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The Phoenician and Hebrew God Set or Seth

The God-Idea of the Ancients (or Sex in Religion)
By Eliza Burt Gamble:
The Phoenician and Hebrew God Set or Seth &

The Gods of the Phoenicians also Kings of Atlantis

The God-Idea of the Ancients

The name of one of the oldest deities of which we have any record is Set (Phoenician) or Seth (Hebrew). Traces of this God are found in all oriental countries; and in the most primitive religions, whose traditions are still extant, he (or she) appears as the supreme God. After the subjection of Egypt by the stranger kings and the consequent introduction into the country of Sabianism, the dual creative force residing in the sun is represented by Seth. We are told that Seth signifies "appointed or put in the place of the murdered Abel."

That there is some deep mystery connected with this subject none who has studied it carefully can help observing.

According to the story of creation as set forth in the Jehovistic account, on Saturday night, after God had finished his work, and immediately after he had commanded Adam to "be fruitful," he presents him with a staff, which we observe is handed down to Enoch and all the patriarchs. Here the mystery deepens, for it is declared that this staff was presented so Seth, and that it was a branch of the Tree of Life.

That beneath this allegory is veiled a contest, or perhaps a compromise, between the worshippers of two distinct sects, seems altogether probable. That the handing down of this branch of the Tree of Life, first to Adam, or man, by Aleim, and its subsequent transference to Seth, the God of Nature, the Destroyer or Regenerator, seems to indicate a victory for the adherents of a purer religion. The translator of Kallimachus says: "It is well known to the learned reader that the descendants of Cain are distinguished in Scripture by the name of the sons of man or Adam; those of Seth by the name of the sons of God." Gen. vi., 2.[85] It is stated in Julius Africanus that all the righteous men and patriarchs down to the Saviour himself have sprung from Seth and have been denominated as the sons of God in contradistinction to the sons of man.

[85] Forlong, Rivers of Life, vol. i., p. 527.

Doubtless at the time indicated by the transference of the creative agency from Aleim to Adam, the worship of an abstract principle, or of a Trinity composed of the powers of Nature, was losing its hold on the minds of the people, and the creative power, or the reproductive energy in human beings, was rapidly taking the place of the older Deity. These higher principles forgotten, Adam, or man, had become the Creator.

It is not improbable that the terms Adam, Cain, Abel, and Seth have an esoteric meaning which for ages was known only to the priests. From various facts which in later times are being brought forward regarding the ancient myths of Genesis, it is believed that these names originally stood for races of men, and that subsequently certain religious doctrines came to be attached to them. The offering of fruit by Cain, the elder brother, who was a tiller of the ground, and that of flesh by Abel, who was a keeper of sheep, indicates a quarrel which ended in the death of the latter. After the death of Abel, or after one of these principles or sects was subdued, the older religion was revived, and Seth, as the Aleim, or as the creative power within the sun, was "appointed" or again worshipped.

It would seem that Seth was appointed to represent the third person in the ancient Trinity–the Destroyer or Regenerator which had previously come to embody all the powers of the Creator and Preserver. The fact has been observed that the very ancient philosophers believed matter to be eternal, hence, seeming death, or destruction, was necessary to renewed life or regeneration. In other words, creation was but continuous change in the form of matter.

Of the doctrines of the Sethians extant at the beginning of Christianity, Hippolytus says that their system "is made up of tenets from natural philosophers. These tenets embrace a belief in the Eternal Logos–Darkness, Mist, and Tempest." These elements subsequently became identified with the Evil Principle, or the Devil. The cold of winter, the darkness of night, and water, were finally set forth as the Trinity. Regarding cold, darkness, and water, or darkness, mist, and tempest, Hippolytus observes:

"These the Sethian says are the three principles of our system; or when he states that three were born in paradise– Adam, Eve, the serpent; or when he speaks of three persons, namely, Cain, Abel, Seth, and again of three others, Shem, Ham, Japheth; or when he mentions three patriarchs–Abraham, Isaac, Jacob; or when he speaks of three days before the sun, etc."

The same writer says that their entire system is derived from the ancients; that, antecedent to the Eleusinian mysteries, were enacted by them the ceremonies connected with the worship of the Great Mother.[86]

[86] Hippolytus, Refutation of all Heresies, book v., ch. 15.

We have observed that through some process not thoroughly understood at the present time, the adherents of the older faith had succeeded in reinstating their Deity. The powers of Nature had come to be represented by Typhon Seth. It was the God of Death and of Life, of Destruction and Regeneration. The simoom of the desert and the cold of winter were Seth, as were also the genial powers of Spring. We are informed by various writers that Typhon Seth was feminine. She was the early God of the Jews. In other words, the Jews were formerly worshippers of a female Deity. Jehovah, Iav, was originally female.

Although the secret meaning of all the allegories contained in the Old Testament is not fully understood, still the belief that Cain, Abel, and Seth represented the self-triplicated Deity at a time when the idea of man as a creator had been accepted, or when his power to reproduce was becoming the highest idea of a creative force, is consistent with what is known of the Cabala of the Jews, or of the esoteric meaning of the Jewish scriptures formerly known only to the priests. In other words, the ancient doctrines, the true meaning of which was no longer understood by them, were patched together as a basis for the later developments in Jewish religious experience.

We have seen that six hundred years after Adam appears Noah, another self-triplicated Saviour or preserver of man, with his ark or seed vessel, beneath which is veiled the female element. Afterward Abraham becomes the Great Father or Saviour, and later Moses. That, in the time of the latter, the more ancient worship of a creative force in Nature represented by the Aleim, had, by the masses of the people, been wholly lost, is evident from the Old Testament writings. The worship of the Father, the male power, in opposition to that of the Mother, or the female power, constituted the religion of Moses. In the religion of the Jews, Jehovah came to be regarded as wholly male and as spirit, while Edam (translated "downward tending"), the female principle, was matter, or woman, which finally became identified with the Devil.

The philosophical doctrine that spirit is evolved through matter, or that matter must be raised to a certain dynamical power before spirit can manifest itself through it, was no longer understood; only the husks of this doctrine –the myths and symbols of Nature-worship–remained; these were taken literally, and thus man's religion was made to conform to his lowered estate.

When man had so far gained the ascendancy over woman as to assert that he is the sole Creator of their joint offspring, he was no longer of the earth earthy, but at once became the child of heaven. He was, however, bound to earth through his association with matter, or with woman, from whom he was unable to free himself. The "sons of God" were united "to the daughters of man." Jahvah, the "God of hosts," who was revengeful, weak, jealous, and cruel, was worshipped in the place of Aleim the great dual force throughout Nature. The ethereal, spiritual male essence resided somewhere in the heavens and created from afar, while the earth (female) furnished only the body or material substance.

In the history of the god Seth is to be found a clue to the way in which the sublime and philosophical doctrines of the ancients, after their true meaning was forgotten, were finally changed so as to conform to the enforced humiliation and degradation of women.

Seth or Typhon was for ages worshipped throughout Egypt, and as she comprehended the powers of Nature, or the creative energy residing in the sun and earth, little is heard of any other god. Strange it is, however, that Seth is worshipped more in her capacity as Destroyer than as Regenerator. So soon as we understand the origin and character of the Devil, and so soon as we divest ourselves of the false ideas which under a state of ignorance and gross sensuality came to prevail relative to the "powers of darkness," we shall perceive that his (or her) Satanic majesty was once a very respectable personage and a powerful Divinity–a Divinity which was worshipped by a people whose superior intelligence can scarcely be questioned. Regarding this subject Higgins remarks:

"Persons who have not given much consideration to these subjects will be apt to wonder that any people should be found to offer adoration to the evil principle; but they do not consider that, in all these recondite systems, the evil principle, or the Destroyer, or Lord of Death, was at the same time the Regenerator. He could not destroy but to reproduce, and it was probably not till this principle began to be forgotten, that the evil being, per se, arose; for in some nations this effect seems to have taken place. Thus Baal-Zebub is, in Iberno Celtic, Baal Lord, and Zab Death, Lord of Death; but he is also called Aleim, the same as the God of the Israelites; and this is right, because he was one of the Trimurti or Trinity.

"If I be correct respecting the word Aleim being feminine, we here see the Lord of Death of the feminine gender; but the Goddess Ashtaroth or Astarte, the Eoster of the Germans, was also called Aleim. Here again Aleim is feminine, which shows that I am right in making Aleim the plural feminine. Thus we have distinctly found Aleim the Creator (Gen. i., 1), Aleim the Preserver, and Aleim the Destroyer, and this not by inference, but literally expressed."[87]

[87] Anacalypsis, ch. ii., p. 66.

At one period of their history the Hebrews worshipped Ashtaroth and Baal, they together representing the great Aleim, the indivisible God, but after the Israelites had chosen the worship of the male principle as an independent deity, or as the only important agency in the creative processes, as Baal might not be represented aside from his counterpart Ashtaroth, he was no longer adored but came to stand for something "approaching the Devil." Forlong has observed the fact that, although in Hebrew Baal is masculine, in the Greek translations he is feminine both in the Old and New Testaments.[88]

[88] Forlong, Rivers of Life, p. 223.

Jehovah was originally female, so, also, was Netpe the Holy Spirit of the Egyptian Tree of Life. We are given to understand that Netpe was the same as Rhea, the partner of Sev or Saturn, and that her hieroglyphic name was "Abyss of Heaven." Osiris was the son of this goddess who was really a Mai or Mary, the Celestial Mother, he being the only God of the Egyptians who was born upon this earth and lived among men. Of this Forlong remarks: "His birthplace was Mount Sinai; called by the Egyptians Nysa, hence his Greek name Dionysos."

As the Palm was the first offering of Mother Earth to her children, so Osiris was the first offspring of the Egyptian Celestial Virgin to mankind. He was the new sun which through the winter months had been "buried," but which in process of time arose to gladden all the earth. He was also the new Sun of Righteousness which was to renew the world, or redeem mankind from sin.

The female principle for the time being cast out of the Deity, Osiris, the male element, now outwardly assumes the position of supreme God. It was, however, reserved for a later and more sensuous age to permanently adopt an absurdity so opposed to all established ideas relative to a creative force in Nature and in man. Seth, the Destroyer, had been deposed, but, so deeply rooted in the human mind had become the idea of a female Creator, that Isis, the Queen of Heaven, a somewhat lower conception of Muth, or of universal womanhood, soon assumed the place of Seth beside Osiris. Later in the history of Egypt, when the gods have become greatly multiplied, and the original significance of the deity obscured, Horus, the child and the third member in the later Egyptian triad, not unfrequently appears in her place as one of the eight great gods.

The fact is observed that the history of Osiris is not alone the "history of the circle of the year, or of the sun dying away and resuscitating itself again, but that it is also the history of the cycle of 600." It has been said that of the component elements of his hieroglyphical name, Isis is the first, and that the name Osiris really signifies the "Eye of Isis."

According to Plutarch, Isis and Muth are identical, but from the evidence at hand it is plain that Muth comprehends divine womanhood, or the female principle as it was regarded at an earlier stage of human growth. Muth is not only the parent of the sun, or the force which produces the sun, but she is also Wisdom, the first emanation from the Deity, at the same time that she comprehends all the possibilities of Nature. Isis seems to represent the Deity at a time when the higher truths known to a more ancient people were beginning to lose their hold upon the race.

Renouf informs us that the word Maat, or Muth, means Law, "not in that forensic sense of command issued either by a human sovereign authority, or by a divine legislator, like the laws of the Hebrews, but in the sense of that unerring order which governs the universe, whether in its physical or its moral aspect."[89] The same writer observes further that Maat "is called mistress of Heaven, ruler of earth, and president of the nether world," and in a further description of the conception embodied in this Deity, refers to the fact that while she is the mother of the sun she is also the first emanation from God.

[89] The Religion of Ancient Egypt, p. 126.

Although Typhon Seth was long worshipped as the sole Deity in Egypt, in later ages the god-idea came to be represented by Seth and Osiris. Toward the close of Typhon Seth's reign, Horus, the child, the young sun, was represented "as rising from his hiding-place, attracting beneficent vapors to return them back as dews, which the Egyptians called the tears of Isis."

Seth and Osiris represent a division of the Deity. Osiris, as the sun, represents heat; as man, or as god, he stands for desire. Seth or Typhon stands for the cold of winter, the simoom of the desert, or the "wind that blasts." Seth, Osiris, and Horus constitute a Trinity of which Muth is the Great Mother. Finally, with the gradual ascendancy of male influence and power, it is observed that Seth appears as the brother of Osiris.

It is the opinion of Bunsen that the fundamental idea of Osiris and Set was "not merely the glorification of the sun, but was also the worship of the primitive creative power."[90] But, as in Egypt the creative agency was regarded as both female and male, the former being in the ascendancy, this fact of itself would seem to determine the sex and position of Seth.

[90] History of Egypt, vol. iv., p. 319.

In the ideas concerning Seth and Osiris may be observed something of the manner in which the fructifying agencies of the sun and the reproductive power in human beings were blended and together worshipped as the Deity; while through the history of these gods are to be traced some of the processes by which the idea of the Creator was changed from female to male.

In all countries, at a certain stage in the history of religion, the transference of female deified power to mortal man may be observed. In the attempt to change Seth or Typhon into a male God may be noted perhaps the first effort in Egypt to dethrone, or lessen the female power in the god-idea.

The fact seems plain that the Great Typhon Seth, or Set, who conferred on the sovereigns of the eighteenth and nineteenth dynasties of Egypt "the symbols of life and power," was none other than the primitive Regenerator or Destroyer, who was for ages worshipped as the God of Nature the Aleim, or the life-giving energy throughout the universe.

We have observed that when the profound principles underlying the most ancient doctrines had been lost or forgotten, and when through the decay of philosophy, and through the stimulation of the sensual in human nature, mankind had lost the power to reason abstractly, Destruction, which was symbolized by darkness or the absence of the sun's rays, finally became the evil principle, or the Devil. Darkness and cold, which had formerly been worshipped as the powers which brought forth the sun, or as mother of the sun, in process of time became the agency which is ever warring with good and which is constantly destroying that which the latter brings forth.

We are informed by Forlong that "some derive our term Devil from Niphl or Nevil, the wind that blasts or obstructs the growth of corn; and it used sometimes to be written th' evil, which is D'evil or Devil."

It was "this Dualistic heresy which separated the Zend or Persian branch of the Aryans from their Vedic brethren, and compelled them to emigrate to the westward."[91]

[91] See Rawlinson, Notes on the Early History of Babylon.

The ancient philosophical truth that matter is eternal, and that the destruction of vegetable life through the agency of cold was one of the necessary processes of re-generation, or the renewal of life, had evidently been lost sight of at the time when Seth was dethroned in Egypt. Wilkinson informs us that "both Seth and Osiris were adored until a change took place respecting Seth, brought about apparently by foreign influence." Sethi or Sethos, a ruler whose reign represents the Augustan age of Egyptian splendor, received his name from this Deity. It is said that during the twentieth dynasty Seth is suddenly portrayed as the principle of evil "with which is associated sin." Consequently all the effigies of this great Goddess were destroyed and all her names and inscriptions "which could be reached" were effaced.

Bunsen tells us that Schelling, who has made a study of Egyptian mythology, although totally ignorant of the later historical facts which by means of hieroglyphical monuments have been obtained, had arrived at the conclusion that Seth had occupied an important position in the Deity down to the fourteenth century B.C. "Schelling had on mere speculative grounds been brought to lay down as a postulate that Typhon, at some early period, had been considered by the Egyptians as a beneficent and powerful God."

Wilkinson says that the character given to Seth, who was called Baal-Seth and the God of the Gentiles, "is explained by his being the cause of evil." We are assured that formerly "Sin the great serpent, or Apophis the giant, was distinct from Seth who was a deity and a part of the divine system. But after the recondite principles underlying sun-worship were lost or forgotten; when cold and darkness, or the sinking away of the sun's rays, which are necessary to the reappearance of light and warmth, came to be regarded as the destructive element, or the evil principle, woman became identified with this principle. She was the producer of evil, and came to be represented in connection with a serpent as the cause of all earthly or material things. She is Destruction, but not Regeneration. She is in fact matter. The cold of winter and the darkness of night, which are necessary to the return of the sun's warmth and which were formerly set forth as a beneficent mother who brings forth the sun, became only the evil principle–that which obscures the light. In fact Darkness or absence of the sun's heat has become the Devil. It is the "cause of evil in the world."

With woman blinded by superstition, with every instinct of the female nature outraged, and with her position as the central figure in the Deity and in the family usurped, her temples were soon profaned, her images defiled, and the titles representing her former greatness transferred to males.

There is no doubt but this doctrine was the legitimate outcome of the decay of female influence. Through the further stimulation of the lower nature of man its absurdity gradually increased, until under the system calling itself Christian it finally reached its height. This subject will be referred to later in these pages.

When we remember that the original representation of the Deity among the nations of the earth consisted of a female figure embracing a child, and when we observe that subsequently in the development of the god-idea woman appears associated with a serpent as the cause of evil in the world, the history of the God Seth, who, as we have seen, represented the processes of Nature, namely Destruction and Regeneration, seems quite significant as indicating some of the actual processes involved in this change.

There can be little doubt that the facts relating to this Deity indicate the source whence has sprung the great theological dogma underlying Christianity, that woman is the cause of evil in the world.

This above section was created by Philipp Lenssen.
Source: Burt Gamble, Eliza, God Idea of the Ancients or Sex in Religion 1897.

The Gods of the Phoenicians also Kings of Atlantis

Not alone were the gods of the Greeks the deified kings of Atlantis, but we find that the mythology of the Phoenicians was drawn from the same source.

For instance, we find in the Phoenician cosmogony that the Titans (Rephaim) derive their origin from the Phoenician gods Agrus and Agrotus. This connects the Phoenicians with that island in the remote west, in the midst of ocean, where, according to the Greeks, the Titans dwelt.

According to Sanchoniathon, Ouranos was the son of Autochthon, and, according to Plato, Autochthon was one of the ten kings of Atlantis. He married his sister Ge. He is the Uranos of the Greeks, who was the son of Gaea (the earth), whom he married. The Phoenicians tell us, "Ouranos had by Ge four sons: Ilus (El), who is called Chronos, and Betylus (Beth-El), and Dagon, which signifies bread-corn, and Atlas (Tammuz?)." Here, again, we have the names of two other kings of Atlantis. These four sons probably represented four races, the offspring of the earth. The Greek Uranos was the father of Chronos, and the ancestor of Atlas. The Phoenician god Ouranos had a great many other wives: his wife Ge was jealous; they quarrelled, and he attempted to kill the children he had by her. This is the legend which the Greeks told of Zeus and Juno. In the Phoenician mythology Chronos raised a rebellion against Ouranos, and, after a great battle, dethroned him. In the Greek legends it is Zeus who attacks and overthrows his father, Chronos. Ouranos had a daughter called Astarte (Ashtoreth), another called Rhea. "And Dagon, after he had found out bread-corn and the plough, was called Zeus-Arotrius."

We find also, in the Phoenician legends, mention made of Poseidon, founder and king of Atlantis.

Chronos gave Attica to his daughter Athena, as in the Greek legends. In a time of plague be sacrificed his son to Ouranos, and "circumcised himself, and compelled his allies to do the same thing." It would thus appear that this singular rite, practised as we have seen by the Atlantidae of the Old and New Worlds and the red men of America, dates back, as we might have expected, to Atlantis.

"Chronos visits the different regions of the habitable world."

He gave Egypt as a kingdom to the god Taaut, who had invented the alphabet. The Egyptians called him Thoth, and he was represented among them as "the god of letters, the clerk of the under-world," bearing a tablet, pen, and palm-branch.

This not only connects the Phoenicians with Atlantis, but shows the relations of Egyptian civilization to both Atlantis and the Phoenicians.

There can be no doubt that the royal personages who formed the gods of Greece were also the gods of the Phoenicians. We have seen the Autochthon of Plato reappearing in the Autochthon of the Phoenicians; the Atlas of Plato in the Atlas of the Phoenicians; the Poseidon of Plato in the Poseidon of the Phoenicians; while the kings Mestor and Mneseus of Plato are probably the gods Misor and Amynus of the Phoenicians.

Sanchoniathon tells us, after narrating all the discoveries by which the people advanced to civilization, that the Cabiri set down their records of the past by the command of the god Taaut, "and they delivered them to their successors and to foreigners, of whom one was Isiris (Osiris), the inventor of the three letters, the brother of Chua, who is called the first Phoenician."1

This would show that the first Phoenician came long after this line of the kings or gods, and that he was a foreigner, as compared with them; and, therefore, that it could not have been the Phoenicians proper who made the several inventions narrated by Sanchoniathon, but some other race, from whom the Phoenicians might have been descended.

And in the delivery of their records to the foreigner Osiris, the god of Egypt, we have another evidence that Egypt derived her civilization from Atlantis.

Max Müller says:

"The Semitic languages also are all varieties of one form of speech. Though we do not know that primitive language from which the Semitic dialects diverged, yet we know that at one time such language must have existed; but we can well understand how both may have proceeded from one common source. They are both channels supplied from one river, and they carry, though not always on the surface, floating materials of language which challenge comparison, and have already yielded satisfactory results to careful analyzers."2

There was an ancient tradition among the Persians that the Phoenicians migrated from the shores of the Erythraean Sea, and this has been supposed to mean the Persian Gulf; but there was a very old city of Erythia, in utter ruin in the time of Strabo, which was built in some ancient age, long before the founding of Gades, near the site of that town, on the Atlantic coast of Spain. May not this town of Erythia have given its name to the adjacent sea? And this may have been the starting-point of the Phoenicians in their European migrations. It would even appear that there was an island of Erythea. In the Greek mythology the tenth labor of Hercules consisted in driving away the cattle of Geryon, who lived in the island of Erythea, "an island somewhere in the remote west, beyond the Pillars of Hercules."3 Hercules stole the cattle from this remote oceanic island, and, returning drove them "through Iberia, Gaul, over the Alps, and through Italy."4 It is probable that a people emigrating from the Erythraean Sea, that is, from the Atlantic, first gave their name to a town on the coast of Spain, and at a later date to the Persian Gulf--as we have seen the name of York carried from England to the banks of the Hudson, and then to the Arctic Circle.

The builders of the Central American cities are reported to have been a bearded race. The Phoenicians, in common with the Indians, practised human sacrifices to a great extent; they worshipped fire and water, adopted the names of the animals whose skins they wore--that is to say, they had the totemic system--telegraphed by means of fires, poisoned their arrows, offered peace before beginning battle, and used drums.5

The extent of country covered by the commerce of the Phoenicians represents to some degree the area of the old Atlantean Empire. Their colonies and trading-posts extended east and west from the shores of the Black Sea, through the Mediterranean to the west coast of Africa and of Spain, and around to Ireland and England; while from north to south they ranged from the Baltic to the Persian Gulf. They touched every point where civilization in later ages made its appearance. Strabo estimated that they had three hundred cities along the west coast of Africa. When Columbus sailed to discover a new world, or re-discover an old one, he took his departure from a Phoenician seaport, founded by that great race two thousand five hundred years previously. This Atlantean sailor, with his Phoenician features, sailing from an Atlantean port, simply re-opened the path of commerce and colonization which had been closed when Plato's island sunk in the sea. And it is a curious fact that Columbus had the antediluvian world in his mind's eye even then, for when he reached the mouth of the Orinoco he thought it was the river Gihon, that flowed out of Paradise, and he wrote home to Spain, "There are here great indications suggesting the proximity of the earthly Paradise, for not only does it correspond in mathematical position with the opinions of the holy and learned theologians, but all other signs concur to make it probable."

Sanchoniathon claims that the learning of Egypt, Greece, and Judaea was derived from the Phoenicians. It would appear probable that, while other races represent the conquests or colonizations of Atlantis, the Phoenicians succeeded to their arts, sciences, and especially their commercial supremacy; and hence the close resemblances which we have found to exist between the Phoenicians and the people of America.

Upon the Tsurian sea the people live
Who style themselves Phoenicians. . . .
These were the first great founders of the world--
Founders of cities and of mighty states--
Who showed a path through seas before unknown.
In the first ages, when the sons of men
Knew not which way to turn them, they assigned
To each his first department; they bestowed
Of land a portion and of sea a lot,
And sent each wandering tribe far off to share
A different soil and climate. Hence arose
The great diversity, so plainly seen,
'Mid nations widely severed.

Dyonysius of Susiana, A.D. 3


    1. Lenormant and Chevallier, "Ancient History of the East," vol. ii., p. 228.
    2. "Outlines of Philosophy of History," vol. i., p. 475.
    3. Murray's "Mythology," p. 257.
    4. Ibid.
    5. Bancroft's "Native Races," vol. v., p. 77.

Additional Reading: Phoenician Theology, Paganism and Creation Story

For essays on Phoenician theology, paganism, and the Phoenician creation story, please use the related links.

Additional Sources:

Philo or Sanchuniathon? A Phoenician Cosmogony
From Classical Quarterly 41(i) 2 I 3‑220 (1991) Printed in Great Britain

Herennius Philo of Byblos is the subject of a notice in the Suda, which states that he was a grammarian born in Nero's time who lived to such an advanced age that he was still composing works in the reign of Hadrian. The titles listed include: On the Acquisition and Choice of Books: On Cities and their Eminent Citizens; and On the Reign of Hadrian (= Fr. I Jacoby).1 His name, like that of Flavius Josephus, could imply the patronage of a Roman family;2 we may suppose that, like Porphyry and Maximus of Tyre, he was a Phoenician by origin who had adopted the tongue and culture of the Greeks.

Philo's most famous labor was to translate from his native language the works of a certain Sanchuniathon, for whose writings and biography he was perhaps the only Source.3 The existence of this figure, or at least the veracity of Philo's account of him, has always been doubted and frequently denied;4 but modern research has shown that he bears a name which might have belonged to a Phoenician, and that many of the ingredients of the work attributed to him are of high antiquity and native provenance.5 Thus Philo must have employed a Phoenician source, on which he would have no reason to bestow a fictitious name. It need hardly be said, however, that a belief in the existence of a document from the hand of Sanchuniathon does not oblige us to credit the early date that Philo assigns to him, or the veracity of all that is asserted on his behalf. It has been said by Orientalists that the name Sanchuniathon cannot have been current at an epoch so early as that to which Philo appeals.6 It is evident to all that there is much in the present version of the history that was written to solicit the taste of Hellenistic readers,7 and must therefore be the translator's contribution. This essay....

  1. The fragment can be found in F. Jacoby. Die Fragrnenie tier Griechisehen Historiker, iii (Leiden. 1958), pp. 802‑24. Fragments of Philo and other historians will hereafter be referred to under the name of Jacoby with the relevant number.
  2. For the name Herennius Philo see Jacoby F5 (Lydus) and F9 (Origen), both taken from reliable witnesses. The only other Greek to bear the name Herennios appears to have been the pupil of Ammonius Saccas: see Pauly-Wissowa. RE 8 (1912). 649ff.; For the Oscan origin of the name and its Roman bearers see pp. 662ff.
  3. On the compatibility of our sources with this statement and with one another see Appendix.
  4. The most useful modern work, though I shall here disagree with some of its conclusions, is A. . Baumgarten, The Phoenician History of Philo of Byblos (Leiden, 1981). Baumgarten holds, as I do, that the history is a Hellenistic treatment of Phoenician materials. P. Nautin, 'Sanchuniathon chez Philo de Byblos et chez Porphyry', in Revue Biblique 56 (1949), 272, treats the Sanchuniathon of Philo as a Hellenistic fantasy, though admitting that the name itself is of Phoenician provenance. The accuracy of Eusebius, though not as Baumgarten asserts (45 n. 26) the existence of Sanchuniathon, is denied by C. A. Lobeck, Agaophamus, Ii. 1265-79, The chief proponent of a more credulous estimate of Philo has been O. Lissfeldt. some of whose writings are cited below. For a judicious review of the many controversies surrounding Sanchuniathon, see J. Barr, Philo of Byblos and his "Phoenician History", BJRL 57 (1974), 17-6.
  5. The most important modern work on the Phoenician ingredients has been O. Eissfeldt, Taautos und Sanchuniathon (Berlin, 1952).
  6. Barr (1974), 36 and n. 2, after Albright but against Eissfeldt.
  7. E,g. the equation of Phoenician names with Greek counterparts, and the eclectic borrowings from other national historians, treated below.

From “Phoenician Solar Theology: An Investigation into the Phoenician Opinion of the Sun Found in Julian's Hymn to King Helios"
by Joseph Azize # ISBN: 1593332106
Pub. Date: June 2005 Series: Gorgias”

Philo of Byblos

Philo of Byblos was an antiquarian and grammarian of the late first and early second centuries A.D. His praenomen was probably Herenius Severus.34 The Phoenician History (the original title was either Φοινικικη ιατοαρια or Φοινικικια) is chiefly known to us from the excerpts in Eusebius “Preaparatio Evangelica.”35 Comparisons of the passage cited in Eusebius with citations of these same passages elsewhere, when available for scrutiny, are said to demonstrate that Eusebius has accurately cited Philo.36 However, the number of such passages is not large, and we know that much was omitted, a Philo’s work filled eight volumes. For example, the two etymologies noted in Lydus are nowhere in Eusebius’ fragments, and these seem at least a little different from what is to be found in Eusebius’ quotations. Eusebius cites Philo only where he believes that Philo will help him make a point for Christianity against paganism.

It is not necessary to commence a study of Philo by saying something about the Preaparatio in which most of the fragments are found. This has been adequately dealt with by Baumgarten.37 It is sufficient to observe that while this issue is crucial to a consideration of Eusebius’ work, it is not essential when combing Philo for evidence of Phoenician religion. Eusebius and Lydus have preserved only extracts, and we cannot reject their testimony simply by reference to Eusebius’ agenda in defending Christianity against paganism or even by reference to Lydus’ sentimental affection for paganism.38

When one turns to the Phoenician History itself, one is struck, on analysis, by the fact that is seems a heterogeneous document. As Baumgarten demonstrated, the cosmogony (together with the zoogony) is exceptional within the parameters of the work in that they are the only portions which are composed in the form of poetic parallelism.39 I would modify this only by adding that in the work as we have it, it is the only example of parallelism. However, Baumgarten’s conclusion is surely correct: it would appear that Philo used various sources and probably sources of diverse “origin and date” in his writing.40 Another argument for the use of different sources in Philo is that the deity Mot’s name is sometimes vocalized as “Mouth”.41

When one takes into account the contents of Philo’s material and its similarity to Ugaritic literature, Baumgarten is correct to conclude that:

“...the analysis of the form and style of Philo’s cosmogony indicates its ultimate Phoenician source and suggests a date.”

(PAGE 227 is missing)

In other words, pare (??) Baumgarten, what Khousor being an ironworker shows is that Philos’ sources are a mixture of ancient and more recent materials.

It is not a better argument for the lateness of the material in Philo to say that Sanchuniathon is not attested before Philo,47 as so few Phoenicians are attested at all. Phoenician literature has not come down to us with very few exceptions. The vast majority of Greeks simply disdain the language and literature of their eastern neighbors.48 In Morris’ pithy phrase, “Hellenism sundered Greeks and Orientals”.49

Porphyry, who was a lot closer to the critical moment than we are, and as I contended, was possibly literate in Phoenician, stated:

“Sanchuniathon of Beirut gives the truest account concerning the Jews, since it agrees best with their places and their names. For he took the treatises of Hieromobalos (viz. Jeremiah), the priest of god Ieuo (??), who dedicated his work to Abibalos the king of Beirut. (Hieromobalos’ work was) accepted as correct by Abibalos by those who investigated the truth in his time.50

Although he argues against the reliability of this, Baumgarten provides grounds for its plausibility, when he says: “In view of the close geographical, linguistic, and ethnic connection of Jews and Phoenicians, works on the Jews might be approved by Phoenicians scholars or Jews might be discussed by an author like Sanchunianthon.”51 It has been often observed that here, Porphyry refers to a work of Sanchunianthon on the Jews, and not a Phoenician history. A more critical point is that — according to Bickerman — it was rare for a religious work of the Ancient Near East to have a named author. Rather, this is a Greek practice. The upshot then, is that “Sanchuniathon” source is Hellenistic.52

  1. 34. ΝΡΕΛ, vol 5, col. 410, Attridge and Oden (1981) p.1.
  2. 35. ΝΡΕΛ, vol 5, col. 410.
  3. 36. Baumgartner (1981) pp. 38 and 92-93; and Van Seters (1982) p. 206.
  4. 37. Baumgarten (1981) pp. 36-38.
  5. 38. On Lydus, see Maas (1992) pp. 4-6 and his allegory of the “silver vessel”, which, as Maas shows, represents the heritage of Rome and which is broken up into pieces to be sold. This image shows how Lydus felt.
  6. 39. Baumgarten (1981) pp. 98-100
  7. 40. Baumgarten (1977) p. 41.
  8. 41. Baumgarten (1977) p. 143.
  9. PAGE 227 is missing
  10. 47. Baumgarten (1977) p. 51.
  11. 48. Coleman (1997) pp. 200-201
  12. 49. Morris (2000) p. 102.
  13. 50. Baumgarten (1977) p. 43.
  14. 51. Baumgarten (1977) p. 59.
  15. 52. Baumgarten (1981) p. 51.


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