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In Joshua 24, Joshua tells the Israelites not to serve the gods of the Amorites. Why doesn't he refer to the Canaanites? Should we consider them the same?

Joshua 24:15 “If it is disagreeable in your sight to serve the LORD, choose for yourselves today whom you will serve: whether the gods which your fathers served which were beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living; but as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.”

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In addition to referring to a particular tribal group, Canaan was a territory in which multiple people groups lived at that time. Amorites, Moabites, Hivites, Hittites, and more, were all inhabitants of the land of Canaan. Here are some texts in support of this:

Esau took his wives of the daughters of Canaan; Adah the daughter of Elon the Hittite, and Aholibamah the daughter of Anah the daughter of Zibeon the Hivite; (Genesis 36:2)

And I have said, I will bring you up out of the affliction of Egypt unto the land of the Canaanites, and the Hittites, and the Amorites, and the Perizzites, and the Hivites, and the Jebusites, unto a land flowing with milk and honey. (Exodus 3:17)

Then the dukes of Edom shall be amazed; the mighty men of Moab, trembling shall take hold upon them; all the inhabitants of Canaan shall melt away. (Exodus 15:15)

As can be seen, those verses seem to lump these all together. The word "Canaanites" can have two senses of meaning: 1) those that lived in the land called Canaan; and 2) those descended from Canaan (Ham's son). The latter sense of meaning more properly applies to this next verse:

The Amalekites dwell in the land of the south: and the Hittites, and the Jebusites, and the Amorites, dwell in the mountains: and the Canaanites dwell by the sea, and by the coast of Jordan. (Numbers 13:29)

So when Joshua says "Amorites" instead of "Canaanites," he is simply being more specific about which tribal group he is addressing. All Amorites might have been considered Canaanites, but not all Canaanites were Amorites.

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The Amorites are mention irregularly in the Torah:

  • Gen 15:16 - "Amorites" is used to refer to the whole population
  • Gen 48:22 - Jacob claims to have taken some land from the Amorites
  • The Amorites controlled much of Palestine and Trans-Jordan as per, Num 13:29, 21:26-30, Deut 1:7, 19, 20, 44.
  • The Israelites succeeded in taking much of the Amorite territory, Num 21:25, 31, 32, Josh 10:5, 6, 28-43; but they remained in the hill country.

However, the Amorites were never rooted out of the land (Judges 1:35, 3:5) and were still there is Samuel's day (1 Sam 7:14). Eventually, used them as forced labor, 1 Kings 9:20, 21, 2 Chron 8:7, 8.

The convocation/assembly of the Israelites in Josh 24 was in Shechem (V1). Thus, "Amorite" either refers to the area as a whole (see above references), or, it refers to those in the surrounding area of Shechem.

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Amorites are a particular people group. Canaanite is a general term for multiple people groups living in Canaan before the Hebrew conquest.

AMORITES One of the peoples found in northern Syria and Mesopotamia from about 3000 BC, who also inhabited the land of Canaan before the Israelite conquest. The name derives from Martu, meaning ‘west’ in Sumerian, and some believe that the Martu mentioned in Mesopotamian sources is the same as Amu in contemporary Egyptian sources, where the reference is to wanderers who overran Syria and Palestine and reached the borders of Egypt. Somewhat later they are referred to in the Accadian documents as Amurru, which is very close to the biblical name. During the 2nd millennium BC the Amorites spread over large areas in Mesopotamia and east of the Jordan, pressing southwards and westwards. They reached their zenith in the middle of the same millennium, but declined rapidly and merged with the newly arriving elements, the Horites, Hittites, Canaanites, Hebrews, Arameans and other peoples. -- Negev, A. (1990). In The Archaeological encyclopedia of the Holy Land (3rd ed.). New York: Prentice Hall Press.

CANAAN; CANAANITES A name found in the Bible in the table of nations (Gen. 10:6), as well as in the cuneiform, Egyptian and Phoenician texts, and later also in Greek and Roman historical texts. In all of these sources Canaan is used both as a geographical term and as an ethnic appellation. According to Genesis (Genesis 9:20–3; 10:6), Canaan was the son of Ham, Noah’s second son. Canaan was the father of Sidon, Heth, the Jebusite, Amorite, Girgasite, Hivite, Arkite, Sinite, Arvadite, Zamarite and the Hamathite. Most of these ‘sons’ may be identified as nations, kingdoms or cities in Palestine, Syria and Phoenicia which were prominent in the biblical story. -- Negev, A. (1990). In The Archaeological encyclopedia of the Holy Land (3rd ed.). New York: Prentice Hall Press.

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