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Bible Dictionaries

Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

Phoenicia

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(AV_ ‘Phenice,’ Φοινίκη)

Phcenicia, the coast-land between Mt. Lebanon and the Mediterranean Sea, was about 120 miles in length and rarely more than 12 in breadth. It presented to the eye a succession of hills and valleys, well-watered and fruitful; and it had the best harbours in the whole Syrian coast-line. It became the home of one of the great civilizations of the ancient world, achieving success chiefly owing to the skill of its people in the art of navigation, ‘in which the Phcenicians in general have always excelled all nations’ (Strabo, XVI. ii. 23). The OT (like Homer) styles them ‘Sidonians,’ from the name of their principal town (Judges 3:3, Deuteronomy 3:9, etc.). They established colonies and commercial agencies all along the Mediterranean, and exerted a great influence on Western culture. From the time of Alexander the Great onward, the country was one of the stakes in the chronic warfare between the Seleucids and the Ptolemys. In 65 b.c. Pompey made Syria-Phcenicia a Roman province under a proconsul or propraetor. He did not, however, deprive of autonomy the ancient cities of Tyre and Sidon, or the recently founded Tripolis. For centuries the people had been gradually adopting the language, manners, and customs of Greece. ‘From the beginning of the imperial period the sole rule of Greek is here an established fact’ (T. Mommsen, The Provinces of the Roman Empire, Eng. tr._, 1909, ii. 122).

No detailed account is given in the NT of the introduction of Christianity into Phcenicia, but hints are not wanting. The dispersion which followed Stephen’s death brought travellers thither, ‘speaking the word to none save only to Jews’ (Acts 11:19). St. Paul and Barnabas at the end of their first missionary tour ‘passed through Phcenicia and Samaria, telling the whole story (ἐκδιηγούμενοι) of the conversion of the Gentiles’ (Acts 15:3). At the end of the third journey St. Paul sailed for Phcenicia and spent a week among ‘the disciples’ of Tyre (Acts 21:2-6; see Tyre and Sidon). It should not be forgotten that many Phcenicians had come to Galilee to hear Christ Himself (Mark 3:8), that He returned their visit by going into ‘the borders of Tyre and Sidon’ (Mark 7:24), and that He expressed the conviction that the people of this country could have been more easily moved to repentance than those of the most highly favoured cities of His native land (Matthew 11:21).

Phcenicia continued to flourish under the Romans, but ceased to have any political importance, and gradually lost its national identity. The conflict between the old and the new civilizations lasted long, and down to the 2nd cent. a.d. Greek and Phcenician characters sometimes appear together on coins, while Latin was the language of government and law. In the end, however, it was neither of the Western tongues, but Aramaic, that displaced Phcenician, which was still spoken in North Africa till the 4th or 5th century. The fragmentary writings of Philo of Byblos-of the time of Hadrian-contain an interesting attempt to trace the mythology of Greece to that of Phcenicia, which was itself largely Babylonian.

Literature.-F. C. Movers, Die Phönizier, 1841-56; G. Rawlinson, Phcenicia, 1889; G. Maspero, Histoire ancienne des peuples de l’orient4, 1886; E. Meyer, Geschichte des Alterthums, 1884 ff.; W. von Landau, Die Bedeutung der Phönizier im Völkerleben, 1905; K. Baedeker, Palestine and Syria4, 1906.

James Strahan.

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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Phoenicia'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/eng/hdn/p/phoenicia.html. 1906-1918.

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