What shall we do with the Canaanites? An Ethical Perspective on Genesis 12:6

Keywords: Canaanites, colonial, ethics, Genesis 12, hermeneutics, interpretation


Colonial biblical interpretation—such as for example Moritz Merker’s study of the Maasai (1904/1910), where he claims that they are historically related to the ancient Israelites—tend to see both “Israelites” and their counterparts, the “Canaanites,” in the colonial, interpretive contexts. On this background, the essay discusses a case, the reference to the Canaanites in Genesis 12:6. It is suggested that the reference is part of a multi-voiced discourse on the role of the Canaanites, and it is concluded that the guild of biblical studies can use this discourse in relation to contemporary ethical and interpretive challenges.

Author Biography


Faculty of Theology, Diaconia and Leadership Studies, VID Specialized University

Misjonsmarka 12, N-4024 Stavanger, Norway, +47 5151 6227 (o), +47 4678 4461 (c)


Ateek, Naim Stifan. Justice, and Only Justice: A Palestinian Theology of Liberation. Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 1989.

Bechmann, Ulrike. “Genesis 12 and the Abraham-paradigm concerning the Promised Land,” The Ecumenical Review 68 (2016) 62-80.

Boer, Roland. Last Stop Before Antarctica: The Bible and Postcolonialism in Australia. The Bible and Postcolonialism, 6. Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 2001.

Clines, David J.A. The Theme of the Pentateuch. Journal for the Study of the Old Testament Supplement Series, 10. Sheffield: Journal for the Study of the Old Testament, 1978.

Fiorenza, Elisabeth Schüssler. “The ethics of biblical interpretation decentering biblical scholarship,” Journal of Biblical Literature 107 (1988) 3-17; reprinted in Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza, Rhetoric and Ethic: The Politics of Biblical Studies. Minneapolis: Fortress (1999) 17-30.

Holter, Knut. Old Testament Research for Africa: A Critical Analysis and Annotated Bibliography of African Old Testament Dissertations, 1967-2000. Bible and Theology in Africa, 3. New York: Peter Lang, 2002.

Holter, Knut. Contextualized Old Testament Scholarship in Africa. Nairobi: Acton Publisher, 2008.

Merker, Moritz. Die Masai: Etnographische Monographie eines ostafrikanischen Semitenvolkes. Zweite verbesserte und vermehrte Auflage. Berlin: Dietrich Reimer, 1910 (1. ed. 1904).

Prior, Michael. The Bible and Colonialism: A Moral Critique. The Biblical Seminar, 48. Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1997.

Raheb, Mitri. I am a Palestinian Christian. Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1995.

Rivera-Pagán, Luis N. “Reading the Hebrew Bible in solidarity with the Palestinian people,” The Ecumenical Review 68 (2016) 36-61.

van Selms, Adrianus. Genesis deel I. De Prediking van het Oude Testament. Nijkerk: G.F. Callenbach, 1973.

von Rad, Gerhard. Genesis. Old Testament Library. London: SCM Press, 1978.

Warrior, Robert Allen. “A Native American perspective: Canaanites, cowboys, and Indians,” Rasiah S. Sugirtharajah (ed.), Voices from the Margin: Interpreting the Bible in the Third World. Revised and expanded 3. Edition. Maryknoll, New York: Orbis (2006) 235-241.

Westermann, Claus. Genesis 12-36. Biblischer Kommentar Altes Testament, I,2. Neukirchen-Vluyn: Neukirchener Verlag, 1981.

Wittenberg, Gunther. “‘… Let Canaan be his Slave’ (Gen 9:26): Is Ham also cursed?,” Journal of Theology for Southern Africa 74 (1991) 45-56 (Reprinted in Gunther Wittenberg: Resistance Theology in the Old Testament: Collected Essays. Pietermaritzburg: Cluster Publications (2007) 25-42.

Wright, Christopher J.H. Old Testament Ethics for the People of God. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2004.

Zobel, Hans-Jürgen. “כנען,” Theologisches Wörterbuch zum Alten Testament 4 (1984) 224-243