address the important reference to “Gerar” in Genesis 
10: 19.  I do agree with Prof. Levin’s choice of the RSV as the best English 
translation of Genesis 10: 19 (at p. 57):
 
“And the territory of the Canaanites extended from Sidon, in the direction 
of Gerar, as far as Gaza, and in the direction of Sodom, Gomorrah, Admah, 
and Zeboim, as far as Lasha.”
 
As I understand the grammar of Genesis 10: 19, (i) Gerar should be located 
between Sidon and Gaza, and (ii) if the reference to Gaza implies the 
southern border of Canaan generally, then Sodom, Gomorrah, Admah and Zeboim should 
be located between the southern border of Canaan and Lasha.
 
For the reasons discussed below, I view Genesis 10: 19 as using Gaza to 
indicate the entire, natural southern border of Canaan -- the northern edge of 
the Negev Desert.  This southern boundary as such is 60 miles north of the 
extended southern boundary of Canaan later set forth at Numbers 34: 1-12 
(which Prof. Levin emphasizes at p. 56 is not a “natural border…of the Land”;  
at p. 74, Prof. Levin sees Gaza as a more natural southern border of 
Canaan).  
 
More controversially, I see the J author of Genesis 10: 19 as having the 
same view of the following key geographical terms as the much earlier author 
of the Patriarchal narratives.  Prior to Ezra, “Gerar” meant Galilee (with 
KRR at item #80 on the mid-15th century BCE Thutmosis III list being 
GRR/Gerar, a region in northern Canaan).  Gerar/Galilee is indeed located between 
Sidon (on the coast of central Lebanon) and Gaza.  “Sodom, Gomorrah, Admah, 
and Zeboim” referenced the lush eastern Jezreel Valley (the KKR/valley where 
Lot went to pursue the “soft life”;  KKR references the “low”, “flat” land 
at the bottom of a valley, not a high, tree-less “plain”).  L$(/Lasha at 
Genesis 10: 19 is the same place as LWS/la-u-sa/la-yi-sa at item #31 on the 
mid-15th century BCE Tuthmosis III list.  This is LY$/Laish at Judges 18: 7, 
29, and L$M/Leshem at Joshua 19: 47, with each of those last two cites 
stating that such city on the northeast corner of Canaan proper was later 
re-named “Dan” by the Hebrews.  [This is also the same place as LWZ/Luz at Genesis 
28: 19;  35: 6;  48: 3.]  Sodom, Gomorrah, Admah and Zeboim, representing 
the Jezreel Valley, are indeed located between the southern border of Canaan 
and Lasha/Laish/Dan.  Thus on my view of these geographical terms, the 
grammar of Genesis 10: 19 makes perfect sense, in all ways.
 
At footnote 13 on p. 60, Prof. Levin heroically, but unconvincingly, tries 
to equate L$(/Lasha at Genesis 10: 19 with C(R/Zoar at Genesis 14: 2, 8.  
There is no possible linguistic connection there, however, and nothing in 
secular history backs up that untenable gambit.  Moreover, the text of Genesis 
makes clear that tiny Zoar (which means “small”) should not be included in a 
description of Canaan’s boundaries, because “it is a little one”.  Genesis 
19: 20  [C(R/Zoar in fact is Afula $R (the “small”), in the Jezreel 
Valley, at item #54 on the T III list.]  Zoar has nothing whatsoever to do with 
Lasha/Laish in northeastern Canaan.  With it making no sense on any level for 
Lasha to mean Zoar, we do, meanwhile, need to know where the northeast 
corner of Canaan is.  The reference at Genesis 10: 19 to Sidon on the west coast 
of Lebanon will not do, because that’s on the other side of the mountains of 
Lebanon.  The logical northeast corner of Canaan proper is 
Lasha/Laish/Leshem/la-yi-sa/Luz.  [Laish/Dan is straight east of Ssur/Tyre, not straight 
east of Sidon.]  We need that reference to Lasha/Laish, to tell us where the 
northeast corner of Canaan is, so that we know that all of the Transjordan is 
excluded from this definition of Canaan.
 
Instead of the reference to Gerar in Genesis 10: 19 being inexplicable, it 
now makes perfect sense, and the grammar of Genesis 10: 19 works perfectly, 
once we substitute this view of these geographical references (in brackets) 
into Genesis 10: 19:
 
“And the territory of the Canaanites extended from Sidon, in the direction 
of [Galilee], as far [south] as Gaza [and the northern edge of the Negev 
Desert], and [from thence] in the direction of [the eastern Jezreel Valley], as 
far [north] as Lasha [Laish/Dan].”
 
Starting from Sidon (on the west coast of central Lebanon), the phrase “in 
the direction of [Galilee]” means:  “south”.
 
Gaza establishes the southwest corner of Canaan.  Gaza is located on the 
northern edge of the Negev Desert, with the Negev Desert being Canaan’s 
natural southern border.  The implied, though not expressly stated, southeast 
corner of Canaan in Genesis 10: 19 is directly east of Gaza, near the middle of 
the west bank of the Dead Sea, just south of the city of Hebron.  (The city 
name “Hebron” could not be used at Genesis 10: 19, because the 8th century 
BCE author J knew that this city had been called “Qiltu” prior to the 10th 
century BCE, not “Hebron”.  Genesis 10: 19 tries hard to use authentic 
Patriarchal Age nomenclature.  Prior to Ezra, all Biblical authors, including J, 
knew that the Patriarchs’ “Hebron” was not the city of Hebron.)
 
When Lot chooses the “soft life” of Sodom and the cities of the KKR/valley 
(not the “plain”), Lot is choosing life in the luxuriant Jezreel Valley.  
There was no soft life to be had south of the Dead Sea!  The natural 
southern border of Canaan does not extend south of the northern edge of the Negev 
Desert, or southeast of the desolate Judean Desert (the conventional, but 
erroneous, location of Sodom, Gomorrah, Admah, Zeboim and Zoar). 
 
Starting from the northern edge of the Negev Desert, the phrase “in the 
direction of [the eastern Jezreel Valley]” means:  “north”.
 
Thus in context, Genesis 10: 19 means:
 
“And the territory of the Canaanites extended from Sidon, [south] as far as 
Gaza [and the northern edge of the Negev Desert], and [from thence], 
[north] as far as Lasha [Laish/Dan].”
 
The first half of the description focuses on western Canaan (especially 
Sidon and Gaza), and the second half of the description focuses on eastern 
Canaan (especially Lasha, that is, Laish/Leshem/Luz/la-yi-sa/Dan, on the 
northeast corner of Canaan).  (The J author knew the name “Dan”, and at least as 
early as Ugaritic times “Dan” or “Dan-el” was associated with Upper 
Galilee.  But the name “Dan” could not be used here at Genesis 10: 19, which is 
trying to describe Canaan before the time of the Hebrews, because J knew that 
Laish was treated in Hebrew tradition as having been re-named “Dan” by 
descendants of Jacob’s son Dan.)  Each of Galilee (using the archaic Late Bronze 
Age name “Gerar”), and the Jezreel Valley (Sodom and Gomorrah), is also 
mentioned. 
 
On this view of the boundaries of Canaan at Genesis 10: 19, note that 
almost none of the Negev Desert is included in Canaan.  Rather, Canaan’s southern 
border is effectively the northern edge of the Negev Desert, which is Canaan
’s natural border.
 
The scholarly view of Genesis 10: 19 is untenable.  If Genesis 10: 19 
pre-dates King Josiah, and King Josiah was the one who extended the border of 
Judah/southern Canaan south of Gaza, then it would make no sense for Gerar, 
Sodom, Gomorrah, Admah, Zeboim and Lasha to be referencing geographical locales 
far south of Gaza.  The scholarly view that Lasha = Zoar, and that Lasha is 
not Laish, makes no sense -- linguistically, historically, or textually.  
Finally, the grammar of Genesis 10: 19 is impossible under the scholarly 
view.  For the grammar to work, (i) Gerar needs to be located between Sidon and 
Gaza, and (ii) Sodom, Gomorrah, Admah and Zeboim need to be located between 
the southern border of Canaan (or possibly Sidon) and Lasha.  It makes no 
sense on any level for a description of Canaan to consist of (i) Sidon, (ii) 
Gaza, and (iii) the names of six cities located southeast of Gaza!  No 
Biblical author could “forget” the northeast corner of Canaan, or could “forget” 
to tell us whether or not part or all of the Transjordan was included 
within the boundaries of Canaan.  
 
Note how my view of the underlying geography totally eliminates all of the 
foregoing problems regarding Genesis 10: 19.  Gerar/Galilee is indeed 
located between Sidon and Gaza.  Sodom, Gomorrah, Admah and Zeboim (in the eastern 
Jezreel Valley) are indeed located between the southern border of Canaan 
and Lasha [Laish/Leshem/Luz/la-yi-sa//Dan, on the northeast corner of Canaan]. 
 Both Hebrew grammar, and secular historical inscriptions, support my view 
of the identity and geographical location of “Gerar” and “Lasha” at 
Genesis 10: 19.
 
Jim Stinehart
Evanston, Illinois

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