- Category: History
- Published on Tuesday, 26 December 2006 17:00
Did Israelites and Phoenicians settle colonies together?
First, who were the Phoenicians? It is debated they were a Semitic people (consensus is most always an illusion when considering antiquity) who primarily settled (at an uncertain time) on the coast currently controlled by the modern nation of Lebanon, just north of Israeli territory. The cities of Tyre and Sidon are the most notable of Phoenicia (the "motherland" of sorts), Tyre being the most dominant and prosperous (and the most difficult to siege and conquer). The Hebrew Scriptures occasionally refers to the Phoenicians as “Sidonians” or "Tsor".
In this article, we try to answer the important question: Did Israelites and Phoenicians colonize cities/regions together? Did they generally mix populations?
We can look at many circumstances which strongly suggest they did indeed do so.
The Phoenician city-states spoke a Semitic language, very similar to Hebrew and Moabite. And when comparing the Phoenician alphabet with Paleo-Hebrew (Ancient), they are nearly identical. Israelites and Sidonians likely needed no translator to converse.
"...the words most commonly in use, the particles, the pronouns, the forms of the verb, the principal inflections (and we may add, the numerals) in Phoenician are identical, or nearly identical, with the pure Hebrew." -George Rawlinson, Phoenicia, p.24 (citing Renan, Histoire des Languages Semitiques, pp. 189-190)
Ancient Israel and the motherland of Phoenicia shared a common boarder and seacoast as depicted below.
Clearly, Phoenicia and Israel were far from hostile towards one another.
I Kings 5:1
(1) And Hiram sovereign of Tyre sent his servants to Solomon, because he heard that they had anointed him sovereign in place of his father, for Hiram had always loved David.
King Hiram (969-936 BCE) contributed enormously to King Solomon's pursuit to build the Great Temple of יהוה in Jerusalem [I Kings 5:15-26] as well as Solomon's many other building projects.
INTERMARRIAGE: King Ahab of the Northern Kingdom of Israel married the infamous Phoenician (Sidonian) princess, Jezebel, further cementing their old alliance [I Kings 16:31].
The following verses record another case of intermarriage between Phoenicians and Israelites. The Hiram below is not to be confused with King Hiram of Tyre. Also note, the Israelite tribe of Naphtali was only a few miles distance from Sidonian territory.
I Kings 7:13-14
(13) And King Solomon sent and brought Hiram from Tyre. (14) He was the son of a widow from the tribe of Naphtali, and his father was a man of Tyre, a bronze worker. And he was filled with wisdom and understanding and skill in working with all kinds of bronze work. So he came to King Solomon and did all his work.
Intermarriage between the two peoples was likely common place from the time of David until the Assyrain Invasions. We know Israelites worked for long periods of time in Phoenicia and vice versa during Solomon's massive building projects. Later when Israel and Judah divided, Phoenicia and Israel were not only intimately familiar with each other, the northern tribes of Israel (with their affinity toward Idolatry) were becoming more like Phoenicia and much less like Judah in the south (who proved more faithful to the El of Jacob).
Phoenician-Israelite trade routes are shown below. Unfortunately, South Africa, Western Iberia (Spain), Britannia (England), and the Americas (North & South) are not shown, although there is convincing evidence the Phoencians reached these far off regions, largely for profitable mining-trade purposes.
Scripture records the fleets of Israel and the fleets of Phoenicia returning every three years with great amounts of wealth. It isn't unfathomable that these fleets were manned by mixed crews, in which Israelite sailors, workers, and infantry were likely most numerous in Solomon's time period.
I Kings 10:21-24
(21) And all the drinking vessels of King Solomon were of gold, and all the vessels of the House of the Forest of Lebanon were of refined gold – not of silver, for this was reckoned of little value in the days of Solomon.
(22) For the sovereign had ships of Tarshish at sea with the fleet of Hiram. Once every three years the ships of Tarshish came bringing gold, and silver, ivory, and apes, and baboons.
(23) And King Solomon was greater than any of the sovereigns of the earth in riches and wisdom.
(24) And all the earth sought the presence of Solomon to hear his wisdom, which Elohim had put in his heart.
Jezebel and Ahab are mentioned above. Those familiar with the stories surrounding their marriage, are probably familiar with the idolatry (largely Ba'al worship) they both promoted within the Israelite population [I Kings 17:29-33]. They not only erected temples to Ba'al, but they also murdered many Prophets of Israel, increasing the speed by which the whole population would fall away from Torah righteousness.
Carthage, a Phoenician colony, was well known for their Ba’al worship. Some even believe Jezebel was the great aunt of Queen Dido, the founder of Carthage.
Considering the population of Israel, Tyre and Sidon certainly depended on the Israelites for protection against numerous inland enemies.
PHILISTINE: The seafaring Israelite tribe of Dan [Judges 5:17] was a coastal buffer between the Philistines to the south and Sidonians in the north. Dan was so weakened by wars with Philistine that the tribe moved to the north later in its history.
ASSYRIA: Assyria not only annihilated the northern ten-tribed Kingdom of Israel between 740-721 BCE, but they also invaded Phoenician territory and laid siege on Tyre. Assyrian emperors likely saw few dividing lines between Israel and the Sidonians. They had been friends and intermarried for centuries and were equally hostile toward Assyria. See one account of Josephus below:
Antiquities of the Jews - Book IX(9) (Ch. 14):
And now the king of Assyria invaded all Syria and Phoenicia in a hostile manner. The name of this king is also set down in the archives of Tyre, for he made an expedition against Tyre in the reign of Eluleus; and Menander attests to it, who, when he wrote his Chronology, and translated the archives of Tyre into the Greek language, gives us the following history: “One whose name was Eluleus reigned thirty-six years; this king, upon the revolt of the Citteans, sailed to them, and reduced them again to a submission. Against these did the king of Assyria send an army, and in a hostile manner overrun all Phoenicia, but soon made peace with them all, and returned back; but Sidon, and Ace, and Palsetyrus revolted; and many other cities there were which delivered themselves up to the king of Assyria. Accordingly, when the Tyrians would not submit to him, the king returned, and fell upon them again, while the Phoenicians had furnished him with threescore ships, and eight hundred men to row them; and when the Tyrians had come upon them in twelve ships, and the enemy's ships were dispersed, they took five hundred men prisoners, and the reputation of all the citizens of Tyre was thereby increased; but the king of Assyria returned, and placed guards at their rivers and aqueducts, who should hinder the Tyrians from drawing water. This continued for five years; and still the Tyrians bore the siege, and drank of the water they had out of the wells they dug." And this is what is written in the Tyrian archives concerning Shalmaneser, the king of Assyria.
What are the Ramifications?
If Phoenicians and Israelites colonized their vast maritime trade empire, it certainly complicates some common beliefs about the origin of many peoples/nations. It is believed the Phoenicians obtained gold and silver from Iberia, tin from Britannia, gold and diamonds from South Africa, and gold and copper from the Americas. This begs the question: Did the populations of some of these colonies remain permanently, becoming overtime (many centuries) distinct people in their own right? If so, it adds a whole new dimension to the hunt for Jacob’s scattered seed. Israel may have been sown in lands far more numerous and far earlier than most secular historians will ever be willing to admit or even discuss.
Noting the Assyrian period, it is also highly probable that if Phoenicia and Israel already had populated colonies all along their trade routes and ports of call, their motherland cities would undoubtedly flee to these remote safe havens if faced with no other alternative but certain slavery and/or death, which is what the Assyrian monarchs were offering their enemies for many decades.
For some scholars such suggestions are far too grandiose and sensational. In their minds, the promises made to Abraham, Isaak, and Jacob are but fairytales and myth. In my mind, יהוה did indeed offer grandiose promises and He is no liar.