Skip to comments.選知 not Arab, I知 Phoenician眺 a common phrase, but flawed concept
Posted on 02/19/2004 8:44:57 PM PST by Destro
Im not Arab, Im Phoenician a common phrase, but flawed concept
It isnt always easy to live in the postmodern era. No absolute truths or morals to hang on to. The world is what you make of it and anything goes seem to be lifes only principles. Consequently, your identity is not something that befalls upon you by birth, but something you are free to choose and construct, which can lead to rather bizarre results.
Lets take as an example a young man I know. Born and bred in his beloved London, he has a British passport, only speaks English, has a good sense of humor, enjoys watching football, drinking beer, making fun of the French, and yet he insists he is not English or British. He is, he claims, half Irish, half Jewish. Why? His mother was born in Dublin, his father fled Germany during World War II. Now, surely both factors play an important role in his life and shape his identity, but to completely deny at least being partly British is just odd. Especially knowing that according to the Jewish faith he is not a Jew, while on top of that, he is a deeply convinced atheist. The reason for his self-chosen identity cocktail is political, as he does not want to be associated with Britains colonial past.
As anyone else, the Lebanese are free to choose and define their identity. Most people will just state their nationality. Others may add religion, political preferences, city of birth or other countries they lived in. In certain Lebanese circles, however you still hear the following variation: Im not Arab, Im Phoenician.
Its an interesting concept that came to life in the late 19th century, when (certain) Lebanese, following the European intellectual fashion of the time, descended into the realms of history in search of a common ancestor on which to construct a nation state based on the principle of one people, one land, one country.
Thriving on a bit of history and lot of legend, it triggers images of a glorious past, in which the Phoenicians acted as the undisputed masters of the Mediterranean. And theres nothing wrong with a bit of pride of the good old days, especially in times of hardship. However, the statement is often more than but an expression of innocent romanticism.
Confront the person making the remark with a bit of skepticism and be prepared for a heated reaction, in which the emphasis in the sentence will swiftly shift toward the not being Arab part. In other words, Im Phoenician not only serves to give oneself a positive self-image, different yet equal to the other, but aims to set oneself apart from the other, who is (but) an Arab.
For that reason its important to have a closer look at the statement, Im Phoenician, for it triggers several problems. First of all, it somehow implies the existence of a nation-state called Phoenicia. Fact is, however, that there never was such a thing. The Phoenicians lived in a loosely connected network of city states, which often but not always cooperated and which at times were autonomous, but more often paid tribute to the dominant empires in Mesopotamia and Egypt.
Secondly, the word Phoenician is Greek. The term is first found in Homer, who uses it refer to the people living in the Levant from Southern Palestine to Northern Syria, with Lebanon at its core. The words root means red and was probably a reference to the red-purple dye the Phoenicians made from shellfish. The Greek used the term Phoenicians for a specific time frame, said Helen Sadr, professor of archeology at the American University of Beirut, which is roughly the first millennium BC. It would be scientifically unsound to use the term before or after. A second problem with the word Phoenicians is that the people never identified themselves as such. In the written sources we have, they refer to themselves as the inhabitants of Tyre, Sidon and Byblos.
Putting linguistics aside, the question still remains: Who were the people the term referred to?
For a long time, the common theory was and popular belief still is that nomads from the Saudi peninsula or the Sinai invaded and settled in the Levant. Around 1,200 BC, following the so-called invasion of the Sea People, the two mixed and thus the notion arose that Phoenicians are a kind of noble European Bedouin of the sea.
Nice story, yet more fiction than fact. First of all, theres no proof of an early invasion from either the Arab peninsula or the Sinai, Sadr said. Of course, there has always been a certain interaction and fusion between people in the region, but the whole concept of invasion is but a projection of the 7th-century Arab invasion onto earlier times. One shouldnt forget that the camel was only domesticated around 1,000 BC. Secondly, she said, theres no evidence of an invasion of the Sea People. There were raids, Ugarit was destroyed and some cities were established in Palestine, but no major disruptions occurred in the cities of Tyre, Sidon and Byblos. The little we know for sure about the Phoenicians is that they were Semitic people from the region.
A kind of Lebanese avant-la-lettre? Not quite. Sabatino Moscati, professor of archeology at the University of Rome and author of a series of books on Phoenicians, emphasizes in the essay, Who Were The Phoenicians: In the system of city states that characterized the region, there were no major differences between the centers that would become Phoenician (yet already existed) and the ones that would not. The coast did not differ from the hinterland. Were facing a Syro-Palestinian civilization, rather than a Phoenician one.
Another term often used is the Canaan culture, which from at least 3,000 BC existed in what is today Western Syria, Lebanon and Palestine. Moscati stresses that to understand the Phoenicians it is essential to know this common pre-history. On the other hand however, he adds, that one cannot underestimate the profound changes that took place around 1,200 BC.
Without going into details, around that time the region went through a deep crisis. Because of external (the raids of the Sea People) and internal (political, economical) factors the empires of Egypt in the south and the Hittites in the north were in decline, which did not cause major invasions, but allowed local Semite people such as the Amorites, Hebrews and Canaanites to take fate into their own hands.
It was in this time that coastal Canaanites increasingly took the route to sea. The reason was probably economic. Because the rise of the Amorites in Syria, their traditional trade routes eastward were cut off, while their other main market, Egypt, was in shambles. By sailing westward the Canaanites found new markets and in the course of the 1st Millennium BC they took their place among the worlds greatest explorers and civilizations as Phoenicians.
As quickly as they rose, so they disappeared some thousand years after, when Alexander the Great took Tyre and the Romans destroyed Carthage. It meant the end of the Phoenicians.
As it is impossible to separate Phoenicians from the region they were born in, so one cannot just create a link with people living today. After the fall of Tyre, the Levant was ruled by Greek, Romans, and Byzantines for about 1,000 years, followed by Arabs, Crusaders, Turks and French. All of them left their traces on and mixed with the indigenous population.
More importantly, identity is not just genetically determined. Its also the culture you live in, the language you speak. As the half Irish, half Jewish atheist mentioned above is at least partly British, so Lebanons Phoenicians are at least partly Arabic. To deny that completely, is but a political choice, and a potentially dangerous one. The past has given us ample examples in which historically based mythology, and an emphasis on the difference between people, was but a justification for inequality, hatred and even murder. Cherish the differences, but lets not forget that we are all first of all and foremost, human beings.
Peter Speetjens is a freelance writer based in Lebanon
Lots of words like Egypt and Pyramids are not native to that culture but the Greek name or nickname for them. For example pyramid was the name of a Greek sweet cake of the same shape. The ancient Egyptians never called those constructions pyramids.
Also, just read this, the incident of red hair in Libya is the same as it is in Ireland. Hmmmm
The Egyptian word for pyramid was pimar, from which the Greek is most probably derived.
Okay. Didn't know that about the color purple.
The word 'pyramid' actually comes from the Greek word 'pyramis' which means 'wheat cake'. The word 'pyramis' was used to describe the ancient Egyptian buildings because they reminded the Greeks of pointy-topped wheat cakes.
The ancient Egyptian word for the pyramids was 'Mer'.
Maybe the wheat-cake was styled after the pyramid. Didn't the pyramids come first?
It would be as if we had named Twinkies, 'Stonehenges.' Stonehenges came first.
I feel like we've been talking on this thread for days...and yet, it has only 11 posts, lol.
Please FREEPMAIL me if you want on, off, or alter the "Gods, Graves, Glyphs" PING list --
Archaeology/Anthropology/Ancient Cultures/Artifacts/Antiquities, etc.
The GGG Digest -- Gods, Graves, Glyphs (alpha order)
Here's a newer one, just started.
Phoenicians: Ancient Mariners
National Geographic ^ | October 2004 | Rick Gore
Posted on 10/12/2004 10:45:45 PM PDT by SunkenCiv
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