Humble beginning was eye-opening experience
More than years ago, I started work on this website, A Bequest Unearthed, Phoenicia -- Encyclopedia Phoeniciana. Throughout these years, I've maintained and supported this website and center out of my own personal funds. I have never accepted funding or commercial sponsorship, because I wanted to keep the site free of influence by any commercial, political or religious interests. This gave my pen free range to express myself and publish materials from contributing authors without giving any consideration to my would-be sponsors.
My initial plan was to create a small Phoenician presence on the web, at a time when most of the sites that covered Phoenician subjects were no where to be found. Like many endeavors, the project started with a few pages and was very humble in content. As I researched the subject, I discovered how little I knew about my ancestors. The experience of finding more materials and delving into the depths of various subjects about the Phoenicians was exciting and rewarding but at the same time a cause for anger. Yes, I was angry with those who were responsible for system of education in my country of origin, Lebanon, and the casual and trivial approach they took in refraining from including serious history of the Phoenicians in Lebanese national curricula, even on the college level.
After scratching the surface of research into Phoenician history, I was in front of a serious injustice that had been inflicted on the history of a great civilization. I realized that too many people, on many levels of education and government in Lebanon, failed miserably in making this history adequately available and a requirement in education. That may have been due to political or religious biases, I can't be sure, but also as a result of ignorance of consecutive Lebanese administrations that approached this history with an indifference, if not outright malevolence. The natural result, regardless of the motives, was raising generations of Lebanese with faint hints knowledge of their forefathers. Also, historians skewed that history as they catered lessons to kids in elementary stages of education and further marginalized and trivialized history of the Phoenicians.
Lebanese officials and historians, who are guilty, in one way or another and for whatever reasons, did not make the study of great Phoenician thinkers of antiquity a requirement. Students in their high school years, for example, learned more about Arabic literature, English and French literature than they did about the Canaanite Phoenician Baal Cycle or Ugaritic Poetry of the forefathers. Consequently, high school and college graduates in Lebanon knew nothing about the great Phoenician thinkers like those who rubbed shoulders with the masters of knowledge in Greece and the ancient world. Great men like Zeno of Tyre, Zeno of Citium, Thales of Miletus, Porphyry Malchus of Tyre, Sanchuniathon of Berytus, Taautos of Byblos, Antipater of Sidon, Marinus of Tyre, Mochus of Sidon, Hanno and Himilco the Voyagers, Philo of Byblos, Mago of Carthage, Ulpian and Papinian of Berytus, not to mention the great saints and apostles of Phoenicia and its colonies like Frumentius, Apostle of Abyssinia, Christina of Tyre, Aquilina of Byblos, Pamphilus of Berytus and Saint Augustine of Hippo.
If over the years, Lebanese officials responsible for establishing flawed educational system that ignored Phoenician history and culture out of their own ignorance; their crime is forgivable. However, if the same officials had politically, religiously or culturally motivated plots to hide, ignore or trivialize this history, their crime is a major cultural one that is unforgivable. Those who come to learn the truth, like myself, will continue to condemn them for generations to come.
What is the Virtual Center for Phoenician Studies?
The few pages that originally constituted this website created a lot of enthusiasm among web visitors and as soon as it went live. There were many ancient history buffs, as well as Phoenician history enthusiasts, who wrote to me. Some asked questions, others made suggestions and still others pointed me to publications on the Phoenicians or sent me printed materials. These came in the form of books, magazine articles, photocopied materials, photographs, commentaries and web references. The other group of web visitors was researchers and authors, in their own rights. When I became aware of their capabilities and talents, I invited those interested to become contributing authors. Because the web was available world wide, the authors showed up from all over the globe. There were contributors from Australia, Brazil, Argentine, Lebanon, Great Britain, the Netherlands, Tunisia, Gibraltar, South Africa, Italy, Israel, Canada, the USA, and even Antarctica (e.g. Dr. Gavin Francis, a physician and history enthusiast with The British Antarctic Survey (BAS) Research station located Latitude 75¬∞35' S, Longitude 26¬∞34' W, Brunt Ice Shelf, Coats Land, Antarctica).
Simply put, the group of researches, authors, contributors and writers though separated geographically by continents, became united across the Internet through the web and e-mail. I was at the center, being the intermediary and providing a physical presence that put them together. I got them to communicate through e-mail or to publish their input. Sometimes, essays were written and sent to me and I created related graphics and formatted the material in a secret test area for them to review. Once reviewed and approved, I posted the material live. The ease of communication through the Internet made it possible for me to be in the United States and to work with the authors from all over the world. This would not have been possible few years ago without the Net. Consequently, the Virtual Center for Phoenician Studies came into existence from people that were physically distant but mentally and intellectually united through electronic means.
The center is large on contributing authors, critics and foot-soldiers but very small on manpower. I have to wear many hats during any given day to play all the roles a 1,200 page site requires to be well maintained, updated and supported. This includes researching new subject, writing essays, editing, communicating with authors, creating graphics and related images, marking up material to post on the web, web management, information management and looking after web presence of the site in search engines ...etc. The long list of radically different activities required getting the site to readers and keeping it in good deliverable shape is not simple nor easy.
Critique of my work and other authors, made it possible to refine, update materials sometimes or correct flagrant errors other times. Constructive criticism or typos was instrumental in identifying flawed concepts and/or updating out-dated information. On the other hand, there were too many negative, nasty and often malicious correspondence from misinformed, fanatically blind readers, ignoramii, as well as those opinionated readers and wanted to dictate their opinion to the world. They were severely dealt with, as I had warned them I would.
The sad misuse of open dialogue forced my hand to be radically dogmatic about a number of points. They appear on the main page of the site and came as a result of the abusive language and flaming flood of e-mails that had not stopped since the site went live. The impact of the malicious, nasty and negative correspondence that I had received made me close the door to some points and declare certain questions not open for discussion. Though I had never intended to draw a line in web space, I found myself obliged so to do because, obviously many did not accept the concept on agreeing to disagree.
It is useful to mention that, I do respond to all serious e-mail from visitors (about 95,000 per month) who request information or make comments. With this in mind, I hope those who write would excuse my inability to respond well, enough or quickly.
Directions for the Future
Because the center is not an organization with a board that charts its future and manages its operations but a body that works by consensus, I cannot speak for anyone other than myself. In a way, I am the de facto benevolent autocrat. I do not have to answer to anyone but the opinion of most of my web visitors is important to me, especially when they know what they want and are reasonable in what they ask for. This puts the site in a take it or leave it situation. With this in mind, I hope that my collaboration with more authors would continue and that I could expand the base of researchers, scholars and enthusiasts who like to work with me.
The above prompts me to repeat my invitation to those interested in being contributing authors to come forward for us to work together. Further, those who have the time and energy to maintain a forum for this site are also invited and urged to come forward to take on such responsibilities with my full support and sponsorship.
Finally, those who have ideas or suggestions regarding making this Center a better tool for the exchange of information or for the promotion of understanding are welcome to come forward too. I am a soldier of one and I can make use of the talents that are out there waiting to be tapped into for the betterment of us all.
A Letter of Affirmation & Cultural Witness
With great pleasure, I have read the article on "Virtual Center for
Phoenician Studies" by Mr. Salim Khalaf. Mr. Khalaf is to be commended
on the great work on the Phoenician culture and civilization that he
has achieved through his website. As a proud Phoenician who is
grateful for such information and for his sincere efforts in promoting
awareness of the Phoenician Civilization on an international level, I
would like to sincerely thank him for such an unprecedented valuable
contribution. Moreover, I would like to express the same concerns that
he has addressed in his aforesaid article.
The Lebanese officials, politicians and historians to an extent have
clearly failed in disclosing to the Lebanese and to the world the true
place of the Phoenician Culture in history. Instead, they decided to
promote a different ethnic imported culture or strictly speaking an
Unfortunately, I had to read about our ancestors the Phoenicians at
the university in Sydney and not at the Private Maronite Catholic
school that I had attended in Lebanon. The information on the Phoenician
in the "History" book was so marginal and limited. Phoenicia was utterly
neglected and such has been done for a particular reason.
Phoenician history in Lebanon in particular at the educational
level has been ignored and distorted, not out of ignorance, lack of
responsibility or innocent mistake but out of spite. This is the
result of what they call "national unified history book", which
unfortunately glorified the victories of Salah Al Din over the
Crusaders in Hittin in 1,187 A.D. and described or "massaged" the
Islamic conquests and occupations as a force of justice.
Regrettably, when I took up that issue with my history teacher in
Lebanon, his replies were "that we are dictated by the nature of the
composition of the Lebanese people to have an impartial unified
history book. If you wish to change it then become the President and
do so". Becoming the President is a position that I have not attained
thus far but changing it we should all do so.
It is apparent that Mr. Khalaf has started that dynamic force of
change and the illuminating Phoenician Torch is once again resurrecting
Greater Phoenicia and same shall never be extinguished. It is a
duty and an obligation in particular through our communities and the
Church to repay Phoenicia’s dues. Having said so, one should not
forget that Phoenicia is our Homeland and apart from any
obligations that we have to fulfill, all our efforts should be directed
to promote awareness of our Phoenician History and Culture that we
are all proud of and we should endeavour to achieve a complete
reinstatement of our Phoenician culture.
Phoenicia’s role in history is immense and its "Mission
Civilisatrice" from the days of Cadmus and the Alphabet to St.
Augustine of Hippo and his "City of God" and "Confessions", is
complimented by his key role as one of the greatest fathers and doctors
of the Catholic Church. Phoenicia’s contribution to world civilization
is priceless. Zeno, who on his tomb they engraved "Isn’t not enough
for You to be proud that you have come from Phoenicia" pushed the
boundaries of philosophy to an unprecedented level. The greatest
achievements of our ancestors in Philosophy, Medicine, Religion and
Navigation are numerous. It is difficult to account for them in an
article, a book or even an Encyclopedia. The Phoenician achievements
and contribution to world history are extensive, immaculate and by no
means fall short from constituting the Bible of world civilization.
On a military and historical level, how is it possible to forget the
man who shaped world history, the Great of all Greats the Great
Generalissimo "Hannibal Barca" whom his victories almost totally
destroyed imperial Rome. The might of Rome bowed before him and its
generals kneeled at his feet, Roman pride was humiliated and the sound
of the victorious trumpets at Cannae can still be heard nowadays. He was
destined to promote the Phoenician Culture and Language but Zama was
the unfortunate impediment.
The following is a short testimony and an observation that the
Roman Historian Livy made in his book "The war with Hannibal" when
both Hannibal and Schipio met the night before the Battle of Zama
in 202 BC. Livy said of that encounter words to the effect "That the
battle was not going to decide who will rule the Mediterranean…. but who
will deliver laws to the nations".
If fortune would have smiled and the gods were more or less appeased,
the Carthaginian General who defied nature and crossed the Alps 16
years earlier with his army and elephants marching towards the Roman
aggressors and plunderers of the Mediterranean, would have made
Phoenicia rule the world not only with its fleet and colonization, but
with its laws, language, "Mission Civilisatrice" and Phoenician Order
for centuries. "Pax Phoenicia" was not meant to be.
It is amazing how can an important piece of world history that you
read about in a Roman historian book, whom Hannibal was previously
his nation’s fierce opponent and such would expect him to be bias, is
no where to be seen in the books of Hannibal’s people whom they pride
themselves of 6,000 years of a Phoenician civilization that Hannibal
contributed to. It appears that the inmates have taken over the
asylum. Those "nomads of the deserts", that we read about in our
history book in Lebanon where they are wrongly glorified, are of no
match to the Son of Carthage, the descendant of the greatest Purple
Ernest Renan "Mission en Phenicie", Charles Corm "La Montagne Inspiree"
and Said Aql "Malhamet Kadmous" deserve to be part of the school
curriculum in Lebanon. Syriac which relates to Aramaic the language of
our ancestors and as clearly identified by Anis Frayha in his book
"Malahem Wa Asatir Min Ogarit" , should be a compulsory subject if not
in public schools at least in private Christian and Maronite schools.
This is where the Church should play a key role. The awareness should
start from there. Jesus visits to Sidon and Tyre and his first
miracle in Cana, Southern Lebanon are a gift to the Church that its
people have embraced his faith which has shaped humanity and human
thinking and relations for two millennium. The Church that followed
the "Son of Man" and the "Son of God" teachings and which evolved in
the Valley of the Saints the Cradle of the Maronite Church, which lies
beneath the "Cedars of God" forest have to continue and further its
mission from its seat in Phoenicia to the Phoenician Diaspora and the
The neglect of the Phoenician history is apparent and has become an
objective for what Mr. Khalaf has referred to as officials and
politicians in Lebanon. There is a hidden agenda in Lebanon to
forcefully "arabise" the country. That hidden agenda became obvious
with the Taif Accord which amended the Lebanese Constitution, and
inserted in its preamble that "Lebanon is Arab in its identity and in
its association", an issue that the proponents of Lebanese independence
and the Champions of Greater Lebanon had opposed for centuries in
particular the last one.
The aforesaid constitutional amendment was a clear attack on the
Lebanese heritage and a violation of its history and above all the most
disgraceful unconstitutional act and a criminal sabotaging activity
perpetrated by the politicians from all spectrums, on the Lebanese
identity. Moreover, such insertion in the Constitution clearly
violates other articles in the Constitution in particular article 9,
which relates to freedom of conscience. This constitutional heresy
remains to be challenged and is a clear example on how the politicians
in Lebanon are prepared to compromise to a large extent and in the
circumstances fully compromise the Lebanese history, heritage and
identity through awkward despicable Levantine skills. An obvious
historical heresy and an act of first class historical "bastardery" if
I may say so.
Having regard to the critical cultural assault that we are
confronting and foremost the open attack on our Lebanese identity as the
"Autochthones" of Phoenicia, our work should now be directed to halt
the ongoing attack on our heritage. To this end, we shall never
surrender until Phoenicia is truly resurrected and the spirit of
our ancestors shall never rest until we rejoice the return of
Phoenicia to its true place on the world scene. Phoenicia’s role and
place under the sun shall be tirelessly preserved, and the
"opponents" of civilization shall not be allowed to jeopardize them.
Until then, we shall all remain sincere and truthful to the
worthiest cause of all causes, Eternal Phoenicia.