Phoenicia of Syria, not Phoenicia of Lebanon

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By Dr. Edmond Melhem

Sa’adeh was not only at odds with the Phalangists, but with all proponents of Lebanese nationalism. Theorists of Phoenicianism such as Yusuf al-Sawda, Charles Corm and Michel Chiha, were considered as such. Their arguments, which provided historical justification for the existence of Lebanon as a separate state from Syria, were dismissed by Sa’adeh. Before presenting Sa’adeh’s ideas in this connection, it is fair to elaborate on the arguments of the Phoenician theory.

According to the Phoenician theorists, modern Lebanon could be traced back to the time when Phoenicia had been established along the coast of Greater Lebanon, in the ancient city-states: Tyre, Sidon and Byblos. These cities, proponents of Phoenicianism claimed, had never lost their ancient Phoenician characteristics despite all invasions and conquests. Even when the Phoenician cities fell under strong Arab control, the characteristics and nationality of Phoenicians could safely be maintained and reasserted in the mountains of Lebanon. Therefore, the modern Lebanese nationality, theorists of Phoenicianism argued, “was the direct and legitimate descendant of the ancient nationality of the Phoenicians,..” According to Charles Corm , Lebanon is “the heir of Phoenicia” and “the modern Lebanese are descendants of the Phoenicians.” To put it another way, Phoenicia is resurrected in modern Lebanon. This theme seems to be taught in Lebanese schools. As Salibi states:
Whatever was known about Phoenician history, however, did find its way into the history textbooks used in Lebanese schools and created the impression that Lebanon was no new country, but one with 6000 years of national heritage behind it

According to Corm’s version, moreover, Lebanon, like Phoenicia, “is part of the world of classical Mediterranean civilisation and can only live by immersion in it.” Similarly, in his writings on Lebanon, which were also in French, Michel Chiha made frequent reference to the Phoenicians and spoke of Lebanon as “the Phoenicia of the modern Middle East”.

Sa’adeh and the Phoenicianist theorists had opposite visions of Lebanon’s history. Their divergent interpretations of this history constituted an open-ended debate. This debate was not only over Lebanese history but also over geography. It was not only a debate over Lebanon’s past but also over its present as well as its future. During this intellectual debate, Sa’adeh came forward with reasoned arguments against the Phoenicianist theory and its proponents.

In his famous article “The Maronites are Syrian Syriacs”, he had this to say: “If we are to accept the validity of this theory, which is based on the Phoenician origin, then we are obliged to regard the Lebanese and Palestinians as one people, for Palestine was a centre-home for the Phoenicians. The latter were the same group that lived in Palestine and were known as the Canaanites, and Palestine was known as the ‘land of Canaan’.” It was the Greeks, Sa’adeh claimed, who called the Canaanites ‘the Phoenicians’. Salibi agrees with Sa’adeh. He confirms that the Greeks “certainly knew them by that name, and called their coastlands Phoenicia.” From his part, Philip Hitti stands for this claim. He states that “those of the Canaanites who traded with the Greeks were named by them Phoenicians.”

One of the arguments brought by Sa’adeh against the Phoenicianist theory was concerned with the geographical confinements of the Phoenicians and based on historical and archaeological facts. Sa’adeh emphasized that the Phoenicians were not confined to Mount Lebanon or to the coastal cities of Greater Lebanon. Rather, they settled along the Syrian coast between Palestine and Latakia. He added that between 1929 and 1932, most archaeological finds about the Phoenicians were discovered in Ugarit (Ras Shamra) near Latakia. Here it may suffice to note that excavations in Ugarit were opened in 1929 by the French archaeologist Claude Schaeffer. The findings of this archaeologist and his expedition revealed that this ancient city was built by the Phoenicians.

Sa’adeh referred to the New Testament to prove that ancient Phoenicia was not confined to Lebanon. He wrote:

Phoenicia did not appertain to Lebanon but to Syria. If the Christians refer back to their scripture, the New Testament, they would find that it is defined as Phoenicia of Syria, not Phoenicia of Lebanon.

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