Lesser peoples of the Old Testament (Deuteronomy 7)

Illustration: Modern Jerusalem

At the time of the conquest, the population of Syria-Palestine was a mixture of various ethnic elements. Seven people groups, however, are mentioned repeatedly:

  • Hittites: The Hittite Empire, centred at Hattusus (Boghazköey, Turkey), axtended to Hamath and Qadesh in Syria, but isolated groups were located in central Judah. Several patriarchs encountered Hittites: See for example Genesis 23, 26.34 and 2 Samuel 11:3. Those Hittites not exterminated during Joshua’s conquest maintained separate status until Solomon consigned them to forced labour (2 Chronicles 8:7-8), and they eventually blended in with the people of Israel.
  • Girgashites: Not much is known of this group, though the name grgsh is mentioned in Ugaritic texts. They probably lived east of the Sea of Galilee.
  • Amorites: A people called Amurru controlled portions of Syria and Babylon, but “Amorite” is used in the Bible as a broad ethnic label, referring to the general population of the Holy Land (e.g. Genesis 15:16). As such, the term is essentially interchangeable with “Canaanite”. It often refers, however, to the population of the hills (e.g. Numbers 13;29) and is used specifically of two kings in the Transjordan, Sihon and Og, who were conquered under Moses’ leadership (Numbers 21:21-31). Other Amonite centres were Ai, Hebron, Jarmuth, Jerusalem, Eglon and the region of Lebanon.
  • Canaanites: The term “Canaanite” is often used generically of the population of the Holy Land (e.g. Genesis 10:18, Judges 4:23-24) or “the land of Canaan”. Elsewhere its usage is limited to the population of the coastal regions, including southern Syria, and specifically to inhabitants of the valleys and plains, including the Jordan Valley (e.g. Joshua 5:1, 11:3). “Canaanite” later came to mean “merchant” – the principal occupation of these coastal peoples (e.g. Job 41:6, Ezekiel 17:4).
  • Perizzites: Located mainly in the hill country of Judah, Ephraim and Manasseh, the Peruzzites were associated with the Jebusites (Joshua 11:3). “Perizzites” may have meant “inhabitants of peasant villages”.
  • Hivites: These people were located in the Lebanon region “from Mount Baal-Hermon to Lebo Hamath” (Judges 3:3). “Hivite” may mean “tent dweller” and refer to Beouins.
  • Jebusites: This clan lived mainly in Jerusalem (called Jebus in some text; e.g. Judges 19:10-11) and the surrounding hills. The Jebusites maintained limited independence at least until the time of King David, who captured Jerusalem (2 Samuel 5:6-9) and later purchased the temple mound from a Jebusite, Araunah (2 Samuel 24:18-25).
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