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The World Of Phoenicia Essay, Research Paper

Around the 12th century BC, the Greeks gave the coastal region of the eastern Mediterranean the name Phoenicia. This name was so widely accepted that even the Romans adopted it at a later date. Phoenicia was the land between the Orontes River and Mount Carmel. The land was characterized early as the homeland or origination of the surviving Syro-Canaanite civilization. This unique civilization survived the many threats from other cultures of the 12th century BC. The Syro-Canaan civilization produced many interesting objects. Such objects included institutions, handicrafts, and maritime trading. All of these flourished immensely in Phoenician in this period (CANE, 1321). Phoenicia was neither a nation nor a country. Instead, Phoenicia was simply a “conglomerate of city-states that was distinguished from adjacent areas by its habitual outreach into the Mediterranean world” (Freedman, 349). Phoenicia was also known for its preferred dealing and trading with the Greeks and Indo-Europeans. Although it dealt and traded mainly with the Greeks, Phoenicia maintained a unique culture with its own religious beliefs, language, preferred trading techniques, and political setup. With help from their unique ways, the Phoenicians eventually began to expand through the Mediterranean, Near East, and the Middle East (Freedman, 349).Religion for Phoenicia, like many other Semitic cultures, played a very important role in the Phoenician culture. In the 12th century BC, the Phoenicians strongly believed in paganism and worshipped many gods. The gods’ names, however, were not always consistent. Phoenicians had their own religious text, their own forms of prayer, and even had sacrifice within their culture. Gifts were also used as offerings and the Phoenicians also had a personal structure within their beliefs. All of these things helped form and keep the Phoenician religion quite unique and peculiar as well. Literary and epigraphic texts are part of the written sources of information about Phoenician religion. Literary texts include many sources such as the Hebrew Bible, Greek texts by Christian, classical, and Hellenistic writers. Epigraphic texts included cuneiform texts in Akkadian language and inscriptions in Phoenician language. One can easily notice all the different sources in which the Phoenician religious texts came about. Hence, the Phoenicians were exposed to many groups and many beliefs in which they built their own religious beliefs. It must be noted, however, that any source other than texts written by Phoenicians can not be solely relied upon and are secondary (Freedman, 358). Another vital part of Phoenician religion was sacrifice. In the Phoenician culture, sacrifice was often used to show faith and dedication to the gods. They used sacrifice in their culture beginning at a very early period, however, the procedures undoubtedly changed and varied over time. Phoenicians used both floral and animal sacrifices. Animal offerings included bulls, sheep, oxen, deer, and goats. Doves and pigeons seemed to be the popular birds to sacrifice. The floral sacrifices would often include offerings of cereal grain and plant derivatives such as oil. The entire sacrificial process was much like the Israelite sacrifice in structure. Phoenicians operated in a male dominated society where the women were treated as minimal or marginal participants, however, Phoenician texts also mention that a genealogy of the offerers was kept for both the males and the females (359, ABD).The most popular Phoenician sacrifice known is narrated in the Bible. In I Kings 18:20-40 there is a sacrificial contest that is staged by Elijah, an Israelite prophet, to prove that his God, Elohim, is the one and only true God. The contest took place on Mt. Carmel, which was known as the mountain that was “sacred above all other mountains” (359, ABD). The Phoenicians and Elijah would each sacrifice separate animals. The victims of the sacrifice were to be bulls. The bulls was killed, butchered, and arranged in pieces in which the pieces were placed on wood in which the wood was placed on the altar as an offering. The Phoenicians then called upon one of their gods, specifically known as Ba’al, but no one answered. Seeing this Elijah began to mock the Phoenicians saying that he must be sleeping or preoccupied. The Phoenicians continued dancing around the offering and crying aloud. They even began cutting themselves, with swords, until they bled for this is what their culture called for. They continued to rave on but no one answered. Elijah then built a trench around the altar, put the wood in proper order, and laid the bull pieces on the wood. Four jars were then filled with water in which they were poured on the bull and the wood filling the trench with water as well. With everything being wet Elijah called upon his God, Elohim. “Then the fire of the Lord fell, and consumed the burnt offering, and the wood, and the stones, and the dust, and licked up the water that was in the trench” (Oxford, 445). Elohim was revealed destroying the beliefs of Ba’al. Elijah then ordered that the prophets of Ba’al be seized and killed. The purpose of this story was to make Phoenician sacrifice and their gods seem foolish and ridiculous (Oxford, 445). In addition to sacrifice, much like the practices of other Semitic cultures, offering of gifts and objects were also very important. Certain objects that were acceptable for offerings included agricultural and industrial products, carved work, and metal objects such as a silver bowl. Phoenicians would also offer sculptures, ceramics, and terracotta to their gods as a sign of their dedication and faith to them. Terracotta is simply a type of pottery ware. Spoils of wars were also offered along side the other gifts. Many of the items would be offered within a temple to help link present colonies to their former or mother cities. These types of dedications were usually used to fulfill a vow that an individual had made to a god or their colony. These vows were often recorded and were made as a fulfillment to the Phoenician religion. In the Phoenician religion, prayer is much like the fulfillment of vows. As a matter of fact, most vows were performed through prayer, and “the necessity of their fulfillment was communicated through revelation to the vower” (ABD, 360). Phoenician inscriptions actually provide and explain many instance and example of prayerful dedication. Within these inscriptions one can definitely see true examples of piety of marital devotion. Prayer is a popular form of speaking to God, however, for the Phoenicians it was used to speak to one their many gods. Through their prayers to the gods the Phoenicians also believed that it was important for them to expand outward outside of their present land (ABD, 360). Early in the 11th century BC, the Phoenician population began to expand significantly outside their native homeland. Many things contributed to their movement including prayers and rich metals such as silver and lead. Throughout time certain Phoenician groups began to expand farther and farther away from their primary land. Phoenician expansion can be broken up into three main categories or movements know as the early expansion, the expansion into the Near East, and the expansion into the Mediterranean (CANE, 1323). Early expansion of the Phoenicians and the dating of this time are dependent on three main pottery groups. The pottery groups were so unique that historians could pinpoint the location of their movement and date the movements by simply finding the pottery in certain lands and identifying them as Phoenician pottery. The earliest group, known as the bichrome ware, appeared in the mid-eleventh century. The bichrome ware were popular for making globular flasks and jugs decorated in black and red. Their pottery began to appear in quantities in Philistia, Negev, Egypt, and Cypress. This meant that a couple of things were happening. First, the Phoenicians were expanding into these lands and secondly, they began trading with other people as well (CANE, 1324). Along with their pottery, Phoenicians were well known for the likeness of trading. Their expansion and likeness of trading brought upon the borrowing of the Phoenician alphabet by the Greeks. Both groups were expanding when they met, and the Greeks received the alphabet in which much of the Greek language came from (CAM, 401).While the first Phoenician pottery group had already established themselves, a second distinct group, known as the Cypro-Phoenicians or black-on-red ware, appeared. This group was especially familiar for a delicate, reddish fine ware that included a reddish-brown slip and concentric circles that were sometimes painted in black.


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