by Joshua J. Mark

1. Phoenicia was an ancient civilization composed of independent city-states which lay along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea stretching through what is now Syria, Lebannon and northern Israel. The Phoenicians were a great maritime people, known for their mighty ships adorned with horses' heads in honor of their god of the sea, Yamm, the brother of Mot, the god of death. The island city of Tyre and the city of Sidon were the most powerful states in Phoenicia with Gebal/Byblos and Baalbek as the most important spiritual/religious centers. Phoenician city-states began to take form c. 3200 BCE and were firmly established by c. 2750 BCE. Phoenicia thrived as a maritime trader and manufacturing center from c.1500-332 BCE and was highly regarded for their skill in ship-building, glass-making, the production of dyes, and an impressive level of skill in the manufacture of luxury and common goods.

The purple dye manufactured and used in Tyre for the robes of Mesopotamian royalty gave Phoenicia the name by which we know it today (from the Greek Phoinikes for Tyranian Purple) and also accounts for the Phoenicians being known as 'purple people' by the Greeks (as the Greek historian Herodotus tells us) because the dye would stain the skin of the workers. Herodotus cites Phoenica as the birthplace of the alphabet, stating that it was brought to Greece by the Phoenician Kadmus (sometime before the 8th century BCE) and that, prior to that, the Greeks had no alphabet. The Phoenician alphabet is the basis for most western languages written today and their city of Gebal (called by the Greeks 'Byblos') gave the Bible its name (from the Greek 'Ta Biblia', the books) as Gebal was the great exporter of papyrus ('bublos' to the Greeks) which was the paper used in writing in ancient Egypt and Greece. It is also thought that many of the gods of ancient Greece were imported from Phoenicia as there are certain indisputable similarities in some stories concerning the Phoenician gods Baal and Yamm and the Greek deities of Zeus and Poseidon. It is also notable that the battle between the Christian God and Satan as related in the biblical Book of Revelation seems a much later version of the same conflict, with many of the same details, one finds in the Phoenician myth of Baal and Yamm.

Phoenician Alphabet, Mother of Modern Writing

According to the Egyptians language is attributed to Taautos who was the father of tautology or imitation. He invented the first written characters two thousand years BC or earlier. Taautos came from Byblos, Phoenicia, that shows a continuous cultural tradition going back as far as 8,000 B.C. Taautos played his flute to the chief deity of Byblos who was a moon-goddess Ba'alat Nikkal.
Note: Taautos was called Thoth by the Greeks and the Egyptians called him Djehuti. The mythology of Taautos appears in that of Thoth and Dionysus, or Njörth the snake priest who was, at times, the consort to the moon-goddess. The snake priest was also represented by the symbol of a pillar, a wand or a caduceus. This symbol would itself become a god Hermes or Mercury. The Greeks equated Thoth with the widely-traveled Hermes. According to Egyptian tradition Osiris traveled the world with Thoth. Under the protective umbrella of Hindu culture, snake charmers playing their nasal punji echo the same tradition.
Alphabetic writing was already well established in the Late Bronze Age at Ugarit where a cuneiform script was used. The Phoenician alphabetic script was borrowed to write well before the first millennium BC.

The Phoenicians were not mere passive peddlers in art or commerce. Their achievement in history was a positive contribution, even if it was only that of an intermediary. For example, the extent of the debt of Greece alone to Phoenicia may be fully measured by its adoption, probably in the 8th century BC, of the Phoenician alphabet with very little variation (along with Semitic loan words); by "orientalizing" decorative motifs on pottery and by architectural paradigms; and by the universal use in Greece of the Phoenician standards of weights and measures. Having mentioned this, the influence on or from Linear A and B scripts is unknown.

Read more: Phoenician Alphabet







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