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What does the Torah imply when it notes 'the Cannannites were then in the land' (Gen. 12:6)? It seems to suggest they were in the land then (when the tale took place) but not now (when the book was written). As there were Cannannites in the land during the entire lifetime of Moses, who wrote the Pentateuch, why does the text seemingly speak in the past tense?

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Could you edit in a reference to the verse you're talking about? Thanks. –  Monica Cellio Aug 26 '12 at 14:36
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Possibly Bereishis 12:6 - "**ויעבר אברם בארץ עד מקום שכם עד אלון מורה **והכנעני אז בארץ" –  HodofHod Aug 26 '12 at 15:39
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Josh Waxman has a nice blog post discussing this, here. It is a very old question, certainly, discussed by ibn Ezra, and possibly earlier. –  HodofHod Aug 26 '12 at 15:52
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By the way, studentoftorah, welcome back to Mi Yodeya! As you can see from the comments above, editing your question to incude more precise details and source references where appropriate would greatly increase its value. –  Double AA Aug 26 '12 at 16:38
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Thank you for your edits and +1! –  Double AA Aug 26 '12 at 16:43
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1 Answer 1

up vote 4 down vote accepted

Rashi on the verse (Bereshit 12:6) tells us that Israel was part of the portion of Shem. At that time, the Canaanites (descendants of Cham) were conquering the land from them.

However, Rashi in Bamidbar 13:22 (and Devarim 11:10) says that Cham built Chevron for his son Canaan, which would seem to indicate that the land of Canaan was part of Cham's portion.

The Chumas Shai LaMorah brings a Chizkuni (to both the verses from Bereshit and Devarim cited above) that explains the southern part of Israel was given to Cham, while the nothern part was given to Shem. Apparently these northern lands were now being conquered by the Canaanites.

Two other answers are brought here:

  • Rav Eliyahu Mizrachi (in his commentary to Rashi in Parashat Lekh-Lekha) concludes that we have no choice but to view these two Midrashim as conflicting with one another. It should not surprise us, Rav Mizrachi adds, that Rashi adopts both views in his commentary; in any given context he adopts the explanation that he feels best explains the local text, even if it contradicts a claim made to explain the text in a different context.

  • Levush ha-Ora (in Bereshit). When Rashi writes in Sefer Bereishit that Canaan captured the territory from Shem, he did not mean that Canaan launched an independent campaign. Rather, his father, Cham, assigned him the task of conquering the unsettled areas of the land for him, Cham. After Canaan completed the conquest, Cham rewarded him with the land and built the city of Chevron. We can thus reconcile the two comments of Rashi. On the one hand, the land originally belonged to Shem and was seized by Canaan; however, Canaan acted not independently, but on behalf of his father, who then built for him the city of Chevron.


I'm not sure I'm understanding it correctly, but the Chizkuni (Bereshit 12:6) also brings another explanation (seemingly not according to Rashi). He says that the word "Az" is future tense, telling us that not only were there Canaanim in the land during the time of Avraham, but there will also be Canaanim in the land when it comes time for the Jews to conquer it.

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