In the patriarchal narratives, Canaan and the Canaanites feature prominently. In Genesis 23, Abraham purchased a plot of land to bury his wife Sarah. Yet while God sent Abraham to Canaan, and he lived in Canaan, when it came time for choosing a wife for his son, Abraham looked elsewhere: He said to the senior servant in his household, the one in charge of all that he had, “Put your hand under my thigh. I want you to swear by the Lord, the God of heaven and the God of earth, that you will not get a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites, among whom I am living, but will go to my country and my own relatives and get a wife for my son Isaac.” Abraham’s servant thus set out for Aram Naharaim, in the area of Syria today.
One area Abraham’s servant did not go was to the region of Lebanon. For archaeologists, the inhabitants of Iron Age Lebanon, and the northern coastal plain and the Galilee of today’s Israel were culturally the same people, the Canaanites.
Where Abraham did not choose a Canaanite wife for his son, in 1 & 2 Kings, kings from the northern Kingdom of Israel and the southern Kingdom of Judah did take Canaanite wives, with damaging consequences. King Omri’s son Ahab married Jezebel, the daughter of Ethbaal king of the Sidonians, and she was said to have been behind his decisions to build shrines to Baal and Asherah, and the murder of Nabath and confiscation of his vineyard. Jehoram the King of Judah married Ahab and Jezebel’s daughter Athaliah. When her son King Ahaziah died, Athaliah attempted to wipe out the entire Davidic line.
The Ahiram Sarcophagus is of the more impressive archaeological finds in the Lebanese coastal region. Its inscription states that it was built by the king of Byblos for his father Ahiram, presumably a king himself. The impressive stone coffin indicates the wealth of the region, built on coastal trade that with Egypt, Greece and Mesopotamia. Unlike other older royal coffins which were found nearby and contained Egyptian prestige goods inside, the Ahiram Sarcophagus did not feature any Egyptian influences. The coffin is typically dated to either the 10th or 9th century, a period in which Egyptians did not control the Levant.
One interesting element of the Ahiram Sarcophagus is the similarity between the name Ahiram, and Hiram, the king of Tyre who the Bible says provided materials for Solomon to build his temple. This is a name with a non-biblical source. In Josephus’s book ‘Against Apion’ he refers to Menander of Ephesus’ record of the length of a king Hiram’s reign.
The image above is of the Ahiram Sarcophagus, on display at the National Museum of Beirut.