- Phoenicia: Episodes and Anecdotes from the Ancient Mediterranean by Brian Peckham
Brian Peckham’s Phoenicia is a book of rare and enduring value, completed shortly before his death in 2008. Adina Levin became Peckham’s editor during production; she researched the maps and selected the illustrations that accompany his text. Adjacent to the title page is a fine charcoal drawing of the author by Michael Steinhauser, professor of New Testament, Trinity College.
The book’s subtitle, Episodes and Anecdotes, reflects the fragmentary nature of Phoenicia’s record, but Peckham, never adopting a minimalist approach, pieces together all the material and written evidence from all corners of the known world to which the seafarers travelled, to construct an impressive history of Phoenicia, in a linear timeline, running from the eleventh century bce through to the fifth, each of the six chapters covering Phoenicia’s trade and commerce, its contribution to literacy and literature, its religious beliefs and aspirations, and correlating its activities and thought with that of every country of antiquity. In short, Peckham connects all peoples over time, and the consequence is a conjunct view of Mediterranean culture.
The portrait Peckham draws of Phoenicia is a culture of peaceful coexistence. The Phoenicians of Palestine’s northern coastal cities (Tyre, Sidon, Byblos) were eager to welcome immigrants, as evidenced by networks of trade they established to unite the diverse peoples of Canaan under a common cause (xix, 12–14, 61). The Phoenicians were not tied to their land, thus they became the creators of a trans-Mediterranean trade union that expanded to north Syria and westward to Cyprus, Crete, Greece, Sicily, Italy, Sardinia, and North Africa, spreading and maintaining cooperative and collaborative relationships with all partners (54, 61, 69, 83, 99). Anecdotal evidence comes from an eighth-century letter sent by the mayor of Nineveh to Sargon II at Nimrud, commenting on Sidon’s disinterest in war or lack of military service and from Judges 18 depicting the Sidonians as quiet and trustworthy (180–81).
By the tenth century Phoenician traders had brought the alphabet, literacy, and urban values to Canaan, but Peckham observes that Phoenicia flourished there only when Israel and Judah were well established as national states in the ninth and eighth centuries. Thus the idealistic picture of Solomon’s reign and his involvement with Phoenicia (1 Kgs 3–11) was constructed out of the achievements of later kings, Ahab of Samaria and Hezekiah of Jerusalem. The portrait of the king of Tyre who exported cedar and cypress from Lebanon for Solomon’s building projects in exchange for Palestine’s wheat and olive oil is based on King Hiram II—he paid tribute to Tiglath Pileser III in 738 (anet, 283) and is mentioned in a mid-century bronze Cyprus bowl dedicated to Baal of Lebanon. Solomon’s participation in Tyre’s active sea trade to Tarshish is anachronistic, since regular voyages to southern Spain began only in the time of Hiram II (60–67, 81–87, 192–200, 291). [End Page 277]
From Peckham we learn that Israelites and Judeans were attracted to the Phoenicians not because of their trade and wealth ‘‘but because of their Gods’’ and their widespread religious influence. ‘‘The basic charm of these Gods was their humanity’’ (Adonis, Astarte, Baal, Baalat, Eshmun, Melqart); they were not belligerent or warlike but mediated local-regional disputes and promoted civic and communal ideals (81–83, 95, 118). The eighth and seventh centuries were times of Phoenician synthesis and syncretism, with an increasing desire ‘‘to rationalize, simplify, and universalize pantheons’’ (184, 292). Even the insistence of Judean writers of the sixth and fifth centuries on exclusive worship of Yahweh owes something to the religious conservatism of Byblos with its unwavering devotion to Baal since the tenth century, and also to the growing Phoenician belief in ‘‘one God and one Goddess,’’ in many manifestations, but ‘‘without any particular physical representation’’ (381, 384, 388, 458).
Peckham has written Phoenicia for curious and inquiring minds, whether experts or...