The name “Canaan,” which derives from the Bible and from ancient Egyptian and Near Eastern records, generally refers to the region of present-day Israel, western Jordan, Lebanon, and coastal and southern Syria and is more or less equivalent to the modern term “Levant.” Ancient texts from the region indicate that its population was of Semitic origin. The earliest mention of Canaan and Canaanites dates from the eighteenth century BCE, but the terms are now often applied to the region and its population in relation to earlier periods as well. Relations between Canaan and Egypt, its southwestern neighbor, are attested by textual evidence and archaeological remains dating as far back as the fourth millennium BCE. These relations were determined by political developments in both regions and thus were continually changing.

The geography of the land of Egypt, with its natural division into the narrow strip of the Nile Valley in the south and the broad Nile Delta in the north (Upper and Lower Egypt respectively), influenced the long history of pharaonic Egypt, which began with the unification of the two regions under one rule in ca. 3150 BCE. Ancient Egyptian civilization experienced periods of strength when Upper and Lower Egypt were united, which were punctuated by intermediate periods when the central rule disintegrated and the land was divided, with different dynasties ruling from the north and the south.

The periods of strength that began with the unification of Egypt included the Early Dynastic Period (ca. 3150–2685 BCE), the Old Kingdom, which was the age of the great pyramids (ca. 2685–2180 BCE), the Middle Kingdom, considered the classical period of Egyptian literature (ca. 2040–1700 BCE), and the New Kingdom, the most glorious period of pharaonic history, when the Egyptian Empire ruled over Canaan in the north and Nubia in the south (ca. 1540–1070 BCE). The final period of unity before the conquest of Alexander the Great was the Late Period (ca. 664–332 BCE), which witnessed a short renaissance but did not achieve the glories of earlier periods. The intermediate periods are the First Intermediate Period between the Old and Middle Kingdoms (ca. 2180–2040 BCE), the Second Intermediate Period between the Middle and New Kingdoms (ca. 1700–1540 BCE), and the Third Intermediate Period between the New Kingdom and the Late Period (ca. 1070–664 BCE).

In contrast to the political structure of pharaonic Egypt, which was based, ideally, on the concept of a single unified kingdom, the political system of Canaan revolved around individual city states, each with its own ruler. The city state system was established ca. 2950/2900 BCE, with the urbanization of the region in the Early Bronze Age, and it continued until the end of the second millennium BCE. As in Egypt, the Canaanite political structure saw periods of strength during which the urban centers flourished and periods of demise during which the city states experienced decline and destruction. The precise terminology, characterization, and absolute chronology of these periods are not as clear as in Egypt, but see pp. 14–15 for a suggested chronological framework, as well as the relevant discussions in the chapters below.

During periods of unity and strength, Egypt determined the nature of its relations with Canaan in accordance with its own needs. However, when central rule in Egypt disintegrated, control of its borders weakened, and, as archaeological and textual records from the First and Second Intermediate Periods indicate, large-scale infiltration of foreigners from Canaan into the eastern Delta took place. Nevertheless, pharaonic Egypt clearly remained the major political power in the region, and Canaanites, whether in their homeland or as settlers in Egypt, continued to hold Egyptian culture in high esteem, adopting Egyptian cultural traits that they deemed prestigious. At the same time, textual and archaeological evidence also shows Canaanite cultural influence on Egypt; the impact of each culture on the other is discussed in detail in the chapters below.

Egypt’s earliest organized contacts with Canaan were associated with the importation of luxury goods sought by the rising Egyptian elite around the time of the unification of Egypt in the late fourth millennium BCE. It was at that time that cultural interaction between the two regions commenced, gradually increasing over the course of the third and second millennia BCE and varying to a great extent in accordance with political developments in both regions. Similarly, there were considerable differences between Egypt’s relations with southern Canaan, namely, the area of present-day Israel, and its relations with northern Canaan, the region of Lebanon and southern Syria.

The aim of the exhibition Pharaoh in Canaan: The Untold Story is to present archaeological evidence reflecting the relations between Egypt and Canaan, with a focus on the political and cultural implications of these relations. The emphasis is on the period of the second millennium BCE, which saw two crucial developments in Egyptian-Canaanite relations. The first was a gradual infiltration and settlement of Canaanites in the eastern Delta, which led to the rule of a dynasty of Canaanite origin in Egypt (the Hyksos) between ca. 1650 and 1540 BCE. The second was a long-lasting Egyptian Empire in Canaan with a military and administrative presence between ca. 1500 and 1150 BCE. In historical and archaeological terms, this period covers the Middle Kingdom, Second Intermediate Period, and New Kingdom in Egypt, and the Middle and Late Bronze Age in Canaan.

A selection of Egyptian and Egyptian-style objects from Middle and Late Bronze Age occupation levels in southern Canaan forms the core of the exhibition. Also exhibited are a small number of objects from this region reflecting the initial phase of official contact between Egypt and Canaan in the late fourth millennium BCE. These items are complemented by objects from Egypt reflecting Egyptian-Canaanite political and cultural relations during the second millennium BCE. All of the above shed light on particular aspects of the interaction between the two lands and highlight the differences between the situation during the Middle Bronze Age (the period of Hyksos rule in Egypt) and that of the Late Bronze Age (the period of Egyptian rule in Canaan). In contrast to the Middle Bronze Age, when Egyptian-Canaanite interaction found expression primarily in trade and kinship ties, the interaction between the two regions in the Late Bronze Age is felt in a variety of cultural spheres and in a considerably larger number of objects. The catalogue is organized chronologically, presenting a historical outline and particular aspects of the political and cultural interaction between Egypt and Canaan from its beginning in the late fourth millennium BCE until the fall of the Egyptian Empire in Canaan in the second half of the twelfth century BCE. These discussions are followed by catalogue entries. Two appendices have also been included devoted to Egypt and Canaan in the biblical tradition and the origin of the alphabet in Egyptian hieroglyphs.