Hebrews and Phoenicians

Hebrews and Phoenicians, both pertaining to the same Semitic group and whose cradle probably was south Arabia, peopled the eastern Mediterranean coast in Minor Asia. The Phoenicians had been living in the north of said region many centuries prior to the arrival and occupation of the southern part by the Hebrews. Phoenicia was a narrow stretch of land about some 200 kilometers in length by 20 or 30 in width. The place was a stony ground due to the rocky landslides of the nearby surrounding mountains but with scarce and fertile open spaces where cereals, olive trees, vineyards and fig trees were grown. Their tree covered mountains made the country famous for their wonderful cedar trees from the Lebanese region. The Phoenicians skillfully exploited and made the most out of these sort of trees. These industrious men, seafarers, traders were named Punic Peoples, Red Men, perhaps due to their skin colors or for their attractive fabrics which they dyed in purple color.

The cities which they built-up on the seaside or nearby islands attained both great prestige and splendor. But they were located on the axis of an essential and commercial route, maritime and land. Hebrews and Phoenicians. The cities which they built-up on the seaside or nearby islands attained both great prestige and splendor. But they were located on the axis of an essential and commercial route strategic, maritime and land. Furthermore they came under vassalage and suffered sacking, looting and colonization mainly imposed upon them by the two giant neighboring empires; Egypt in the southwest and Mesopotamia in the East. When their executioners were either the Egyptians, the Assyrians or the Babylonians their true killer were the Hittites. Besides the desert nomadic tribes, or the peoples coming from the Sea who were them all of Indo-European origin and that used to exercise piracy acts in the Mediterranean sea.

Only the City-States occasionally united together under a joint alliance to face the invading enemy forces. These cities were independent from one another and they were ruled by a king. However the ruling power was not absolute. An elderly People assembly, a kind of a senate, limited the kings actions. Commerce was the main Phoenicians economical base and the traders constituted a leading population sector creating the money based aristocracy. The Phoenicians also were skillful traders who developed both the metallurgy and the engineering. Their prestige excelled so much that when the Hebrew King Salomon decided the construction of the Temple and Palace of Jerusalem, circa 900 year b.C. bought the construction materials mainly lumber and metals from Phoenicia and also contracted Phoenicians specialists and craftsmen to carry out such an immense construction. But the Phoenicians were above all, sea-men, standing out as both navigators and shipping builders amidst all the peoples of their time. The sea was their main communication means which they explored and voyaged for centuries and by sailing throughout the Mediterranean they reached the isles of Crete and Cyprus. From the island of Rhodes they explored the Aegean sea and occupied many of its islands; Pharos, Melos, Tascos and Citrea. From all these islands they obtained a mollusk (Murice), from which obtained the Purple they used to dye their famed fabrics. From the Aegean sea they moved to the Black-Sea, where they developed at a high scale, the tuna fish and sardine fishing which they preserved mixed with salt to avoid their decay, see Garum.

From the Black-Sea they entered the Caucasus mountains rich in plumb, gold and silver. Those minerals were transported on camel caravans that crossing Armenia, Syria, reached regularly Phoenicia. The Phoenicians later on also explored the western Mediterranean basin landing in Italy, Iberia, France and North-Africa. They also occupied the islands of Malta the keys to this sea-area and finally settled in Corsica, Sardinia and Sicily. Such a lengthy series of explorations and discoveries would finally come to an end with the crossing of the Hercules Columns and the finding of an open way to the Atlantic. The Phoenicians vessels in their northerly sailing bordered the Iberian Peninsula reaching even England. Sailing southerly they carried out the greatest shipping exploits in ancient times circumnavigated the African continent having the opportunity to establish commercial deals with the native Peoples they came across. whenever they found both stable organizations and governments they negotiated their possible settling in the area. The above mentioned settlements were of the three different types. The concessions where in the Phoenicians paid taxes to trade freely in the region. The factories were used as a storage deposits of crude materials and goods which were generally stored in islands or hills of difficult access. Only in Iberia they possessed dozens of factories. Some of them became crowded cities such as Malacca, Gades, that were founded circa 1.100 b.C. and finally existed the possessions or dominions properly called colonies such as Rhodes, Cyprus, Sicily and the north African ones. all these centers were constructed as supplying and resting stop stages in order to cover the lengthy crossing amidst the metropolis and their far-flung branch settlements as those dominions pertained to different Phoenicians cities which were responsible for before their own kings and authorities. Byblos was the first Phoenician city to stand out.

From the third millennium on exported lumber and resins to Egypt being the latter used for the mummification of their deceased. However at the end of said millennium this trading traffic was interrupted with Egypt due to its reigning anarchy. A text from that epoch thus regretted the situation, sailings to Byblos are no longer possible. ¿How are we going to obtain the resins and oils for embalming our great deceased dignitaries? When Byblos got weakened was attacked by nomadic tribes who sacked and burnt down the city. Circa 1.800 b.C. the city of Byblos was reconstructed again by that time the city was keeping contacts with northern Mesopotamia wherein her fabrics and craftsmanship in silver and gold work met with goods markets. The meeting of these great travelers with Peoples from another regions, languages and cultures signified for them more than better business. These contacts allowed them to find out new customs techniques and beliefs which expanded their own knowledge and skills.

The Phoenicians mastered the Egyptian and Mesopotamian writing and in turn created a simplified method the 22 symbols or letters which represented a definite sound. the combination of the Phoenicians' 22 letters alphabet afforded the writing of any known word. This one alphabet already existed at he beginning of the X century b.C. The engraved text on the Byblos Ahiram king sarcophagus pertains to that age. On those 22 letters, all the known alphabetical writings both eastern and western are based on the Phoenicians invention. Byblos was the main exportation port for the Egyptian papyrus and also made the first shape of book by uniting together sheets of papyrus which allowed the writing of lengthy tests upon them and roll them up afterwards. Sidon was also another of the important Phoenician cities and her splendor covered the time period from 1.400 to 1.100 b.C.

Sidon also accepts the tutelage of Egypt who payed annual taxes that keep the king and the government and the Pharaohs let them govern establishments in Egypt. In Memphis for example, there existed a Phoenician neighborhood as the centre of the commercial activities. During the new Egyptian empire between 1.550 and 1.314 b.C. occupied the island of Rhodes and explored the Aegean Sea. Besides they also made contact with the Cretan civilization founding a city at the foot of mount Ida. During the XII century b.C. the eastern Mediterranean coast endured the assaults from the Sea-Peoples, aggressive seafarers, who did not fear confrontations with Egypt who was at that time the master of the region.

The Phoenicians on later years, were temporarily subdued and suffered the domination of the Assyrian king Tiglatpileser I between 1.114 and 1076 b.C. Byblos, Sidon and Arvad paid tributes to the Assyrian empire, however the Phoenicians continued trading with Egypt who still was keeping good relations with Tiglatpileser I. Tyro attained supremacy among the Phoenicians cities and from 1.100 b.C. onwards her vessels penetrated into the western Mediterranean and their seafarers founded Carthage, actual Tunis, in 814 b.C. which would surpass her Metropolis and build up a true empire. So great was the Tyro prestige that her construction and sailing companies made vessels and carried out voyages for other empires of that time. Their navigation methods were mainly based on the stars which the Phoenicians kept under secrecy and likewise did with the course and destination of their voyages. Towards 700 b.C. Phoenicia suffered the invasions from the newly revitalized Assyrian empire whose kings and their general bathed their weapons in the Mediterranean waters according to the conquerors tradition. Tyro and Sidon allied together in order to withstand the Assyrian aggression however they failed and could not defeat her and finally ended paying heavy tributes. Just when the second Babylonian empire initiates subjugating the Assyrians the Phoenicians cities felt a short-lived freedom respite which did not last long. In the year 597 b.C. the Babylonian king Nabucodonosor for whom the Phoenician ports were necessary for his imperial expansion besieged Tyro. However and due to the Babylonian empire brevity the Persians defeated the Mesopotamian empire and occupied her capital. Under the Persian rule many Phoenician sea-men were included in the navy of this empire. Some of them even joined their war counsels far away from their metropolis.

Carthage meanwhile, had grown to independence, heir to the Phoenician naval tradition, their ships sailed the western Mediterranean and the Atlantic. In the third century b.C. Carthage was a first-rate power faced the growing Roman power in the Punic Wars, in which would stand out as a brilliant strategist, Hannibal the Carthaginian, son of Amilcar Barca. On the southern region part occupied by the Phoenicians in the Mediterranean since ancient times also lived other Peoples of Semitic origin, the Canaanites. The Canaan lands were partly stony and arid, partially fertile turning the Canaanites into an agricultural and shepherd people, each village had a self government forming city-states. Toward 1.600 b.C the Canaanites were using war chariots and weapons made out of bronze to defend themselves from the nomads crossing the Jordan river and who used to ravage their dominions. Towards the XIII century b.C. new nomadic tribes coming from the east settled beside the Jordan river and also along its nearby mountains on the opposite to the Canaanites territories. Those tribes coming from the desert multiplied sometimes assimilating small local villages and started the occupation of the Jordan valleys. Politically they were organized under a patriarchal system and their authority was centered upon the family chief or upon their elderly People counsels.

Finally these tribes crossed the Jordan river. The Canaanites called them Hebrews, i.e. Peoples from the other side. However they called themselves Peoples of Israel. According to their oldest traditions, the Hebrews or Israelites descended from a unique family who originated in the city of Ur during the Chaldean period. The Hebrews left southern Mesopotamia and guided by the Patriarch Abraham, who had received from his god the commands made his way to the Canaan Land, later on, called Palestine. They settled down there, but their descendents emigrated to Egypt, place where the resided for a long time and where in they suffered subjugation and slavery. Moses was their liberator and also who took them out of the Pharaoh's country and guided them all into Palestine, the promised land after a painful long crossing remembered as Exodus. According to Hebrew tradition Moses was who instilled upon them the sense of nation and the basis for their religion. He also reaffirmed the existence of an only God, Jehovah, when the majority of all religions were polytheist, i.e. where several gods were worshipped. The monotheistic religion had another singularity which was the prohibition to represent in either human or animal form its God, as according to words attributed to Moses, He is Spirit and his worshippers have to venerate him in Spirit and Truth. These traditions were verbally transmitted from generation to generation and which were compiled by the Old Testament, first part to the Bible, many centuries after the events therein related had taken place and on which there are scarcely few historical references.

The Hebrews were not at that time so important as to make part of the great empires annals. On the other hand, the occupation of Palestine by the Hebrews, circa the XII century b.C. has been proved by archaeological evidence ¿How did they do to defeat fortified cities and villages with a higher development degree? It is known the the Hebrews had available an efficient spying system which studied the military power and disclosed the Canaanean domestic conflicts. On the other side they also avoided decisive confrontations, harassing them on grounds where they could not make use of their war chariots or unexpectedly attacked them at night time without any warning. Surely some regions were peacefully occupied as the Hebrews were also Semites and who due to their origin and language were related to many Palestinian Peoples. But probably there were also fighting and violence so fierce as in some other past times. The Hebrews tribes once settled in Palestine did not became an state until after the Philistean invasions and who were one of the Sea Peoples. Under that threat they decided to group together under an only kingdom and elected their first king Saul towards 1025 b.C. Saul the warrior, a war cry, was successfully and repeatedly used on the Philistines. However, the fight was a long lasting war and Saul who was already an elderly died in battle along with his three sons. When the Philistines occupied the city of Betshan. Saul's succession caused the kingdom division. On the north the Israelite State ruled by the general Abner, who was then governing for Esba'al another son to the deceased king, and on the south Judah, who selected and appointed David as king.

David was an ex-military, separated from his command because of discrepancies with Saul. The division did not last long. Abner and Esba'al were assassinated by plotting groups and Israel's elderly people counsel made a pact with David deciding the reunification. In order to avoid domestic disagreements David did not want to settle his capital either in Judah or in Israel and decided to conquer a Canaanean city. Jebus was built upon the Sion Mountain and was surrounded by natural obstacles and totally walled. However some Davis soldiers managed to infiltrate into the city and opening her doors let the main bulk of the Israelite army penetrate into the city. David changed the name of the conquered city and named it Jerusalem.

As political capital was David's religious kingdom centre too and brought the Alliance Ark to Jerusalem which was the traditional holy symbol and wherein were kept the Ten commandments which Jehovah had dictated to Moses during the Exodus. David was a brilliant ruling governor and an outstanding warrior. His army consolidated the Hebrews Palestine occupation, fighting against her ancient invader dwellers; Moabites, Edomites, Amalecites and Armenians. The Philistines who were ousted from their villages located in the Palestinian central mesa took refuge in their seaside cities. Once they were under control David respected their independence. The kingdom's relationship with her neighboring Phoenicia were friendly, exchanging foods and wine for Phoenician manufactured products and construction materials.

When David died about 970 b.C. after reigning 40 years, his son Salomon succeeded him and under whose ruling there scarcely were important wars. The Pharaoh granted him one of his daughters and the Canaanean city of Gazer as a dowry. The wedlock reinforced the relationship between Hebrews and Egyptians. Salomon reorganized the kingdom administration. Each region or city contributed paying taxes to Jerusalem, adding also to this payment the income contributed by the dominions and the great impetus given to the commerce. The state exercised the monopoly on several products, such as the spices, the benefits of which increased the official treasury. Israel also imported Egyptian Carts which were very renown at that time and resold them to neighboring kingdoms afterwards. But the prosperity spell lived under Salomon came to an end when he died about 935 b.C. The kingdom was again divided. Roboan, Salomon's son and successor inherited only the kingdom of Jerusalem and its influential areas in Judah and his subjects were called Jews. The northern Palestinians kept the name of Israel. It was the most powerful of the two kingdoms and their inhabitants were named Israelites. Jeroboan, their king, established the capital in Siquen and fortified it afterwards. Israel implanted the Golden Calf worship, thus falling under idolatry and disregarding her religious traditions. Although some sectors of the people continued keeping their faith on them. Domestic conspiracies; political murders or confrontations with their Jewish brethren or their Assyrian neighbors ravaged the kingdom of Israel. The power was handed over the different army chiefs. One of them, the victorious and popular Omri shifted the capital to Samaria which was located rather to the north of Siquen.

His son Acab who was married to Jezebel, a Phoenician princess, inherited the throne and whose wife imposed upon them the worship of the Phoenician Gods in addition to the external difficulties which above all, were caused to the Assyrian advance towards the west, were added the internal ones generated by the aggravating religious impositions. About 854 b.C. all the Acab's descendants were executed by the uprising military Israelites. Meanwhile in Judah the Salomon's descendents followed one another in the chain of power, this latter, weaker than Israel, the kingdom accepted the Assyrian suzerainty in order to obtain protection against their ancient brethren. But later on, the Assyrians took Samaria and conquered Israel. The king Ezekiel made an alliance with the Egyptians to confront the Assyrian preponderant power, the forces of the Assyrian king defeated the allies troops and also devastated the Jewish cities and deported to their country more than 200.000 Jews around 700 b.C. Ezekiel saved his life and part of the kingdom accepting the Assyrian domain paying a strong tribute to Senaquerib. Judah freed from the total destruction and survived more than a century until the time of the second Babylonian or Chaldean Empire and after subduing the Assyrians advanced towards Egypt. Judah was located in her way to Egypt and the Babylonians invaded, conquered and banished her whole active population in 597 b.C. Babylonia imposed a new king to Jerusalem, Sedecias who kept obedience during some years.

Finally, Judah became independent with the Egyptian assistance. The Babylonian king Nabucodonosor occupied the whole kingdom, besieged Jerusalem that offered resistance down to its last efforts and destroyed her. Those who survived the slaughter were banished from their home land.

Both Jews and Israelites revivified in Babylon the same opprovious life conditions as their ancestors had suffered in Egypt. Their captivity in Babylon lasted 70 years during which time the Hebrews maintained their ancient religious convictions and customs. When the Persians defeated the second Babylonian Empire, their king Ciro the Great, authorized the Israelites to return to their Homeland in 536 b.C. giving them back all the Holy Objects that Nabucodonosor plundered from their temples. More than 40.000 Hebrews whose majority were Jewish came back to Palestine and they all were citizens of the Persian Empire.

However the Persians showed respect for their religion and customs. A great majority of them over-populated Jerusalem and its outskirts. Based upon their prophets texts, who had criticized those who had treasoned both their religion and Moses' law. They rebuilt their cities and reaffirmed their ancient faith. While they were waiting for the coming forecasted by the prophet Isaiah of David's son, the Messiah who would restore the Israelite Kingdom.

Reading the Torah in Sephardic Temple