What message is being conveyed in Gen 46:10 when it says of one of Simeon's sons: "Shaul the son of a Canaanitish woman" (KJV)?
Judah also had three sons by a Canaanite woman (Gen 38:2-5), Er, Onan, and Shelah, yet this is left unmentioned in the text of Gen 46:12.
Additionally, though I am not familiar with the historical traditions of who the various sons married, I tend to assume that all the brothers married woman of the land of Canaan, other than Joseph, who married an Egyptian (Gen 41:45). So they likely married Canaanites in the broad sense of the term as those dwelling in that land (whatever ethnicity), but also possibly in the narrow sense as well of ethnically. Why?
There is nothing in the text of Scripture that I am aware of that indicated the brothers went out of country (like Jacob) to find wives. Since they lived within Canaan, it would seem most likely that is where most, if not all, their wives came from, just as Judah is explicitly noted to have done.
- it seems highly unlikely that Jacob would have sent any of his sons back to Laban's people, given his experiences there; and the sons are indicated to have been not yet married at the time they left there (Gen 32:11; 33:1, 5-7); Reuben would have been at most about 12-13 years old (born 1st year of marriage to Leah, with 7 years time serving for Rachel the 2nd time [Gen 29:26], and then 6 years of serving for flocks [Gen 30:27-30, 31:38]).
- it is possible they married from other relatives of Abraham (daughters related to Ishmael or the sons of Keturah), but such would have also likely required going outside of Canaan. This is because Abraham explicitly tried to keep those people separate, sending Ishmael away (Gen 21:14, 21) and the sons of Keturah away (Gen 25:6). They became many of the nations surrounding Canaan.
- it is possible they married cousins, Esau's daughters (Gen 36:6). But (a) Esau was also removed from Canaan, by his own will, to separate from Jacob (Gen 36:6-8), (b) given the strained relations between Esau and Jacob, it seems unlikely Jacob would have desired his sons marrying any of Esau's daughters, (c) given the attention to Esau's genealogy in Genesis 36, any marriage of a daughter to Jacob's sons would likely have been noted somewhere in Scripture.
When Levi and Simeon smote the men of Shechem (Gen 34:25), those men had already fulfilled their circumcision (Gen 34:24), and so part of the promise made to the men for such an act was that "then we [Jacob's sons] will give our daughters to you [Dinah being the first], and we [Jacob's sons] will take your daughters to us; and we will dwell with you, and we will become one people." After they killed the men, it says "All their [the city of Shechem's] little ones and their wives they took captive; and they plundered even all that was in the houses." This is strong circumstantial evidence that a number of the brothers took wives of either the former wives of the men of Shechem, or more likely, of their daughters (as promised). Those people were almost certainly Hivites, as Hamor and Shechem were (Gen 34:2), which were ethnically Canaanite (Gen 10:15-18, emphasis added):
15 Canaan begot Sidon his firstborn, and Heth; 16 the Jebusite, the Amorite, and the Girgashite; 17 the Hivite, the Arkite, and the Sinite; 18 the Arvadite, the Zemarite, and the Hamathite. Afterward the families of the Canaanites were dispersed.
Additionally, the area of Shechem remained a major base of operations for the family's flocks, as it is where the brothers had originally went to tend to the flocks when Joseph went in search of them (Gen 37:12). This seems to indicate a certain "settling in" of that area, which would be expected if town had been cleared of the men and the families taken captive and assimilated into Jacob's family via marriage to the brothers.
So we are left with these points:
- FACT: Judah married a Canaanite, but such was not mentioned in his bio in Gen 46.
- PROBABLE SPECULATION: At least some of the other brothers also married Canaanite women, but such was not specifically mentioned in their bio's, though the Genesis 34 account alludes to the high probability of such.
The fact of #1 alone is enough to question why the mention in Gen 46:10 of Simeon's son Shaul is significant—what is being communicated distinct from Judah? But it has even more force if #2 is true as well, that the other brother's married daughters of the city of Shechem or other Canaanite women.
I have at least two speculations on the special calling out of this fact of Shaul:
- Simeon had two wives, one non-Canaanite, one that was, so the phrase is just to distinguish the sons' mothers.
- "Canaanitish" was used here as a euphemization for a "son of a woman playing prostitute like a Canaanite," which could mean:
- (a) an out of wedlock son of Simeon's with a prostitute, or
- (b) an out of wedlock son of Simeon's wife who played the prostitute, who Simeon nonetheless adopted as his own
Somewhat against #1 is the fact that Judah had offspring from two women (his wife and Tamar), but that is not distinguished in his bio in Gen 46:12. So why distinguish that for Simeon? It is plausible, however, that the account in Genesis 38 is enough to account for the absence of mention in Genesis 46.
In contextual support of #2, the Canaanite religion included sacred prostitution, like so many other religions of the time:
Ironically, the goddesses were considered sacred prostitutes and as such were called the “holy ones.” Idols representing the goddesses were often nude and sometimes had exaggerated sexual features. In what circumstances early cultic prostitution was practiced is a matter of some debate, but there is no doubt that both male and female temple prostitutes were used in the cult of Canaanite religion (Walter A. Elwell and Barry J. Beitzel, Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible [Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1988], 412).
These prostitutes may be related to who Judah thought he was dealing with when he had relations with Tamar, so Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsch mention in commentary on Dt 23:17-18 in a note regarding Gen 38:21 (Commentary on the Old Testament [Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1996], 1:949).
I was leaning toward a #2 answer (specifically 2b for other reasons), but I am unsure if there is any other support than the logic I have already noted to take the meaning as that.
So I am interested in knowing:
- what historical interpretations there have been about the significance of the passage, including that the brothers all married non-Canaanites otherwise, and then any other idea I did not think of, and
- whether there is any other support or not for a reading such as #2 (in either form), since at present I acknowledge it is purely speculation on my part. I'm seeking to know if such speculation is otherwise justified. Using a term for a euphemization by default is not a common usage of a term, so I obviously would not expect it to be in the dictionaries (and it is not), but might expect if such a usage is plausible, that other Hebrew (or ancient near eastern cultures) writings used the term for Canaanite in such a way.