Phoenicia

Arch of Tyre
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 Hanawai Village Lebanon   Photo by Hussein Kefel

Phoenicia is the name given to those city-states that grew on the eastern shore of the Mediterranean Sea and were identified as centers of trade in ancient times. Families began to inhabit the land around Byblos about 6000 BC. The Phoenicians were a peaceful, seafaring people expert in navigation and trade, and, beginning around 3200 BC, were the first to explore the Mediterranean Sea in boats made of cedar. Protected by the mountains of Lebanon from warring nations, they were able to differentiate from their Canaanite neighbors and form a distinct culture and society. Byblos, Tyre (2750 BC), and Sidon became main centers of commerce. In the ninth century BC, the Phoenician language extended as far north as Cilicia in Asia Minor. Between the ninth and sixth centuries BC, the naval proficiency of the Phoenicians established the first trading system to encompass the entire Mediterranean from their homeland, in what is now Lebanon, to colonies in Cyprus, Carthage, Sicily, Sardinia, and through the Straits of Gibraltar to Cadiz on the Atlantic coast of Spain and Lixus on the Atlantic coast of Morocco.

The Phoenicians developed the alphabet around 1400 BC in order to communicate with the diverse cultures and tongues of their trading partners. It was the Phoenician alphabet that was widely received throughout Greece and the Mediterranean world, as it was only 22 letters based on sound, as opposed to the myriad of symbols in cuneiform and hieroglyphics prevalent at the time. The words phonic and phonetic have the same root as the word Phoenicia.

The word Bible, which means "the book," is derived from the city of Byblos, which was a trading source for papyrus, the writing material for early books. The legend of the Phoenix, the bird consumed by fire only to regenerate, is based upon the Phoenician people, whose land was occupied and towns destroyed many times by warlike peoples, only to regenerate time and again. In fact, the Greeks were the ones that named the seafarers the Phoenicians, or phoinikes, the singular of which is phoinix. The Romans spelled it phoenix! Phoenicia gives all the people of Lebanon a unique heritage to their country.

Jesus Christ commissioned his Apostles to be his witnesses to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8). St. Paul stayed a week in Tyre after his return from his third missionary journey (Acts 21:2-3), and also stopped in Sidon on his fourth missionary trip to Rome (Acts 27:3). The land was still known as Phoenicia at the time Jesus Christ lived.

Lebanon is the crossroads of the East and West. The Lebanese people are noted for their adaptability and hospitality. The population is both Christian and Muslim. Arabic, French, and English newspapers flourish in Beirut, as many Lebanese speak all three languages. The Lebanese people have migrated all over the world, reflecting their Phoenician heritage. The intellectual ties to the West are reflected in the presence of two major universities, the American University of Beirut, founded in 1866, and L'Universite' Saint Joseph, founded in 1870. Lebanon is the birthplace of Kahlil Gibran, the author of The Prophet, a book of poetry that has sold nearly ten million copies in twenty languages worldwide. The country is unique, for one can go skiing in the mountains in the morning, and swimming in the Mediterranean in the afternoon. All share in traditional Lebanese cuisine, which represents the classic Mediterranean diet. Famous for their health benefits, Lebanese prepared dishes such as grape leaves, kibbeh, tabooli, hummus, falafel, baba ghanouj, and baklawa are enjoyed the world over!

Fishing boat at the time of Prophet Jesus

This illustration shows the type of boat that Jesus and his disciples probably used, based on the remains of an approximately 2,000-year-old fishing boat found on the northwestern shore of the Sea of Galilee. It could hold 15 men,
and was 26.5 feet long, 7.5 feet wide, and 4.5 feet high (8.1 x 2.3 x 1.4 m).