Purple Reign and Alphabetic Script

Photo Credit: BiblePlaces.com, Byblos

The Book of Genesis makes a strong distinction between the early patriarchs and the Canaanites. In Genesis 24, Abraham specifically seeks to ensure that his son Isaac will not marry a Canaanite. “Abraham was now very old, and the Lord had blessed him in every way. He said to the senior servant in his household, the one in charge of all that he had, “Put your hand under my thigh. I want you to swear by the Lord, the God of heaven and the God of earth, that you will not get a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites, among whom I am living, but will go to my country and my own relatives and get a wife for my son Isaac.”

Despite the distinction the Bible makes between the patriarchs and Canaanites, both were closely tied by geography, geopolitical events, language and by early use of the alphabet.

Archaeologists generally include the area of Lebanon within Canaanite territory. This area was subject to many of the same pressures as biblical Canaan. When the Egyptian New Kingdom extended its area of control to the southern Levant, it also took control of Lebanon. The Amarna Letters that catalogue relations between Egypt and towns that sit in the territory of modern day Israel also contain correspondences with the rulers in southern Lebanon.

Three important ancient cities in today’s Lebanon, running from south to north were Tyre, Sidon and Byblos. This general area became known by the Greek term Phoenicia, for the purple dye was extracted from ‘Murex’ rock snails native to the coastal region.

This region is considered important in the history of alphabetic writing. A number of inscriptions dating to the 10th and 9th centuries BCE were discovered at Byblos in the early 20th century CE. These inscriptions were written in a script that had developed from the early proto-Sinaitic and proto-Canaanite alphabetic writing systems. These inscriptions included the Abiba’l Inscription, Safatba’al Inscription, andt the Yehimilk of Byblos Inscription. These inscriptions were described as being written in a Phoenician alphabetic script.

The image above is of the Yehimilk Inscription KAI 4. In it, Yehimilk the king of Byblos records that he restored temples, and asks “May Ba’al-shamem and Ba’alat of Byblos and the assembly of the holy gods of Byblos prolong the days of Yehimilk and his years over Byblos. It is on display at the Byblos Museum.