Archive for August, 2011

Phoenician Secrets – by Sanford Holst

Published in early 2011, this book is a great read that pulls together a great deal of information about the Phoenicians and their 3,000 year history from 3000 BCE.

Why is that relevant to our search? Along the evolution of our E haplotype, during the string of mutations, about 1250 BCE one originated in the north eastern Mediterranean. Until 2008 it was referred to as E3b.

According to the 2008 study Identifying Genetic Traces of Historical Expansions: Phoenician Footprints in the Mediterranean, E3B is one of the strong Y-chromosome markers in the Phoenician colonization of the Mediterranean.

So what? Well the book tells us why we should be interested and there is a lot to tell. For one thing, the Phoenicians created written language in order to standardize record keeping as they dealt with multiple cultures that used a variety of slowly applied cuneiform or hieroglyphic techniques more suited for temple adornment or immortalizing deities, warriors and rulers than they were for recording a grain or precious fabric transaction.

So what about the Hebrew connection? Well the Phoenician King of Tyre, Hiram, became best friends with the threatening Hebrew invader, King David and then with his son King Solomon. King Hiram and his successors provided David and Solomon with all the Cedar from Lebanon and the wood and stone working craftsmen in order to build Solomon’s temple and his palace in Jerusalem . The principal Phoenician craftsman, another Hiram, had a Jewish mother. One of King Hiram’s daughters became one of King Solomon’s many wives.

As you know, the E3b haplotype is carried by 10% of Sephardi and Ashkenazim Jews.

The book does not get into the shared DNA or go very deep into the Phoenician/Hebrew relationship, which is so detailed in the Old Testament. However, it does suggest the many multi-level influences that the Phoenicians had on the peoples with which they traded and where they had trading posts and small colonies, the Egyptians (founding Alexandria), the people who became the Greeks, the Anatolians, the peoples who became the Italians, the Spanish, the Maltese, and the North Africans, founding Carthage.

The book draws on many sources including the Greek historians as well as the Old Testament and other documents, and archaeological digs.

One of the most interesting aspects of their existence was that over their 3000 year old existence they were able to survive without an army, with two brief exceptions. Instead, they relied on a combination of techniques. First, they made themselves indispensable to their neighbors or the putative invaders by striking profitable trading relationships with them. Second, they blended in by adopting some of the social customs of the invaders or their trading post neighbours and did not present themselves ostentatiously in the way that they lived or practiced their religion.

They ensured secrecy and loyalty to the group by guaranteeing that that everyone had a strong vested interest in the success and well being of the community.They ensured that everyone had a stake in the profits or losses from trade. They ensured that there was not an extensive wealth gap between the most wealthy and the least wealthy. This treatment they also extended to neighbours such as the Minoans when they wanted to establish a trading post.

If one community had to be evacuated, the people were immediately absorbed into the other trading posts. When the time became right to return to the vacated trading post, if it had been destroyed by invaders they would rapidly rebuild it in as little as six years, with all other communities contributing money, materials and labour. This speed of reconstruction was unheard of elsewhere in the ancient world where zero sum games were the rule of the day.

They were highly secretive. There are very few records of Phoenician society by Phoenicians. One of the reasons is that when they evacuated a trading post they took with them their critical records and burned the rest.

Finally, they evolved a tactical superiority that suited them. Apparently evolving from a fishing culture, they established dominant deep water ship designing and building. They used that to dominate sea trading. To render themselves less vulnerable they avoided attachment to land territories, preferring to use islands for their trading posts.

This provided them with many advantages. They chose islands that provided two natural harbours which they augmented with stoneworks. The built the twin harbours so that they would always have a safe harbour to enter and where to load or unload cargoe, regardless of the weather and tide conditions. Islands could not be easily attacked by land based armies which were the threats of the day. Islands could be rapidly evacuated in the face of a serious threat.

These factors removed their need for a standing army, and removing the need for a standing army they eliminated a major cost to the community thereby providing them instead with funds and labour with which to develop shipping and trade.

They were a totally democratic society, with elected not inherited leadership. They were a people organized totally around trading and the their far flung trading posts co-ordinated trade, establishing specializations and transshipping in order to hide sellers from buyers, reduce their risks by using smaller vessels for local trade and thereby avoid becoming too tempting for pirates.

The U3b haplotype seems to have originated in the vicinity of Haran, the home of Abraham, which today is in southern Turkey 10 km from Syria. The Phoenicians predominantly operated some 250 to 300 kms south west on the coast in the cities of Byblos, adding Sidon, Tyre and then what is now Beirut. These are all now in Lebanon.

Unlike their polytheistic neighbours with mostly male deities, they practiced monotheism with a feminine deity who later had a male consort.

Needless to say, I highly recommend reading this book, even just for sheer entertainment and growing appreciation of an innovative and wise civilization which we may be able to lcaim as part of our heritage.

Phoenician Secrets – by Sanford Holst, Santorini books, ISBN 978-0-9833279-0-5 $18.95

Click to access Phoenician_secrets_introduction.pdf

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