Ahirom, King of Byblos (1,000 B.C.) Turns in His Grave
Phoenician Encyclopedia
The Sarcophagus of Ahiram or Ahirom, King of Byblos
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Ahirom, King of Byblos Turns in His Grave

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Ahirom* (also spelled Ahiram), King of Byblos is known for his famous sarcophagus that represents a tangible evidence for the most important contribution of the Phoenicians to human culture and knowledge. That is the invention of the modern alphabet made up of 22 characters. It is what we continue to use till this present day. This historic truth is affirmed by the sarcophagus of Ahirom, as an addition to the most important philosophical writings of the Greeks.

A book by an Israeli historian, Benjamin Sass attempts to propagate a new theory that surmised that Ahirom’s text is not the most ancient text of the alphabet in history. He went further to say that the Israelite people played an effective role in creating the alphabet or maybe a major fundamental role in that. What did Benjamin Sass employ to verify and consolidate this hypothesis is expanded upon below?

Not only do some historians entertain the unfounded idea that the Israelite created the alphabet instead of the Phoenicians but some self-proclaimed archaeologist who are actually reporters do the same. A gentleman reporter by the name of Simcha Jacobovici is one of them. He caused a much-ado-about-nothing stir (see New York Times report, Extreme Archaeology report, The Star report, USA Today review, when he directed the completely unfounded travesty, according to archaeologists, of a documentary, the "The Lost Tomb of Jesus" for the Discovery Channel in recent years. It was considered by Jonathan Kantrowitz, a scholar of Jewish roots that "leading archaeologists in Israel and the United States denounced the purported discovery of the tomb of Jesus as a publicity stunt" (see Archaeology News Report). Further, Jacobovici presents a series of similarly themed "documentaries" called Naked Archaeologist with an agenda that the Israelites were the source of all knowledge and thought in the whole world. Further, such programs attempt to confirm that the mythological stories of the Old Testament were actual history while the stories of the New Testament were not. Such attempts, though scientifically unsound, are commended to prompt the average person to think twice before accepting consensus of historians and archeologists, despite the weakness of the arguments Jacobovici presents.

Inscription on King Ahirom's Tomb
A closeup of part of the inscription on King Ahirom's sacrophagus

In the case of Bejamin Sass, he relies on a lot of “evidence.” However, research of Phoenician inscriptions of Byblos shows that most of that “evidence” is not valid historically or scientifically but superlatively political.

In his research, he depends on the doctoral thesis of R. Wallenfels that is riddled with historical mistakes and a methodology that cannot be expanded on in this essay. Anyway, it is important to note that Wallenfels belongs to the same school of thought of Benjamin Sass.

In his writings, Sass attempts to prove the hypothesis of R. Wallenfels through comparison of some inscriptions found in the north of Israel from the 9th century B.C. The inscription contains characters that are similar to those on Ahirom’s sarcophagus, thus concluding that Ahirom’s text is from the 9th century B.C. The error in that is the inscription is very small and does not contain more than three or four characters. After careful observation, it is not similar to Ahirom’s text.

Benjamin Sass knows this very well but what is he doing? He added the daleth character to the Ahirom text and compared it with the daleth character on the Tel Dan inscription and Hatzor (9th century) north of Israel. However, as to the characters that do not belong to the 9th century, he said it is old in form but it is not ancient (elles sont archaïsantes et non pas archaïques) which the writer of the text used because he forgot the characters of the 9th century. Where is the proof that the writers forgot the script of his own age?

Linked is a high resolution image of Ahirom's sacrophagus
Thumbnail linked to a large version of Ahirom's tomb.

The other methodological error is represented in that the world archaeologist E Porada considered the sarcophagus of Ahirom does not belong to the 10th century but to the 8th century. However, when we looked up the archaeologist’s book, we found no trace or truth whatsoever to the claim the Israeli historian references as a resource. What she wrote verbatim was that Ahirom’s sarcophagus is exceptional the likeness of which is found no where. Further, she said that it was unique and gathered artistic characteristics from neighboring peoples. And she confirmed that it was made in the 10th century. The French archaeologists, J. Délivré added, after making a petroglyphic analysis of Ahirom’s sarcophagus that it really dated back to the Middle Bronze Age (1,000 – 1,200). As to the decoration and text, it dated to the beginning of the 10th century. The German historian, E. Rehm confirmed the same in his new book about the sarcophagus of Ahirom. We add, as well, that the sarcophagus carries very clear Egyptian influence, and we know that Egyptian influence in the East started between 1,500 and 1,100 B.C., that is the Middle Bronze Age. Consequently and logically, the sarcophagus does not date far from the 10th century. Beside that, there is the Hittite influence. We know very well that Hittite influence waned in the beginning of the 12th century. How is it possible that their artistic influence continued for more than three centuries in neighboring cultures after the collapse of their empire?

To confirm that the Ahirom text is the oldest alphabet going back to the beginning of the 11th century and specifically to the year 1,000 B.C. the form of its inscribed characters are older than the text of the Moabite King Misha (814 B.C.). Further, it is older than the inscriptions of the two kings of Byblos, Abibaal (945 B.C.) and Elibaal (924 B.C.). These inscriptions, contrary to what Benjamin Sass says, are dated according to their historical framework and sphere are beyond argument. The first text refers to the war between Israel and the Kingdom of Moab in 814 B.C. The inscription of Abibaal on the statue of the Pharaoh Sheshonq I (945 B.C.), the inscription of Elibaal on the statue of Pharaoh Ozorkon I (924 B.C.), and their father Yehimilk ruled around 970 B.C. That gives us about 30 years for Etobaal, the son of Ahirom, to rule and dates the death of Ahirom to around 1,000 B.C. Consequently, the inscription that carries his name goes back to that date, i.e. the date of his death. Sass does not recognize that royal family because he bases his conclusion on the form of the inscription of characters. He dates the text repeatedly to the 9th century without providing any firm scientific proof.

To sum up, based on extensive research of the inscription of Byblos from the 10th and the 9th century, peace and tranquility is returned to Ahirom whose son wished for him to rest in eternity. More than that, this scientifically and logically critiqued an historical hypothesis with political agenda that aimed to change historical truths, had it been accepted. To end, we affirm that history is not there to serve politics but politics are there to serve history.

* Ahirom and Ahiram are alternative spellings of the same name.


  1. E. Rehm, Dynastensarkophage mit szenischen reliefs aus Byblos und zypern, Allemagne, 2004.
  2. J. Délivré, « La sarcophage d’Ahirom; un cas de réemploi », in Liban l’autre rive, Paris, Flammarion, Institut du Monde Arabe, 1998
  3. S. Lackenbacher, « Les relations entre Ugarit et l’Égypte, à propos d’un texte inédit », in E. Frézouls et A. Jacquemin, Les relations internationales, Paris, 1995, p. 107-18
  4. S. Lackenbacher, « Une correspondance entre l’administration du Pharaon Merneptha et le roi d’Ougarit », in M. Yon et alii (éd.), Le pays d’Ougarit autour de 1200 av. J.-C., Paris, Éditions Recherches sur les Civilisations, 1995, p. 77-83;
  5. R.H. Wilkinson, Reading Egyptian Art, London, Thames and Hudson, 1992; R. Wallenfels, « Redating the Byblian Inscriptions », JANES 15, 1983, p. 79-1
  6. W. Barta, « Königskrönung », Lexikon der Ëgyptologie, Wiesbaden, 1978, p. 531-3
  7. E. Porada, « Notes on the Sarophagus of Ahirom », JANES 5, 1973, p. 355- 72.

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