Jews and Arabs Share Genetic Link to Ancient Canaanites, Study Finds

Most of today’s Jewish and Arabic-speaking populations share a strong genetic link to the ancient Canaanites, a study by an international team of archaeologists and geneticists has found. These modern-day groups in Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, and parts of Syria share a large part of their ancestry, in most cases more than half, with the people who lived in the Levant during the Bronze Age more than 3,000 years ago, the study concludes.

The researchers also determined that the Canaanites – who frequently appear in ancient sources, including the Bible – descended from a mixture of an earlier Levantine population and migrants coming from the Caucasus region or northwestern Iran.

In the wide-ranging study published Thursday in the journal Cell, experts analyzed genetic material from dozens of skeletons found at Canaanite sites across Israel and neighboring countries, and compared it to the genomes of other ancient populations as well as to modern-day groups.

“This study suggests there is a deep genetic connection of many Jewish groups today across the Diaspora and many Arab groups to this part of the world thousands of years ago,” says David Reich, a Harvard University geneticist and one of the world’s top experts in the study of ancient DNA. 

Biblical hyperbole

The land of Canaan and its inhabitants are mentioned in documents from the 2nd millennium B.C.E., such as the Amarna letters, an archive of ancient Egyptian correspondence between the pharaohs and their colonial empire in the Levant. The Bible describes the Canaanites as the inhabitants of the Holy Land before the Israelites conquered it following their exodus from Egypt.

Researchers taking samples at Megiddo to study Canaanite DNA, wearing protective gear to prevent contamination of the samplesIsrael Finkelstein/Megiddo Expedition

The holy text also claims that the arriving Israelites “destroyed all that breathed” (Joshua 10:40) and exterminated the Canaanites during the conquest of land.